ThailandCulture & Tradition in Southeast Asia

With its vibrant traditions, world-renowned cuisine, and spectacular landscapes dotted with glistening temples, it’s easy to see why Thailand is one of the most-visited places on the planet. This summer, choose either the Photography or Anthropology, Culture, & Tradition On Assignment theme, and discover what makes Thailand unique and culturally diverse. Photograph iconic wildlife, visit vibrant community markets, and immerse yourself in history and culture as you travel from Ayutthaya, old Siam’s capital, to the lush hills of Chiang Rai Province in the north. Cap off the trip with a homestay in a Karen community, where you will learn more about the relationship between the Karen tribe and elephants.


July 15–August 4, 2024
21 days
$ 8,390 + airfare
Departs from Los Angeles
14–16 students, 2 leaders


  • Photograph the architecture of Ayutthaya’s Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Learn more about Theravada Buddhism and meditation from practicing monks
  • Photograph the diverse flora and fauna of Khao Yai, Thailand’s first national park
  • Trek to find elephants in the jungle with your Karen homestay hosts

Meet the Expert

Shin Arunrugstichai, Photojournalist & Marine Biologist

Sirachai “Shin” Arunrugstichai is an independent photojournalist and marine biologist, specializing in marine conservation stories. He is an Associate Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and a National Geographic Explorer. Shin regularly works for various conservation organizations and covers news as a stringer for Getty Images. His photographs have been published in National Geographic, Smithsonian, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Guardian, among many others. And when he is not fortunate enough to be photographing stories in the field, Shin often collaborates on shark and ray research in the waters of Southeast Asia, which he calls home.


This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

  • Departure
  • Travel Day

Meet your fellow high school student travelers and one or more of your leaders at the Los Angeles Airport, and fly together to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand.

  • Ayutthaya & Khao Yai National Park
  • 4 days

Settle into your accommodations in a beautiful Thai teak house in the capital of old Siam, Ayutthaya, a city teeming with ancient structures and temples. Get to know your fellow students, leaders, and On Assignment team as you visit the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum to learn about Siam history, bike amidst remnants of the old capital in Ayutthaya Historical Park, and venture out to capture sunrise over the prang (reliquary towers) and Buddhist monasteries of this historical city.

Travel to Thailand’s first national park, Khao Yai, and trek through the area’s lush, tropical forests and grasslands with local guides. If you’re lucky, spot an elephant in the wild, or perhaps an arboreal gibbon swinging through the tree canopies. Spend the evening stargazing and bonding with your group at your accommodations right near the park entrance. Return to Ayutthaya for one last night before heading to Chiang Rai province in the far north of the country.

  • Chiang Rai
  • 5 days

Fly to Thailand’s northernmost province, Chiang Rai, to discover a completely different region famous for its mountains and rich cultural diversity. See the jaw-dropping Wat Rong Khun, known as the “White Temple,” designed by famous Thai artist, Chlermchai Kositpipat, and the magnificent statue of Guanyin, Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, keeping watch over the hills of the province. In the evenings, head to Chiang Rai’s bustling “walking street,” where community members from the villages in the surrounding hills come to sell beautiful fabrics and trinkets.

Go on a day trip to Mae Salong, home to Santi Khiri Village, which was settled by defected Chinese soldiers belonging to the Kuomintang Army in the 1940s and ‘50s. Roam the hills of this unique mountain town, sampling the region’s famous oolong tea and learning about the various highland peoples who make up this community.

  • Chiang Mai
  • 4 days

Head a few hours south to the largest city in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai. Hike to a beautiful forest temple on your way to Doi Suthep via a former pilgrimage trail, and learn about the Buddhist concepts of merit making and meditation from practicing monks. In the evenings, relax by Chiang Mai University’s famous Ang-Kaew Reservoir where community members and university students gather to exercise and hang out, or explore the bustling night markets inside the Old City walls.

Explore the city's many fresh markets and street food vendors, and stop in to see Wat Chedi Luang, an elaborate Buddhist temple where the City Pillar Shrine is located. Then, depart on a journey westward, perhaps making a pitstop inside Doi Inthanon National park, otherwise known as the “Roof of Thailand,” resting at over 8,000 feet above sea level.

  • Doi Inthanon & Karen Homestay
  • 4 days

Continue north from Doi Inthanon to a Karen community nestled in the hills near Mae Chaem District. Spend time learning about the tribe’s long standing relationship with elephants, making traditional meals with your local hosts, and experiencing daily life and chores. Cap your stay by trekking to find the community’s elephants, most of which are retired from the tourism industry, as they roam free in the jungle.

  • Chiang Mai
  • 2 days

Return to Chiang Mai to reflect on your experiences and present your On Assignment project to the group. End the program with a nice, final dinner to celebrate your time in Thailand.

  • Return
  • Travel Day

Fly from Chiang Mai to Los Angeles with your group and one leader.

A Day in the Life: Ayutthaya

Due to the traveling nature of this summer travel program, each day is different. Here is a snapshot of a day during our time in Ayutthaya.

  •  Enjoy breakfast at your accommodations
  •  Head out on a morning bike ride through Ayutthaya’s Old City
  •  Sample the area’s famous noodles at a local eatery
  •  Break for free time to write in your journal, explore the neighborhood, or rest
  •  Learn how to make som-tam, or papaya salad, with your local hosts
  • Break into On Assignment groups in different areas of the Old City
  • Break for dinner at a nice restaurant along the Chao Phraya River
  • Visit the night market for tasty snacks and local handicrafts
  • Group meeting to discuss the day

What to Expect

  • On Assignment Themes

Choose either the Photography or Anthropology, Culture, & Tradition On Assignment theme, and break into teams to delve further into your area of focus.

Photography: Practice landscape shots as you capture the sunrise or sunset over the Chao Phraya River and the ancient structures of Ayutthaya, the capital of old Siam, or the rolling, emerald green mountains of Chiang Rai province, and the stunning waterfalls of Thailand’s first national park. Alongside your National Geographic Explorer, find opportunities to practice portraiture photography. Edit your images as you craft your final presentation, telling the story of your journey.

Anthropology, Culture, & Tradition: Learn about the various communities that make up the cultural tapestry of Thailand. Explore Thai culture during cooking workshops and visits to community markets and walking streets, and learn about Buddhism through chatting with monks and making merit at Buddhist temples. Learn traditional handicrafts taught by local artists, and practice your Thai speaking skills with local high school students and members of the community.

  • Language

Knowledge of Thai is not required. Students who do not speak Thai will have the opportunity to learn a few words or phrases in Thai.

  • Physical Activity

This is a largely outdoor-focused, active summer travel program that includes frequent hikes and exploration by foot. It is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are interested in trying all activities.

  • Lodging

We stay in a variety of accommodations on this trip, including Thai-style teak houses, family-owned guesthouses, and homestays. Students typically stay in double or triple rooms.

  • Meals

Breakfast will often take place at our accommodations while lunches are often at local restaurants or food stalls near the areas we are exploring. Dinners are often at restaurants or on site at our accommodations.

Explore the Destination

Please call our office with any questions about the physical nature of this program or to discuss specific accessibility and accommodation questions.

Next Steps

If you have questions or would like to talk further about this program, please get in touch!

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