Every Unschool Adventure trip is created with specific purposes in mind. Here’s what we’ll set out to accomplish:
Experiencing multiple countries, climates, and cultures
Our adventure will take us across four different countries and many more subcultures. We’ll aim to create as many contrasts as possible in order to give you the widest possible experience. You’ll stay in rural homes and posh urban hostels. You’ll visit serene white sand beaches and bustling capital cities. You’ll take buses, trains, boats, and planes. You’ll bike around the Temples of Angkor and give morning alms to Buddhist monks.
Eating our way across the world
Let’s be real: a huge part of this trip will be about FOOD. Every day we will seek out culinary delights to tickle and tantalize our tastebuds. You’ll have the freedom to choose and explore new foods (or stick with the ones that you already like) for breakfasts and lunches. At dinnertime, our group will venture out together to try a new restaurant or street food stand. Prepared meals are cheap, fresh, safe, and ubiquitious is Southeast Asia; we’ll do very little cooking for ourselves. Get ready for a culinary cornucopia of epic proportions.
Learning a bit of history
The Vietnam War and the reign of the Khmer Rouge (and subsequent Cambodian genocide) were bloody periods in the last half-century that left deep marks in Southeast Asia. To better understand these histories, we’ll visit the War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi war tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon), as well as the Tuol Sleng Museum (a.k.a. S-21) and the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh. Prior to departure, we’ll recommend a few related movies and articles for familiarizing yourself with region’s history.
Practicing minimalist backpacking
This will be a whirlwind adventure with lots of movement, and packing light will make a huge difference. We’ll encourage you to take only taking a single carry-on backpack for the whole 7 weeks. Get ready to become really good at packing, unpacking, and feeling at home while constantly on the road. If you have dreams of independently traveling in foreign countries in the future, this trip will give you a strong foundation of skills and confidence.
Self-directed exploring and relaxing
On every Unschool Adventures trip, we strike a balance between all-group activities and self-directed free time. During your free time, you’ll enjoy the chance to rest, explore, and organize your own activities, whether that means finding a great lunch spot, haggling for souvenirs with friends in a market, going on a mini-adventure, or taking a quiet hour to journal. Introverts and extraverts alike will get the opportunities they need to have a great trip.
We’ll travel to more places than we’ve listed below—but here are the highlights!
Chiang Mai, Thailand
An easy-going, tourist-friendly city where we will land, orient ourselves. Enjoy the chance to independently explore temples, markets, bazaars, and street food stalls. Help Buddhist monks practice their English and take a Muay Thai (Thai boxing) group lesson.
At this renowned hippie town, we’ll explore Tham Lod Cave and nearby waterfalls and hot springs. And probably buy some hippie pants. (Unschool Adventures participants love hippie pants.)
Chiang Rai, Thailand
In quiet Chiang Rai we’ll arrange either short homestays with local families or a group meditation retreat. Participate in Thailand’s full-moon floating lantern festival, Loi Krathong.
Luang Prabang, Laos
After taking a 2-day slow boat down the Mekong River, we’ll take our time to explore Luang Prabang, the so-called “last refuge of lovers and dreamers.” Bike around the monasteries and countryside, give morning alms to Buddhist monks, explore French-influenced street food. Possible day trips to nearby Kuang Si Waterfall, Long Kiaw, and Muang Ngoi. (We’ll also do our best to arrange a homestay or meditation retreat, whichever we didn’t accomplish in Chiang Rai.)
Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
After transiting through bustling Hanoi, we’ll arrive at Cat Ba Island, the largest of a 367-island archipelago. Hike to the peak of the island if you’re feeling energetic, or just chill in Lan Ha Bay.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Experience the history of the Vietnam war from the locals’ perspective at the War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi war tunnels. Seek out mind-blowingly tasty, French-influenced Vietnamese food.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The history experience continues in Cambodia’s capital, where we’ll tour the two famous sites related to the Cambodian genocide: S-21 (Tuol Sleng Museum) & the Killing Fields.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Saving the best for last, we’ll explore the world-famous temples of Angkor (including Angkor Wat) by foot and bike, with three full days to experience the park.
In high-energy Bangkok you’ll have the chance to eat your last pad thai, grab some souveniers, close with the group, and then fly together back to San Francisco.
These dates are subject to shift—and sometimes we diverge from our planned itinerary—but here is a general idea of what to expect.
- Oct 23: Depart USA. Time warp backwards (lose a day in the air).
- Oct 24 – 31: Chiang Mai
- Oct 31 – Nov 2: Pai (via bus)
- Nov 2 – 6: Chiang Rai (via bus)
- Nov 7 – 9: Slow boat to Luang Prabang
- Nov 9 – 15: Luang Prabang
- Nov 15 – 18: Hanoi (via bus or plane)
- Nov 18 – 22: Cat Ba Island (via bus)
- Nov 22 – 27: Hoi An (via train or plane)
- Nov 27 – 30: Ho Chi Minh City (via train or plane)
- Dec 1 – Dec 3: Phnom Penh (via bus)
- Dec 3 – 6: Koh Rong / Sihanoukville (via bus)
- Dec 6 – 9: Siem Reap / Temples of Angkor (via bus)
- Dec 10 – 12: Bangkok (via bus)
- Dec 12: Depart Thailand. Time warp forewards (gain a day in the air).
- Dec 14: Return USA.
- Group meeting and check-in
- Free time for exploring, journaling, and relaxing
- Breakfast provided by UA (either a meal or money to go buy a meal with friends)
- Lunch on your own in small groups
- Dinner with the whole group, provided by UA
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the extra costs on this trip?
Beyond the program fee, participants are responsible for:
- International group airfare (roughly $1,050)
- Domestic airfare to/from San Francisco International airport
- Traveler’s insurance (if not covered by health insurance)
- Entrance visas: approximately $105 (Vietnam: $30, Cambodia: $35, Laos: $35, Thailand: $0, subject to change)
- Lunches and snacks: $2-$4 per day (we recommend budgeting $200 total)
- Souvenirs, toiletries, and other incidentals
What basic services can I expect in Southeast Asia?
Water: we will buy bottled or purified water.
Showers & toilets: sometimes we will enjoy western-style hot showers and flush toilets, and other times we’ll make do with cold showers and squat toilets.
Wifi: wireless internet is increasingly prevalent, but in some remote locations we will have very slow or no wifi access.
Electricity: some locations will not offer 24/7 electricity, and we’ll need to wait until night time for electricity to return.
Do I need any special vaccinations?
Please visit the CDC Traveler’s Health website to learn about recommended vaccinations and other health precautions for Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. All participants should consult their doctor or a travel clinic no less than 6 weeks prior to departure.
We’ll do our best to consume only safe food and drink, but all participants should have a reasonable expectation of getting traveler’s diarrhea at some point. We will encourage everyone to use DEET-based mosquito repellant when mosquitos are present.
What kind of weather should I expect? What do I need to bring?
We’re exploring Southeast Asia at a magical time of year: from the end of the rainy season through the start of the high season. Expect hot-to-warm days, cool nights, and dry conditions, with a bit of inevitable rain. Browse the monthly weather averages in Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Ho Chi Minh City, and Siem Reap to get a feeling of what to expect.
No special equipment is required for this trip. We’ll guide you in packing lightly, with just a few changes of clothes, a fleece, a rain jacket, a pair of good shoes, a pair of sandals, and not much else.
Can you accommodate my special diet?
Vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free participants will each be able find food to meet their needs in Southeast Asia.
When is the full payment due?
Upon being offered a spot on the trip, you’ll have two weeks to submit the trip paperwork and a $1500 non-refundable security deposit to secure your place. The rest of the program fee is due 3 months prior to departure.
What medical facilities are available?
Most capital cities in Southeast Asia have clinics that cater specifically to travelers and expats. These clinics are more expensive than local medical facilities but offer a superior standard of care and the staff speak English; that will be our first choice in case a participant requires medical attention.
It is more difficult to find reliable medical care in rural areas, including all of Laos. Our plan in these locations is to evacuate to the nearest major medical facility.
Unschool Adventures trip leaders are highly trained in remote care; each holds a current certification in Wilderness First Responder, and our trip assistant holds one in Wilderness First Aid. We bring a comprehensive first aid kit wherever we go.
Am I ready for this trip?
Unschool Adventures trips are for self-directed young people who are ready for more freedom and personal responsibility. We offer our participants lots of chances to explore independently—always within reasonable safety limits. For these reasons, we only accept applicants who demonstrate a high level of maturity and preparation. Read more about preparing and interviewing for an Unschool Adventures trip.