Southeast Asia Semester: Spirituality & Resilience, Sample Itinerary

This is a sample itinerary. No two Dragons courses are the same. Every itinerary considers the unique strengths of the instructor team and interests of the student group.
Week 1: Bangkok & Sukhothai, Thailand Our adventure begins as we touch down in Bangkok, Thailand. After a night’s rest, we travel by slow train north to Sukhothai, a UNESCO World Heritage City and the Kingdom of Siam’s first capital. Here we spend the first several days amidst peaceful surroundings getting to know one another and being introduced to the culture of our new home. This will also be a time for us to come together as a group and formulate our intentions and expectations for the coming weeks of travel, learning and exploration. We start our first lessons on Buddhism and meditation while taking the opportunity to explore the ancient city by bicycle as we acclimatise to the tropical weather and time zone.
Week 2 : Chiang Mai, Thailand Continuing our journey north by train, we arrived in the city of Chiang Mai, known as Thailand’s cultural and religious center. Here we meet with English speaking monks to learn about Theravada Buddhism and the Noble Eightfold Path (also known as The Middle Way), and start to build core competencies in meditation practices by participating in a full-day meditation course at a local temple. Chiang Mai is also a hub for many local and international NGOs working on human trafficking, migrant worker rights and advocacy for ethnic minority groups. We will have the opportunity to meet with several organizations such as MAP Foundation, FreeBird, the Indigenous Asia Centre and Earth Rights International, to understand the different challenges these stateless and voiceless people face living in Thailand.
Week 3: Huay Hin Lad Nai Homestay Eager to meet with some of the communities we have learned about, we travel to Baan Huay Hin Lad Nai, a small traditional Karen village of about 20 households nestled at the seam between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Province. Karen peoples are indigenous to the Thailand-Myanmar border region in Southeast Asia and practice a mix of Buddhism and Animism locally. We complete a near weeklong homestay learning about Karen culture, spirituality and history as well as learning about the challenges they face fighting for land rights. We spend days walking through the mountains, assisting our host families in their daily lives while listening to stories about the past and hopes and dreams about the future, as well as witnessing spiritual practices that have remained unchanged despite many hardships.
Week 4 - Chiang Rai & Chiang Mai, Thailand Bidding farewell to our Karen host families, we travel to meet members of another hill tribe community, the red Dara-Ang. Sleeping under the stars, we spend a few days at their community centre where local members can farm, practice religious and cultural ceremonies and share stories about their lives. Although born in Thailand, the Dara-Ang do not hold Thai citizenship or ID cards, and so cannot travel or access the same education or healthcare services as local Thai people. Listening to their stories and partaking in community driven activities, we realise that each community has its own unique story and needs. After spending time with our Dara-Ang counterparts, we travel to a Theravada monastery to complete our multi-night stay practicing different meditation techniques and reflecting on our journey thus far.
Weeks 5-6: Mandalay & Taunggyi, Myanmar Crossing the border by air, we arrive to Mandalay, the medieval capital of Myanmar, and the country’s second largest city. We take time to orient ourselves to Myanmar, and explore the rich cultures, cuisines and urban landscapes of this urban center. We delve into the political, economic and social transitions presently occurring in-country and meet with pink-robed nuns who have dedicated their lives to Theravada Buddhism. Soon after, we board a bus to Taunggyi in Shan State where we meet with education focused NGOs before beginning our 10-day stay in a rural monastic school run by Theravada Buddhist monks and teachers. Here we practice meditation daily and learn the Dhamma (Buddha’s teachings and philosophy), as well as participating in classes alongside Pre-College Prep (year 13) students in a cultural exchange. At the school we also delve into ISPs and relax into the daily rhythms of classes and meditation in a tranquil natural setting.
WEEK 7: Kalaw & Inle, Myanmar We trade the tranquility of the monastic school for the tranquility of the mountains around Kalaw. A trek through hill tribe villages brings us to Sin Leh, a beautiful village community accessible only by old market roads and muddy footpaths. Warmly welcomed by our Danu ethnic homestay families, we settle into village life for around 5 nights. We work the fields, learn to cook, tend to the buffalo and practice our Myanmar language skills during pick-up games of soccer and chin lone down by the local school. Through morning discussions and conversations with elders and community leaders we familiarize ourselves with the unique history of Myanmar’s eastern borders and explore important questions related to spirituality, ethnicity, identity, and land. At the end of our stay in Sin Leh we trek for a day to the edge of idyllic Inle Lake where we board long-tail boats to Nyaungshwe, a lakeside village and one of Myanmar’s fastest growing tourist destinations. We will explore the fine craftsmanship of the artisans who are based along the lake and learn about some of the ecological challenges this unique and vulnerable bioregion is currently facing.
WEEK 8 - Bagan & Yangon, Myanmar Our journey continues in the ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar’s newly listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Bagan we take our packs off for a few days and explore the wonders of the old city, retreating from the heat in the afternoons to quiet temple corners and riversides. We then board the slow train to Yangon, Myanmar’s largest and most cosmopolitan city. We spend our final days in Myanmar exploring the city and meeting with human rights NGOs and activists to understand issues like the Rohingya crisis from people working on the ground.
WEEK 9: Kanchanaburi, Thailand Crossing back to Thailand, our group travels to Kanchanaburi province to learn about the Thai-Burma WWII Death Railway project and orient ourselves to southern Thailand which is markedly different to the northwest provinces. We travel to Sangkhla Buri and meet with Children of the Forest, a foundation which helps stateless Karen, Mon and Myanmar children gain their rights to a full life and education in Thailand. The foundation offers free education to almost 300 stateless children in order to enable them to enter local Thai schools. It also provides shelter for more than 100 stateless children who are at risk of being exploited. We learn about child protection, destructive orphanage tourism and community driven projects seeking to educate and empower youth.
Weeks 10-11 Southern Thailand Applying skills developed over the first two and half months students work together to design their own student-led expedition. Options include exploring sacred Buddhist caves in Chumpon, visiting a Muslim community near Rayong, attending a silent Buddhist meditation retreat in Kanchanaburi, or traveling south to the Andaman Sea to see Thailand’s meandering coastline.
WEEK 12: Southern Thailand & Bangkok Our trip winds up with the transference phase of the program, where we map out ways to take our experience back home with us. How will we share this adventure with our loved ones? What does spirituality and resilience now mean to me? How will we apply all of this newly acquired wisdom to our lives back home? Our traveling family makes its way back to Bangkok, to pack up and prepare for the flights home.