A Travellerspoint blog

August 2018

Week 10 in Thailand

This week flew by so fast! Here's what our days usually look like. Saturdays we only work in the mornings though and travel into Chiang Rai City at 1.
Daily Schedule
8:00 - breakfast
8:30 - daily meeting with Nikki
9:30 - begin work
11:30 - break for lunch
12:00 - lunch
1:30 - resume work
3:30 - finish work for the day
5:00 - dinner

Our weeks start Tuesday mornings instead of Monday because our weekends are weird here. Everyone who was on outdoor work with me left this past weekend but luckily a new group of people came. Out of the 9 people only 1 is on outdoor work. His name is Kelin and he's from California. He had orientation Tuesday morning so I was the only volunteer working Tuesday morning. It was a bit boring on my own but not too bad. This week we cleared the overgrowth from the side of the road leading up to the Mirror Foundation. The facilities at Mirror are a bit more run down because they spend their money on the community and can't always afford to have the grass cut and the road repaired. We got to use a tool that looked like a rounded machete. I can't remember what they're called. Kelin joined us for the afternoon which was nice. He is also doing a larger trip around the world. Tuesday night we decided to go with the new group into Chiang Rai. We went to get lava cake at an Italian restaurant and then went to the Australian bar. It was fun and a good way to get to know the new group. Some of the new people are from Scotland, Germany, China, and Canada.

We got to do work in the community so we went to help this man named Tiger. His house was too crowded so he was clearing his yard to build another house for his family. They had recently cut down some trees but hadn't cleared them so we hauled branches and tree trunks to clear the yard. It was exhausting work and the branches were all really heavy. We also helped dig a hole on the side of his house for a toilet. The hole was like 12 feet deep so we would just help bring the buckets of dirt up from the bottom of the hole. I accidents stepped on barbed wire when hauling a branch and it went straight through my work boot into my foot. It wasn't good because it was rusty but I'm okay! I kept it clean and it's closed already. During our lunch break, p'Akong set a glass in front of us with two massive beetles inside it. I'll put in a picture here. They pinch your fingers and are really scary looking. He tried to make them fight each other and they started hissing. It was gross. Wednesday night we all played cards in the volunteer room. Our favorite game to play here is (excuse my French) shithead. It's an English game and I can't describe it very well but it's really fun.

We went to work at Tiger's house again. There wasn't as much work to do as there was on Wednesday. We had kind of finished hauling all the branches with the exception of a few really big ones and the hole for the toilet was almost finished. We ended up getting back to Mirror really early. Thursday night we had a bonfire because it was Mackenzie's last night. There's a tradition here that on the last night of your time at Mirror you burn a piece of clothing. She burned a few because she didn't have much room in her bag. We sat around with the new volunteers and the "old" volunteers and talked. It was really fun. It's really nice because we don't have service when we're at Mirror so you're almost forced to talk to people. We really like it though because we are really able to connect with people.

We finished up the road leading to Mirror, it looks very nice now. At lunch Mackenzie had to leave for the airport so we had to say goodbye. For dinner on Fridays we get Pad Thai and egg rolls. It's the best meal of the week! On Fridays we also have the option to order pizza and the money from the pizza goes towards buying chickens for people in the village to get eggs from and eat. I ended up splitting a pizza with one of the new girls from Scotland. Her name is Katie and she lives on an island off the coast of Scotland. There's only about 120 people who live there and its about 9 miles by 4 miles. So tiny!! She loves it though. After eating two helpings of Pad Thai and egg rolls, and half a pizza, Marina and I decided to get ice cream and cookies. I was so stuffed I couldn't eat any more. I ended up sitting in the kitchen talking to Grace, Jeff, and Neul. I might need to explain who these people are. I'm not sure if I have before. Grace and Jeff are a couple from Florida. Neul is from South Korea but studied at American University and speaks amazing English. Marina is from California. They're all on the teaching program. Anyway, I was sitting with them for a really long time talking and one of the staff from the teaching program comes up to us and gives us a bottle of wine to try. She said her friend makes it from plums but there was a picture of a mangosteen on the front of the bottle. Here's a picture of the bottle. The wine was really good and we ended up sharing half the bottle.

On Saturday we didn't have work so Kelin and I went to the White Temple. Even though I'd already been it was still really cool to see it again. The temple was built by Chalermchai Kositpipat. The whole temple is designed around the idea of overcoming temptation and evil to reach enlightenment. The way the temple is designed you have to walk over a bridge with hands reaching out towards you. The beginning of the bridge is creepy, full of skulls and branches with thorns. After you pass the bridge the temple is beautifully decorated and covered with small pieces of mirrors. Once you enter the temple there are tons of pop culture references drawn on the inside. We couldn't take pictures inside so I'll just try to describe it. Bear with me. On one side there is a giant statue of the Buddha and the walls have paintings of people praising the Buddha. The background looks like some form of paradise. It's really beautiful. Directly opposing the Buddha, on the opposite side of the temple, is the devil. He is surrounded by all these things we consider horrible. Surrounding his eyes are shadows of guns and inside his eyes, no joke, is George Bush. Some of the powerful images I remember are a depiction of 9/11 and a painting of people drinking gasoline. There's also an image of it raining missiles. There are a ton of pop culture references too. Michael Jackson, the Avengers, Batman, minions, Hello Kitty, and Pikachu are just some of them. After walking around the temple for a while we headed back to Mirror to go to Chiang Rai for the weekend!

Next week I'll be at the homestay again so I won't have service or internet for a few days.

Posted by Ilana'sGapYear 06:08 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Week 9 - First Homestay

This week I got to experience life in an Akha village. We stayed with one of our leaders, p’Akong, and his family. We slept at his house for 3 nights and worked nearby in his village during the day. It was one of the best things I’ve experienced so far.

The village was really small. There were chickens and wild dogs all over the place. The chickens were really annoying because they would start making noise at 5:30am and wouldn’t stop until sunset. The community there seemed very connected and many people often just came and sat at p’Akongs house. The town is so small that when they had a town meeting, they just announced it on a megaphone to alert everyone. In the village they speak the Akha language which is different from Thai. Most of the people there are farmers and have little education. Here’s some pictures from the village. Some chicks that were there too.

This week we helped build a road for a family who couldn’t afford to pay for one. The area we were working in was so beautiful. Here’s some pictures. We were surrounded by rice fields. There’s also a picture of the road we were working on.
We used hoes to shovel dirt and widen the road. There was a small path before but it was difficult even to walk on. The work was really hard. We got exhausted so easily because of the heat. We took lots of breaks to rehydrate. By the end of the third day we were able to walk along the path and see all the work we had accomplished. It was a really satisfying feeling. The coolest part was the last night of our homestay because the family we had been working for cane to dinner. They gave us a big bottle of Thai alcohol and gave us bracelets they had made as a thank you gift for us. This was my favorite part because we could really see how grateful the people were for our help and we got to see our impact in their lives and their community.

One of the other cool things we got to experience was playing with the village children. After we got back from working our first day, we were sitting around and a big van stops in front of the house and drops off tons of kids. The kids all thought we were so cool and wanted to play with us. We ended up playing tag and football (soccer) with them in a big field a few houses down. Even though we were exhausted from working we still ran around with them. They were so cute and totally wore us out.

On our last day of work we got to go to a waterfall. It was so nice after a long hot day. It was really beautiful too. It was a really fun way to end the working week. Here’s some pictures from the waterfall.
Another cool thing we learned was how to make there beautiful bracelets out of seeds. One of the nights we were there p’Akong’s wife showed us how to make them. They’re really hard to make and I didn’t do so well. Here’s a picture of the one I made.

On Friday, instead of working, we went to p’Akong’s farm. He grew rice, pineapple, coffee, dragonfruit, tea, and a whole bunch of other things. He showed us around his farm and we helped him plant some dragonfruit. Here’s some pictures of the farm and the dragonfruit we planted.
After showing us around his farm our other leader, p’Manup, showed us how to make a traditional Thai meal from bamboo. We cooked the food inside the bamboo over a fire. Here’s some pictures of that. The food turned out really good and we were given bamboo cups and chopsticks to take home.

I know everyone is also going to be curious about the accommodation was like. It wasn’t horrible at all but it definitely makes you appreciate very small things like not having to tuck in a mosquito net before you go to bed and not having to remember to bring toilet paper with you every time you want to go to the bathroom. His house was beautiful. He built it himself. His family used to live in a bamboo house (on the same property) but he saved up enough money to build his family a new one. He told us that he and his wife would get up early before work to work on the house and stay up very late working on it until it was finished. Here’s some pictures of his house.
His wife also ran a small shop underneath their house which kept me supplied with cookies for the week.
We had a few places we could all sit and talk. This one was made out of bamboo which is really comfortable to sit on.
He also had a small coffee farm growing at the back of his house. He was really proud because his coffee is organic. We got to try it while we were there and it was really good coffee.
We had a western toilet that we could use and he had a hot shower which was so nice to use. It was not what we were accustomed to but better than we were expecting. I did take a picture of the bed I slept in. It was a mattress on the floor but it was comfier than the beds in Sri Lanka. The picture looks a little scary because it was dark so I had to use my flash but I assure you it wasn’t as bad as it looks.

All in all, it was a great week. I have one more homestay in 2 weeks but I don’t know if it will be anything like this homestay. This weekend I’m heading to Chiang Mai, a larger city about 4 hours away.

Posted by Ilana'sGapYear 21:43 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Week 8 - Thailand!!!

Hi everyone!

So I made it to Thailand (eventually). It is so beautiful here! I think it’s the best place I’ve been so far.

The Mirror Foundation
The first thing I wanted to talk about was the organization I’m volunteering through. The organization, The Mirror Foundation, is the local organization that IVHQ partners with. Check out their website here. In both Sri Lanka and Malaysia I was volunteering with The Green Lion so it’s a different organization. The Mirror Foundation works with the local hill tribes in Chiang Rai, Thailand which is at the far north of the country.

Chiang Rai
For the next 5 weeks I’ll be in Chiang Rai, a city at the very top of Thailand. Here’s a little map that shows you where I am. 7FF5848B-701B-47B2-8196-86E5029582AC.jpeg
The weather here feels pretty similar to Malaysia. It’s really hot and humid. It’s the rainy season right now so it rains almost every day. We have to be careful of flash floods and dengue fever (from mosquitos). Our accommodation is about 25 minutes from Chiang Rai City. To get into the city we take a song tao. I can’t quite describe it so here’s a picture.
The accommodation is a bit more basic than Sri Lanka. We are living in a volunteer house which I like. The mirror foundation owns the property we are staying on so there’s many buildings including a laundry facility, kitchen and dining area, small shops with gifts and food, meeting rooms, offices, and a WiFi room for the volunteers. I like it because you can walk around to any of the different buildings and you feel very safe. We only get cold water which means 5 weeks of cold showers! It’s not that bad because you’re always so sweaty here the cold showers are nice most of the time. We do have WiFi so I’ll continue to post. I love the food heee. In case you didn’t know, Thai food is my favorite. Here’s a picture of our dinner from Friday. We get slightly fancier dinners on Fridays so we had spring rolls and pad Thai. There’s some funky fruits that we get here too. We get lots of dragonfruit which is delicious. We also eat mangosteins and the fruit in the picture which is really similar to lychee.

Thai Culture
When we arrived we were briefed about the culture. It is a bit more strict in terms of how you greet people and show respect. To greet people, you put your hands together in front of you and hold them up to different parts of your upper body to show different amounts of respect. Sorry that doesn’t make a ton of sense. For example, if you greet the king of Thailand, you put your hands at the top of your head. To greet monks, fingers just below your nose. For elders, thumbs at your chin. For equals, so for me that would be other volunteers and other people my age, to your chest. And when you greet children and people younger than you, you put your hands slightly lower than your chest, kind of your upper stomach. We also learned you point with your whole hand. Also, when greeting elders you as a “p” before their name to show respect.

Hill Tribes
The communities we’re working in are the hill tribes in Thailand. So far we have just worked in the Akha community. Here’s the link to the Wikipedia page about them. It’s really interesting to learn about their communities and the troubles their communities face. Link is here! (Hopefully)
One of the struggles in their community is that not many of them are Thai citizens. Just because they are born in Thailand doesn’t secure their citizenship. This creates a lot of problems for them since they then have no citizenship. The government does little to aid them so their villages are really poor. Many don’t have access to education and are illiterate. The weather here also creates problems as there are many flash floods during the rainy season. There are about 5 different tribes and many villages for each tribe. Each tribe may have several religious communities within it as well. The akha tribe has Buddhist and Christian communities. We have two people from the Akha hill tribe that work with our group. Here’s pictures of the house that one of them built for his family. It’s in the same village where we built the wall so we ate lunch at his house.
Our other leader was telling us a bit about his life. He told us he was orphaned at 8 and worked his entire life to send his kids to school since he had never gone. He learned English from speaking with volunteers. His motto is “learning by doing” and he repeats it to us about 20 times a day.

Outdoor Work
While I’m here I’m working on the outdoor work project. We do a variety of things. This week we were working in the rice terraces for several days and working in an Akha village. In the village we helped rebuild a retaining wall that had collapsed in a flash flood. There is a family whose house is built on top of this retaining wall but they are really poor and didn’t have the resources or money to rebuild it. Their community stepped in to help by providing money and materials. Volunteers have been going there to help rebuild it. We got to move tons of dirt behind the retaining wall to help support it and then we moved buckets of sand and bricks by making ourselves into an assembly line. We mixed cement and helped lay bricks on the wall. It’s hard work for sure and it’s so hot out you get so sweaty so fast. The other two days of the week we were working in rice fields. This is also really hard work. The first day we used a hoe and dug out a trench around the rice terrace. It was hard work and it was really hot out. We had to watch out for leeches, snakes, scorpions, and spiders. We only saw massive spiders, nothing else. The next day we picked rice seedlings. We had to carefully wash out the roots and when we had a big handful we would tie it all together with a piece of bamboo. In the afternoon we took these bundles of rice plants and replanted them in another terrace. We would grab 3-4 seedlings and plant them about one hand length apart. This work was pretty fun but we ended up covered in mud by the end of each day. We got to wear those big waterproof boots (I’m blanking on the name but the English people called them “welleys”). The craziest thing for me about working in the rice fields was realizing that people work in these fields their whole life. I’ve seen many elderly people both here and in Sri Lanka that work so hard every day.

Every other week the outdoor group goes to a homestay to work in a village for a week so that’s where I’m headed in about 20 minutes. I ran out of time so I’ll try and post another blog about Thailand when I get back. I’ll be back on Friday so I’ll try and write then!

Posted by Ilana'sGapYear 18:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (5)

Week 7 (Week 2 in Sri Lanka)

Not as much to report from this week. My project in Sri Lanka was temple painting so that’s what we did all week. We painted a Buddhist temple near where we were staying. There are some young Buddhist monks who live there. They are so kind and peaceful. They made tea and lunch for us every day. We had tea time around 10 and lunch at 12 so we were eating plenty. After work we usually went into Kandy. We take the public bus to and from the temple so instead of getting off at the placement on the way back we would take the bus straight into the city. It’s much cheaper than a Tuk Tuk. Here’s some pictures of the temple because it’s so beautiful. There’s also a picture of our coordinator and the group we went to the temple with (except for Phoebe because she was sick that day!)
In Kandy we found a cool cafe called Cafe Secret Alley. It’s definitely made for tourists but they made amazing smoothie bowls! It was fun to go to and super cute.
On Friday night, my last night in Kandy, Morgan and I went out to a nice dinner. We went to a place called Skylounge which is at the center of Kandy and has an amazing view of the whole city. Here’s some pictures of the view because it really was amazing.

My plane left at 1am Monday morning so I had both Saturday and Sunday free. I went with Morgan, and several other volunteers I’d met, to Negombo which is a city right next to the airport but on the beach. We got up early Saturday morning to take the bus at 6:25am. We got to Negombo around 11 and checked into our hotel (which was super nice!!!!). The beds at the accommodation were pretty bad so we were so excited to have a nice mattress to sleep on. We pretty much went straight to the beach. We read our books and relaxed. The water was a bit too rough to swim so we just cooled down occasionally by putting our feet in the water. We got lunch nearby and spent the rest of the day on the beach. For dinner we met up with the other volunteers who were there. 3 of them chose to stay at a 5 star hotel which was way out of our price range, and another chose to stay at a much cheaper hostel. On Sunday Morgan and I went swimming in the pool, ate breakfast, and walked to the main street to do some gift shopping. Morgan left after that because she had another 2 weeks of volunteering. I went back to the hotel to grab my backpack and headed over to the 5 star hotel to meet up with the other volunteers. One of them, Sasha, was flying out around the same time as me which was nice because we were able to head to the airport together. We tried to go swimming at their hotel but they wouldn’t allow us so we went to the beach again. We got a nice lunch and then went back to shower. Sasha and I wanted to get a henna before leaving. We went to a small shop and they told us to come back at 7. When we came back there was no one there which was weird and a bit of a bummer. We ended up getting a nice dinner nearby and then headed back to the hotel to get our stuff and go to the airport. Here’s some pictures from the beach in Negombo.

(I know, I’m including Monday in the entry from last week but... in Thailand their weekend is Sunday and Monday)
I flew first to Bangkok but because it was raining there I ended up missing my connecting flight to Chiang Rai. That was crazy and stressful but I figured it out and was able to get a flight for later that day.

Hopefully this weekend (Monday) I’ll be able to post about my first week in Thailand!

Posted by Ilana'sGapYear 03:06 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Weekend 1 in Sri Lanka

Friday night
The goal for the weekend was to climb Adam’s Peak, a mountain several hours south of Kandy. It’s good for doing sunrise hikes so Friday night we traveled there and stayed in a hotel near the base of the mountain.

The other volunteers got up at 2:30 to climb the mountain but I stayed back. I hadn’t eaten much on Friday and still felt pretty weak from being sick so I decided not to climb it. They got back around 9. We wanted to get the train back to Kandy. It’s supposed to be a really beautiful train journey. We couldn’t book seats in advance so we had to buy them at the train station. That meant that we weren’t guaranteed a seat. The train ended up being really busy so we stood the whole way. It was only about 2.5 hours but the ride was really bumpy. The train was packed with people. There were several venders on the train who would walk back and forth yelling the name of whatever food they were trying to sell. There wasn’t much room in the train so they would have to push past you every time they walked up and down the train car. There was also a group of people who had brought a drum with them and sometimes they would randomly start singing and drumming which was pretty cool. I didn’t see out the window much because it was crowded and we were standing but we passed a lot of waterfalls. Here’s some pictures of the train station because I didn’t take any pictures on the train.

On Sunday me and several other volunteers decided to go on a safari. We took a 3 hour taxi ride. Then a Jeep picked us up and took us to a national park in Sri Lanka. I’m not sure what it’s called. We saw so many wild Asian elephants. It was so cool. It was really different than seeing them up close or in a zoo. It was a lot more breathtaking to see them with their herd. We probably saw 75-100 wild elephants which was so cool. I have much better pictures on my camera but I won’t be able to get those pictures until I get home. Here’s a few that I took with my phone.

Posted by Ilana'sGapYear 09:19 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

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