Trip Updates

Thailand : 2 • July 6-July 28, 2016

SCUBA Time!

July 25, 2016

Hello, Friends and Family!!

Our Thai adventure continues southward as we’re drawn to the unique landscapes and world-class climbing of Railay Beach in the Krabi region. This is the place you’ve undoubtedly seen on computer backgrounds and topping lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  You know, the pictures of long-tail boats set against the backdrop of a greenish-turquoise water and monolithic limestone islands scattered throughout the frame.  A few miles away are the famous Phi Phi Islands and Phuket beaches. Railay Beach is just as stunning, but more difficult to get to, and therefore less developed and ideal for a Moondance adventure! We will be spending a couple days here exploring the area and putting our climbing skills, honed a couple a weeks ago in Chiang Mai, to the test.

But first, some reflection on the last five days spent in absolute paradise. Koh Tao, and more specifically our ideal setup on Chaloak Bay, was exactly what the gang needed after nearly two weeks of mountains and jungles and city markets. Our bungalows were situated mere feet from the beach, on one extreme end of a shallow bay, with a strip of restaurants and shops to one side, and to the other a resort that allowed us access to their breathtaking viewpoint and infinity pool to relax after long days of diving and classes.

As mentioned in the last update, the first day served as an introduction to SCUBA diving for most in the group, and as a chance for the Advanced students to relax and explore the bay on kayak. The following day we all got to suit up and start our diving adventure. The Open Water students were divided into two groups, led by two great instructors, Giorgio from Italy and Marion from Slovakia. First, the group had to pass a simple swim test of 200 meters and treading water for 10 minutes. Elliott, being a competitive swimmer, found this to be a piece of cake and used this first task to give him confidence going into the dive instruction. Susanna felt comfortable enough in the water, as she’d been ‘resort diving’ several times, to partner up with Giorgio and help lead the group by example. Sarah initially felt a bit apprehensive about breathing underwater with the unfamiliar gear, but with sound instruction, learned to enjoy the experience and found it quite relaxing. That afternoon, the group went to class and reviewed the day’s dives.

The next day the students were eager to expand upon their knowledge and learn more skills in the water. Peyton and Sophie were dive buddies and gave a demonstration to their dive group regarding how to do a proper buddy-check. They mixed instruction with humor to put on a very helpful review.  Hunt and Emma S. were curious to see the different fish that they had been learning about from classes and the books on board about marine life in the area. The rest of the group was evaluated for their buddy checks and wasted no time in leaping into the water. Great dives were had all around. A few highlights were spotting a ton of butterfly fish, a few triggerfish, a moray eel, a bunch of trevally, a couple ribbontail sting rays, and even a striped sea snake! Back on shore, the students were required to clean their diving gear and wet suits. Jono, Abby and Connor were always willing to lend a helping hand and stayed back to help clean extra equipment left behind. That afternoon the Open-Water guys finished class and took their exam a day early – and they all passed!!

Meanwhile, the Advanced divers went out for their night dive, one adventure dive necessary to finish the course. Emma H. and Sterling loved visiting a dive site they had seen the day before, but in a new way. The dive started just after sundown, and after a few minutes at the bottom, the group was in complete darkness – seeing only with the aid of their flashlights.

The next two days, the groups would visit the same dive sites together as they finished their respective skill sets with their instructors. All agreed that diving was a big highlight of the trip. We were lucky to have such great visibility and calm seas.

To top off the great week in paradise, we spent our last evening hiking to the most beautiful overlook on the island – the John Suwan viewpoint. From the tip of the narrow peninsula, we could admire both our beloved Chalouk Bay and the neighboring Haadtien Bay. Taylor remarked that the gorgeous views were well worth the exhausting uphill hike.  We watched sunset here before meeting our instructors for a special dinner on our last night. We hit the hay early as we would be waking up at 4 a.m. to catch an early ferry and be on our way to Krabi!

So here we are, comfortable at our lovely hostel, excited about climbing in such a beautiful area. And though we will see you all in a few days, the kids wanted to send a personal message to you all back home:

Peyton: Hey fam! Hope all is going well in STL. Miss you guys! Thailand is so cool! See you soon! Love, Peyton

Emma S: Hi mom, dad, Creed, Willertz, Junior, and Fergie. I miss you all and I’ve eaten a lot of eggs. Love you, Emma

Abby: Hello my little freak shows!! Miss you guys 🙂 I love you!! -Abby

Elliott: Hey Fam! Having a great time and missing y’all. Really don’t want to come home and leave the awesome country, but I’m really looking forward to a nice American meal. Missing you guys and the dogs. – Elliott

Jono: Yo, K. Bye. Love, Jono.

Sterling: Hey everyone, pretty sure Clark is gone and you two are finally alone so have fun in Jackson Hole and I’ll see you when I get home! Love and miss y’all. Love, Sterling.

Taylor: 3MJim, Mommy and Perry Pack – Miss you all very much, but I’m having a blast!! Can’t wait to get back on “outnumbered.” I love y’all!! – Tay

Hunt: Dear Mom, Dad, Lily, Lucky, and Gunner. I am having so much fun in Thailand, but I also miss you guys a lot. Right now I am eating fried bananas and ice cream on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean! Happy late birthday, Dad – hope it was great. Have fun in Alabama, I’ll see you all in a few days! I can’t wait to tell y’all about it. I love you all and miss you all, Hunt. P.S. don’t forget to feed my fish, Lily!

Emma H: Mother Hello! Could you please make me a dermatologist appointment cause we’re worried about my mole.  Also, could you call Holly to schedule when I’m coming in in August. Thanks! To all- Having an awesome time! Love you guys! -Emma

Sophie: Mother/Father/Family, I LOVE MOONDANCE! Love, Sophie

Sarah: Mom, Dad, Caroline, Izzy and Mocha. Thailand is so cool!! I keep thinking about how much y’all would love it.  I miss y’all a lot but am having the time of my life. Carol- happy 21st!! Izzy- I saw 5 Mr. Kiplings yesterday.  LOVE Y’ALL! Xoxo Sarah

Susanna: Yo fam, missing y’all lots! Hope everything’s going well at home! I’m having an amazing experience! See y’all soon.  P.s. happy late birthday momma! Love you- Susanna

Connor: Hey mom and dad, miss you guys and i’ll see you soon!


Rock Climbing, Sight Seeing and now onto Scuba Diving!

July 19, 2016

Good evening, Moondance families!

 

We write you from the beautiful island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. We arrived this morning after a whirlwind 36 hours of travel and Bangkok sightseeing! Here we can finally unwind and enjoy the gorgeous vistas available to us from every point on our bay.

 

The last five days saw the group do a myriad of activities, from rock climbing in Chiang Mai, to biking in Chiang Rai, to taking a boat tour through the canals and river of Bangkok – we even boiled eggs in the pool of a natural hot springs area!

 

Our first day of adventure was spent with Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures at Crazy Horse Buttress learning the fundamentals of rappelling and climbing, in order to prepare us for the following day’s caving expedition. We split into two groups and practiced the activities for a few hours before and after lunch. Abby drew from her previous climbing experience to shoot up the most difficult route with the fastest time of the entire day! Elliott and Hunt, both new to climbing, knocked out all five of the possible climbing routes set up for us inside a massive cave! After lunch, Connor overcame his slight fear of heights by rappelling 130 feet down to the bottom of the cave. He later said that was his favorite part of the day.  After finishing, the group headed to our relax accommodation for the night – a hot springs natural area with rustic cabins that looked onto a constantly-erupting geyser. The group swam in the warm, mineral-rich natural pools that cured our accumulated scrapes and mosquito bites from the jungle!

 

The following morning we returned to Crazy Horse Buttress for our spelunking adventure. The group united to rappel into the dark abyss and explore the wonders of the cave. We saw bats, spiders, millipedes, and beautiful, shimmering stalactites and stalagmites. Sterling fearlessly led the group through the pitch-black maze and calmed the fears of those anxious about walking through such an intimidating place.  We ended the day with a unique lunch experience – eating our prepared meals in the still darkness before climbing back up the same way we rappelled down. The group was itching to get back to our beloved Chiang Mai for one last night at their favorite street market. We ended the day by shopping for unique gifts and treats to bring back for our loved ones. In the same market the gang enjoyed a great dinner while listening to live music. Sophie courageously volunteered to join the band in a tribute to her favorite song: “I Will Survive.” The whole audience loved the performance and cheered wildly for her. It felt like a scene taken straight from a movie. It was the perfect end to a great day.

 

Leaving Chiang Mai, we all headed north to the town of Chiang Rai, where we would be doing a cycling tour of some beautiful hills in the area and the famed White Temple.  The route was stunning, filled with lush green rice paddies and hills with winding rural roads. While some students competitively raced each other and went as fast as our guide would let them, Sarah and Emma S. impressed us leaders as they explained that they kept a steady pace so that they could really take in all of the scenery and live in the moment. Halfway through the bike ride we stopped for lunch and a tour of the White Temple. It differs from other temple designs in that it appears to have been covered in a blanket of snow that glistens in the sun.  Taylor and Peyton took a stroll through the temple grounds, amazed by the intricate design and stunning architecture. Taylor said it was her favorite temple of the entire trip. The group rode another 23 kilometers back to our starting point and thanked our awesome guide, “Bee,” before heading back to our very hip hostel to prepare for our long travel spree.

 

Flying from Chiang Rai to Bangkok, we were met by our bubbly city tour guide, “Nina.”  She showed us incredible places to eat pad Thai, a boat tour of the area and a visit to the awe-inspiring Temple of the Reclining Buddha. First stop on the menu was a great little restaurant that served simple, but delicious Thai standards. Then, to escape the heat, we hopped on a few long-tailed boats to get a unique view of this newly booming city.  Susanna sat up in the front of the boat to get a better view of the local architecture and Kimodo dragons swimming in the water and perched along the sea walls. From there we went to see what one recently published article lists as one of the “21 Places to Visit Before You Die, “the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. We wished to stay longer to see everything that Bangkok has to offer, but we had to start our preparations for the overnight trek to our next stop, Koh Tao.

 

We took an overnight bus from Bangkok to the port town of Chumphon, from where we took a nice, fast ferry over to the island. We were met by our dive guides and taken a few minutes down the road to the stunningly beautiful Chaolok Bay on the island’s south shore. Here we will be spending the next few days mastering the art of SCUBA diving. For those students that already have their Open Water Certification (Sterling, Emma H., Jono), they will take the next step and obtain their Advanced Diving Certification. Thanks to this, they got to skip the introductory lesson this afternoon and take an evening spin through the turquoise bay on sea kayaks. Emma and Jono especially enjoyed exploring the rock formations and sea life inhabiting the tide pools on the secluded beaches they kayaked to.

 

We are looking forward to our next few days SCUBA diving and enjoying island sunsets. We will tell you all about it in the next trip update in a few days.

 

Miss you all,

Marc and Megan


Service Section was a Success!

July 14, 2016

Ochu Oklay!

 

Greetings from the mountains of northern Thailand! I start this update from our bungalow and its privileged vantage point, perched atop a hill overlooking a gorgeous green valley, filled with rice paddies and banana trees. In the distance there are low, rolling mountains as far as the eye can see. After the sun sets, the lights from Chiang Mai, 25 kilometers to the east, shine a low semi-circle above the horizon. In the morning, the sun rises around 6:30 and wakes the kids up naturally. Megan and I hear them giggling from our separate bungalow and know it’s time to head over for coffee and conversation before 8:00 am breakfast and morning activities. We are being fed traditional meals cooked by a team of four to five local villagers, plus our wise guide, Uncle Chai. And as delicious as the food is, we are typically unable to finish the endless bowls that they serve us. Time between meals and service is spent relaxing and singing and playing card games with our enviable view as a backdrop. The beautiful simplicity of these days is not lost on the students. They are cognizant of the satisfaction and joy that come with a hearty meal shared with friends after an honest day’s work. This is what often makes the community service section the highlight for many students on these trips.

 

Our first stop after leaving Chiang Mai was the much-anticipated Tong Bai Elephant Foundation. Here our guides and the elephant handlers, called mahuts, taught us all about the differences between Asian elephants and their African counterparts. We then got to meet all of the elephants and touch and pet them, too. Hunt became fast buddies with a particularly friendly one, named ‘Puzi,’ and never left her side. After lunch, we changed into our handler outfits and led all ten elephants about a mile down the road to their favorite watering hole in the local river. Peyton and Abby did a great job guiding their elephant and yelling a stern “haow!” or “ma pey!” to say “stop” and “come on!,” respectively. Once in the water, the crew was giggling at how playful the giants became as they flopped every which way and sucked up water only to spray it back out of their trunks at their handlers and the students. The mahuts gave the commands to the elephants to lower their bodies and let some students hop on for a quick ride. Emma S. and Jono were both a bit timid at first, but after some persuasion from their peers, they got on and were elated with their decision. Emma H. loved every minute of the bath and got on three separate elephants with friends and shrieked as they sprayed water at them. After a half hour, we walked the elephants back to their home and fed them some bananas before bidding them farewell. It was an early highlight of the trip for everyone.

 

From Tong Bai, we headed north into the thick jungle to start our community service component of the trip. We would spend the next four days serving in schools and on farms in rural communities of less than 80 families that were without cell service and municipal plumbing. Our first day saw us hiking to our first small community project. On the way, we helped reforest an area hit hard by the lumber industry a few decades ago. Connor generously offered to carry the young trees of half the group to lighten the load a bit for the hike. Once there, he planted his trees and aided others in tying their trees to stakes. We moved on and stopped at a gorgeous waterfall to enjoy a special lunch cooked in bamboo stalks and banana leaves. Our lodging that night was very rustic and the kids loved it. On day two, we stopped by a primary school for a bit of English teaching. Right off the bat, Sophie and Sarah stepped up and led a class in lessons of colors, animals, body parts, and classroom objects. We even played some music for them and taught them fun dances like ‘The Macarena’ and ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.’ The children loved the new songs and actually followed along quite well! We donated some soccer balls as we said goodbye and were on our way to see what would be our home for the next few days – the aforementioned bungalows overlooking the green valley and rice paddies.

 

Our time in the village was spent between farming in the rice paddies and construction at the village pre-school. Our service started after breakfast, in the terraced riced paddies down the hill from our bungalows. A group of local men and women taught us how to take a small cluster of rice stalks and plant them into the the shallow mud flats. Sterling worked steadfastly alongside the local Karen workers, trying to keep up with their fast pace. Elliott was a great group motivator, keepings spirits high even as the sun beat down on us and lunchtime drew nearer. It was gratifying to have lunch from our bungalow and look out over the large fields that we had just filled.

 

In the afternoons, our group walked uphill to the primary school where we did our construction project, also with the aid of some local workers. Our first day was spent building an outdoor handwashing sink with three faucets. The whole crew pitched in to mix the concrete and stack cinder blocks to shape the sink. On the second day, after the cement had dried, we were allowed to decorate our completed creation, as well as the halls near the bathroom. The students chose a theme of “Under the Sea,” decorating it with fish and sea plants and crabs and the like. Taylor worked diligently, painting the walls with tropical fish and palm trees; while Susana painted big block letters of Moondance Adventures and put the finishing touches on the aquatic scene. Both of these girls were the last to put down their brushes and worked until it was time to leave.

 

Our time in this welcoming village ended with a celebratory dinner and visit from the local shaman. He made us all honorary members of the Karen village. We were all sad to leave this mountain paradise, but excited to move on to the next half of the trip. The next few days will be full of fun activities as we climb, rappel, and mountain bike our way through Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. We will tell you all about it on our next trip update.

 

Peace and blessings,

Marc and Megan


Sawtdee Ka/Krap! Greetings from Thailand!

July 8, 2016

After a long two days traveling we were happy to finally be in paradise! I loved meeting all of your wonderful kids and watching old Moondance friends reconnect after a year or more away from each other. I’m confident the entire flight to Tokyo heard Taylor’s reaction upon seeing her good friend Payton arrive. It was a sweet moment to witness! The flights to Tokyo and Bangkok were brutally long – a total of nearly 20 hours of flying. I’m happy to say that everyone made it on both flights, in spite of the abundance of flight delays. Shout outs to Emma S. and Abby for their track and field skills, almost missing their connecting flight by minutes but were able to sprint the length of the entire airport. We were so relieved to see them board the plane after the gate had already closed.

Upon arriving in Bangkok late Thursday night, Elliott and Sophie had their first taste of Thai cuisine in the form of “bubble tea” – a favorite among the Thai people, and now Elliott, as well. Connor remarked that the view of the city during the descent into Bangkok airport reminded him of flying into Mexico City. As the group exited, they met their other leader, Marc, and packed in to the hotel vans.  Susanna commented on the unique architectural style of local homes and buildings that she admired through the window.  At the hotel, we had a quick moonup and then went off to bed to catch an early morning flight to Chiang Mai.

Jono woke up energized and fresh and gave his Moondance pal from last year, Susanna, a big good morning hug and reiterated how excited he was to head up to the mountains. Our flight to Chiang Mai was a quick one. Once there, we were picked up by our “guesthouse,” a simple traditional hotel. The gang was anxious to get their first taste of real Thai food. We went to a nearby restaurant to try the local specialty – Khao Soi – which consists of fried noodles doused in a spicy coconut curry and topped with chicken, pork, or beef. Hunt and Emma H. devoured their bowls quickly and gladly helped their friends that were not in love with the spice. Sterling impressed the group by adding spicy red pepper paste to her already hot plate! The whole group is looking forward to try more typical dishes throughout the trip.

Once finished, we were chauffeured to the mountain-top temple of Doi Suthep where we spent an hour admiring the beautiful golden structures at the site. While there, hundreds of Buddhist monks that we had seen trekking up the mountain road minutes earlier entered the temple quietly for an apparent celebration of sorts. Sarah was in awe at the sight of the sea of orange that filled the courtyard area to pray.

We spent the evening resting and checking out a local food trucks market that the group loved. The group was anxious to get to bed a decent hour as tomorrow and the next 6 days will be filled with elephants and waterfalls and gorgeous hikes in the hills outside of Chiang Mai. We will write you at the end of our time serving in the village with the Karen people.

Love to all our friends and family,

Megan and Marc