July 24, 2017
Wow, what an incredible week with our Moondance family in Thailand. Over the past few days, we’ve all challenged ourselves through new activities and adventures. Our journey down south started with an easy plane ride from Chiang Rai to Bangkok. The crew was up early and well prepared for the long travel day ahead. Once we landed in Bangkok, our tour guide Nina met us alongside a large, air conditioned tour bus. The drive into the city was quick (quite an endeavor for Bangkok’s infamous traffic) and Nina pointed out the various buildings that compose the city’s skyline. We immediately went to an authentic Thai restaurant in the Old City and ate rice, noodles, soup, etc. I’m happy to report the entire group is still devouring every last morsel and grain of rice. From here, we loaded back on the bus and drove to the Grand Palace – Bangkok’s most visited tourist site. This palace contains history from King Rama I – present King Rama X, and provided a great opportunity for the students to learn about the Thai monarchy in detail. The beloved King Rama IX recently passed in October 2016. He was in reign for over 70 years and the whole country went through a 30 day mourning period after his death. Many Thais will dress in all black to continue to show their respects to him. In the Grand Palace, they are building a multi-million Baht crematorium where his body is planned to be burned in October 2017 and will subsequently be demolished after the ceremony. Nina was a wealth of knowledge during this tour and added fun aspects regarding each King’s architectural style and history. A highlight for many was a visit to the Emerald Buddha. People from all over the world visit Thailand to see the statue. After this tour, our group went on an hour long boat ride down the Chao Phraya River. We divided into two groups and sailed down the canals in traditional Thai long tail boats. Evening fell upon us as we loaded onto the overnight train and rolled away from the capital city. Our train beds were made up and we nestled into our respective bunks after Moonup.
Arrival in southern Thailand came abruptly that next morning with an early wake up. We rolled into the station and jumped off eager to grab some grub as we waited for the bus. Two Thai ladies were awaiting our arrival and started to whip up omlettes, toast and coffee. A few hours, bus and train later, we finally stepped foot on Koh Tao; our home for the next five nights. We stayed in beach bungalows 2 feet from the Gulf of Thailand. The location as beyond perfect – right next beach and a 3 minute walk from the dive shop. Greg made a new friend in his bungalow; a lizard that loved to welcome him home from his dives. The Open Water students had a few videos to watch that afternoon and those that were certified had a few hours to relax. Despite the lack of sleep, Anna, Ashley and Brooke were fueled with adrenaline and kept us laughing with dance moves and good conversation over some delicious chocolate crepes. I’ve never seen such joy on a face than when they first bit into the dessert. We were in bed quite early to prepare for the first day of scuba diving.
That following morning consisted of more class and preparation for the first dives. Everyone was beyond excited when we jumped on board gear in hand. The first dive for Open Water students was in about 6 feet of water to practice basic skills. There were three groups of students, 3-4 per group each with a master diving instructor. The instructors are from all over the world: Spain, Germany, Australia, etc. Many have similar stories where they came to Thailand for three months to get their master instructor license and then never left. We became quite close with them over the next few days. In the water, Ashley was quick to show off her new scuba skills under the guidance of Derek, an instructor from Scotland. His accent was difficult to pick up on at times, but this didn’t hinder the group’s ability to learn about the world underwater. Some students were already certified from previous Moondances. Olivia is one who learned to scuba last year in Fiji and went on fun dives the first day to get the scuba juices flowing again. Just like riding a bike, her skills came back almost immediately. Everyone noted that it was great to get back in the water and go on ‘underwater safaris’. We ended our day eating on the water during the sunset.
The next day was very similar – classes in the morning and scuba diving in the afternoon. Back on board the ship, everyone fell into the routine and set up their tanks and gear under the watchful eyes of our guides. We had two dives this afternoon and saw plenty of rainbow fish, blue spotted sting rays, barracudas, and grouper. This only hits the tip of the iceberg of all the wildlife we saw. Jordi’s friendship with his instructor Olly blossomed as they explored the Thai depths in search for barracuda (his favorite). In between dives, we feasted on pineapple, biscuits and tea. Pete was keen on the Thai biscuits that had this odd lemon flavor with purple icing on the inside. To this day, we are quite unsure of this cookie’s name but Pete embraced the culture and indulged. The boat rides to each dive site were scenic and a great time to reflect on the incredible experiences underwater. This night, we went to our favorite restaurant Yin Yang and ate bowl-fulls of curry and pad thai. Southern Thailand is known for its spice; we challenged ourselves to see how the past two weeks had prepared us for Koh Tao’s cuisine. Another great day in the books and plenty of scuba ahead.
By day three of scuba diving with our outfitters, the students were pros at setting up their own gear and we continued to explore the underwater worlds surrounding ‘Turtle Island’ with increasing confidence. After our fist morning dive at the South West Pinnacle dive site we sipped tea and munched on pineapple on the deck trading stories of critters we saw and skills we learned. Quinlyn had made a friend underwater, a little yellow fish she named Timmy who faithfully followed her around the reefs and up the anchoring line to the boat. It was heartbreaking as we heard about her tearful goodbye to her little scuba partner. After our morning diving was complete, we returned to the Bungalows for lunch and some much deserved time lounging on the beach. However the Advanced divers and a few brave Open Water divers had the night dive at Hin Ngham to prepare for. The night dive took us to a depth of 12 meters for around 40 minutes. Equipped with flashlights and guided by the dive masters we explored the area. Bridget and Elsa especially enjoyed the bioluminescent algae! We stopped momentarily underwater, covered our lights and watch the small glowing algae light up like sparks when we moved the water with our hands. After the night dive we grabbed some dinner on the beach and prepared for our last day of scuba.
Even at 6:30 in the morning with the sun barely over the horizon we knew our last day in Koh Tao was going to be amazing. The sky was totally cloud free for the first time since we arrived. While we organized our scuba gear it was amazing to see the clear blue-bird canopy highlight the turquoise water out in the bay. With help from the crew the students loaded up into the small boat that taxied us out to the larger vessel. We ate breakfast up on the third floor deck passing around the PB+J materials and some muslei for those eating gluten free. Today we planned to head north east of the main island of Koh Tao to a formation called Chumphon Pinnacle. Our dive at this site would last for around 30 minutes at a maximum depth of 26 meters. The dive was absolutely incredible. In that short half an hour we observed fish taking shelter within a descending jellyfish, giant blue spotted rays, two different kinds of eels, neon sea snails and schools of colorful fish that numbered in the thousands. Joe even guided our eyes to a large group of barracuda hiding beneath the muddy thermocline. We watched as the predatory barracuda waited for its prey to stray too close to the barrier separating the clear warm water from the clouded cold water below. The barracuda would intermittently dart out of the cloudy water to strike at the fish. Joe had pointed out just one of the countless underwater dramas playing out around us. Needless to say we all wish we could’ve spent more time at that cite but we only had so much air in our tanks and a ship wreck to explore further south. The ship we dove around was the HTMS Sattakut. The ship had been gifted to the Thai navy by the United States after World War II and had been purposely sunk for scuba diving once its usefulness had expired. The water around the wreck was not as clear as at Chimphon and the rusting ship emerged at us from the haze like a zombie from graveyard fog. Keenan and Blake floated around the main turret at the front of the ship taking turns firing at imaginary combatants. Back at the boat we chatted about our dives and what we had seen before heading back to the beach for lunch. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the sun, catching up on summer reading, kayaking and snorkeling around the reefs beyond our bungalows. Sean, Elsa and Greg elected to take a Thai cooking class for part of that afternoon, so parents don’t hesitate to ask them to whip you up some Pad Thai when they get back home! The past 4 days in Koh Tao went by too quick! But there are other beaches to explore. Next we head to Krabi to rock climb at Railay!
Anna: Hey mom, I’m having so much fun scuba diving was unreal and I’m sun burnt but then each is incredible. We’re getting ready to leave for crabby island. Tell Cece, J, Liz and them I miss them so much and have told all my friends about them. Love y’all & see you soon
Brooke: Hey Trent and Lou (since Paige is in Galapagos), miss you guys. Bet cola isn’t as fun as Thailand. Can’t wait to be home and see y’all. Love y’all
Olivia: Hey mom and dad, we just got done with scuba and it was amazing! Thailand is so incredible and I can’t wait to tell y’all all about it!! We leave for Krabi tomorrow and I can’t wait. Miss and love everyone!
Bridget: hi mom and dad! Miss you guys, but hope you are having so much fun with both kids gone! I’m officially an Advanced scuba Diver! The dives were incredible and the island is so pretty! Love you!!
Pete- hey guys! Just finished scuba diving and I’m having so much fun. Love and miss y’all!
Joe – Hey family! Finally an advanced certified scuba diver!!! Unfortunately today was the last day in Koh Tao, but now I’m off to Crabby beach. Tell nick to work harder at ibm 🙂 love you all and miss you! (Also please bring a laptop and my book to Korea for me)
Greg – Hey fam, I am now scuba certified! Gonna miss Thailand and Moondance a lot but can’t wait to see y’all in a few days.
Elsa- hey fam! Thailand is fantastic and I am now an Advanced Diver. I went to a Thai cooking class yesterday and it was truly a beautiful experience. Can’t wait to see you guys soon. Love you
P.S love and miss you so much mom can’t wait to see you in 4 days, also can u tell dad I love and miss him
Sean: I’ve walked an elephant, been night diving, and learned how to cook pad Thai, long story short I’m gonna miss it here. Love Sean
Quinlyn: hey mom and dad! I’m having a lot of fun but I have to say I actually miss home. Only four days left though! Time flies. Heading to Krabi beach for our final destination on the trip and I’m so excited. I’ll make sure to get a million pictures. See you guys soon. Love Quinlyn
Blake: Hey mom! Just left Koh Tao after getting scuba certified. The beauty of Thailand still amazes me everyday. Miss you! Love Blake
Keenan: Hey parents. We are on the bus headed to Krabi to go climbing. I went scuba diving. It was super cool awesome fun. I got to go on a night dive as well and it was quite amazing. Miss and Love y’all. YIS Keenan
Ashley: Hey fam. I’m having so much fun. Scuba diving was incredible. I was scared at first but I did it and I’m certified now!!! I miss and love y’all lots see you soon!
Jordi: Hey Mom and Dad. I’m so happy I was able to go to Thailand. It’s is such a beautiful country and I found a new love for scuba diving! Miss you guys and can’t wait to see both of you in the airport, with my car. 😉
July 17, 2017
Hello loved ones!
It was a sad goodbye to our new Karen family, but our team was ready for some adventurous activities in northern Thailand. Upon entering our first day back in reality we ventured an hour out of the ‘Old City’ to a rock climbing haven. Crazy Horse Buttress is known for its tall limestone mountains and world-renowned climbing. Walking to our first activity, we picked up accents and languages from all over the world. There are over 200 set routes for anyone from beginners to world champions. Our guides Chris and M prepared us for the day with numerous safety talks and gear checklists. We set off for a morning of cave exploring and repelling. The first cave we maneuvered into challenged those that are a bit claustrophobic. Ducking into a dark cave can be frightful, especially on a rainy day. Olivia was one who was hesitant at first, but took the challenge on with gusto. Inside the cave, we learned all about stalagmite, stalactite and all other rock formations. Elsa expressed deep interest in the science behind this process and was front and center asking questions. After a bit of caving, our fearless guides taught us the basics to repelling. A bit of practice proved to be quite helpful as we were to repel down a 60 foot rock face. The group excitedly put on the harnesses and cheered one another on as they lowered down. Brooke was forthcoming about her fear of heights from the beginning of the day, but safety made it down with the positive reinforcement from everyone. We broke for a well-deserved ride and veggie lunch before embarking on an afternoon of rock climbing. 5 lines of ranking difficulties were set up inside the cave to shield us from the rain outside. Everyone was geared up and eager to try the routes. Sean was the first to attempt the most difficult route, and after 20 minutes of puzzling his way up he succeeded; a big triumph for the entire group. Jordi and Joe were quick behind to conquer the route as well. Anna surprised everyone with her climbing abilities and spent the entire afternoon on the rock wall. She became our little spider monkey. Exhausted, dirty and chalky we left Crazy Horse Buttress for the Hot Springs Hostel. The night was beautiful and our guides set up a bonfire, which truly added to the atmosphere of our Moonup. We had long discussions while we cooked Thai s’mores – sticky rice, butter, coconut milk and sugar. Surprisingly, quite delicious!
That next morning we rose early for a day of spelunking in one of Crazy Horse’s famous caves. We planned to spend a few hours exploring the depths of its dark walls. We got into the cave by utilizing our new repelling skills. Down in the cave, our headlamps were the only lights guiding us through the darkness. Ashely and Joe kept conversations lively with topics like our favorite animated films and bands. Back in daylight, we did another long repel down to finish the day. Jordi showed off his new skills and repelled down like a true professional. Back in Chiang Mai, our group went to the Chiang Mai Gate Market to explore Thai cuisine. The market has every Thai food imaginable and groups of students spent the night wandering between stalls. Keenan loved the Pad Thai stall so much that he went back for a full second meal. He still talks about it days later. Bridget discovered the most delicious smoothly stall and mixed together fresh dragon fruit, passion fruit, mango and pineapple. (She loves that pineapple!) Bellies full, we rolled back to our hostel to Moonup and get a good night sleep.
Today, we were up early to drive from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. This 3 hour drive took us through rolling hills and small villages. Greg spear headed a playlist of which every student added 3 of their favorite songs. We listed to this during the ride and every student was ecstatic to hear some familiar music. Pete added his fair share of country songs and converted a few non-country lovers to the easy going music. Once in Chiang Rai, our squad got on bikes to ride to the White Palace – one of the most popular temples in Thailand built in 1997. The temple is a work in progress and doesn’t expect to be finished for another 90 years. Inside the temple, there are many popular references painted on the walls. It is one of the most unique things we’ve all seen. Blake took his time to comb through all the paintings and absorbed all that the White Temple offered. The ride back from the temple was a muddy, rainy experience! Everyone embraced it and laughed as mud piled up on our clothes. Quinlyn was especially muddy and was nothing but smiles at the end of the ride. Tomorrow we bid farewell to northern Thailand and embark on our journey down south!
Until next time,
Joanie and Ben
Ashley: Hey Mom and Dad! The food here is amazing you definitely need to come here sometime. We are scuba diving in two days wish me luck. Love y’all!!
Elsa: Hey fam!!!! I’m having such an amazing time and have the coolest stories and pictures to show u guys. miss y’all like crazy. p.s. love you mom see u in 10 days
Quinlyn: Hey Mom and Dad! I miss you guys but Thailand has been amazing. We finished up climbing and biking and we are getting ready to head to the beach section of the trip and I’m so excited to scuba! See you guys soon. Love you!
Greg: Hey mom and dad – everything is great in Thailand. I have so many crazy stories and can’t wait to tell y’all all about it. Getting scuba certified in a few days. Miss y’all.
Sean: Hey guys, best wishes from Thailand. It’s beautiful here and I can’t wait to go scuba diving.
Anna: Hey Momma, I’m having a great time and have made some fantastic friends! I’m in Chiang Rai and about to fly to go advanced scuba diving. Tell Cece, Liz and them I miss them so much! I miss you a lot and have been thinking about you every day, can’t wait to hug you!
Olivia: Hey Mom and Dad, Thailand has been amazing and we head to the beach tomorrow for scuba and more rock climbing! I’m so excited but miss y’all and everyone so much! I can’t wait to see everyone again and tell y’all all about Thailand! Make sure to tell my friends I miss them and can’t wait to see them again!!!
Pete: Hey Mom and Dad, I’m having soooo much fun in Thailand. Miss y’all and love y’all.
Brooke: Hey Mom and Dad!! I am having a great time in Thailand and I’ve made some wonderful friends. Tell T, P, and L hi. See ya in 2 weeks. Tell joey and baby Jet hi too!
Bridget: Hey Mom and Dad! I am having the best time in Thailand! I can’t wait to start scuba diving! I’m taking lots of great photos and can’t wait to tell you all about the trip! Love you lots and hope you are having a great few days without any kids!
Keenan: Good evening. I am having such a delightful time in Thailand. I have taken some pretty sick photographs and I am eating some awesome amazing food. I hope Ellen’s wedding went well and everyone had a great time. Yours in Scouting, Keenan Hogan
Joe: Hey family! Thailand is so charming and fun to be in so far, and I can’t wait to tell you guys about all my adventures so far. Also, I believe it’s official that I’ll be getting the advanced cert. for scuba! Love you all so much and take care – Joe
Blake: Hello Mom! I’m still having an amazing time in Thailand. I have taken some amazing photos and tomorrow we leave Chang Rai for the islands!
Jordi: Hey family! Having a great time in Thailand Love you guys!
July 14, 2017
The day to visit the children at their school had finally come! We were awoken in the early AM by our ever reliable feathered alarm clocks. The roosters made sure we emerged from our mosquito nets early enough so that we could drink our tea, prepare our packs and enjoy a quick game of Bananagrams before sitting down for breakfast. After breakfast Uncle Chai told us that we would pass by the Royal Agricultural Project on the way to the primary school. The team hiked from our guest house for around an hour until we reached a large open area dominated primarily by greenhouses. He explained that the late king, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, had gotten rid of the opium farming in the area by creating demand for locally and responsibly sourced Thai produce and then introducing a system that made it more profitable for the locals to grow bok choy then poppy flowers. Greg showed particular interest in this process and asked Uncle Chai more questions about Thai politics and the royal family’s role within the government. Once our tour of the Royal Agricultural Project was complete we walked to the school. The kids and teachers greeted us and ushered us into the classrooms. We spent two hours teaching English to the kids. Pete was especially popular. I think some of the school girls had a crush on him…they just wouldn’t leave him alone! All tuckered out from the children we returned to the Guesthouse for lunch. As we ate Thailand decided to remind us what the rainy season was all about. While the rain outside came down in sheets we took the opportunity to rest our full bellies and enjoy the rain. The students caught up with their summer reading, played cards and Bananagrams. Sean picked up the Guesthouse’s acoustic guitar and treated everyone to a few songs. After the rain let up we returned to our work cite. Everyone signed their names on the outside of the restroom. We continued up the road to the volleyball court. The volleyball court was surrounded by water buffalo (wow, never thought I’d write that) so we waited for them to clear off before we got our game started. Ashley showcased her skill during that match schooling us all. We eventually had to ban her from serving. Her serves were just too hard to return! We ended our day with a visit from the town shaman. The shaman gave us all a blessing. He indicted us into the tribe and reassured us that we all had a home with them in the mountains of Thailand.
Our last day in the village was bittersweet. We said goodbye to our wonderful hosts and started our hike down the mountain. On the way we stopped at a watering hole to take a dip and cool off. After our we completed our descent we loaded up into cars and took a short ride to the river. From there we jumped onto bamboo rafts and lazily floated down the river for a time. Elsa Rose, Greg Joanie and I were on the same raft and noisily sang random songs as we drifted under bridges and past elephants. We got out of the river, dried ourselves off and went back to Chang Mai. That night we went to the night market down the street from our accommodations and ate green curry and bought a few trinkets for our friends and family back home. Brooke loved the market buying a few pairs of elephant pants for herself and friends and trying ice cream frozen and rolled over super cooled metal counters. All in all our experience in Chang Mai and with the Karen tribe up in the mountains was incredible. The team eagerly awaits our rock climbing adventure tomorrow!
Olivia: Hey guys, miss y’all a lot!!! Thailand is amazing and I can’t wait to tell everyone all about it! Make sure to tell my friends I miss them too, love y’all!!!
Blake: Hey Mom, having an awesome time in Thailand! This place is absolutely beautiful. Miss you and see you soon!
Greg: Hey friends and family, I’m having the best time in one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Give the dogs a big hug for me. Love y’all.
Brooke: Hey fam. Having a great time in Thailand. It is amazing here and I can’t wait to tell y’all all about it. Love and miss y’all. 🙂
Anna: Hey Mom, I lost my glasses I’m having a great time tell Cece and the crew I miss them so much too and give Lilly a hug for me. I’m really burnt right now love you
Pete: hey family. I’m having an awesome time in Thailand. Hope all is going well at home. Miss and love y’all.
Jordi: Hey family. Thailand is great. Miss and love y’all.
Keenan: Hey Mom and Dad, how’s it going. I am having a great time and eating some pretty great food. I hope everyone and everything is well in the 912. Miss and love y’all.
Joe: Hey family! Hope all is well at home because Thailand is great so far. Can’t wait to tell you guys about all my adventures. Love you.
Sean: Hey guys- I’m alive and well. Hope everyone is going good.
Ashley: Hey guys hope y’all are doing great. Thailand is amazing. I love it here. Miss and love y’all lots!
Elsa: Hey fam love and miss y’all so much, tell the dogs hello for me. The trip is so amazing. Special shoutout to my Mom thank you for sending me on this trip! I miss you so much!
Bridget- Hi Mom and Dad! This trip has been so incredible!! My pineapple addiction has sky rocketed! The village was so eye opening and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! Riley- have the absolute best time on your trip! So jealous!!
Quinlyn: Hey Mom and Dad! Miss you guys but Thailand is great. We’ve finished the service in the village with the elephants and it’s been incredible. Can’t wait to show you the pics!
July 10, 2017
Hello from Thailand!
Our adventure began late at the airport after the students’ long flight from the US to Korea and then finally to Bangkok. Joanie and I had been waiting and preparing for the group in Bangkok for two days and we were delighted when we saw the team, headed by Jordi and Keenan, emerge from the arrival gate tired but excited and ready to begin our adventure across The Land of Smiles.
Once everyone had be accounted for we left the airport and spent a night in a hotel close by caching a few Zs before rousing the students and busing back to the airport to take an hour long flight to the northern city of Chang Mai, the cultural capital of Thailand and second largest city in the nation. On the flight to Chang Mai Ashley filled the time with games and activities that helped break the ice and stave off the jet lag. Once we arrived in the small airport we bused to the Baan Kaew Guesthouse where we were met by our guide Pui. Pui led the group through a quick lesson that covered the basics of the Thai language, cultural sensitivities, norms and taboos. The language was a little hard to grasp at first but Elsa Rose seemed to have a natural skill for it and help the rest of the students with flow and pronunciation.
Once the students grasped the basics of the Thai language and the do and don’ts of the Thai culture we set off into Chang Mai. We started out in a market in the old city where Sean and Pete gorged themselves with all the Pad Thai, Nom Prik and Pad Ew Som they could get their hands on. Yum! After everyone filed up we made our through the market and bought elephant pants (long loose pants that are a staple in Thailand) so that the students could go into the local temples in style. With everyone looking fresh in their new gear we jumped into taxis and made our way up to the famous Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. On the way to the grand golden temple Brooke energized the group by posing riddles and singing songs to pass the time. It took us 15 minutes to climb the three hundred plus stairs to the temple. At the top the students ooed and awed at the amazing view of Chang Mai. Once the temple had been thoroughly explored we went back to our guest house had some dinner and prepared to go to the Elephant Foundation in the morning.
The next morning we meet up with Uncle Chai, our fearless Thai guide, and we piled our gear up into the cars and drove up into the mountains to play with the elephants. When we finally got to the elephants Anna, who had barely been able to contain herself, burst out of the car rushing to meet her new elephant friends. Quinlyn was also mesmerized by the lumbering giants and it took all the coxing we could manage to pry them away so that the volunteers at the foundation could give us a crash course on the elephants and their disappearing environment. After we had learned about the elephants it was time to meet them up close. We spent the next three hours taking pictures with them, feeding them and playing with them. Olivia and Bridget loved handing the elephants rice and giggled as the snouts of elephants trunks took it from them. After the elephants were fed we led them to a watering hole down the road. We jumped into the water with them and had a blast washing them and watching them play. Joe and Greg got drenched when one of the larger elephants took up a large amount of water into its trunk and shot it at them like fire hose! Blake did not escape the soaking. One of the elephants belly flopped into the water creating a kind of elephant induced wave that swept through everyone in its path leaving only smiles and laughter in its wake. It was an amazing and fulfilling day and after the watering hole we said a teary goodbye and headed back to the cars to take us to our guesthouse for the night. Tomorrow we head off to the Karen village to start our service project with them. It promises to be an amazing experience.
July 7, 2017
Hey Thailand 2A friends and family members,
We just heard from Ben & Joanie that everyone made it safe and sound to Thailand! Please stay tuned for more updates from the group as they begin their adventure.
-Moondance Administrative Team