July 24, 2017
Oh mu choe pae (how are you doing in Karen) family! Our last six days in Thailand have been nothing short of amazing. We entered our service portion eager to learn about and experience life in the Karen village, where we would be staying the next five days. The Karen village is a hill tribe deeply rooted in Asian culture. Ever seen images of women with elongated necks? This is the Karen village. This group derives from India and traveled to Thailand hundreds of years ago. Karen people speak their own language. There are now four branches of Karen villages in Thailand, and we were fortunate enough to stay in one of the White Karen villages. The villages are located in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand, remotely.
To get to the village, we must trek through the vast jungle; consequently, we inevitably explore and learn about plants native to Thailand. In order to fully grasp our time spent in the village, it is pivotal that I tell you about dear Uncle Chai. He was our liaison and guide throughout our time spent in the Karen village. His knowledge, passion, and charisma shines from the moment you meet him unparalleled to the humbleness and modesty that accompanies him also. As we hiked through the jungle into the village, we all found pleasure in stopping along the way to hear Uncle Chai share his wealth of knowledge about fruits, trees, insects, traditions, games, and more. For instance, during the beginning of our trek through sugar cane and rice fields, Uncle Chai paused and picked a big leaf from a nearby bush. He asked us to watch him carefully; he folded the stem just enough to crack the stem near the leaf but not break it apart and brought it close to his mouth where he then blew bubbles. We watched in astonishment. As most things in life are, it was not as easy for us to simply take this leaf and create bubbles. Each of us struggled to blow bubbles until KiKi became a bubble pro. There were many stops such as these along the way, taking a moment to learn about different rice fields, how uniquely a banana tree works, and more. Our stop for lunch was as picturesque as they come, eating fried rice wrapped in banana leaves beneath a bamboo hut next to a roaring waterfall. We stopped also to swim in the waterfall and explore the small cave underneath. It was a first for Sophia to swim in a waterfall and boy was this the place to do it! As we continued our hike up the steep rock along the passing creek, we were sweaty, thirsty, and tired; however, coming across this nice surprise gave us all the extra boost we needed. We were greeted on our way up by three elephants. Yes, we were hiking through the mountains in Northern Thailand and stumbled upon three elephants eating in the care of their elephant sanctuary. This was certainly a wow moment for us all. After a bit more trekking, we arrived at a beautiful village where we began helping build the base of a future water tank. As the men of the village helped make cement, Mary came up with an idea of another way we could help out in the time being. She saw the pipes that would be connected to the water tank and asked if we could begin digging, placing, and covering them where they would need to be. It was a nice way to create jobs for everyone and kept us busy during a time when we felt like we weren’t helping much. Before the rains came, we called it a day and finally headed to the next village where we would be staying. We walked down a steep path covered in hydrangeas to our little bamboo tree house overlooking the greenest rice fields and beautiful mountains. A spot fit for the cover of National Geographic. Everyone walked in with mouths open in astonishment for the beauty of where we would be spending the next four nights. We ate an unbelievable dinner before gathering for Moonup and getting to bed for our first full day in the village.
We woke up underneath mosquito nets in a cloud. The mountains were no longer visible and all we could see was white. We ate a hefty breakfast before walking back to the other village to continue working on the water tank. We made cement and smoothed it over pipes and the water tank. We weren’t the best at smoothing and had to have a lot of help from the villagers, except for Grace. Her smoothing was phenomenal. We ate lunch in a local woman’s home where she cooked pad Thai for us. Our afternoon was spent walking through the jungle and rice fields to a nearby waterfall surrounded by cows. Patricia never left the water the whole time we were there, using the momentum from the waterfall to swim in place for fun. Our hike back was difficult but rewarding. We spent time stopping to learn about plants similar to our hike to the village. At one point we stopped and Uncle Chai showed us tall blades of grass that can be thrown similar to paper airplanes but much farther. Cece blew this one out of the park. Her blade went farther than anyone else’s. Since it is rainy season in Thailand, we were of course greeted with rain for our trek back to our bamboo treehouse where we would hang out until bed time. The village food is indescribably delicious and we feasted that night on dinner. The following morning we had the special treat of getting to visit the Royal Project before going to the village school. The Royal Project is a farm where fresh fruits and vegetables and grown and sent to be used across Asia- no chemicals at all! At the school, we split into two groups and each group went into a classroom to interact with the students. Being the fourth Moondance group that the kids had seen this summer, it was more difficult to teach them new things that they hadn’t learned before. Sarah had a great idea to play hang man with the students using English words from around their room. This definitely kept them interested! After lunch we went to finish what we had started with the water tank and painted it. Bronwyn painted beautiful swiggly lines around the top and when paint dripped down, she had the idea to make them into big gold rain drops. It was perfect! Kiki and painted a large Moondance logo on the front of the water tank. Thought it started raining while we painted, it was a community of all of us painting together underneath a tarp that resulted in laughter and memories to last a lifetime- hopefully like our water tank will.
The last night night in the village was definitely the most memorable. While we relaxed in the house we had come to call home, Uncle Chai brought out a stand and told us to decorate it for a special ceremony after dinner. He gave us fresh picked flowers and leaves that we used to decorate the tiered fixture. When dinner was served we ate our last meal, overlooking the view of the rice fields and mountains off in the distance, trying to soak in all the deliciousness and beauty while we still could. When our bellies were full and our cheeks were hurting from smiling, it was time for the ceremony to begin. A shaman and his wife, who own the house we had been staying in, came to lead the ceremony. They had decorated the stand with even more flowers and leaves than before, leaving it almost unrecognizable and drastically better than our attempt. They placed a dried chicken, blessed water and herbs in front of the stand and wrapped a long string around it that we all held a part of as we sat in a circle. The ceremony began with them welcoming us into their community. They explained that anyone who stayed more than a couple days was a part of their village and would be welcomed back whenever throughout their lives. They thanked us for our work on the water tanks and for spending time with their children, although there was a group consensus that we should be the ones thanking them after all they gave to us. The experiences, the kindness, the food and the lessons they have taught us will definitely not be forgotten. The shaman then began to cut segments of the string, dip them in the blessed water and wrap them around our wrists as bracelets we can keep as memories of our amazing time in the village. Then they brought out cups they had made from bamboo for all us to bring home as well. When the ceremony finished we spent hours singing and dancing with the kids we had met throughout our days in the village. We heard some Thai and Karen songs, and shared some American songs with them. Katie showed off her musical talents again playing some of her originals. It was a bittersweet night. We had fun spending time with all of our new friends, but knew it also meant we were saying goodbye. Rivers was the most sad about saying goodbye to one baby named Kube who she had spent the last four days oogling over but got their address in the hopes of sending him a gift to remember her by. We took a lot of pictures, said our goodbyes and ended the night with a great moon up discussing all of our favorite moments from the trip.
The next morning we woke up, packed our bags and hiked out of the village. It was a beautiful hike, and we of course learned a lot from the legendary Uncle Chai who had proved to be a source of endless knowledge. We stopped at a nearby village for lunch and then boarded bamboo rafts for the rest of the voyage back to our hostel. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out all in one room, having more bittersweet realizations that there was less than a week left of our trip. It is unbelievable how fast it has all flown by but we reminded ourselves that there is still a lot left to be excited for.
Which brings us to elephant day. It was the day everyone had been looking forward to most. On the first day of the trip we asked the students what they were most excited for about the itinerary and it was almost unanimously elephant day. At that time it felt so far away, so it felt pretty crazy that it had already arrived. We woke up early, had an amazing breakfast, loaded up the trucks and were off to meet our elephant friends. When we arrived there were already two elephants waiting for us at the entrance. Mary cried overwhelming tears of joy at her first encounter, and everyone was left speechless at the majestic beauty of the largest land walking mammals. We spent a few hours learning the differences between the Asian and African elephants, more about the foundation, and why elephants are endangered in Asia. The afternoon was spent getting to know the elephants and then we were paired off, each couple getting assigned an elephant to walk to the watering hole where we bathed them. The day is pretty indescribable. Wow moments included holding direct eye contact with an elephant, feeling the intensity of their gaze, and realizing how playful they are as they used their trunks to splash us with water. Ask the students about this day when they return, it has definitely been one of the biggest highlights for us all. A moment we will never forget was when we laid in each other’s laps in a circle, about to say goodbye after a day well spent, surrounded by seven elephants in all directions. It was pretty surreal.
With just four days left of our trip, today we head to Crazy Horse to climb, repel and cave with our rock climbing guides and spend the night at a hot spring resort. More updates to come!
July 18, 2017
Hello friends and family!
The last two days since our last update have been days of exploration and cultural immersion. After two days of rock climbing in the southeastern region of Thailand, we headed up north on an overnight train. We like to describe this night as our Harry Potter Hogwarts Express experience, but with a Thai twist. We ventured to a town called Surat, where the train station is and settled in a restaurant while we waited for our train to arrive. We played mafia, spoons and a bunch of other card games and then finally enjoyed another Thai meal together. The girls are loving the food and Ruthie and I are shockingly still not sick of rice! We boarded the train around 9 o’clock to find individual bed compartments that really reminded us all of the Hogwarts Express.
Upon arriving to Bangkok in the morning, we met up with our tour guide for the day, Nina. While the group got breakfast at a local coffee shop, Katie and I soon realized nothing there fit with our dietary restrictions. Frustrated at first, we went out to seek other options. It ended up being such a cool cultural experience as we found ourselves in a little food court, surrounded by all Thai people on their way to work, where we enjoyed a traditional Thai breakfast.
After breakfast we went to go buy elephant pants! The girls were really excited about this as they had watched Ruthie and me wearing them almost every day up until this point on the trip, and they were ready to get their own. Plus, we were about to head into the Grand Palace where we needed to be wearing long pants, and more respectful attire. Sarah was probably the most excited, buying five pairs to bring home with her! Once we were suited up in our elephants, we began our tour of the Grand Palace. We were all in awe of the intricate designs and the bright colors that surrounded us as Nina explained the history of the palace. This is a specifically interesting time to be there because the late king passed away in October, and in Thailand they practice a year of mourning after a king passes away in which almost all Thai citizens come to the palace, wearing all black, to mourn the loss of their king. It was incredible to see the amount of Thai people there to pay their respects and made the entire experience feel more special. Our tour guide Nina could not have been more knowledgeable about Bangkok and the Grand Palace, and was so enthusiastic about sharing everything she knew with us. We love her!
After an exciting day touring Bangkok we went to dinner and headed back to our hotel to rest up before an early flight to the northern city of Chang Mai. We arrived there early in the morning, and were greeted by our tour guides for the day, Bus and Puy. They spent about an hour teaching us Thai phrases that would help us navigate the city; we were split up in two teams and sent off with a list, written mostly in Thai, of things we would have to find throughout the city. Cece, Katie, Kiki, Grace and Patricia were on Izzy’s team, while Ruthie’s team was Bronwyn, Mary, Sarah, Rivers, and Sophia. It was amazing to see how much all of the girls had picked up from their short lesson on the Thai language and watch them navigate the city finding things like sticky rice cooked in bamboo and the largest wooden Buddha. After a fun day of exploring we got back to the hotel and packed our bags. Tomorrow we are heading into village for the next five days. We are all so excited!
Until next time,
Ruthie and Izzy
July 15, 2017
Sawadee ka from Thailand! Hope you all are enjoying your summer just as much as we are. We began our next journey in Thailand ferrying from our small island paradise to the picture-perfect land of Krabi to rock climb! Google an image of Thailand, and this is the place that shows up! From going meters below the water in Koh Tao to now climbing meters above in Krabi, we are unstoppable! After a long day of traveling, we ended the day on a perfect note with our LOD Bronwyn’s Moonup question: What is your happiest memory? It was a great reflection time for everyone and gave us a chance to get to know each other on another level as we discovered what gave each of us such joy.
In the morning, we gathered our gear in preparation for the long day of rock climbing ahead of us. In order to get to the beaches where we would be climbing, we traveled by long boat past the beautiful rocky mountains to our final destination, Railay Beach. We walked underneath stalactites and deep rock carvings on our left and a fence guarding the vast, green jungle to our right until we were greeted by soft sand opening up to an unreal view that our pictures will never do justice. Due to the obvious attraction of this site, there are many tourists filling the beach all throughout the day; however, our initial view of this incredible spot was empty and flawless that morning. We watched our climbing guides in astonishment as they free climbed up the rock to prepare the belay lines; were we really going to be climbing that?? The silent nerves creeped into all of our bodies, as what we had been anticipating was about to become a reality. Grace and Patricia fearlessly volunteered to go first. We all cheered from below, taking note of each movement for our own turns. Though Rivers and Sarah expressed how frightened they were of heights, it was not even evident when their time came to conquer the rock. Cece climbed effortlessly, making it to the highest point on the hardest climb we did in record time. On our way to lunch, we walked back between the stalactites and forest but this time we were accompanied by many, many monkeys. All of us couldn’t believe our eyes, especially Mary. Watching Mary observe the monkeys was almost as entertaining as looking at the monkeys! We saw baby monkeys grasping tightly around the mother’s belly as the mom walked around swinging from tree to tree or over other monkeys. We watched them cleaning their brothers and sisters. We even saw a fight breakout between three monkeys where the elder monkey had to come and intervene.
During lunch, our guides had to surround us with bamboo sticks so the monkeys wouldn’t try to take our fried rice. After lunch, we spent two hours swimming in the ocean and exploring around the beach. Katie swam to a beautiful viewpoint where she could see blue ocean and sky from the other side of the cave. The ocean was dense with salt, and we could lie back and float atop the water. It was a nice way to relax and enjoy our time after climbing that morning. The afternoon was spent hiking up a dark cave with headlamps to a breathtaking viewpoint where we would rappel back down to sea level. Thailand has now entered its rainy season, and we were visited by an hour thunderstorm while inside the cave. The rain only added to the view – watching it come and go from our spot inside the cave. It was a muddy adventure, but it didn’t stop us from fully appreciating and enjoying what we were doing in the moment! Our boat ride back from our long day of rock exploration was wet but memorable, we were almost back to our hostel where we could shower! Back at the rock climbing shop, they provided us with many different fruits native to Thailand – Sophia eagerly tried all of them. After showering and eating some delicious southern Thai dinner, we had a beautiful last Moonup in Krabi lead by Kiki and Sarah where we all shared what kind of person we strive to become. This morning we enjoyed our breakfast near the hammocks of our open, vibrant hostel before heading back to Railay Beach for another morning of rock climbing. We couldn’t have asked for better weather on our last day at Krabi. This time, we climbed feet from the ocean tide, making for a beautiful place for Kiki to draw her etch of Krabi. Kiki is using her talent in art to draw a landscape from each place that we are traveling while in Thailand, a unique and powerful way to highlight our experiences here. Our ride back to the climbing shop on the long boat was done in silence as we glanced around us to take in the beauty one last time before we spend the rest of our day traveling back to Bangkok to begin the second half of our trip!
July 13, 2017
We are about a week into our trip and have finished up our first section. Time is flying by and it’s crazy to think of all that we have already accomplished.
After two long days of travel to get here, it was so nice to settle into our first hostel and stay there for five nights. We started our trip in Koh Toa, a tiny island beach town located in the southeastern region of Thailand. It’s a must see destination for all backpackers so there are a lot of other foreigners on the island. We stayed in beach front bungalows and woke up early every morning to get four full days of scuba diving and exploring all the island has to offer.
Ruthie, Sarah and Patricia already had experience scuba diving, so they spent the four days getting their advanced open water certifications. This meant they were able to do deeper dives, up to 90 feet deep! They learned how to use diving computers to take on the role of planning dives, and how to do underwater navigation.
Meanwhile the rest of the group started with the basics and received their Open Water certifications. They spent the first two mornings watching safety videos and learning everything they could about the gear and skills out of the water. But they were really put to the test each afternoon on their first few dives. They started in shallow water and practiced all the skills they had read about, setting up their tanks, clearing their masks, and buddy safety protocols under the water. As they grew more comfortable in their skills, they were allowed to go deeper and do longer, more adventurous dives. Mary and Bronwyn admitted they were pretty nervous about the dives at first, but it was amazing watching them grow more comfortable and at ease with each dive. After three days everyone was completely certified and all that was left were the fun dives. Throughout the four days we got to see some pretty incredible wildlife. We saw jelly fish, eels, sting rays and puffer fish. Each dive we were left in awe of our surroundings. It felt like every dive was filled with more colorful and vibrant coral in each direction. It was incredible! We absolutely loved all of our dive masters who took us on all these amazing dives. They were all filled with so much knowledge about the area and scuba diving in general, and so excited to share it all with us. Sophia was especially infatuated with the jelly fish we saw. She quickly learned that they aren’t something to fear in the friendly waters of Thailand. They are actually surprisingly firm, enough so that you can actually hold them. She frequently could be seen carrying them throughout a dive, almost like a little pet. One of the highlights for the group was probably the shipwreck dive. We got to explore a World War II boat that had been given to Thailand and since been sunk to help coral reefs grow in the area. Cece had her dive case ready and we were able to get some incredible pictures and videos on her GoPro.
When we weren’t diving, one of our favorite activities was enjoying meals together and getting a chance to try all the Thai food! For Kiki it was her first time trying things like cauliflower and cucumbers but she has since decided her favorite Thai option is chicken fried rice. Sarah has been converted to a lover of Pad Sie Eiew and Rivers has loved the spring rolls and insists that the rice tastes better here. We went to one restaurant that has, what we’ve decided as group, a giant fish alligator combo as a pet. Grace was especially excited about, exclaiming it was the coolest and most exotic thing she’s seen in Thailand yet.
On our last day in Koh Toa we spent the morning diving, and then had our busiest afternoon yet. We found a hike not too far from our bungalows and while it was very steep and kicked our butts it was so worth it in the end. When we reached the top we were greeted with the most incredible view of the island. It was shocking taking in the contrast of the teal blue water against the unbelievable green undeveloped and untouched landscape.
Finally our Moonups, our nightly ritual on Moondance trips, have been made better each night because of one member in our group and a guitar that was lying around the dive shop. Katie has been kind enough to play us some of her original music and plans to write a song about each section of our trip. We are all so excited to see what the rest of the trip holds for our group, and even more excited to hear Katie’s take on it with a song that I’m sure we will cherish forever in the moments we miss the trip most. Can’t wait to tell you all more about our adventures soon!
July 7, 2017
Hey Thailand 2B friends and family members,
We just heard from Ruthie & Izzy 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