July 3, 2018
Howdy friends and family back home! Coming in one last time from the tropical paradise of Thailand! After an incredible three weeks, we all couldn’t believe our time in Thailand was coming to a close. It seemed like just yesterday we were arriving for our first night of the trip at the hotel, as we were now returning for our last. The nostalgia and memories were flowing as we checked back into our rooms and set out for our final banquet dinner. Our leaders of the day, Kasey and Seamus helped us navigate to a local market, where we found a traditional Thai restaurant to enjoy dinner. Bailey and Thomas started off the festivities by ordering some crazy Thai drinks called “blue pens”. Even though they were bright purple, Bailey claims they tasted like a Shirley Temple! We scarfed down some spring rolls, tempura vegetables, and assorted rice/ noodle dishes while we reflected back on the times we spent together and the memories shared. After dinner we topped off the festivities by grabbing some delicious Dairy Queen Blizzards! Meg and Melita were so excited to see these frozen treats that they ordered the “take home” size! I’m not sure if they made the blizzards any differently in Thailand or if it had just been awhile, but they tasted like a piece of heaven on Earth! As we turned to walk back to the hostel, we got caught in a late evening Bangkok rain storm. Even with the rain drops falling down, nothing could dampen our spirits as we laughed and danced our way back to the hostel. Hallie even reflected later that it wasn’t about what we were doing, but who we were doing it with that made that experience so special and fun! We dried off, and jumped right into our final Moonup. Going around the circle, everyone discussed what the trip meant to them. It was inspiring to hear the profound and meaningful lessons that were shared within the group, and to watch new lifelong friendships be made. After hours of talking and reflecting, we laid down for our final night in Thailand 🙁
We woke on our last morning, and set off on a tour of Bangkok! Lead by our fearless tour guide, Elena, we learned about the history of Bangkok and more specifically, of the Grand Palace. After hearing all about the palace, we finally arrived at this beautiful site and were able to walk around and explore the sights. Sarah Grace remarked as we were walking that she had “never seen something so beautiful”, and I think I would have to agree with her! The buildings and sculptures were breathtaking, and it was evident why this palace was such an important piece of Thai culture. We even were able to see the Emerald Buddha, which was a very incredible sight and Christopher’s favorite part! After the palace, we headed out for a delicious lunch next to a canal, before heading out on a boat tour. While on the canal, we learned more about the different areas of Bangkok, religious and political traditions, as well as the local wildlife! We were lucky enough to see two HUGE creatures referred to as “Water Monitors”, that call these canals home. We understood how they got so big after stopping outside of a canal-side temple and getting a chance to feed some fish! Abby had the biggest laugh and smile on her face as she threw a loaf of bread into the canal for the fish to feast! They looked bigger than any other Louisiana catfish I’ve heard of! After disembarking, we hit up a local market one last time for souvenirs and trinkets. Maddy seemed to be able to find all of the best deals and presents, as she helped us all navigate the market most effectively. Overall, it was another wonderful day spent with wonderful people in a wonderful place. As we headed to the airport to begin the trek home and say our final goodbyes, the entire group was already planning the next time they were going to be able to see each other again! I can’t wait for the first of many reunion trips!
As leaders, Leaky and I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a great group of students to start our summer off. Each student is so special in their own way, and together we created one big, loving family. Although we might not have always had it all together, together we had it all. Signing off for one last time after the hands down best three weeks of our lives!!!!!
Thailand 1A, Lauren and Leaky
July 1, 2018
Greetings from Krabi beach! Thailand 1A is back with more updates after another stellar rock climbing section! We left our beach bungalows and traveled back to the mainland for our last section of activities, excited to show off the climbing skills we started to develop during our time in Chiang Mai. After a relaxing ferry ride that showed us more of the beautiful scenery of the Gulf of Thailand, we hopped on a bus bound for Krabi! Seamus even made friends with a stowaway passenger we discovered, a Praying Mantis that the kids affectionately named “Fernando”. They took turns caring for him until our bus arrived in Krabi and then returned him to the wild! We arrived to our new hostel and were so excited to start exploring this new city! After a delicious dinner, yummy desert, and meaningful Moonup we hit our bunk beds in preparation for the next day.
Our first day of climbing consisted of another boat to a secluded part of Thailand called Railay Beach. Although it felt like an island since the only way to get there was by boat, we learned that it is actually on the mainland! The area is unable to be reached by road due to these huge cliffs that we were about to try our hands at climbing! As we suited up and strapped in, Christopher was the first one to jump on a route, and eventually would climb every single one that was set up! Sarah Grace set the standards super high as she was the first person to do the longest and hardest route. It was awesome seeing all of these guys showing off their talents on the rocks! Even more exciting to watch was how the students really helped each other, worked together, and encouraged each other every step of the way. Meg and Kasey were constantly cheering on their friends and offering helpful suggestions for those on the ropes. Hearing all their laughs and words of encouragement made it hard to believe they had just met three weeks ago! They were especially cheerful as Abby rounded out the day and climbed the last route before lunch! We had some incredible fried rice for lunch and cooled off by jumping in the water! The beaches here had some of the most awe-inspiring views we have ever seen. We swam in the warm, crystal clear, salt water, surrounded by these huge, daunting, rocks and cliffs that towered way above us. To take a break from the water, Hallie and Maddy explored a nearby cave, learning more about local traditions, customs and shrines that were inside. Thomas was the first one to swim all the way out to the buoy and splashed around until we noticed a rainstorm was looming in the distance. As we headed back to the boat our fearless leader Bailey fended off monkeys that seemed especially interested in our snacks! We braved the rainstorm and headed back to our hostel for another night of dinner and relaxation before our last full day in Thailand!
We woke up and jumped back into our harnesses, ready to get our last bit of climbing done. Melita was the first one on the ropes today and was an absolute champion, climbing all the routes! We climbed and climbed until we couldn’t climb anymore, said goodbye to our new guide (and monkey) friends, and headed to the airport! We all can’t belief this trip is winding down, but we are excited to spend some time exploring Bangkok before we head back home! Stay tuned for more exciting adventures!
Until then sending lots of love from Thailand 1A,
Leaky and Lauren.
June 29, 2018
Hey friends and family! Thailand 1A back with some notes from our wet, wild and WONDERFUL diving section!!! After a long but exciting day of travel, we arrived in our new home in Koh Tao. We were immediately greeted by the sweet smell of salt water and the feeling of sand between our toes as we walked along to our beach front bungalow. We met our dive guides, Sasha, Isabella, Wayne, Leo, Mary Lou, and Andrea, and hit the hay early, already dreaming of the water!
Our first day of diving was spent doing a lot of refresher courses and ensuring we all knew the skills necessary to carry us through some of the more advanced dives that were to come. We jumped into our BCDs and into the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Once at the bottom, we all practiced our skills and hand signals, swimming around to get reacclimatized to the experience. At the end of the skills refresher, we all had a little air left so took off our fins underwater and had a foot race for fun! Although it was a close race and there might have been some interference that occurred, Leaky emerged with the W. We jumped back on our pirate ship and changed dive spots to an ominously named, “Shark Island”. After being reassured it was just named because the rock looked like a shark, we jumped back in as the Advanced Students worked on their navigation technique. Kasey lead the pack and successfully found her way around the underwater obstacle course of water bottles and buoys. We all had worked up such an appetite after our first day of diving that we treated ourselves to some well earned pizza and burgers! Christopher’s favorite! We laughed and ate and made our way to a secret beach for a beautiful Moonup against the waves.
After literally getting our feet wet and getting back into the groove of diving, there was no stopping this group. We were absolute diving machines and could NOT get enough! The second day had our friends in the open water course with Leo and Mary Lou practicing their skills and continuing their quest for certification. Meg was an absolute natural in the water and conquered the skills immediately! While the open water students were diving around, the Advanced Students took the opportunity to snorkel and check out some sights. Seamus seemed to have the best luck and was able to find and spot so many different interesting fish and rays! We returned to the island earlier this afternoon in order to get prepared for our exciting evening of night diving. None of us had ever done anything like this before, and we couldn’t think of a cooler place to try out our skills. We suited up and hit the water just as the sun was setting, armed with flash lights and glow sticks for identification. We swam around and saw some crazy cool fish that had made this artificial reef their home. After surfacing from the water, Abby exclaimed that this was “the coolest thing she had EVER done” and even asked if we could do another one! It was so exciting to hear those that were nervous talk about the amazing things they had seem and the memories they had just made.
Our third day of diving was all about going deep! The advanced students suited up and prepared to head to a whopping 90ft below the surface! If anyone was nervous you would have never known it, as the group was singing and dancing and preparing to dive! Sarah Grace had the best time at the bottom and said she wished she could stay down there forever just looking up at the surface and all the fish that were swimming around her. We jumped back on the boat for our required surface interval and has some scrumptious sandwiches. Christopher really thought ahead and set us his ENO hammock on top of the sun deck and had the best view in the house! After we rested and digested, we shrugged our wetsuits back on for some wreck diving. The dive buddy “dream team” Hallie and Thomas lead the group around this historic Japanese battle ship as we explored and kept an eye out for exotic sea life. It was very interesting to learn more about how this ship was intentionally sunk, and now can provide a home to so many interesting creatures and plants! When we arrived back on the boat we were treated to the best news ever, the open water students had all passed their certifications! They dove down to 18m and were absolute rock stars in executing all the skills Leo threw at them. Bailey was a pro at establishing buoyancy and navigation skills during his testing and had the most exciting array of dive buddies along the way! We were all so excited to celebrate this incredible accompaniment by diving together the next day! We ventured back to the mainland and to our new favorite dinner spot, Ying Yang. After a long few days of working hard to get our new certifications, it seemed like the perfect time to treat ourselves to a big fried banana Sunday!!! It was a sweet way to end a super sweet day!
Our final day of diving can be summed up by one word. WOW. We jumped back onto the Seacutter Pirate Ship and set sail for Sail Rock, one of the most awe inspiring dive sites in all of the Gulf of Thailand. Isa and Sasha briefed us on all the fish and sea life we would have a chance to see at this stunning dive site. Maddy was the first one in the water and the last one out, as she had the time of her life under the sea! I think this Florida girl has found a new pastime for when she gets home! We all descended into the stunning coral reef, constantly scanning the ocean for life. We were greeted by an army of bright parrot fish, HUGE giant groupers, watchful trigger fish, beautiful angel fish, friendly (and harmless to humans!!) barracudas, and even a curious white moray eel! It’s safe to say we got a huge treat down there! We resurfaced and Melita was the first to climb to the top of the boat and jump back in the water. This girl was in her element in the water! The wonderful guides treated us to a Thai favorite, Massaman curry. We scarfed it down and prepared to head back down under the water to do another trip around Sail Rock. There was so much to see that we could have filled 5 more dives worth of time! We all even got to swim through a natural coral chimney and get an up close and personal view of the fish that call this beautiful place home. We set our course back to Koh Toa where we had a little party with our guides to celebrate the end of an incredible diving section. We all sat on the beach and cooked our own KOREAN BBQ! Even though it wasn’t what we think of when we say BBQ back home, everyone had such a good time cooking chicken, bacon, vegetables and noodles! I think Hallie drank a whole gallon of the chicken broth soup while Meg took charge and was the designated meat griller! It was such a perfect night and we couldn’t have asked for a better send off from this island paradise.
We woke up this morning sad to be leaving our outstanding friends and the insane memories we made along the way but STOKED to switch our regulators for some ropes and start climbing! We will be back in a few days with more stories from this beautiful country! Until then much love to all y’all back home from all of Thailand 1A, Leaky, and Lauren.
June 24, 2018
Hello everyone! Checking in for the last time from the “Rose of the North”, Chiang Mai. We finished up our time here with a rockin’ rock climbing section that definitely rocked it out. We woke up bright and early to meet with the Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Association (CMRCA) and quickly got excited by playing some ice breaker games and even creating team names. It was “the Savages” vs “The Elephants” but luckily for us, we were both winners just by being here! We divided up with half of the group practicing their repel skills first and the other half ready to scale the rock faces! The Elephants were first up on the rock walls and set the standards high! Seamus and Bailey were such naturals that the guides set up an even harder route for them to try. They blew it out of the water and really helped each other along the way. Meanwhile The Savages and their fearless leaders Kasey and Maddy showed their skills on the big repel! Even though they both had never done anything like this before, Maddy and Kasey rocked it out and looked like complete naturals on the ropes. Not only were they great climbers, but they also were wonderful sources of support when the rest of the group needed it! After lunch we switched places and it was The Savages turn to rock it out on the rock walls. Melita zoomed right up the wall and made it look like a piece of cake! Both groups did an incredible job today with EVERY STUDENT climbing at least 4 different routes! Wow! Talk about some serious rock stars.
That night we relaxed our sore muscles in a natural hot spring! The warm water was much needed after getting down and dirty on the rocks. Hallie led the group into a local market and helped everyone find the perfect gifts and ~Thailand Swag~ (get ready for some cool pants in the airport!). As if that wasn’t awesome enough, M and the rest of our CMRCA friends made a bonfire for us that evening! It looked like it was going to rain for a second, but thankfully Melitas rain dance held off the clouds. After a delicious dinner next to our natural hot springs, we enjoyed a local treat and made some Thai Marshmallows! Abby had worked up such an appetite climbing every single route that she had 4 Marshmallows!!! Although very different than American marshmallows, these were still DELICIOUS and were a great way to end our very exciting day!
The second day of our climbing section was all about a cave! We suited up as a group and trekked to the mouth of the flying horse buttress cave. To get into the cave, we all stepped out of our comfort zone and into the dark abyss. Our leader of the day, Sarah Grace, did an outstanding job of jumping right in there and put everyone’s nerves to bed with her overwhelming confidence. After we all descended into the cave, we turned our headlamps on and stared to explore! As we trekked through the darkness we learned about the different types of rocks and animals that called this cave home. Thomas even led the group on an exploration into the “bat room”. It was very exciting to learn about different species and geology we really did not know much about. After exploring, we trekked back to the mouth of the cave and prepared to climb our way back up. Once at the top, the guides have set up a mini zip line for us to move across the opening of the cave! Meg was so excited to show off her skills and flawlessly executed the zip line while simultaneously encouraging those that were a little more nervous. After executing our final repel, we all trekked out of the cave and jumped in the cars back to Chiang Mai. After spending a few nights in this exciting and interesting city, it was really starting to feel like a familiar home to us. We hit up our favorite local market and treated ourselves to a delicious dinner, a reward for another great section under our belts. To really top it off, finished off our meal with a sweet treat, Banana Nutella crepes! After grabbing some souvenirs, we made our way back to the hostel and were surprised by running into the other Thailand group! It was fun to see our friends from the airport again and share laughs and stories. However, we knew we had a big day of travel ahead of us and after a few card games and tricks led by Christopher we all hit the hay early. Although we are all sad to leave our mountain home, we are all excited to get our feet wet and jump into our next section of the trip! Scuba! We can’t wait to come back with more fun stories from this trip of a lifetime soon!
Much love, Lauren and Leaky.
June 22, 2018
After a fast and furious couple of days, we are so excited to get started on our first true chunk of the trip, cultural immersion and community service with the Karen Village people! We started our journey into the Karen Village with a trek to a local waterfall. As we hiked, it was wonderful to hear the laughter and chatting among the kids against the natural sounds and music of the jungle. Thomas paved the way the entire time, helping out others and raising spirits when the trek seemed tough. We hiked about two hours into the jungle when we were treated to a breathtaking natural waterfall! Meg was the first one to jump in the water, using the cool water as a much needed escape from the heat of the hike! A few more followed suit and cooled off as we were treated to a delicious lunch of fresh fruits and fried rice. With full bellies and big smiles, we jumped back onto the trail, ready and excited to get to our new place in the village.
We followed our fearless leader Uncle Chai over the river and through the woods and into the Karen village we went! We had heard stories about where we were staying, but nothing could do this stunning place justice. Our bungalow was nestled into a gorgeous hillside, which no amount of pictures will ever do justice. We were so excited to spend the next 4 nights all together in this picturesque environment. We were greeted by some local children and women who were showing and selling traditional jewelry and clothing near by. One of the locals really liked Maddy, and let her try on a traditional Karen Tribe outfit! She truly bonded with the local people right off the bat.
After settling in, Uncle Chai surprised us with a night time sing along! He brought in a local college student who played guitar and sang classic American hits with us. When uncle chai told us he was going to sing us his favorite song, we never expected to hear “Take me home country roads” come out of his mouth! It was a perfect way to have a little piece of home as we settled into our new home for the next few days. We woke up the next morning ready and excited to get started on our community service project. We were tasked with building a wall around the playground of the kindergarten school, as the teacher was concerned for how close the kids were getting to the main road. Although the tasked seemed daunting at first, the kids did not seem phased and immediately jumped in to help. Every time we needed someone to jump in and help, Melita was the first to volunteer and was constantly willing to help out the group. It was much needed for sure! After a full day of work, we were eager for a little bit of relaxation back at our beautiful lodging. We were treated to some of the most delicious food we had ever seen, and stuffed our faces full of spring rolls, sweet and sour chicken, and fresh vegetables. After dinner Uncle Chai treated us to another singing game but this time it was Seamus who stole the show with his angelic pipes! We all had no idea he had such an amazing voice!
Although we could have played the singing game all night, we made sure to get to bed early in preparation for more work to come. We woke up and headed back to the school to lay some more brick. Sarah Grace and Kasey did not hesitate to get their hands dirty, and built an entire section all on their own! Talk about girl power!! Halfway through our morning, the school teacher treated us with a traditional village snack of fermented vegetables and crab. All of the kids tried a bite, but it was Bailey who stole the show and tried the full crab leg! With full stomachs, we continued to work on the wall until the evening, when we returned to our Jungle Bungalow. Although each of the kids had an opportunity to try their hand at cooking traditional Thai food, it seemed like Christopher jumped at any opportunity to get more kitchen time. He was always ready to lend an extra hand when needed. To continue our tradition of singing each evening, Hallie led the group in a “riff off” tonight. For anyone who is unfamiliar with this term, it is basically a group singing competition where you have to come up with a song lyric that the other team prompts you with. It was so much fun to hear everyone let loose and belt some of their favorite tunes from a Thai mountain top!
The next day we spent the morning putting the finishing touches on our wall and painting some fun pictures on it! It was fun to watch the kids express themselves and draw something they enjoy on the wall. We had a bright and colorful arrangement from Seamus’ outer space scene, to Meg’s jellyfish, to Bailey’s dragon! It was so rewarding to see the final project of all of our hard work. We traded in our gloves and buckets for an afternoon at the local upper school, playing soccer and hanging out with the local children. Every student had the biggest smiles on their faces as they played games of frisbee, soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Everyone had such a rewarding experience interacting with the Karen Village children, but it was Abby that truly blew me away. She seemed so natural with the kids as she played sports or sang songs such as “If you’re happy and you know it”. We were so bummed to say goodbye to our new friends, as we came back to our last night in the village.
In the spirit of local foods, the cooks surprised us with a Karen speciality, cooked crickets! Although some were hesitant at first, almost every kid tried the delicacy – even Sarah Grace! Uncle Chai surprised us once again this evening, as a local shaman came to show us a traditional Karen blessing. We had a small ceremony in our housing, as he blessed us all with wishes of a safe travel and a happy life. It was such a beautiful and moving experience, and an honor to feel part of these inspiring people. We packed up the next morning, said goodbye to our new friends, and hiked out of the village. We trekked right up to our next activity – bamboo rafting! After our hike this morning, it was a treat to sit back, relax, and float through this beautiful oasis. We are finally back in Chiang Mai and are so excited to start our climbing soon. We can’t wait to come back and update you all on our next adventures!
Lauren and Leaky
Here’s some live notes from the field:
“Love ya Mom!”
“Love and miss y’all so much! HBD Momma I love you! Also HFD Dad!”
“Hey Mom and Dad! I’m having a blast in Thailand!! Love y’all!”
“ Hey Mom and Dad! I’m having so much fun! Love and miss y’all!”
“Love you soooo much fam!! Give cousins BIG HUGS for me!”
“Hi Mom and Dad!! I’m having the best time ever here in Thailand! I love and miss y’all so much! Say hi to everyone for me and HFD Dad!”
“Hellooo Mom and Dad! I am having the time of my life in Thailand! Thank you for this experience:) love and miss y’all!- XOXO”
“Hey Mom and Dad what’s up! Miss y’all and Roux but having lots of fun.”
“Hey Mom and Dad! I miss y’all a lot. I am having fun though and can’t wait to tell y’all about it.”
“Hello family! What is up! Miss you guys, I’m loving Thailand!”
June 14, 2018
Hi Thailand Families,
The group has safely made it to Thailand and they are on their way! Stay tuned for more updates to come.