June 27, 2019
We were all in for a treat as Uncle Chai’s speech the night before had gotten us very stoked to head on to our endeavor into Karen Village. We all still didn’t know what to expect from this hike, but we knew that we were going to give it our all no matter how challenging it was. But nevertheless, it ended up being a great time for us all.
Uncle Chai led us into the most beautiful and natural part of Thailand. Through luscious forests and rice fields, we trekked across this peaceful and natural part of Thailand for over four hours. During our lunch break, we had delicious chicken and rice wrapped in banana leaves – that wasn’t even the best part. We all swam in the most beautiful waterfall and had an amazing time. Harrison showed us all how to skip rocks like a pro across the water! Bella, Carson, Lucy, and Gretchen were the all-stars of this section and literally had to be dragged out of the water because they were having so much fun. Meanwhile, Paige and Grayson were owning the rest of the group in games of “Big Booty” and “Hay Barn.” After this long-lived fun, we started the second half of our trek into the village.
Carolyn and Sati were leading the pack in hiking speed, but most importantly, they were carrying the positive attitude the group needed as we hiked in the very hot weather. After a long day, we finally made it to the village and settled into our new bungalow homes. We headed up to the soccer field to play a game before dinner, where Gretchen was relentless with her soccer skills! Meanwhile, Michael and Bella made friends with some of the local kids and had a dance off with them, which had all of us laughing.
The group dynamic was what made this day so awesome and everyone carried this high-energetic spirit as we started to acclimate to this new, rustic location. Everyone was immediately amazed by how incredible our view was (looking over a huge valley of rice fields looking at the sunset). By the end of Moonup and an awesome introduction from Uncle Chai, we knew this new place was going to carry a special place in our hearts.
The next morning we woke up with the sun to the sound of roosters crowing! After a breakfast of watermelon, hot chocolate, toast and eggs, we headed to the school up the hill to begin our service project. We formed an assembly line and began transporting cinderblocks to begin our project: building a wall around the side of the school. The wall was to help keep out animals and to keep the young children in the school safely inside the property. Carson and Thomas began mixing concrete for us to lay down the foundation for our wall. By the time lunch rolled around, Lucy had singlehandedly placed a whole line of blocks on the wall and crushed it! We walked back down to our Bungalows for lunch, where we ate a yummy lunch of homemade Thai noodles and then rested before our big afternoon. Our group continued to make great progress as the afternoon went on. Their attitudes and work ethic were amazing to witness. We left that evening with a wall that was halfway complete! Our Moonup that night was very special. We sat under the stars together and felt very at peace with the world. Sati opened Moonup by singing and playing the guitar for us – which she tuned by ear! Our LODs, Grayson and Harrison, asked us to talk about a mental challenge that we had overcome. The answers were profound and honest, and we closed Moonup with a group hug.
Day two of our time in Karen Village began with French toast, fruit, and hot chocolate! We spent the morning at the school, continuing to work on building the wall. Jacob was a superstar this day, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time to help out wherever he was needed. Bella, Harrison, Lucy, Thomas, Carson and Gretchen were relentless on building. Meanwhile, Grayson, Carolyn and Sati worked on organizing the classroom. Bella and Paige practiced their handstands in the afternoon rain and made everyone laugh. After our day of work was done, the whole group came back to the Bungalows and made bracelets for one another. Every single student has a bracelet that has been made for the by another person on the trip, which is pretty cool if you ask me! At Moonup that night, our LODs , Bella and Gretchen, asked us what our happy place was. After Moonup ended, Jacob and Thomas had a rap battle, which was truly the match up of the century. We all went to bed tired but happy.
We had all worked so hard on building the wall, that it was now time for a new job; painting the ceiling of the newly established ceiling/ventilation system. With green paint splashing everywhere, we had such an amazing time working together to accomplish our next goal. We worked with the kindergarten teacher, Uncle Chai, and our friend, Cha, to get the ceiling looking exactly how they wanted. We all brought the much needed energy and had an awesome day,
The tunes were headed up by Sati, Carolyn and Paige who collaborated with Juliet to make an awesome group playlist that kept the vibes high! After painting in the morning, we hiked down to the primary school to hang out with the kids and participate in “no-drugs day” where the students made banners and signs to speak out against drug abuse in Thailand. The kids had such an amazing time bonding, and some incredible relationships were formed. Mike and Bella led the pack as they became the favorites of many of the students we were with.
We then hiked back to the village with Uncle Chai as he guided us through a beautiful passageway. We stopped at one of the exporting locations of many different local foods (including rice and bok choy) and Uncle Chai explained to us the local exporting process and all of the different locations these foods would be sent to. We capped the day off with some awesome fried chicken and tasty fried bananas – dubbed by the kids as “banana tenders” – before we had a ceremony accepting us into the village. Uncle Chai explained to us that since we had spent 4 nights and almost 4 days in the village, our group was now going to be officially accepted in the community. A shaman set up a tower of flowers and welcomed us into the community through a prayer and tying a bracelet onto our wrists. We then had a great Moonup with lots of singing and laughter and headed to sleep.
On our last morning in the village, we ate a yummy breakfast of fresh mango and pineapple with pancakes and breakfast potatoes! We walked up to the school one final time to spend the morning playing with the kindergarteners and paint our names and the Moondance logo on the school to commemorate our time spent there. Carolyn came up with the idea of drawing 14 lightbulbs that were unplugging from the wall but all still shining brightly, to symbolize how Moondance brings out the light in all of us in a very unique way. We painted the Moondance logo and signed our names, as well. Gretchen and Michael played outside with some of the kids, while Lucy and Jacob played with balloons with the kids inside. We said goodbye to the school and our new friends, and began a downhill hike to meet our vans once again! We speedily made our way through the forest, with Thomas and Bella entertaining the group with games of 20 questions. After another great lunch, we got onto small bamboo rafts and floated down the river!
We were all super excited to return to Chiang Mai for two reasons: hot showers and the prospect of American food! After dinner at our favorite American restaurant, we hit the night markets again. Our LODs, Paige and Michael, led Moonup that evening and asked us this question: if you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why? The answers ranged from funny to sentimental. The nug jug was also overflowing with nugs for each other tonight, which has become a common occurrence. It is so awesome to see this group encourage and build each other up intentionally at Moonup and throughout every day.
We have had SO MUCH FUN with these 12 incredible young people so far. We can’t believe that we only have a few days left, but we’re planning to go out with a bang!
Juliet and Thomas
June 23, 2019
Hey there everyone!
We can all confidently say that this section of the trip was the best combination of fun and relaxation we have had thus far. For breakfast, we had our typical fruit/toast/yogurt laid out early by the lovely hostel staff. Then, we began another great day of travel! By this point, we began to call ourselves official world travelers, so we knew the travel day would be a piece of cake. From many predictions of the NBA draft possibilities from Jacob and treats consumed at the airport by Grayson and Paige, we knew the day was off to an energetic start!
Michael kept the whole crew entertained throughout both plane rides with his goofy jokes and antics. With the delicious duck noodles on the plane served, we all had a great feeling in our stomachs about the rest of the travel day. We got into Chiang Mai in the afternoon and met up with our dear friend Uncle Chai. After we were settled into the beautiful “Riverside Hostel,” our LOD’s, Bella and Lucy, took us all to a new restaurant. This restaurant had a great mix of Thai and American classics, which the kids absolutely loved. With a wide array of orders ranging from a steak, to a local quesadilla, the group was very satisfied.
We headed to the infamous market in downtown Chiang Mai that was truly unbelievable. There were thousands and thousands of vendors with items ranging from hand-made glass sculptures to local artists exhibits. The market was remarkable. Some highlight purchases included Jacob’s hip MCM bag and Carolyn’s local made rings. Grayson wins the best bargainer award for the night hands down.
We woke up nice and early to meet our dear friend, Uncle Chai. He described our plan for the next few days and we were off to our time at the elephant foundation. Our time here ended up being over half of the groups highlight of the trip. These peaceful creatures took us in like family and showed us their gentleness as we got to know them.
During our time walking the elephants on a trail, Carson, Thomas, Sati, and Harrison proved to be excellent guides to these beautiful creatures as they gently led them through the forest by hand. Everyone was also able to get close with these beautiful creatures as we bathed them in the river.
Being with these gentle giants in such a beautiful part of Thailand definitely opened our eyes to a section and lifestyle of the country we had not yet seen. From a delicious chicken curry lunch to a refreshing Fanta to end off the hot day, the sanctuary was excellent in providing us a truly memorable experience.
We then headed to our lodging for the night. This location was like nothing we had seen yet, and we really enjoyed the peaceful nature to the place and it’s cozy Bungalows. We had an awesome Moonup tonight led by Carson and Gretchen regarding our attitude for the next portion of our trip, service. We are all extremely excited to learn more about ourselves and the completely new culture that we are about to be immersed in. We all think it will be an eye opening experience and one that we will certainly not forget. But above everything, we know we are going to HAVE FUN TOGETHER.
Thomas & Juliet
June 20, 2019
It was time to say goodbye to the majestic bungalows and amazing staff of Alvaro Diving. Knowing we had a long day of travel ahead; we were well rested and ready. We had a tasty croissant, fruit, and granola bar breakfast and packed some tasty “take-away” sandwiches from the French Cafe.
Having to go on two different two hour ferries and a three hour bus ride to get to our new location (Krabi Beach) took a lot of hard work and focus. There were definitely times when the group was feeling tired and travel-lagged, but our LODs, Michael and Carolyn, made sure everyone stayed positive and lived in the moment.
We were stoked to get to hostel. It was awesome and a great change of scenery from our last location. Everyone was happy to arrive in such a beautiful city that was quite literally a majestic mountain town on the beach full of fun stuff going on all over. We ate at a local restaurant called “11/1” where Thomas ordered best with his “Black Pepper chicken stir-fry.” We were all happy to be in a new place and excited for what was to come.
It was a great morning for rock climbing. The gang woke up early to attack the day with a positive and determined attitude! After a hearty meal at the hostel, we packed into two trucks and headed to the Real Rocks Railay shop to get our gear and a brief intro. We then hopped on a longboat and journeyed to the beautiful Railay Beach. We were quickly awoken by Harrison, Bella, and, Thomas’ rapid and amazing climbing skills. Gretchen and Paige proved to be true pioneers of the rock with their quick ascents. The rocks were a test for us all, but our group confidently conquered these beautiful beach monster crags. Sati and Carolyn kept the vibes high and energized as they controlled the music pretty much the entire day. We ate a delicious local lunch provided by our guides and then explored the local town (which was so cool).
Coming back after lunch, we were faced with the biggest rock climbing challenge. Mike “QB1” quickly showed us he was ready for the test and conquered this majorly treacherous climb. It was a very difficult climb, and Mike and Harrison put their veteran skills on full display. We then headed back to the hostel and had some nice down time before our infamous dinner at “Jungle Kitchen.” We all consumed enough food to feed an entire city. With a mix of noodles and french fries, we were able to get a local taste while clinging to our American comfort foods.
After our bellies were filled and our faces were grinning from ear to ear, we got ready for bed and had a great Moonup led by Paige and Grayson. With these girls’ positive attitudes all day, it led for a great Moonup to recap a fun-packed day.
We started off another early morning in beautiful Ao Nang (Krabi Beach). After a tasty, quick breakfast we headed to our new climbing spot on the Thailand mainland. We quickly felt at home with the mountain’s beautiful caves and structure. After our crew had conquered the first two rock paths, a new, rigorous path revealed itself. Per usual, Harrison had a quick scale of the mountain and made it look like an easy route.
Despite a few unsuccessful attempts of the crag by a few members, Lucy came in with this crazy look in her eye and absolutely crushed it!! I had never seen someone climb a mountain with such grit and determination and it was truly inspiring to watch. (WAY TO GO LUCY)!!! We were all starting to get that tiredness and soreness in our legs after a long day of climbing, and we headed back to our quarters (After a delicious fried rice lunch of course).
We rested in the hostel for a quick second and then went to explore the Krabi beach area and the stores filled with all sorts of paraphernalia. After some beach games dominated by Carson and shopping we were ready to get back to our temporary home. We had a delicious, much needed pizza dinner from a local spot in town. The kids were happy to stay in for dinner and have more hang-out time with one another. This led to a few games of “dinner party” and “mafia” led by Gretchen and Jacob, as well as an amazing Moonup. Jacob and Harrison’s Moonup consisted of a quote to prepare us for our travels the next day and the question “what has been your greatest struggle so far and how have you overcome it?” We are SO EXCITED for our next leg of the trip in Chiang Mai and can’t wait to see more of this beautiful country.
Thomas and Juliet
Michael: “hey fam, so far I’ve had a really fun time creating new friendships. I miss momma so much and I can’t wait to see you and Katie. I love you guys sooooo much!!”
Harrison: “hello everyone! Having so much fun here in Thailand. This trip has been amazing and is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Love you guys! See you soon!”
Bella: “ WASSSSUPPPP Miss u guys. I’m having so much fun this is my favorite Moondance trip yet. I don’t really miss you guys as much as I thought. JUST KIDDDING. See y’all in 10 days!!”
Paige: “Heyyy precious family. I’m having sm fun and I love everyone so much on this trip. See y’all soon!!! Love u. Xoxo Paige”
Gretchen: “Howdy fam! Hope Cola is as incredible as Thailand. Miss y’all, sorta… tell the sac, brits, and flav I said hey & I miss them tons! Love y’all & Pluto forever -Birdie”
Thomas: “Having a lot of fun in Thailand! Hope Mom and Lindsay had fun in Kentucky and Dad got his Father’s Day present. Love you guys.”Jacob: “Having a great time in Thailand so far excited to see Zachary and the dogs when I get home. Love y’all so much and I’m so excited to see you!”
Grayson: “hey y’all I miss you so much! See you soon and I hope you’re having a great time traveling 🙂 “
Lucy: “Momma, Daddy, Jeffy: I miss and love y’all so much! I’m having a great time in Thailand and I had such a good birthday! I can’t wait to stop by Southern Salt and tell you all about it! ”
Carson: “I love you all so much! I can’t explain how grateful I am to be given such an amazing experience. Riley, I miss you the most! I’m so sorry I missed Newsies. I love you and I know you will have such a fun time at camp️️”
Carolyn: “hey miss u all lots! Thailand is amazing, the culture and surroundings are crazy. Been eating so much fried rice I feel like I’m a different person. See ya soon weirdos???? love, carolyn.”
Sati: “hey familia. All is well here in Thailand! I miss you all so much and can’t wait to see you guys. I hope you all are doing well ????????????????happy Father’s Day dad, and happiest birthday wishes mama and nana. I LOVE YOU!”
June 17, 2019
Sawadee kah from Thailand!
We have just finished up our SCUBA section of the trip and are excited to take on rock climbing next! We have had such a fun first week with this amazing group of kids and can’t wait to tell you all about it. Everyone arrived safely in the airport in Atlanta on day 1, and we started to get to know each other. The travel days were long, but we functioned as a team as we navigated airports and customs! Once we arrived in Bangkok, we settled into our hotel and got a well deserved night of rest.
The next morning we ate a delicious breakfast of eggs, toast, cereal, fruit, and rice and beans at the hotel. After breakfast, everyone gathered in one hotel room to hangout before we left. Paige and Gretchen and Bella started making bracelets for everyone, while others played cards. Since Lucy’s SIXTEENTH!!! birthday was on the travel day, we decided that we would celebrate her birthday for two days straight. In the airport, we all sang happy birthday to her and surprised her with a doughnut, but we decided to go all out for our first official morning in Thailand to celebrate our girl! Without warning, Thomas and Juliet burst into the room blasting a song called “Lucy” and showered the birthday girl in rainbow tinsel and gave her a crown! An impromptu dance party started, and we all agreed that today was going to be a good day.
Next we went to the airport and flew to Ko Samui, in the south of Thailand. Once there we transferred via ferry to the beautiful island of Ko Tao. Our group had an awesome pow wow on top of the boat watching the sun set over the ocean and the limestone islands around us. The wind got pretty crazy so we sat on the floor and cuddled up and watched the stars come out as we docked in Ko Tao, our new island home. Our first official Moonup was held on the beach, and the question was simply: “why are you here?” The answers that we got were very mature and thoughtful. Juliet and leader Thomas picked the first leaders of the day (LODs), Bella and Thomas. We all went to bed soon after and dreamed about exploring the underwater world!Our LODs woke us up in the morning with music and big smiles. We had a quick breakfast of Nutella toast, granola bars, orange juice and fruit on the beach before we headed to the dive shop to get fitted for our gear and prepare for taking our first underwater breaths.
After we got our gear, we walked out into the bay and rode a small boat out to our large dive boat, which we two stories high and had an awesome deck upstairs with hammocks for hanging out. Gretchen, Paige and Grayson began their advanced open water course by doing their peak performance buoyancy and boat dives. The rest of the team did an awesome job rocking out their new underwater skills, such as clearing their masks and regulator recovery. It felt good to get out the initial nerves associated with SCUBA diving for the first time. The boat we were riding and gearing up on was unlike anything we had ever seen before. We honestly all felt “cultured” having now been on this bizarre boat all day. Some may even call us pirates. With excellent instruction from our certified diving teachers, we were quickly our way to becoming rulers of the sea.
However, you must work hard to get the gold, and boy there was a lot of diving to look forward to. After many training wheel circle-up exercises in 5 feet of water, we were ready to get back to the island for dinner. Carson, Michael and Harrison all went swimming after diving and climbed some rocks on the beach, where Harrison later received major nugs for being a mountain goat because he was so good at climbing. We capped off the day with listening to music on way back and enjoying the beautiful views. For dinner we had traditional Thai food, which we all though was delicious but SPICY!! Bella and Thomas led our moonup on the beach, with the question being “if you could do anything without failing what would it be?” We headed to bed happy and ready for the day to come!
With a whole day under our belt in the beautiful island of Koh Tao, we had officially begun to call ourselves locals. From learning of many parts of Koh Tao, to local attractions, and names of many friendly dogs around the area, we were starting to feel comfortable in our new temporary home. With a large dose of breakfast from shopping at the local store, our bellies were now filled with delicious local pineapple, bananas, and other foods. This was our fuel for the day as we started our day on the water early!
This was a new step up for everyone in the group (including deep water and open water divers) as there was a first “deep dive” and the open water group was now scuba diving where we couldn’t see the bottom. While we learned many things about the safety of the buddy system and the risks of diving, we had such a fun time in the water. Michael, Sati, Carolyn, and Thomas were hilarious under water as they were making and acting out some pretty funny scenes. We ate a delicious local chicken curry and rice meal on the boat which continued to add to our feeling of being newfound locals.
We did an afternoon dive that was really fun and actually got to begin seeing reefs underwater. This is where we figured out why we had gone through the certification. The beauty of the water was indescribable and everyone got that rewarding feeling of hard work paid off. However, there was much more underwater life to be seen. Lucy and Carson, our LODs for this day, led Moonup. Sati got a lot of nugs for pushing through her nervousness and diving every dive of the day, setting a great example for others with her good attitude and optimism. After Moonup, we surprised everyone with a trip to the local grocery store for ice cream! Spirits were high as we went to bed that night.
This is the day when everything started to click for everyone. Everyone headed into the day with a mindset of achieving their goal of getting their scuba open water certification. While the scuba diving certification was written in the trip details, it took our group a lot of hard work and determination to carry out the process. Every minute was worth it and we had so much fun working towards this goal! We had delicious food that was picked out at the market by Bella, Gretchen, and Harrison. Getting a wholesome meal was key as we had a big day ahead. We next went to the shop and got a presentation by one of the instructors on coral reefs and their impact on society. Having this information was really interesting, especially as we saw much coral throughout each dive.
On the boat, we had a fantastic lunch of green chicken curry and boy was it delicious! This was our needed fuel to carry us newly certified divers through the rest of the day and night. Jacob was a true leader today getting everyone passed their last and final steps. One of our first dives after certification was a once in a lifetime night dive!As we approached the night, it seemed as if the whole day had been in anticipation for both the newly certified open water divers and the deep water divers. After a great meal on the boat, we headed down with our newly acquired torches in the depths of the dark sea. There was so much life that was out and about at night. Students saw everything from pufferfish to yellow spotted sting rays. This was an extremely unique experience. As we got back from the boat and to the island, we were all exhausted.
This was truly a full day, so we had a great Moonup led by Sati and Jacob with the question “if you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?”Today we got a special treat: sleeping in! We woke up to the sound of light rain and all gathered on the porch on one of our bungalows, where our LODs – Harrison and Gretchen – announced to the group that we were going to get breakfast at a local cafe! While there were an array of excellent orders, Bella definitely ordered the best, as she got four pieces of French toast that everyone was stealing bites from. After breakfast, we went to a shop next store and bought some jewelry made by Koh Tao locals. We then headed out for the boat. We ended up riding into some big surf, as the wind from the earlier storm had created some rough seas.
Everyone was really excited to get back to shore because while we had been having a blast on the boat and water, we were happy to see a new environment for fun. We ended up having an awesome beach day led by a game called “death hack” (which was led by stars Carson, Paige, Grayson, and Gretchen) and some awesome beach tunes with dancing led by Sati, Jacob, and Carolyn. After this, we all showered up and got ready for an awesome dinner. Tonight, we all participated in a Korean BBQ (similar to a fondue) where we sat down as if we were in a traditional Thai home. The food we ate was absolutely delicious and ranged from noodles and soup to chicken and pork (I had never seen everyone so happy and in their food comas the whole trip- it was awesome!) We quickly moved to Moonup where Gretchen and Harrison led a very powerful Moonup and encouraged their fellow students to reflect on a few unique experiences in their lives. We’re all pretty tired now and looking forward to getting to Krabi Beach tomorrow! It will be a fun-filled travel day and we can’t wait. We loved Koh Tao so much but are excited to see what the next leg of our trip holds!
Juliet and Thomas
June 12, 2019
Hi Thailand Families,
The group has made is safely to Bangkok and the trip is off to a great start! Stay tuned for more updates on their adventure to come.
– Moondance HQ