July 13, 2019
Greetings from Chiang Mai! Now showered, full from an American-style dinner, and basking in modern conveniences like air conditioning, we are already reminiscing on our time in the rustic mountain village that we came to know as home. It is a place that saw the strengthening of the bonds that our students made early on, and we are thankful for the time we spent there. The sense of community that we created will carry us well through the following weeks of our trip.
Our journey in the villages of northern Thailand began when we met our guide, Uncle Chai. He has become an honorary member of the Moondance family, and even has the shirt to prove it – nugs to Claude for supplying it. Uncle Chai led us up the trail on a hike up to the village that passed new kinds of plants and meandering streams. He showed us how to blow bubbles out of some plants and how to paint our faces with others. He gave Anna and Emma the markings of warriors. We stopped at a refreshing waterfall where our lunch was wrapped up in banana leaves. A swim in the cool pools under the waterfall invigorated us for the second leg of the trek. This time, we were weaving our way through rice paddies. Our LODs El and Megan did a great job of keeping the squad motivated and moving at a solid pace. Towards the middle of the afternoon, we arrived in our new home for the next five days – a bamboo-floored hut perched over rice paddies and rolling hillsides. We were in awe of the view. The golden hour was upon us, and we took advantage of the light and the sweeping vistas to have quite a photoshoot on the open-air porch.
The first full day in the village, we awoke to the sound of roosters and the aroma of breakfast being cooked over an open flame. We sat down and enjoyed a hearty first meal of the day before setting off to the primary school to begin our service project. Our objective was to construct a new fence along the backyard of the school. Ava led the charge in mixing concrete since she has previous experience from service work on her last Moondance adventure. Jessica put “Leave No Trace” ethics into action and picked up litter and debris from the construction site. Anna and Mary App impressed everyone with their posthole digging skills. All work and no play aren’t the Moondance way, so we made sure to spend the afternoon playing all sports imaginable with kids of every age. While El bumped a volleyball around with a group, Jake kicked the soccer ball with some very talented kindergarteners. Lily was taught how to play Thai checkers despite the language barrier, instead using observational skills to learn the rules. This new skill became helpful later that evening. Anna and Claude led a card game in which no rules are explained ahead of time, and each player must deduce them for themselves. We have some true competitors in our midst!
Over the next few days, we settled into the routine of the village. We woke to the rooster crows, worked at the primary school, and came home to connect further with our group. During breakfasts, the leaders took on the roll of baristas by making everyone’s favorite coffee beverages. We set off each day to the school to continue working on the fence, painting, digging, and drilling. Paintbrushes in hand, El and Megan spent a considerable amount of time making sure each beam was painted thoroughly. After lunch on our second day, we engaged in an intense game of ultimate frisbee. Prior to the start, Chase was giving pointers on how to flick and throw the frisbee more efficiently. After some warming up, Anna, Emma, El and James faced off against Ava, Mary App, Claude, Megan, and Nancy. Everyone agreed that it was quite the cardiovascular workout. That afternoon, we had a brief rain shower. We got to see just how resourceful our group is as they filled up empty bottles of water so that we didn’t have to use any of the huts’ water reserve to shower.
On the third day, we headed back to the school for our final day of service, determined to finish the fence. Lily, Mary App, Jake, Megan, Anna, El put in work drilling screws to finish off the fence, we were all extremely proud of the work we had done. We went back to our hut for a well-earned lunch. After chowing down on some chicken and rice, we went down to the paddies on the hillside below our hut and planted rice of our own. We all decided to have a group hair-washing extravaganza with the water we saved from the rain. Everyone was very happy to have sweet-smelling hair at the end of it, and we felt good about utilizing our resources well.
The final night in the village was the most memorable, as we were able to witness and take part in a Karen ceremony. Jessica decorated a three foot tall structure with hydrangeas, peonies, and other flowers to get it ready for the occasion. Lily, El, and Megan asked to help in the kitchen and got to roll and fry spring rolls for dinner. Following the most delicious meal yet, we sat down surrounding the flower arrangement and the elderly family members of our hosts performed a ceremony that blessed us with good luck and positive chokdee (Thai for luck) in our future travels. The elders knelt in front of each of us and wrapped a white thread around our wrist while they gave us their blessing. It was a moment that none will soon forget. Lily spoke with the guides, and we were lucky enough to get a personal tour of our friend Cha’s home. His wife, children, parents, and grandparents welcomed us into their home and provided us with tea and conversation. We cherished this experience to see the typical Thai village home and enjoy the hospitality that they provided.
Our Moonups here in these ancient mountains have taken place around our communal bamboo table, lit by candles and a solar lantern. We have asked deeper questions and prompted more meaningful connections between us. We have also laughed so hard that we cried, learned new games, and made memories that will become stories to bring home to friends and family. In the meantime, here are a few shoutouts to all of you back home:
El – Hi family! I am having SO much fun and cannot wait to tell y’all all about this really cool country and all my new friends! Mom and dad, I hope y’all had so much fun on your cruise and happy early anniversary! Also, HAPPY late FIRST birthday to B man!!! I cannot wait to see y’all when I get home! Love y’all so so much!
Mary App – Hey dudes! Hope y’all are having fun at the bay and I can’t wait to tell y’all about Thailand bc it’s been quite the trip. Fuller, hope you are not dying and bored out of your mind but if you are don’t worry I’ll be back soon… also Harrigan hope you have so much fun on your trip and I can’t wait to hear about your trip! Mom and Dad I miss y’all so much! Can’t wait to see y’all soon! Also someone better be keeping Hayden in line so if not pls get on that <3 love y’all sm! See y’all soon!!
Jake – Hi fam! This trip is amazing! I am feeling a little under the weather. Hopefully, I will feel better by the time you read this. I love all of you and I can’t wait to see you again. PS- keep gramps calm about me being sick.
Chase – Hello family! Hope you guys are having fun without me. I’m having so much fun here with all the cool fruit and animals, but I am beginning to become a little low on patience when it comes to rice. We’re moving on to scuba diving soon and beach rock climbing and I’m super excited. Love you all and see you soon.
Lily – Hello everyone! I only sort of miss y’all, because I’m having lot of fun! I made a best friend named Cha, and Uncle Chai told me to come back to the village and teach English one day. I’m very excited to tell y’all all the stories and show you all my pictures. Love y’all!! Happy late birthday Dad!! You are getting old. Also, happy birthday Mrs. Kelley!!
Megan – Hello family! I am having so much fun! But I miss y’all (ngl I miss Libby the most but what’s new). I have decided to move in with the elephants and maybe never come home but I guess I will consider it. @cj, I can’t wait to jam to the new Ed with you! Hope all is well at the parks mama and that your new class is easier than your last H!! I miss y’all tons and can’t wait to see you ALL at the airport and tell you all my amazing stories! All my love, moo moo
Ava – Hi family I miss y’all so much! Mom, Amelia, Dad I am having the time of my life and I can’t wait to see y’all!!! Also to everyone that was worried (ie Kasey and SG), I survived the village and LOVED it so much. Shoutout to all my best friends Stefi, SG, Kasey, Pross I miss y’all so much and can’t wait to see y’all when I get back! All my love, Ava
Claude – Hello mother, hope you are enjoying the time without me. I am having a splendid time here in Thailand without you. Tell father I bid him hello and wish him good fortune on the farm. Tell my brother I do not miss him and he’s a chang (Thai for elephant)
Anna – hi family! I’m having so much fun but I can’t wait to see y’all! I hope Raleigh isn’t too boring without me 🙂 we’ve done so much already and we still have so much left, i can’t wait to tell y’all all about it. Give Ollie a BIG hug and kiss for me, see y’all soon(ish)! Also happy early bday mom!!!!
Emma – Hey fam I miss y’all so much! I hope you guys are having a great time in Paris, because I am having the best time ever. Also miss you SG and Stefi hope y’all are living it up in ATL can’t wait to see y’all!! Love, Emma
Jessica – Hey Mom, Dad, and Rick! I miss y’all so much (I frequently use that slang now that I’ve been fully schooled by my southern girls). And so much country music is coming your way. But don’t worry, I’m not missing you too much because I’m having a blast. Rick, you’re the best! I’ve immensely enjoyed your M&Ms plus my friends have been too!
I can’t wait to savor my time with y’all when I get back. I’ve been taking it day by day and don’t know the time of day most of the time. It’s crazy 🙂 LOVE YOU—Jess
James K – Mom! I hope you have a great birthday! Dad I hope you are kayaking it up! Kathryn, I know you are rocking it at Camp ASCCA!
Nancy – Hi Momma and Dad! I hope y’all are having as amazing of a summer as I am! Miss y’all! Kell- miss you and wish you were here! I’m currently scouting out spots for our next adventure!
Nancy and James
July 7, 2019
Greetings from our bungalows in a Chiang Mai jungle!
We have been moving and shaking ever since we touched down in here in the Land of Smiles. After arriving in the airport we headed to our hotel for a well-earned rest. The next day, we woke up and had a delicious first breakfast of eggs, hash browns, fruit, and toast. When we were energized and ready to rock, we headed back to the airport for our flight to Chiang Mai. While on the flight, we were served some scrumptious baked sweet cakes with orange marmalade. Upon arriving, we met our guide and then transferred to our wonderful hostel with a pool! After settling in to our new abode, we set out in search of Elephant pants. Claude came out on top with his super breezy pair of elephant pants and Thai full zip jacket. We found a great place to have our first traditional meal, the Pad Thai was by far the most popular dish. Following dinner, we went to a night bazaar and were all amazed at the color and design of it. After we left, Jake showed his navigational prowess and guided us through the winding streets back to our hostel, he made it look easy. That night for Moonup, the question was “What do you want to get out of this trip the most?” El and Lily both talked about how this was their opportunity to truly get out of their comfort zone and do things they would not normally do. Everyone had such positive answers, including wanting to form new relationships, and immerse themselves in a new culture. We all went to bed with goal-oriented mindset.
Our second day in Chiang Mai, we were able to get our climb on! Emma was so excited for the day that she woke up singing. We separated into two groups. One starting with a rappel and one starting with the climbing. Chase and Jessica immediately took to the most challenging walls, taking adversity head on, and they both succeeded. In the rappelling group, Megan was first to face her fears. After climbing into the mouth of a cave using via ferrata-style metal rungs, we lowered ourselves over the edge to a 60-foot descent. We were rewarded by a lunch of chicken fried rice, then swapped groups so that everyone was given the chance to try both. We may have some future climbers on our hands!
After we returned from climbing, sweaty and exhausted, we set out again to explore Chiang Mai’s Old City. Our LOD’s Mary App and Claude took the reins and mapped us out a route to get to dinner. While on the way, we stopped to observe a Buddhist Temple and the service going on inside. The intricate designs and inlaid gems on the temple’s facade were the subject of everyone’s photos. Our group set out to find the best Mexican food in Thailand, and we believe we accomplished that goal. Mango chicken quesadillas were a huge hit, and we walked home feeling full and happy. Moonup on our second night in-country was a little out of the ordinary. We took advantage of our surroundings and circled up by the pool. All it took was the leaders to hop in, and the rest of the entire group was in the water almost immediately. It was a great way to wash off the six layers of bug spray that we had accumulated during the day, and we happily floated while opening up to our group. Getting the chance to swim for a moment makes us anticipate the upcoming beach and scuba portion or our adventure even more.
Knowing that we had a full day of new experiences awaiting us the next day, we all got to sleep quickly. LODs Jessica and Jake led us to breakfast in the morning, and we ate the most colorful fruit, fluffy pancakes, and dangerously good coffee that fueled us up for the day ahead. We stopped at a fruit market en route to the elephant sanctuary where we would spend most of our day. Lily drank fresh coconut water straight from the fruit, most students left the market with a new hat to take home, and everyone sampled a new fruit. Off to meet some pachyderms! Everyone was excited to meet the elephants, but we had no idea how close we would get. We learned more about these massive yet gentle creatures, and we filled the morning with taking pictures and getting to know them. After amazing curry and watermelon for lunch, we led the elephants on a small hike to a river. The elephants followed us on trails, over roads, and past rice patty fields, only led by a thin rope hooked over their right ear. We watched the elephants dive right into the deep part of a jungle river to cool off, and then hopped in ourselves. Ava and Anna were sprayed by the trunk of one particularly playful elephant that was clearly loving the chance to bathe in the cold river. We watched the animals play and snorkel with their trunks. Megan even got a kiss on the forehead from a trunk. It was an experience that no one will forget.
After wrapping up this letter, we are off to a pre-dinner group dance party (group movement). Our group of students who, only days ago were meeting for the first time, has quickly become a family. We anticipate that these bonds will continue to grow throughout our time in this incredible country, and we can’t wait.
Signing off for now,
Nancy and James
July 4, 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