June 27, 2023
It is hard to believe we have reached our final trip update. This experience has been memorable and life-changing in many ways. Max and I are so grateful to have met each and every student and to have bonded with them for the duration of their trip. While we were disappointed our trip did not go the way we had planned it to, we are grateful for the lessons we have learned along the way. Saying goodbye to Payton and Elizabeth today at the airport really made us appreciate how far we have come and how much we have experienced together. We are grateful for every single memory and every single lesson learned. Thank you so much to the parents and relatives who have committed to sending their kids on Moondance trips. Thank you especially to Payton and Elizabeth for their fantastic attitudes throughout our experience together. They certainly gained a tolerance for adversity and learned how to adapt and be flexible every step of our trip. We will miss them all dearly. Please read below for a description of our final days in Thailand:
We got up earlier than usual this morning and departed for Krabi, Thailand – one of our final stops on our itinerary!! Elizabeth, Payton, and Ava ordered breakfast and to-go lunch from the restaurant since we had a long travel day ahead. We had a ride on a golf cart to the local pier from our good friend Twei who works at the restaurant. At the pier, we then boarded a large ferry that took us across the gulf of Thailand to Surat Thani. We stopped at several neighboring islands along the way, so the ride took about 2.5 hours in total. We feasted on our to-go lunches, grateful to have planned ahead and enjoyed the scenic views out the ferry window. Upon arriving in Surat Thani, we then boarded a double decker bus and drove to Krabi, Thailand which took another 2 hours. We looked through photos, listened to some music, wrote in journals, napped, and read. We finally made it to our lodging in Krabi, Thailand which is a super cool, hipster hostel with a pool, ping pong tables, an awesome common space, and a wonderful view of the surrounding cliffs that Krabi is known for and that we get to climb tomorrow! Elizabeth, Payton, and I (Ava) wanted to decompress after a long day of travel, so we went straight to the pool. We played Star, a classic pool game, and guess who strolled in… Maxwell!!! We are now officially a fearsome foursome. We wrapped up our pool games and headed to dinner at a delicious local spot. We ate like kings and then headed back to our hostel for a rowdy game of ping pong. Elizabeth and Maxwell beat Ava and Payton and then Ava and Maxwell beat Elizabeth and Payton. We had a Moonup headed up by our incredible leader of the day Payton who asked us about a quality we have that people sometimes write us off for or underestimate us for. It was a fantastic conversation. I love how mature this group is and how we can have conversations that really dive into topics that small talk could never begin to cover. Due to our extremely small group size now, we really can dive into great conversation and listen to each other. It is a blessing to get to know these girls.
Today was one of those days I think we will all look back on in a few months and say… wow, was that even real? I know certainly that the views alone in Krabi, Thailand and on Railay Beach made today one of the most memorable days of my life. It was a day filled with plenty of jaw-dropping and “Wow” moments. Our fearsome foursome got picked up by Real Rocks Railay (a climbing and rappelling organization in Railay beach) after a quick breakfast at our hostel. We were jamming to some Eminem and getting pumped for the day ahead when we arrived at the climbing organization’s main base. There, we got our equipment, got a safety briefing, and loaded into a long boat that took us from the mainland to Railay Beach. Maxwell, Payton, Ava, and Elizabeth agreed that Railay Beach and the cliffs we got to climb on Railay are easily some of the most stunning views we have ever seen. The water was vibrant aqua blue, the rock and cliff formations were absolutely jaw-dropping with tri-colored striations on the formations, and the sky was cloudless and blue. Payton and Max debated whether the cliffs looked like they were from a green screen or from the Jurassic Park set. Either way, we loved it and were amazed at the natural wonders. We arrived on the beach and immediately set to work getting prepared for climbing. We did some group stretches, got into our harnesses, and started to climb. Elizabeth, with her quiet confidence, rocked the first big climb of the day with Maxwell. Payton conquered some inner doubts she had and CRUSHED the longest and highest route possible. Ava and Max were having a blast monkeying around and improving their skills. Speaking of monkeys… we saw LOADS of monkeys. AND a giant lizard that looked just like a kimono dragon. Our guide told us it was not a kimono dragon, but we still might pretend like it was. It was a giant lizard snake hybrid so in our minds… it was a dragon. One mama monkey held her baby and tried to steal the tourists’ food. They did not get ours though! We took a mid-afternoon snack break and munched on some PBJs that we packed. They hit the spot. We wrapped up climbing and got to swim at the beach. We had lunch at noon and then explored a bit of the island. We got smoothies and shakes from a coffee shop and swam some more. The water was seriously so stunning. You will have to see photos but even those will not do it justice.
Our afternoon was equally as exciting! We got to go caving and rappeling!! Our guides Kung and Che took us on a hike that went around and up through a cave (yes, we saw bats!) and we had the most incredible overlooks of the beach below. We sniped some artsy shots at an overlook in the cave before beginning our rappelling descent. The view as we descended was remarkable and we rappelled about 80 feet. We all made it down and hiked back to the East side of the island. At this point of the day, we were exhausted and were pumped to boat back and go shower off after our remarkable day of climbing, beaching, rappelling, and hiking. We did so and treated ourselves with wood-fire pizzas made at a restaurant directly adjacent to the hostel where we are staying. At dinner, we talked about character quirks, future weddings, travel plans, and bucket lists. This group is full of dreamers, and we love to hear about each other’s hopes and aspirations. We returned to the ping pong table for some more fierce competition. Moonup was led by the one and only Elizabeth who asked us about what movie character we would most like to be and a difficult experience in our life. It was special being able to open up to each other on one of our final Moonups. Crazy to believe this trip is already coming to an end. It has been an absolute whirlwind and we are grateful for all we have seen and learned. So much personal discovery and growth is taking place and it is magical to witness.
Another gorgeous, sunny day in Thailand! We have been so lucky with getting day after day of stunning, sunny weather, especially with rainy season quickly approaching. We woke up around 7 AM, had breakfast, and met Real Rocks Railay for our transportation to the climbing facility. Today, for our last full day of activities, we went out with a bang. We got geared up again and prepared for a morning full of sweat and hard work on the rocks. It was an absolute blast getting to see our two girls crush it while rock climbing. They had the best attitudes and really made the most of the experience. We also noticed that they had significant improvement since our last time climbing in Chiang Mai. While climbing, we made friends with a family from Bangladesh and encouraged each other up the wall. Lunch was a delicious, authentic Thai dish, and after, we quickly packed our things and headed back on the boats to go back to our hostel, shower, and head off to Bangkok for the final day of our trip. In the airport, Max taught us how to play Golf and Cabo and we played for 2 hours, minimum. It was an absolute blast. Payton ended up winning the whole thing. We had an hour or so flight, landed in Bangkok, Moonuped at our hotel, and hit the hay.
The day has come. Our final day together as the fearsome foursome in Thailand has arrived. Even though we only got to spend three weeks together, I can certainly say that our group feels like a family. We woke up to the sun shining (again!!) in Bangkok, Thailand. Our itinerary today involved a tour of this incredible city. Did you know that Bangkok is the most visited city in the entire world? We did not either! However, the tour we went on today certainly explains why. Our lovely guides named Apple and Nina took us on a tour that covered everything. You name it, we saw it. Giant Buddha statues, gorgeous temples, a boat tour that took us through every nook and cranny of the local river, local markets, authentic food and fruits, and, most importantly, a tour of the grand palace, one of the largest attractions in Thailand. The Grand Palace is where the king and queen of Thailand used to reside, and where many tourists come to visit. It is absolutely stunning and HUGE. We explored all over the grand palace, and even got to see the emerald Buddha statue, which is one of the most sacred statues in all of Thailand. It is actually carved out of jade, not emerald, but it is an emblem of Buddhism, that is sacred to the culture here. We had lunch at a giant local mall that had 6 floors and then made our way back to the hotel. After our tour, we had one final opportunity to celebrate together: Banquet!! Knowing we had the chance to celebrate and spoil these girls extra, we did so. We went to a local restaurant, called “The Beach” which had the most adorable decorations. It looked exactly like a set on the reality show Love Island. Since we knew we were going to a place called the beach, we had to sport some beach attire. Before dinner, Maxwell took Payton and Elizabeth shopping for Hawaiian shirts and ended up getting some wonderful fits for us to don at dinner. We ate with the other Thai B group and feasted like kings. After dinner, we then had one final Moonup around their pool. Ava asked the group about how they plan to continue to make the world a better place. We also each took an opportunity to compliment one person in the circle at a time. It was very sweet to hear all the kind words shared and to see how everyone in our group has grown close and cares for each other so deeply. Finally, we transported the girls safely to the airport and sent them well on their way giving them big hugs and well wishes. We are so proud of these two and know that they will do great things in life and in their future. We want to thank them for sticking to their word, for making good decisions repeatedly, and always making our days brighter. This trip certainly would not have been the same without them. Here are a few words from them to express their gratitude for this trip:
Thank you to my parents for sending me on this amazing trip! I have enjoyed every second and have made so many memories. I was able to have so many cool experiences that I never thought I would have so thank y’all so much! Love y’all! -Elizabeth M
Thank you parents for letting me go on this once and a life time trip! It was prettier than I thought it would be and am blessed that I got to experience Thailand at age 18! Love y’all and see y’all at home! Love, Payton
Thank you all again, safe travels, and much love!!! We wish you all the best and thanks for tagging along on our adventures.
Ava and Maxwell
June 19, 2023
Hello again Thailand 1A families and friends!!
We’re back and here to tell you all about the fun we’ve been having since the last time we checked in. Stay tuned because we have a special shout out surprise at the end!! On Friday, we completed our final day with Green Trails, our outfitter for all things service, elephants, and outdoor adventure in Chiang Mai. Uncle Chai had us commemorate our time building the church by painting our names on a sign that will be hung in the church for many years to come. Payton took the lead and helped Ava paint a big Green “Moondance 2023” on top of the sign. Then each person had the chance to paint their own name on the sign. We also were gifted bamboo cups and hand-woven shawls by Uncle Chai after a breakfast of pancakes and fruit! We’ve loved our time with Uncle Chai and Luke, our guides, and the kids were verbally upset to say goodbye. Luckily, we had one more afternoon with them trekking out of the village with Uncle Chai leading the way. We passed through rice fields and got decently close to a herd of water buffalo! Along our journey, we stopped at 2 beautiful waterfalls and got the chance to swim and cool off. The group was amazed how a very cute stray dog that we named “Sugar” followed us the whole way on our hike. Logan, Arden, and Mary Frances were ready to sign adoption papers to bring “Sugar” home to the U.S… Don’t worry parents, Sugar eventually found a new home with some other tourists at the waterfall. Fried rice lunch served in bamboo leaves was gobbled down quickly after our waterfall swim and we enjoyed soaking up the sun and sprawled on some rocks. After lunch, we finished up our hike. Maxwell quizzed Elizbeth, Miles, and Emma with some riddles. At the completion of the hike, we waited for our vans for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, Ava played Pictionary in the sand with Elizabeth Hanes and Elizabeth Miles. Meanwhile, Logan, Payton, Arden, Emma, and Max found a volleyball court where they started a rowdy game of Soccer Tennis. Our vans arrived and we drove another 5 minutes to our next adventure: bamboo rafting!!! Our leaders of the day, Galen and Emma, split us into groups of 3 and we rafted on long rafts made of thick bamboo down a river. We felt like true jungle warriors, cruising through rapids, dodging rocks, and more elephants!! It was quite a memorable afternoon, but the fun did not stop there. After rafting, we took vans back to our Riverside Hotel in Chiang Mai. After 5 days in the village, we took some much-needed showers and started some laundry before heading out to dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant. At dinner, there were signatures all over the wall and we spotted “Moondance 2022” so we, of course, had to sign too. After dinner, we headed out to explore the Chiang Mai night markets. It was a bustling food and merchandise bazaar. Elizabeth Hanes headed straight for the ice cream. Mary Frances tried a silkworm and Maxwell munched on a scorpion. Richard spotted a fish foot massage where little fish eat the dead skin off of your feet, so he and Ava had to try it. They were cracking up. We left the markets with some awesome souvenirs and full tummies in tote and headed back to our hotel. Moonup was near the pool and Emma and Galen inquired about our B+ superpowers and someone in our lives who has inspired us. We hit the hay and got ready for our big day of rock climbing and rappelling ahead!
To start off today, we gobbled up some breakfast and hopped into two vans with representatives from our next outfitter CMRCA, Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Association, to some stunning cliffs and rocks about 45 minutes away. We got a safety orientation from our guides “M” and “P” and then split into two teams, Team Sugar (named after our previous “pet” stray dog we met in the village) and Team Tubby (named for no particular reason, I guess Tubby is just a funny word.) We did some opening team chants and Team Tubby headed out for some rock climbing while Team Sugar went rappelling. Team Sugar trekked up the cliff, through the caves, to get ready to do a practice rappel before conquering a 115-foot rappel inside of a cave. On Team Tubby (Gaby, Mary Frances, Elizabeth Hanes, Logan, Richard, and Ava), Elizabeth Hanes was our climbing champion, showing off her previous climbing experience by conquering all 4 climbs. Team Sugar (Arden, Emma, Galen, Elizabeth Miles, Payton, and Max) had a blast with the rappelling portion, though Payton and Arden took a minor stumble while hiking up to the cliff. They still had awesome attitudes and maintained their smiles all day. We headed back for a great lunch of garlic chicken, veggies, and fried rice. We had about twenty minutes to kill after that and we all mutually decided that a group nap was the move. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and we took a fantastic nap all together on a tarp. Our ability to all just pass out next to each other on a tarp in the middle of the afternoon goes to show how quickly we have become like family. After a power-rest, our two teams switched activities: Team Tubby went to rappel and Team Sugar went rock climbing. While rappelling, Richard and Logan conquered their fears of heights like absolute champs. Logan sang some Halo by Beyoncé to calm his nerves. Not sure if it worked but we enjoyed his voice, nonetheless. On Team Sugar, something must have been in the garlic chicken we ate for lunch because, dang, the whole group CRUSHED it. Everyone did the main 3 rocks, and the majority of the group completed the 4th challenge course. The instructor ended up having to make a 5th even more challenging rock route because Emma, Arden, and Galen were cruising through the challenge routes too easily. Emma was the only one to make it all the way to the top. One might say… she rocked it!! Forgive my pun. At around 3 PM, we headed back to the hotel to shower up and get ready to head back to the Night Bazaar. The kids had so much fun last night that they couldn’t wait to experience it again. We shopped, sampled delicious from all over the world, and even got to see some of the local Muay Thai boxing match that was taking place in an arena in the marketplace!! We had a blast because one of the boxers was from the United States. We chanted “USA” in the stands, got interviewed by the announcer, and had a blast but, unfortunately, our fearless American representative got his booty kicked. It was a hilarious memory and certainly something we have never experienced before. After that, we headed back to the hotel. Moonup was led by leaders of the day, Richard and Mary Frances. They asked us what one aspect about ourselves is, internally, that we would like to change or improve. Everyone gave extremely insightful answers. So much personal development is happening and it’s truly magical.
Hello from Chiang Mai for the final time! Today is our final full day here before heading south to Ko Tao. We have had the best time in this historic city and will remember the memories we have made here for a lifetime. That being said, our group is definitely looking forward to seeing what the Thailand coasts have to offer as well. To celebrate today, we got to sleep in!! To 9 AM! Woohoo! After lots of time traveling, trekking, doing service work, and rock climbing, I would say these kids deserved it. We ate a nice relaxing breakfast and each person in our group had the opportunity to check-in with Ava and Max. We love taking time to ensure all our kiddos are having the best time and so far, from the conversations we had this morning, I can certainly say they are. Our slow morning also involved repacking our bags with freshly cleaned laundry and a trip to the supermarket to stock up on personal snacks. At noon, we were picked up from our CMRCA guides in cool red open-air trolley-like taxis and shuttled off to their main facility for a cooking class! The afternoon involved a visit to a local Thai market, “Jungle cooking” or cooking using bamboo stalks and banana leaves as plates and pots and getting to taste our creations. At the market, Mary Frances, Emma, Payton, and Arden got to buy the freshest of fish… fish that is still swimming! And helped the market worker to capture and kill it for our lunch. Doesn’t get more authentic than that. The rest of us shopped for veggies and the ingredients we needed. On the way back to the facility from the marketplace, Arden, Payton, and Ava were belting out some of the Hamilton soundtrack.
Once at the facility, we began our Jungle cooking extravaganza. Logan washed the rice and prepared Banana Leaf boats for the eggs to be cooked in. Elizabeth Miles cracked the eggs and whipped them up. Galen chopped coriander and onions. Gaby and Richard were our DJ’s and helped ensure everything was being cooked properly. Elizabeth Hanes, Arden, Payton, and Mary Frances were in charge of washing, seasoning, and preparing the chicken and fish. We cooked the rice inside of bamboo and we cooked the eggs inside of Logan’s finely made banana leaf boats. The meat and fish were roasted on metal racks on top of a campfire. This took a while so while we waited, Richard facilitated a book club from selections from Ava’s kindle. He picked quotes and we analyzed them. We were all cracking up. Once the food was ready, we feasted on our jungle creations. The group consensus was that the fresh fish was the best thing we made. We wrapped up a little earlier than planned so the group got the chance to try out Chiang Mai Ro Climbing Association’s outdoor bouldering and rock-climbing facility. Arden, Emma, Gaby, and Galen gave it a go and practiced their skills. We headed back to Riverside, showered up, and then departed for our final market visit. This time, we made our way to the Sunday Night Walking Market. It was notably busier with countless vendors and tourists bustling through the marketplace. Elizabeth Miles and Gaby tried some Shawarma. Galen and Max ate a 45 bat (around $1.25) omelet with Pad Thai inside of it. Arden, Mary Frances, and Logan tried the Greek options. Payton had some chicken nugs. Ava and Emma split a Greek salad and each got Kao Soi for 40 bat. Elizabeth Hanes and Richard had some garlic bread and shopped for some trinkets. It was a super successful evening and fun to see the more touristy, busy marketplace in Chiang Mai. When we arrived back at the hotel, we got the chance to reunite with our friends from session B! We all were staying in the same hotel so it was a great chance to see familiar faces. Galen reunited with his twin Parks, and it was wild to see how similar they are. Moonup was led by Arden and Logan and one of the most memorable Moonups from the summer. They started with a big game of human knot, brought in a real Nug Jug that they had crafted, asked us about fears we have as we grow older, and ended with tossing Mary Frances in the pool. We all of course jumped in after her and had a mini-late night pool party. The other session joined in on the fun too. Finally, we headed off to sleep and got ready to pack our things for our travels to Koh Tao in the morning. We are so excited to get tropical and begin our scuba diving adventures!! Talk to you all then!! Now, enough of me, please enjoy some shout outs from your kiddos:
What’s up guys!!! It’s Galen. I am having a blast. We’re currently on the way to Koh Samui and Koh Tao to go scuba diving! Want to wish you a happy birthday mom! Hope it was a great one, and happy fathers day dad! I love y’all so much and can’t wait to tell you all about this unbelievable trip.
What’s up fam!! It’s Gaby. I miss y’all so much, I hope Julia Is having a great time in British Columbia. I just rock climbed and repelled 115ft and it was crazy cool. Can’t wait to tell y’all all about it in Buzios. We are on the way to the beach right now and we are going to scuba! Also, Happy Fathers Day to the legendary Igor!!
Hey Mom it’s Richard. I miss you and love you. Thanks for putting money in my account. I fed elephants and played with them! We are going scuba diving and I am having a great time.
Hiiiii, it’s Elizabeth Miles!! I miss y’all so much and have so many stories to tell when I get home. I meant to get a father’s day card but World Market didn’t have any good ones so I forgot to say Happy Fathers Day! Mwah!
Heyy it’s Elizabeth! I’m having so much fun; it’s so cool here. I repelled down a HUGE cliff down into a deep cave, it was awesome. So far, we’ve seen Buddhist monks, lots of stray dogs, and cute elephants. Also, I will never be able to order Thai food at home again because it won’t beat how good the food is here. We’re getting ready to go scuba diving, I can’t wait!
Hey Fam, it’s Payton, hope all is well at home. We just finished our service and rock climbing portion of the trip, and are heading to the beach to go scuba diving tomorrow. We helped build the foundation of a Catholic Church, which I thought was cool since the majority of Thai people are Buddhist. We’ve gone to a lot of night markets and they are sick. I bought some fake designer bags so Campbell and I can match. I’ve tried over 7 foods here… eating has been crazy. But it has been so much fun, and I can’t wait to tell y’all about it when I get home.
Heyyy it’s Emma!!! I’m having so so much fun in Thailand! We are done with the service portion of the trip and about to leave for Koh Tao for scuba and more climbing! Happy Father’s day dad! I love and miss you all so much!
HEY!!! It’s Logan, I’m having so much fun! I don’t want to go home but I miss my dog so much. Taylor and Mia are picking me up at the airport!! Just finished rock climbing and community service. It was AWESOME. Happy Father’s day!! Miss y’all so much <3
Hey y’all it’s Mofo. This place is so sick. I have played with tons of elephants and built a church. We danced on table tops. We should come back here on a family trip. There are so many cool things to try at the Night Markets like worms and crocodiles. I rappelled 115 feet down a cave. I love Thailand but still want to go to China. Love y’all so much and miss you tons! Happy Father’s day Goosedawg! You would be so proud of me for being so adventurous. You taught me well. Love y’all the most!
Hey parents! It’s Arden, Thailand is so cool and I am having so much fun. Elephants are cute and the food is yummy. Got whacked in the face by an elephant, they don’t like me that much 🙂 We are currently on a plane to the beach and I’m gonna get soooo tan. Let’s go, this is awesome. Happy Fathers Day to Miguel. You are the best father in the entire world and Iove y’all so much! See y’all soon!!!
June 16, 2023
Hello friends and family!!! It is officially day 1 of an incredible adventure ahead. One marked by a wonderful opportunity to visit a land that not many individuals get to go to. No, it’s not OUR land, it’s not MY land, it’s THAILAND!!!
Well… the kids have officially arrived, and the fun can now begin! Our first to arrive was Logan who came in directly from Vietnam. Ava, Logan, and Max picked up some pizzas and waited for the rest of the group at the airport, running into a Korean pop star in the terminal of the Bangkok airport! They even got a photo with her. Though they were excited to meet a celebrity, it was WAY more exciting to see the rest of our group make it through international customs and into our arms for warm hugs and cold pizza!! We were so happy to be united as a group and feasted on the pizza before we made our way back to our Bangkok hotel to have a quick meeting and try to rest before our first actual day of adventures.
Day 2 started off hot with pad Thai… for BREAKFAST! We ate a delicious breakfast of Pad Thai, fried eggs, rice, toast, fruit, and cereal with tea and coffee family style at our Bangkok hotel before heading back to the airport to prepare to fly to Chaing Mai, Thailand for the first section of our trip. Spirits were high in the Bangkok airport as we got the chance to sample authentic Thai food at a restaurant (and…. if we are completely honest, some of the kids did pick up some Thai McDonald’s as well!). On the plane to Chiang Mai, Richard, Logan, and Payton played cards and got to know each other and Mary Frances and Elizabeth M told stories from their life. About an hour later, we landed in Chiang Mai, an area known for beautiful mountain views, gorgeous ancient temples, and delicious food. We got to experience all three today, which was an absolute treat. We visited Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh in the Old City and stood in awe at the man-made beauty of Buddhist Temples. Gaby and Logan were our vlog kings and kept us laughing. Then, the group made our way to a jungle oasis themed ice-cream stop where we had Mango sticky-rice with coconut, caramel, and vanilla ice-cream. We hit one more temple on our way back to the hostel. Back at our hostel, Galen was the first to lead the group into our pool. We swam and cooled off in the late afternoon sun. Our incredible day ended with a sunset dinner right alongside the river. We had Pad Thai, vegetable and chicken curries, and Kao Soi – an authentic noodle dish. We had our first official Moonup around the pool, led by Maxwell and Ava, and then hit the hay.
The following day had one BIG highlight… ELEPHANTS!! Our first two leaders of the day were Galen and Elizabeth Hanes! They led us in our morning huddle, and hyped us up for the exciting day ahead as we ate a delicious breakfast of fruit, egg noodles, fried eggs, toast, and more before heading out. Uncle Chai and our driver led our journey into the hillier region of Chaing Mai and had us stop at an authentic Thai marketplace to see goods that were being sold. Following the market, we got a briefing from the Thai Tourism Office who gave us emergency contact information (#safetyfirst) and told us about the area. Finally, we made it to the Elephant Sanctuary. We quickly changed into some new garments for our elephant interaction and then made our way to the gentle giants to feed them stalks of sugarcane. They were so incredible and friendly. All the kids got up close and personal with the elephants- getting trunk hugs, elephant kisses, and feeding them… I mean talk about a WOW moment!!! With the help of the guides, Arden and Mary Frances then took leadership and helped us dive into the Elephant mud bath and spa. We exfoliated the elephants’ incredibly tough skin and got to splash and play in the muddy water. Then, we washed them clean in a different river and met some local kids playing in the water nearby. Arden slid down a mini-rock slide with the kids.
After, we ate fried chicken and rice, overlooking the fields and gorgeous terrain. We helped Uncle Chai make Elephant Medicine out of sugar, bananas, and sticky rice. Gaby and Maxwell also led us in a porch dance party, showing off their swing dance skills. We got to feed the elephants their medicine before heading back to our lodging at a nearby resort nestled in the jungle. We enjoyed some time to unwind in the late afternoon playing guitar and “Bro Don’t Touch My Rock”, reading and journaling, and having deep conversations. Our dinner was some of the best food we have ever eaten- Massaman curry, vegetables, fried papaya, and rice. The incredible day concluded with a fierce game of “Spicy Uno” (Uno with extra added rules to increase the chaos). The laughs were non-stop, especially because dear Richard did not hear the rule of 7 when Maxwell explained the rules which required you to remain silent until the next 7 was played. He kept asking why he had to draw more cards- every word he said requiring him to draw more cards. It was one of our funniest moments so far!
The next day, we began our trek to the Karen Village where we spent the next 4 days. Before departing, Gaby, Logan, Arden, and Emma decided to kick their day of fitness off with a HIIT workout with Maxwell. It was the first of many sweaty moments on a warm, sunny day in Mae Win, Thailand. We met for a delicious breakfast of pancakes, eggs, guacamole, and cereal, then headed off to a trailhead to begin our journey. Uncle Chai was our fearless leader and took us through Doi Inthanon National Park to the Hill Tribe Region of Thailand. Logan remarked that the scenery looked straight out of a movie. We had to agree! There were huge expansive views of tropical trees (palm trees and large banana trees), waterfalls, sweeping hills, and rice fields. It was stunning. After hiking for 2 or so hours, we cooled off from the mid-morning heat with a waterfall swim! It was so fun and we had lunch of fried rice, eggs, fish, and fruit in a bamboo hut near the falls. Certainly a picturesque lunch spot. We needed some good fuel as we had about 2-3 hours of trekking ahead. Payton and Elizabeth M did an awesome job listening to all the medicinal plants that Uncle Chai had to show us. Our whole group had fantastic attitudes. We made it to our lodging in the Karen Village, a super cool bamboo hut overlooking the hills. We showered off and then Gaby and Emma, our leaders of the day, led us in a fantastic Moonup, asking the question “What drives you?”. It was really cool hearing stories of how motivated everyone is to become successful young adults. We are proud of this group already!
Our first morning of service started off with another great breakfast and a morning huddle. Then, our group trekked to our service project for the day: building a church for the community! With the help of Uncle Chai and other community workers, we got straight to work at the worksite. Our goal for the day was to complete the foundation. Galen took charge by grabbing a big bag of cement mix and bringing it to a large tub where the cement was made. Elizabeth H and Logan were fierce cement churners. We mixed in 18 buckets of sand, 8 buckets of water, and 10 buckets of rock. Mary Frances really got into it as well, getting covered head to toe in cement mix. Once the cement was made, our group formed an assembly line to help transport it and lay the foundation. After hours of grueling but rewarding work, we made some good headway and then headed back for an incredible lunch of Pad Sew Ew, an authentic Thai dish, and got some time to cool off and rest. The afternoon involved more service work, a visit from an ice cream truck, and another chance to cool off in the waterfall. Arden showed us her impressive handstand skills and Emma and Logan showed us how to nail the crow pose. We headed back to camp just in time as a late afternoon rainstorm came rolling in. While the rain fell, we got the chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Galen serenaded us on the guitar, Richard told some funny stories, and we jammed to tunes. We had a fantastic dinner and Moon Up led by our leaders of the day Logan and Arden. We also had the opportunity to hear a local man from the Karen Village sing some customary tribal songs.
Day 2 of church building was equally successful. We woke up, headed to the construction site, and got to work. We helped hoe and transport dirt from a hill to fill in the foundation. It was a full day endeavor and required everyone’s manpower. Elizabeth M was an absolute machine, transporting buckets of dirt and clay like an absolute legend. Payton and Emma also nailed bucket duty and bonded over chatting about future college dorms and roommates. Lunch was an INCREDIBLE Pad Thai. So so delicious and filling! We rested, played some guitar, read, and napped after a tiring day in the sun. Then, we went back to foundation laying and put in 2 more hours of work. We completed the whole base of the foundation! As the saying goes, many hands make light work. Our evening consisted of some group games like “Big Booty” (the name of the game may sound strange, but it’s quite fun), singing competitions with Uncle Chai, amazing dinner of soup with wontons and rice. We ended our night with Moonup led by the leaders of the day Mary Frances and Richard! Post Moon Up, the group bonded with a massage train (working out sore muscles from all the hard work we have been putting in) and Galen and Maxwell wrote a song together!
Our final day of service began with some delicious avocado toast, fruit, and eggs. We headed to the worksite for one final time with high spirits. With the help of Gaby and Galen’s incredible wheelbarrow skills and everyone’s clay bucket carrying, we finished laying another section of the church floor foundation. We finished work, cleaned up, and had a lunch of macaroni with a Thai twist. It also just so happened to be Ava’s 24th birthday so the group got to snack on some delicious sweet treats and got not ONE, but TWO cakes!!! We had one for lunch and decided to save one for dinnertime. During our afternoon activities, we got to spice things up! We headed to the rice fields and got knee deep in mud to help local community members plant rice. It was so scenic and surreal to see how rice is made. Payton and Ava learned how to count to ten in the Karen tribe’s native language. It was a really special memory from our trip and an experience we truly could not have anywhere else. We were soaked in mud and sweat, so we went with our guide named Luke to wash off in a nearby waterfall. When we got back to our camp, our group played some more games like B.S. (Arden won) and Big Booty (Elizabeth H won) ((They told me to mention that)). Because it was our final day in the Karen village, they had a special ceremony for us that involved flowers, candles, special bracelets, and music from a wonderful guitarist from Chiang Mai university. We had the best time celebrating Ava’s birthday and all the fun from our trip. Payton and Elizabeth M led Moonup and asked us about things we thought were overrated and challenges we have overcome in our life.
It was such a wonderful week in Chiang Mai and in the Karen Village! That’s all for now! We will continue to write as our trip progresses!
-Ava and Maxwell
June 9, 2023
Hello Thailand Families!
We just heard from our leaders and the group has landed safely in Thailand! The trip is off to a great start, and we cannot wait to hear more stories from their adventure.
Please remember our leaders and students will be unplugged during their trips but we will be posting up to three trip updates throughout the next couple of weeks! This will allow you to follow along with the trip and the students will also give a special shout-out mid-way through! You can also follow us on Instagram, @moondanceadventures, to see more of what we are up to this summer!