Friday, July 1, 2016

Baan Maelid Service Project, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Cooper had a wonderful opportunity to go on a service project with his school for six days.  They visited the Baan Maelid School in a Karen Hill tribe Village.  Northern Thailand is home to interesting and colorful ethnic minorities, know as the Hill Tribes.  Most of these areas are remote, rural and poor and thus the service project is well received in helping the school where the Village children attend.  We were so proud of Cooper for doing this project after explaining to him the conditions he would be living in while helping.  Given the rural location modern conveniences are not present and he was such a trooper while helping others less fortunate.  To our delight he kept a journal of his experience (texting it to us when he could), thus I would like to share this with you in his own words.  I hope you enjoy!

Today was a long day of travel! We drove from Regents to the airport and got onto our plane. Everything went smoothly with the passport situation and the overall experience if the airport. We were able to hang out in the food court area until our flight was ready to board, (I bought a subway cookie- for a treat later, a Burger King croissant because I was hungry and a bottled water. The flight was only 1 hour and I watched some tv episodes we downloaded onto my iPad. When we arrived at the airport, we got our bags and walked to the awaiting buses. From there we drove to a Thai local restaurant where we had lunch. The food was mediocre however I munched on some of my snacks. After that we drove some more until we reached a temple and got out and looked around. We got into pairs/groups and split off exploring. There was a small market outside the outskirts of the temple however I didn't see anything that you would like as a gift (it was mainly phone cases, food- like squid, and toys). We then continued driving and stopped again at a gas station/7 eleven. I bought 2 bags of chips just in case I was hungry later on in the journey. We then finally arrived at the school after approximately another 2 or less hours driving. Our bags were waiting for us there- as the teachers/staff transported our luggage from the airport to the school for us. We got escorted to our rooms. I am staying in a room with all of the boys. There are separate 2 person tents inside the room as there are many bugs and insects. I got partnered with a year 9 boy. At 6:30 we went to the canteen and ate dinner. I don't know the name of the dish, but it was a chicken western platter that I liked and ate. After that, some students of the school put on a little dance/show for us, and the principal introduced all of the teachers before we had to announce to them what our names were and where we were from. We then went back up to our rooms and got ready to go to bed. The shower and toilet conditions are bad however I can make due with them. The shower water is freezing! Tomorrow my group (group 4- we got split into different groups), will be building part of the school in the morning and painting part of the school in the afternoon. It should be fun! It has been a tiresome day, but can't wait to start officially tomorrow! I miss and love you! Bye! 😘

Day 2:
Today was much funner than yesterday! We had to wake up at 6:30 in the morning and be at breakfast/the canteen by 7:30, (In the hour time slot in between, I packed my "day" bag with my camera, snacks, etc. I also showered. It's nothing like what I'm used to!😫😰). We then had breakfast, which was a selection of toast, sausages and Corn-Flakes cereal. I had everything except toast. We then joined the school children in a whole school assembly outside- we introduced our names to the children in Thai. There are approximately 250 pupils in the school- it's bigger than I imagined! After that, we split off into our assigned groups and did our first morning activities. My group's first activity was building. We learned and participated in how to make cement out of limited resources and started to use the cement we created to pave a path between 2 buildings of the school. We did that for about 1 hour or so, and then we had a small break in the canteen. We were treated to biscuits, milk and tea, and small chocolates. No more than 10 minutes later we continued our previous activity (more building for me!). We built a big part of the path, and it was really fun- and surprisingly less hard work than I thought it would be. At 12:30, we went back to the canteen and ate lunch. Lunch was a previous Thai western meal that I have had before and liked, but I don't know the name! After an hour (1:30), we swapped activities, and my group's new activity was painting. We walked into a classroom and chose between 2 topics to paint about. We chose the genre 'nature'. We were given pencils and wax crayons to color and draw with onto a thin sheet of fabric. We drew and colored together natural features like trees, bushes, etc. (all in one big image). We had to label the image features in English and in Thai, as this painting would help the Thai students learn about this topic better. Again, after about another hour, we had another small 10 minute break. This time coke was available. I took a bottle. After that we continued our paintings until another hour passed (approximately). We then gathered everyone together and walked to the near village where some Thai students lived from the school. I took some  incredible photos that I can show you when I get home. When we arrived back at the school, we were given 20 minutes to relax before dinner time. The dinner course was green curry on rice, served with fish, which I liked and ate. So far, the meals are very good for being in the middle of nowhere, literally! I love and miss you! Bye! 😘

Day 3: 

Today was another day of fun activities! We had to wake up, again, at 6:30 in the morning, and had to be at the canteen by 7:30. Breakfast was not as western as yesterday, however I still ate and liked it. There was a selection of fried rice and chicken legs/wings. I ate both. Today after breakfast, my group had to do the dishes, but it wasn't hard at all. After that, we had another 20 minutes to relax. I spent that time packing today's 'day' bag. We then met up into our groups and started our activities. My group's first activity today was gardening. It was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be! We first walked outside the school, and shoveled up some grass by the close road, and put it into a gardening bag. We filled 5 bags full of grass. We then transported (ourselves) the bags of grass, back to the school. We then moistened the dirt ground, and used some gardening tools to make the soil rougher. We then simply placed the grass that we dug previously, onto the dirt and pressed down lightly. I took lots of photos to show you when I get home! We then had a small 10 minute break (like yesterday), and then continued with gardening afterwards. We covered lots of ground gardening grass. Once that was finished, we had lunch (which was massaman curry with rice- I really enjoyed it!). After lunch, (like yesterday) my group changed activities. Our new afternoon activity was teaching English to some pupils of the school. We played some simple learning games and learned about what they already know in English. We taught them simple things like colors, animals, and food/fruits. After that we had yet another 10 minute break and then continued with teaching English. At 4:00 we ended the activities, and at 5:00 we left to eat dinner at the  sunset. We got driven up the mountains by trucks until we reached a magnificent viewpoint where we stopped, took photos, and laid blankets down along the ground to eat on. The food was transported In a separate truck. It was a Thai dish that I have eaten before but yet again, can't remember the name. It was good tasting and I ate and liked it. After that we got driven back to the school, and at 8:00, we went to the canteen and was taught by borders of the school how to make bracelets. I made some for you, dad and Brady. They look very nice! That led us until 9:30- the time went by fast! We then went to our rooms and got ready for bed. Another fun Round Square Week Trip day!  

Day 4: 
Today we actually didn't spend time working at/around the school. We first woke up at the usual time (6:30), and had to be at the canteen by 7:30. I ate sausages and fried eggs for breakfast. After that, we joined with all of the students of the school for a whole school assembly outside. After it, we split up into groups (girls and boys), and boarded onto buses/vans. We then drove for approximately 2 hours until we reached a coffee farm. It looked similar to a rice farm, however it was coffee! We got to meet the founder of the farm (it is so important because this is the farm/company that 'Starbucks' gets their coffee from!). I got you a small gift that I will give you when I get home on Friday night. We walked amongst the farm and learned some interesting facts. For example: There was an animal that eats coffee grounds put into it's food, and then later poops it out. The grounds are then separated from the poop, and specialized for coffee. I found it interesting, and I didn't expect 'Starbucks' to be using this company! After 20 minutes (or less), we trekked up the mountains, and along the way we got to feed sheep, and I got some good photos of views. Once we arrived back at the coffee farm, we sat down there and ate lunch. It was an omelet served on top of rice, serves with a kind of soup. I didn't care for the soup, however ate everything else. The food was transported in takeaway boxes by teachers. We were also given plenty of water to drink and keep ourselves hydrated. After we finished our meals, we loaded ourselves back into the vans and continued driving. We stopped at 2 places on the way back to the school. For the first stop, we drove another hour until we reached the destination. It was a royal plant conservation (basically, a long time ago, the king visited the forests of Chiang Mai, and noticed villagers cutting down trees to make products to sell. So, he set up a garden conservation. This reduced loss of trees in the environment and ensured every villager a job which raised money). Here they grew vegetables, fruits, plants, etc. We were presented with a short video upon our arrival which explained to us what this was. We then got toured around a small area of the conservation, seeing workers place seeds into the pods, and walking into 3 or 4 different plant conservatories. The man showing us around told us the names of the most common plants growing here that we came across. For example: red and green cabbage. After that we went back into the vans and drove for approximately another hour. I slept a little during this ride, as I was tired from this morning. Our second stop was the nearest village's walking street market. It mainly contained food and hardly any actual merchandise. It wasn't too exciting, however it started to rain as we were leaving. We were able to roam around the small market for half an hour, and then meet up in the same place we split off from. It was a rough ride riding back to the school with the rain, as most roads were not paved and were made of dirt. We finally arrived and had dinner. Dinner, unfortunately Was by candlelight and torchlight, as there was no power/electricity. Dinner was still good though and I can't wait for the last day tomorrow (at least the last non-travel day!)! I love and miss you SO much too!😘

Day 5 (Last day of no travel): 
Today was a fun last day! We had to wake up at the same, usual time (6:30), and had to be at the canteen again by 7:30. Thankfully there was electricity! I ate some fried rice and some chicken wings/bones. They were tasty! After breakfast, we all had to participate in trekking. We first were given 20 minutes to get ready before we left. After the 20 minutes, we got loaded onto the back/trunk of trucks and drove away. The ride was about 15 minutes long. It was fun riding with all of the bumps in the road! We then got off and started our trek. We trekked for 6km. It was tiring, however there were some incredible views of the mountains. I took some good photos. We stopped a couple of times to have a short break, then started trekking again. We trekked up 2 mountains completely. It was harder than it should have been, considering that it was raining the previous night, and all of the dirt had changed to slippery mud. We also trekked on some rice fields and got rained on a little bit. Luckily we found shelter quickly, and avoided the rain. Once it was only sprinkling, we continued or trek. Now it was even harder! I found going downhill hard because there was so much slippery mud and rocks poking from the ground. I had to hang onto branches of trees for some times. After 3 hours (approximately), we ended our trek- by now it was brightly sunny out! The trucks were waiting to escort us back to the school at the finish line, however we are lunch first. The food was transported for us and was Holy Chicken with Basil. It was a little spicy, however tolerable. It was once again, tasty. After lunch was finished, we loaded back into the trucks and drove back to the school. My shoes were very muddy and so were the bottom of my pants. I washed them off though at the end of the day. When we arrived back at the school, we had a choice. You could rice farm and then shower, or not rice farm at all. I chose to rice farm, and it was very fun. We weren't allowed to wear shoes or socks in the rice fields, so I took mine off. It felt very weird on my feet- a fun weird! It was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. All that we had to do was reach our hands into the fields and push the rice plants into the ground. After a while, it started to rain, so we stopped and walked back to the shelter of the school. I then showered, packed everything inside my suitcase except my sleeping back, and cleaned my shoes off- they were really muddy!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Our latest adventure was to explore another city of Thailand that we have not visited.  We decided to spend a long weekend in Bangkok and take one full day on a private guided tour of the ancient capital Ayutthaya, which is located about an hour north of the city.  The city was founded in 1350 and became the second capital of Thailand.  Ayutthaya was a prosperous and thriving city that came to an end when the Burmese invaded  in 1767 and almost burnt the city to the ground.  We spend most of our time exploring the remaining sites which still provide a glimpse of how impressive the city must have been.  Most of the remains are Temples and Palaces, only made from stone at that time.  The city has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1991.

Our first stop on our day of touring was the Bang Pa-In Palace, also known as the Summer Palace.  It was originally built by Ayutthayan King Prasat in 1632 but abandoned 1767 and later restored by King Mongkut in the 1850s.  The grounds and builds are every beautiful with European-Style in 1872-1889.

Our next stop was Wat Yai Chai Mongkol where the large chedi built in 1952 can be seen from great distances.  The chedi was built by one of Ayutthaya's greatest Kings, Nareusan the Great, to commemorate a victory over the Burmese Army won in that same year.  The Temple was established earlier in 1357 as a place for Monks to meditate.  The Temple is still functioning today.  

Our next site of exploration was Wat Maha That.  This is one of the oldest and most significant temples in Thailand.  Built in the 13th century it served as an important religious center until it was reduced to ruins in 1767 by the Burmese Army.  It is here that a famous iconic image remains of a Buddha head entwined within the roots of a tree.  Nobody knows for certain how the head became entwined in the roots other than the explanation it occurred during the abandonment following the invasion.  

Next we headed to Wat Phra Si Sanphet.  Situated in the Royal Palace grounds it is the Royal Monastery and therefore no monk is allowed to reside.  The Temple served to conduct ceremonies within the Royal Court.

Next destination for this trip was to Wat Chaiwatthanaram.  This Temple was built in 1630 by King Prasat to honor his mother.  This features the architectural style influenced by Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  

Lastly we stopped at Wat Na Phra Meru.  Built in the mid-15th century it is one of the largest in the city.  

We have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, however we take ever opportunity we get to explore the country where we live.  We are loving Thailand more and more as we come to the close of our two year assignment.  So much to see and the history is amazing!  Great trip!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Maldives, South Ari Atoll

Since arriving in Asia Pacific region we always had our sights on a dream vacation to the Maldive Islands.  We carefully chose the best place to stay for our family that offered all the luxuries the Maldives has to offer; world class snorkeling, all inclusive dining/drinks, bungalows over the water, water sports and so much more.  Our choice for the resort was the Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa.

The island was truly a barefoot paradise which you could quickly walk from one end to the other.  It was incredible to be staying on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean and be completely carefree.  Just a little more information on the Maldives..  It is actually comprised on more than 1,000+ coral islands, but only 80 of them have tourist resorts.  The islands were actually not known to tourist until the late 1970's.  The islands are rich in history, marine life and culture.  I could go on and on, however our family knows it best for it's amazing comforts and relaxation!  Only pictures can describe this trip and we hope to return one day to experience the beauty of mother nature at it's best!