We arrived at the Chiang Mai airport all beyond exhausted after traveling for about three days just to get here. We met with our translator Pei Jiup who soon became more than just a guide but, basically like part of the group. She took us to an Eco Resort in the heart of the city where we stayed whenever we weren’t with the host families. It was such a relief to be in Thailand, where the bugs weren’t so horrible and where we were able to spend a good amount in a city with other travellers. While in Chiang Mai we met with our partner organization and leaders, who enlightened us on the harsh government situation and explained certain Thai ideals to keep in mind. We began Thai lessons, but even after several attempts to pick up all the different tones, they ended up not being very successful. We explored the city and walked around all of the street markets, while trying to get accustomed to Thai culture.
After a few days in Chiang Mai we headed to a preparation location further north called, UHDP. We learned about all the different types of organic farming practices as well as more background on farming history in Thailand. After a week at UHDP we all moved into our host families in the Don Jiang farming village. Unlike, Ecuador all the host houses were all within walking distance of each other so we could all hang out easily. The community mainly consisted of elderly couples, who’s children had moved to the city in order to pursue an education or career outside of farming. It was so interesting to see the great pride of parents even when their children left overwhelming responsibilities on the farm. No one spoke Thai and the families did not speak English so talking was limited to a paper that contained common Thai phrases but we all mostly communicated through elaborate hand gestures. Since we were there during peak harvesting season we helped the families cut, bundle and beat bundles of rice everyday. I loved that we were able to work alongside the families and share snacks during breaks even if we were not able to speak to each other. Thai meals always include rice but living on a rice farm meant that rice we basically ate, slept and breathed rice. I don’t think I have ever consumed as much rice as I did in that month, in my entire life. In seminar we discussed issues both the older generation faced from their kids leaving as well as negative influences the younger generation faced in the cities. Farming is such an important aspect of Thai culture and the economy but the younger generations wants the lifestyle that comes with living in the city. While we were living in the village we were able to participate in their famous Lantern festival and celebrate their new year. We made flower bowls with the families and sent them down the river and then lit lanterns that we all let go together. It was an absolutely beautiful celebration that I was glad we were able to share the families.
We headed back to Chaing Mai for a couple days for Thanksgiving and to go on our ISTs. It was sad to miss my families’ Thanksgiving back home but we were able to all celebrate the holiday together and eat a traditional meal. For this independent student travel weekend, my group decided to go to Chiang Rai in order to visit the famous White Temple and Black House. They were incredible but also very bizarre. The White Temple was sparkly and contained miniature paintings of pop culture, such as Star Wars and Minions. The Black House displayed all the bizarre Viking-like furnishings of a famous soldier. It was nice to stay in hotels and relax after a few weeks of intense farming and living in a remote village. We spent the weekend mostly by the pool and visiting the sites.
After a short weekend away, we headed back to the families to finish helping with harvesting. We spent the last couple weeks going to organic markets to assist the families in selling their other produce that they grow. Although it was difficult waking up at 4 am to go to these markets, it was really fun seeing the familiarity of Thai farmers markets to those that I go to in DC. In order to start getting in the holiday spirit, some of the girls threw a little Christmas party. We then went back to Chiang Mai to spend the last couple of days in Thailand before starting the enrichment weekend. A group of us spent a day at the Elephant Sanctuary, where we learned about the cruelty elephants face and were able to wash and pet the rescue elephants. That day taught me how amazing and smart those animals are and TO NEVER RIDE ELEPHANTS. We then headed to Cambodia for enrichment week.