After an intense, yet brief, 12 day trip out of Udon Thani the students embraced the Ricefield’s Base Hotel with a smile. This followed an amazing experience in Mae Sariang at the Rustic Pathways children’s home, then a few days embedded in the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai then concluded with an amazing home stay experience with the Radical Grandma Collective.
As we reached the final week at the RPCH the students learned some buddhist basics from a monk during a chat in a cave temple. After the chat the students mediated to release their tension and channel their inner peace. Then the students transitioned to Muay Thai from a local professional trainer. After learning proper kicking, punching and defensive techniques the students were energized. The week continued with checkpoints and school work followed by evening activities with the Thai children of the RPCH. After spending the week of experiencing the Children’s Home we concluded with a Baci ceremony and transitioned to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai charmed the students with its appeal to farangs (foreigners) and its vibrant city lifestyle. We spent the first evening at one of the coolest night markets in Thailand with a wide variety of products to appeal our senses. The students claimed to enjoy this the most about Chiang Mai, however, that was just the start. The next day started with a cooking class where students prepared about four dishes to consume for lunch. Some chose to have a little more spice to their papaya salad, nonetheless each dish had a delicious taste. After cooking class we went to hear a presentation by an organization named Baan Dek. They described the mission and purpose that the NGO operates within to serve its population of children of Thailand’s ever growing migrant workers. Once we finished our exchange we traveled to an interactive museum named Art in Paradise, where the students all took part in being apart of the art.
The last day started with an exchange from a long time Chaing Mai resident and professor – Ajarn Suriya. He led an informal talk on how the community transitioned to a very modern lifestyle in a short amount of time. He talked about life without cars, and electricity in the city and how the rapid changes have affected the community in which he has resided in for over several decades. After the exchange with the Ajarn (teacher) we traveled to a cafe to participate in a discussion about Chiang Mai’s urban v rural population tensions. We then traveled to the top of a mountain to learn about one of Chiang Mai’s well known temples – Doi Suthep. After learning about the formation of the pagoda and significance in the temple the students were awestruck by the vantage point of the entire city. Later that evening we went to an arena to watch (scream and shout) muay Thai (Thai boxing) matches. The energy was high and students picked sides and supported their favorite boxers of the night.
We transitioned back to Udon Thani by plane from Chiang Mai we then traveled by vans to a community called Na Nong Bong, a small village on the fringe of the town named Loei. The students were organized in pairs to stay with Yais (Grandmas) who are all active members in a group called The Radical Grandma Collective. We arrived in the evening just in time for dinner and the students sat and ate with their host Yai. Once dinner was concluded the students went to their host Yai’s home and prepared to sleep. The following day the students were involved in an exchange with the members of the organization People Who Love Their Hometown. The students learned about the struggles that the organization faces and the long road they have traveled to protect their land from infringing corporations who want to abuse their livelihoods and extract their resources. After the exchange the students transitioned to a fun workshop where they were divided into small groups and learned the process of taking raw cotton and turning it into thread (the same thread in which they used for a later process). Then the students went with a Yai in order to weave their own scarf by hand. The students remained with their Yai and weaving loom all afternoon.
The next day started with more weaving as the students were more than determined to complete their own scarf. After a full morning of weaving the students took a tractor ride into the forest in order to access a swimming hole. The students all entered boats and traveled across the small pond and some students swam. Afterwards the students returned home to their Yai’s home and finished some weaving. The last day students some started their morning by finishing some morning weaving as we gathered to prepare to say farewell. We had a Baci ceremony where the elders all wished us save passage and good luck for our future endeavors. We all hugged, smiled and some cried as we bid our lovely hosts farewell from such an amazing experience. Once we took our final photo we headed back to the Ricefields to embrace our final 11 days in Thailand!