River rides, elephant rides, Hmong villages, Long neck women…
Art, blossoms, schools, sports…
New friends, new terrain, and lots of food and shopping…
And that covers just a bit of what we saw and did on this student trip to Thailand.
Travel has a way of really packing a punch, of squeezing as much out of each scarce hour and minute as possible.
So let’s look back the best squeezed out of our three weeks touring Thailand and getting to know the people there.
Early on in our travels, we got to know the animals.
One of our first activities was The Maetaeng Elephant Park outside Chiang Mai offering an elephant show, elephant rides, and raft rides.
Nature would play a big part in our entire trip, as the lush hills and mountains of northern Thailand served as the back drop for the villages, the parks, the cities, and the rides in between.
Though nature is inseparable from any aspect of human existence, it was the humanity we were indeed here for.
Specifically, we came to see the Hmong way of life back in the “Old World” of Southeast Asia. Throughout our stay, we visited a few Hmong villages in Thailand. Most of them featured residents waiting for, and relying on, the tourists for business.
Another village relying on tourists was the “Long neck village” whose residents sold trinkets–and also themselves as attractions to come and see.
The neck coil tradition of the Kayan women served a purpose, but as a tourist attraction it seemed stripped of any cultural significance anymore.
Temples were a regular feature of our trip, none more impressive than the modern “White Temple” outside Chiang Rai. Read more about the construction, symbolism, and how the White Temple incorporates modern storytelling from Hollywood into its mythology.
Outside Chiang Rai, we’d visit area natural sites around the main stop of our trip: Huai Khu School.
We arrived to Huai Khu school the morning of Day 10. We were greeted by the principal, and one our students was greeted by his relatives.
For the students, this visit to their sister school was about engaging with their peers on the other side of the world.
One afternoon we toured Huai Khu village.
Huai Khu was off the beaten path, so no one here tried to sell us souvenirs.
A day trip from Huai Khu was to the Golden Triangle, a point on the globe where the countries Burma, Laos, and Thailand all meet.
I stood on Thailand, and viewed Burma (Myanmar) to the left and Laos on the right:
We took a boat ride across the Mekong River into Laos for an hour. Here, the Laotians waited with things to sell.
Near our motel, back near Huai Khu, we had a down day. I spent it wandering the market. Smiling faces and bright produce complemented some of the stranger offerings.
Our last stop was in Bangkok, and outside of it is a famous former refugee camp of the Hmong.
Now razed, some of our Hmong chaperons and students had to recall what it was like back when they lived here.
Nearby is a famous temple.
Indeed it was.
And that afternoon, we went to the top of Thailand for an appropriate final overview of the city and country where we had spent three weeks, visiting three regions.
Each picture tells a story. Enjoy them by clicking the corresponding links above.
Taken together, these glimpses into the lives in Thailand created collage of the diversity in this one country, and so, the diversity to be had on our planet. And much of this diversity came from individuals within a common ethnic group.
In all, the students and us chaperons (and I hope readers of these stories) enjoyed a deepened understanding of the potential and actuality of humankind the world over.
I’ll have two more posts about Thailand the next two Sundays. Both are specific looks back at two very different aspects:
-The bugs and creeping, crawly wildlife.
-The openness of gender identification and the prevalence of a group of people known as “ladyboys.”