Custom travel – Three week learning adventure Part IV

Below is part IV of Raghav’s custom learning adventure from 2012! If you missed it, here is Part I, Part II, Part III

Interested in custom travel? Click here for more information!

17 July 2012 

Today, I started the day by waking up relatively early at around seven. So far, I had been avoiding the extremely cold bucket showers, but I decided that today I needed to get refreshed again. After my shower, David, Nid, and I ate breakfast. We ate eggs and bread, both of which, and especially the latter, are not eaten in the village, and we had bought at the market in the city. Even though I had been enjoying the homemade meals, it was nice to have some familiar food.

1

View from our hike!

After breakfast, we went back to the school for our daily discussion. This was a fun day as we discussed perceptions of both places and compared them. It was interesting also comparing their perception of me and the monk’s perception. Today, we had to cut our discussions a bit short because we had to take a long trek.

Untitled

Some of the kids who joined us on our hike!

After a quick break at the house, we set out for a long trek to a Karen village even deeper in the mountains to meet people there and learn about their culture. Accompanying me were David, Nid, four younger kids, and even two dogs! We got our walking sticks and raincoats and set out. It was a beautiful hike, out in the greenery of the mountains with steep agriculture at random places. Winding roads even held some wildlife, especially the blome which was a type of leach that kept sticking to us.

We trekked for two hours, after which it started raining heavily, and we were forced to stop. In a little while Dtee came to pick us up on his motorbike. He took me up to an overlook and called people from the other village to pick up the rest of the crew. This was my first one on one with Dtee. I realized that even though we couldn’t talk because of the language barrier he was a really cool and caring guy.

Untitled

The men from the Karen village who came to pick us up!

Eventually, the rest of the people came; after some pictures, we headed over to the village.

1

In the Karen village talking with the village leader.

We arrived at the host’s home. We first started talking about sports, Muay Thai was a big deal in Thailand. It was on TV (I was very surprised that there was reception in such a remote area of the world!). We also started learning about the culture and history of the village. The most interesting thing that I learned was that a few decades ago, some Christians had come and converted most of the village. We paid a visit to the school and church that they had built when they had arrived. It was interesting to note that the church that they had built was magnificent for such a remote place, but the school was very run down.

1

At the school in the Karen village.

Upon seeing the school, we all head over to visit the eldest people in the village, who were the only indigenous (religion) family left. The couple that we met were in their late nineties. This was one of the most special experiences of the entire trip because they both performed an indigenous, ceremonial blessing for me. I felt extremely privileged to be the recipient of such a special and old practice. After the ceremony, it was an indication of respect for everyone to drink some home-made rice whiskey (very bitter).

1

One of the elders who performed a blessing.

We then said bye to the elders there and started heading off home. Before leaving, we saw the places where the villagers make things like rice whiskey and prepare grain in order to be self-sufficient. After this, we decided to head home because it was getting late and it was almost dark. The same people who drove us offered to take us back even though they would have to drive the narrow, winding path in the dark. It was very nice of them! As soon as I got home, I laid down and went to sleep, reflecting on the interesting day I had had.

Untitled

Learning how the village whiskey is made.

18 July 2012

Today, after a good nights rest, I woke up early. We all had a nice breakfast that consisted mostly of egg dishes that Pee bit, Dtee’s wife, had cooked (she suspected we liked eggs a lot because of the previous day). We talked about the previous day and shared some thoughts before heading out for the next discussion with the kids.

1

Comparing daily schedules.

We began the discussion with general questions from the previous days. There weren’t too many questions except some inquiries about my family and school. They thought it was really cool that I drove myself to school and that it was so far away from my house. After this, we started playing our team building exercise. We had to draw certain things that David would describe to us and the team with the best drawing would win. Our team lost by a little bit. During this activity, I noticed that the kids were a lot more open and talkative than they had been a couple of days before. I felt really connected to them as we tried winning the game.

Untitled

Team-building!

After this game, we headed to Kom Jon’s sister’s house because two girls were giving us a presentation on food and traditional Lawa costumes. These presentations were really impressive, especially taken that they were doing it in front of some almost complete strangers. During this presentation, I saw the girls looking at the guys and giggling with each other. Thinking about this, I realized that human behavior is universal. Everywhere that I have seen, young adolescents act like this. Human behavior is truly something that breaks the barriers between different types of people. When the presentation was over, some of the kids invited us to come play sports with them.

Untitled

Volleyball time!!

After a quick snack made by Nid, David, Nid, and I went to the school to play. In the beginning, the girls were having their volleyball practice so I just played badminton with Nid on the side. I also shot around some hoops with Nam (Kamon’s son) and other boys. The girls were really good at volleyball, especially Moi (Nid’s niece and Anchille’s sister). Moi let me practice with them; initially, I was terrible and my arms hurt like crazy. I got used to it eventually and, when we started playing some games, my team dominated the other team. We played late into the evening even during heavy rain. It was exhilarating.

Eventually, some of the girls had to go home, so we went back home too. I talked to Dtee’s little kids for a bit (Beau and Nye) and taught them my name (because it is kind of hard to pronounce I guess). Even they were opening up to me and feeling less shy around me. I taught them how to clap and pound, and they loved that! We then ate dinner and played some games on the iPad before falling asleep.

19 June 2012

1

Cultural comparisons!

Today’s day started off with another discussion with the kids (the principal of the school also joined us). Today, we had a comparison day. We analyzed our perceptions of each other’s culture and discussed why we thought that way. The main topics that we looked at were government, people, culture food, and sports. One thing I noted, that others had also pointed out, is that the kids were fascinated with America but also disgruntled with Americans at their superior attitudes towards them.

UntitledAfter some group discussions, we headed over to an elder’s house for another presentation. Today, the presentations were Lawa weddings and funerals. It was interesting that the importance of these two events in human society is universal. After the kids presented, I showed them and the elders some pictures of American and India funerals and weddings, and described them with as much detail as I knew. The kids were very interested in my short presentation and many of them took rapid notes. It was cool that most of the group said that they would want an Indian wedding because of the grandiosity while a few of the boys said they would want an American wedding because of the smaller cost.When we finished our discussions for the day, we headed home to get some lunch. Pee bit made us a delicious egg and vegetable meal.

2

Walking out to the farm

We then headed off to Dtee’s farm. Fortunately, his farm was not too far and it only took us a 25 minute walk. When we arrived, we walked around and explored as much as we could. The land was very extensive and some parts were surprisingly well-developed! We picked up some walking sticks to help us walk through all the plants and wildlife (the farm was situated in a small jungle/woods). As usual, we caught a few blome trying to get us, but none of them got too far. After spending the entire afternoon, we also decided to spend a night at the farm. We would be staying at a two-story wood structure, built for overnight stays at the farm. Dtee got us some tents and supplies that we need. It also started to rain heavily, but we were lucky that we were covered; also, the views of the rainfall were amazing!

1

View from Dtee’s farm

1

getting ready for dinner

Untitled

Eels!

After setting everything up, we started preparing for dinner. Dtee showed us some eels that he had gone out and hunted (they live in the over-flooded farms in the steppes). Being a vegetarian, I decided not to try them. David, however was open to trying them and even helped prepare the eels. Nid meanwhile prepared other dishes for all of us to share. After dinner, Nid went to sleep and David, Dtee, and I talked long into the night. We learned that Dtee had a desire to learn English just like the Lawa children. Even though he had not been taught much, he still knew the alphabet pretty well and even the numbers. We taught him some basic phrases such as how to introduce oneself. We also talked about how Dtee was engaging in green farming without the use of pesticide and harmful chemical and how it was important to teach the newer generation this. We talked like this until we had to go to sleep just because we had to get up a little earlier in the morning to walk back to the village.

1

Dinner out at the farm!

Click here to read part V

written by: Raghav Agarwal

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Adventures in the Hills: Ob Luang National Park

This past weekend the ATMA SEVA team took a trip out to Pa Pae to pick up Dan, our latest Lawa village volunteer, who has been teaching summer classes in the village for the past month. We were fortunate enough to have a little extra time, so we set off from Chiang Mai a day early to check out the “grand canyon” of Thailand: Ob Luang National Park! (Ob Luang literally means “canyon grand”, making this park the home of Thailand’s very own Grand Canyon!)

544162_4929750916716_1300917231_n

Katherine at one of the very scenic view points in Ob Luang!

The park itself is located about two hours southwest of Chiang Mai. We took a airconditioned van from Chiang Mai headed for Mae Sariang (200 B per person, or about $7) but asked the driver to let us off at the entrance to Ob Luang instead of taking the ride all the way to Mae Sariang.  Local busses (~70-80 B) are also an option, but for a few extra dollars, we figured the airconditioned ride through windy roads was worth it! (I’d definitely recommend traveling this way if you have a tendency to get carsick.)

When we arrived at the park, we approached the counter to purchase tickets. Typically it’s 200 B per person- per FOREIGN person I should say. When Dave approached the desk and inquired about the prices in Thai, we were told that we could have the locals discount since he was speaking Thai! If you go, and know any Thai at all, use it! It may save you 180 B (the local price is only 20 B per person!) The woman also informed us that the great waterfall, one of the main attractions of the park, didn’t have any water. Wait… what? Yes, that is what hot season in Thailand does: leaves a normally healthy waterfall with no water to fall!

Ob Luang National Park- view of the "grand canyon!"

Ob Luang National Park- view of the “grand canyon!”

Despite the lack of water falling, we took a nice hike/walk around the river that had some stunning views. We saw a spot where prehistoric human remains had been excavated, some cool cave drawings, and lots of big rocks.  The whole hike only took about two hours, with several short breaks, but it was enough to work up an appetite! Luckily, there’s a nice little open air restaurant at the entrance of the park to grab food. The food isn’t spectacular, but it isn’t too expensive and it can hit the spot after a few hours of hiking around in the sun!

From there, we decided to check out Thep Phanom Hot Springs, located only 14 km from where we were at the park entrance. The ride to the hot springs was absolutely beautiful: we only had Dave’s motorcycle, so we had to shuttle the four of us back and forth in a few trips. The views of the mountains and river from the back of the motorcycle were incredible. And we were rewarded with our own little private oasis at the end of the road! Thep Phanom has one large pool, more like a hot lake, where you can swim- just not during the day. When it’s 99 degrees out, a 95 degree pool is the LAST thing I want to jump into! Luckily by 10pm, it felt like a nice relaxing bath. The grounds of hot springs also have a spa where Katherine, Nid and I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon massage for only 150 B each. There is no restaurant at the hot springs, but there are a few open air stall restaurants just a few minutes down the road in the town Om Khut. It’s definitely off the beaten path, but if you find yourself out here, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy a cold drink and some rice right on the river.

Thep Phanom Hot Springs

Thep Phanom Hot Springs

Thep Phanom has one cabin for visitors to spend the night. There are three double rooms, two bathrooms and a balcony with a table and chairs. We lucked out that nobody had booked the cabin ahead of time.  The woman recommended calling ahead to check availability before showing up since there is only one cabin in the entire place!  You can rent rooms individually or rent the whole house for only 1800 B a night, which is what we did. To be the only people staying in the middle of the hills with only the sounds of nature was an incredible break from Chiang Mai. You can also stay on the main road near the entrance to Ob Luang.

I really enjoyed our time in Ob Luang and at Thep Phanom Hot Springs, two places that most tourists never see or even hear about. If you are in Chiang Mai and have the time and the transportation, I would recommend making a trip. Having a your own car, truck or motorbike would definitely make the trip easier. Public transportation will get you to Ob Luang, but the hot springs are less accessible without your own ride.  Also, December-February would be a more ideal time to visit when temperatures are cooler and the waterfall has water! For more information about Ob Luang, visit here. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about specific activities or the logistics of the trip!

Jamie Shannon

On-site Intern

jamie@atmaseva.org

jshannon614.wordpress.com

www.atmaseva.org

Photography Corner – Lawa village part 1

This photography corner is broken up into two parts.  Recently the ATMA SEVA team went to the Lawa village outside of Mae Sariang for one week.  The purpose of the trip was to help Katherine, our current on-stie intern, get set up as she will be living and teaching there for two months.

It was an action packed week and some of the highlights were hiking out to local farms and helping to harvest rice, visiting neighboring Karen villages, learning about Lawa culture, and seeing the auk pansaa ceremony.

Auk pansaa is the day when Buddhist lent ends and there was a ceremony at the local village Wat.  The first thirty minutes or so, was chanting in the temple.  Before coming to the Wat, everyone brought banana leaves with flowers, incense, and a candle wrapped up.  After the chanting everyone lit their incense and candle and proceeded to walk around the main temple three times.  The reason for walking around three times is to pay respect to 1 the Buddha, 2 the dhamma (Buddha’s teachings), and 3 the sangha (Buddhist community).  After three times of walking around and chanting, everyone left their flowers/candles/incense in front of the temple.  By attending this ceremony it is believed that you are making ‘merit’ and gaining positive karma.  Auk pansaa is also some what of a celebration and all of the children in the village had a blast shooting off fireworks!

The reason we went to neighboring Karen villages was to find the father of one of the monks whom Katherine taught.  After talking to the novice monk we found out his village was close to the Lawa village, and thought it would be nice to bring the father a picture of his son, whom he had not seen for many years.  It took us around three hours to find the village as it is extremely small and there are no direct roads, but driving in the lush jungle with rolling mountains is not a bad way to spend an afternoon!  After finally finding and meeting the father, he was extremely grateful for the picture and glad to hear his son was doing well.  The village was extremely poor and ATMA SEVA will be working and collaborating with other local NGO’s to help as best we can.  Stay tuned for details how you can help or visit ‘Our Work‘.

Stay tuned for part 2 which includes pictures from the first day of school and English class!!

Click here to see part 2

Photos by David Poppe

www.atmaseva.org