Phrao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
It’s been nearly two weeks since I arrived in Phrao, Thailand and I couldn’t be happier with what has come out of the experience so far. I’ve been working hard to make progress with fundraising projects for Warm Heart while also balancing my time here with plenty of spontaneous outings and adventures with the other volunteers, whom James and I have found to become good friends.
The district of Phrao is situated in an unbelievably beautiful landscape that I have gotten to know a bit more about in the past couple of weeks. Since learning to become comfortable driving my own motorbike to and from the Warm Heart headquarters every weekday and to the town of Phrao, like I did today, I have discovered a lot more freedom to get around the area and soak in views from every angle. Although I still have a long way to go, I feel I have a good start on knowing the region well after some little motorbike expeditions this weekend. While there is only one main, curvy road, winding through the valley to Phrao in one direction and to Chiang Mai in the other, there are many backroads that go through villages and to temples. Today, James and I went into Phrao for lunch and to pick up some fruit from the afternoon market. On the way back, we took our time, cutting through some backroads that led us to a temple, to views high in the hills, and then back through the villages off Phrao district’s main road. The protected land that makes up most of the region is called Si Lanna National Park. While many of the volunteers and I want to do some hiking through the valley, we have been warned about there being a sparse amount of trails, only used by villagers and also dangerous because of the wild tigers that call the mountain region home. We still haven’t decided how seriously to take this warning, but gave it a pass for this weekend until we get to know the area for ourselves better. Instead, we opted for a local waterfall visit and climb.
The waterfall, known as Bua Tong Waterfall, is located south of Phrao, outside the northern suburbs of Chiang Mai. Although relatively touristy and busy, it was a great escape to a cooler, shaded place where we could be relieved from the heat by the refreshing spring water. Because the rock of the waterfall is made of minerals that are not slippery, people were climbing up and down the waterfall, using a rope to help support them through the steep areas. Of course myself and a couple others joined in and cautiously walked down the waterfall, enjoying the cool water splashing on us as we went.
We have also visited the town of Phrao many times in the past couple of weeks between work meetings, market runs and meal outings. Although it is not a big town, with only a few streets of buildings, it has all the necessities and offers a wide selections of fruits, veggies and breads at the market placed in the center of town. Not to mention, it’s a great place to grab a quality cup of coffee when you’re craving it. Many of us go to Phrao to simply get some coffee that isn’t made from instant powder or to get food that doesn’t consist of steamed rice, like we eat as a part of every meal at Warm Heart. Phrao isn’t somewhere I could see tourists having a reason to visit but I do enjoy the authenticity and quaintness about it when walking around, with other foreigners being non-existent and local, rural Thai people smiling at you everywhere you go. There’s no doubt the other volunteers and I get some stares and as we walk around with our pale skin, speaking our English language.
Meanwhile, the children at Warm Heart are becoming friends and are getting more comfortable with me as they see me around more. There is one girl in particular, Pim, who is about 10-years-old and always has the biggest smile and hug waiting for me every time I see her. She is always ready for a cuddle and loves to imitate the English words I say as I try and communicate with her. While she still struggles to understand many, she seems to be a really smart girl and a quick learner. She is by far the friendliest I have gotten to any of the 45 children but am getting to know a new one every day. There are so many running around that it can be overwhelming trying to get closer to them but with time, comes the natural interactions that make me want to do everything I can to help these kids with the struggles of their past they internalize all the time.
This past weekend spent in Phrao was comforting as I learned more about my surroundings and had time to relax in my new environment. I look forward to more time exploring the local area, but also have my sights set on some new adventures in surrounding towns and mountains of Northern Thailand for some of the upcoming weekends. After all, no day is quite the same around here.