Phrao, Chiang Mai, Thailand | Pai, Thailand
It seems as soon as I begin to fall into a routine here, something comes up and reminds me what this experience is all about. I have found it’s easy to get caught up in the to-do lists and project tasks in front of me but as soon as I am jolted away from it, whether by a last-minute visit to a village or an unexpected lunch at the local police station, I remember that my focus of this volunteer experience is not only to help check tasks off lists but more importantly to learn from and add to the community I am here to be of benefit to. After all, how can you really help a community without learning about it?
My projects are coming along and although not as quickly as I am used to, definitely as thoroughly. I have planned and adjusted and planned and adjusted over and over but that is what it takes to make progress here. I have learned so much patience from dealing with the limited amount of structure and resources available to get things done, as opposed to the excess amount of structure and resources I am used to from school and internships in the U.S. I also am getting plenty of practice at adaptability- leaving my to-do lists dependent on things out of my control such as Wi-Fi, a last minute schedule change or call for help. An expectation for a day ahead is rarely accurate as no day is ever the same.
With 45 kids living at the Children’s Home, a Thai staff that speaks limited English, and multiple rural villages constantly requesting our presence, the volunteers stay on their toes at Warm Heart. It really is refreshing in a way though to be in an environment that places the people and immediate needs above schedules and routines. Although it can sometimes feel confusing and unorganized when compared to the structure of operations that are practiced in the U.S., I have realized the importance of prioritizing based on values rather than results. There is not a single staff member or volunteer I can think of who wouldn’t drop all of their tasks and duties for a week to be with a child or villager who needed them.
When I’m not running around Warm Heart or taking field trips with other volunteers to temple festivals or official meetings, I am exploring and adventuring around beautiful Northern Thailand. Our last weekend trip was to Pai, a “hippie town,” as it’s known around Thailand, surrounded by an incredible landscape west of Phrao. Seven volunteers went and we all had an amazing time getting to know a new town.
Our first evening there was rainy and dark by the time we arrived but we were welcomed by a lively and decorative backpacker resort, where we spent the night eating, talking and having a drink. The next day was a full and lovely day spent traveling to all the major attractions in the Pai area via private air-conditioned mini van. We did not mean for it to be private or air-conditioned but since we had a big group, we were offered a cheap rate for a VIP tour so we went for it. We got to see just about everything you can in the area. Some stops were obvious tourist traps but places like Pai Canyon and Pambok Waterfall completely made it worth it.
Pai Canyon was amazing to me with its tall, narrow walls winding around with spectacular views of mountains all around it. I couldn’t figure out how it was formed but I definitely have never seen anything like it. Pambok Waterfall was everyone’s highlight as it was the kind of adventure you dream about when you think about hiking to waterfalls. It was the full experience- admiring the falling water, braving the cold, and then swimming under the waterfall. Not to mention, it also poured down rain while we were swimming. Of course it was an amazing sight but just being so intimate with nature is what made it special. To see a waterfall is one thing but to swim in one is where the real beauty is.
Our night out in Pai was one for the books. Although we didn’t all go completely crazy, we all had some drinks and plenty of laughs. We went to several different bars, some where we chatted, others where we danced to the blues. What made it even more exciting was that a couple of James’ friends from New Zealand are now living in Pai and showed us around for the night. It was cool to merge the groups and enjoy life and each other in such a far, unique place. The road to Pai is one of the windiest in SE Asia so the drive back the next day wasn’t easy but it was still worth it.
Pai’s simple and natural beauty combined with its ample amount of viewpoints and attractions definitely drew me in and made me feel relaxed the whole time I was there. I can see why people rave about it. Great vibes and great people. But at the same time, the views in Phrao aren’t half bad either and there aren’t streets full of backpackers ;).
So here I am now back in the Pradu house with another week in full gear. The anticipation for future unexpected outings, gorgeous views and exciting adventures continues!