Upon arriving to our new school in August I remember the teacher that showed us around campus mentioned in passing that they would be taking a trip with our 11th grade students to Thailand for an adventure/service trip in December and might need some volunteers. Without hesitation I said, "Well if you still need help then we'd love to come along". Since Marisa had taken a trip to Monaco in November, she ended up yielding her spot to another teacher, but I was still game on for this end-of-the-term CAS trip.
Just to give you some background, I teach the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. In order for a student to earn their IB Diploma they must fulfill an extra-curricular component called Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS). In short, each student must plan and initiate projects in each category over the two years of their Diploma Programme and fulfill various learning outcomes in order to meet this requirement. In order to help them with this the school takes our 11th grade students on a trip where they can carry out community service projects while being exposed to another culture and participating in a ton of outdoor activities which aren't easily accessible in Hong Kong.
I was excited to have the chance to chaperone on this trip and participate in all of the activities alongside the students.
We visited a hilltribe village near the Myanmar border for our community service project. Overnight, we stayed in a bamboo bungalow with this view in the morning.
Being near Christmastime, I bought one of these handmade purses for my niece. This man and his wife make the rounds on their scooter selling jackets and bags.
As a welcome and "thank you" some local tribespeople hosted us for a campfire dance performance. I've never seen anything like it firsthand and it was really cool because it wasn't one of those staged touristy things; rather, it was a traditional dance that is typically only done once or twice per year during festivals. Many of the village women put majority of their savings into these traditional dresses which are intricately embroidered and decorated with silver ornaments.
The village was having a local holiday, complete with a football tournament amongst the different villages of their tribe. It was 7 v 7 with mixed-age teams and most of the players played on this dirt field with flat shoes. Pretty impressive footwork despite the conditions.
I didn't understand a word that this announcer said, but I wish I did because he had everyone in the crowd busting a gut.
The kids enjoyed a day off of school.
My group of students were put to work painting a new schoolhouse for the village. Many of the students hadn't so much as picked up a paint brush or roller before, so even this was a learning experience.
In addition to the painting, our students all prepared 20-minute English lessons to present to the primary school students. Here the students are learning body parts with a little "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes".
On another epic day we took a 10km hike through a national park that took us through some really steep climbs, across several streams and even through a cave.
Our lunch stop was at this lovely waterfall.
The cave was only a few hundred meters through, but I'd never been in a secluded cave like this one - only Carlsbad Caverns in NM. This had a large room with a Buddha in it since monks like to use it for meditation. At one point we all turned off our flashlights and sat in complete silence and darkness for a couple of minutes which was a really weird feeling, in a good way. I'd like to have more moments of silent meditation.
On another day we took a half-day hike near the Myanmar border. We passed through villages like this one and eventually to the Buddhist temple in the distance.
Buddhist temple - not sure of the name but it was pretty neat inside with a huge relic on the top floor, encased in a crystal case.
View of the Maekok River - we went kayaking down this bad boy before taking mountain bikes back.
After leaving the camp, we took these riverboats down the Maekok to Chiang Rai.
No trip to Thailand is complete without an elephant ride.
Our boys were funny because so many of the experiences were new to them. They even felt a bit unsafe to ride in this open-back trucks a few km down the road. Of course I was like Evil Keneivel to these boys by holding on to the back.
Overall this was an excellent trip at the end of a very long term. I wasn't so sure that it would feel like a vacation, but I was able to relax afterall. It was somewhat therapeutic to do so many outdoor activities and enjoy nature. I was also glad to be there as these boys experienced so many new things. You could really tell that many of them were significantly impacted by doing things they'd never tried before that I'd taken for granted - like riding a bike, for example.