By: David, a Senior at Sewickly Academy
I embarked on my trip to Thailand not knowing what to expect. I had never been to Asia; the only interaction I had ever had with the magnificent continent was through movies and food. I was excited but nervous. What if this experience was completely different than what I expected? How could I be sure I would enjoy it? I was planning to spend three weeks in Thailand, most of which would culminate in the beautiful mountains of Northern Thailand near Chiang Mai. I heard so much about this country, the delicious food, and the happy people; but, for some reason I wasn’t convinced until I saw it for myself.
My experience in Thailand was organized through Rustic Pathways. While there, I was able to participate in a range of service learning experiences which included working on a Thai Elephant Conservation Project and volunteering at the Hill Tribe Support and Refugee Project. I was ready to take on the country, dive right in, and see what it was like to live in one of the most culturally rich regions of the world.
As a volunteer with The Thai Elephant Conservation Project, I had the opportunity to work with elephants on a daily basis at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Thailand, and under the supervision of professional handlers. While there, I not only bonded with my elephant and mahout (elephant trainer), but I learned to feed, ride, and bathe the elephants as well.
From the conservation project, I traveled to Bangkok to see the historical Grand Palace, the Wat Arun Temple, and floating markets. The hustle and bustle of the people, gold buildings, and high-paced urban environment was very different from Lampang. There is absolutely no shortage of temples and attractions in Bangkok!
The final leg of my trip was by far the most inspiring. I spent two weeks immersing myself in the Karen culture of Northern Thailand, preparing lesson plans and teaching classrooms of Karen students. The Hill Tribe Support Project was created by Rustic Pathways to offer opportunities to Karen students of the Mae Sariang province—who would otherwise not be exposed to such experiences. By offering these students the opportunity to graduate high school, the likelihood of attending an institution of higher education is even greater. Not only did this experience expose me to the depth of Thai culture, but allowed me to learn a great deal about myself. I learned to make the most out of every opportunity I am given and to never take anything for granted.
As I look back on my incredible journey through Thailand, I think of the people with whom I interacted and how wonderfully proud they were and the rich culture they possess. In a land dominated by majestic Buddhist temples and so many happy, peaceful people, it was hard for me to hear about recent political events that have caused the country to reach a new level of turmoil. On Thursday May 22, 2014 Thailand’s army seized power of the government. Journalists, scholars, and politicians have been ordered to surrender at army bases and General Prayuth Chan-ochoa, backed by the Royal King of Thailand, says there is no timeline on when a new democracy will be elected to run the country. As of now Thailand is under martial law, the military has deployed troops along key intersections throughout the city and has set a curfew of four hours (Midnight to 4 a.m.). Thailand’s economy has been negatively affected by political unrest resulting in a lack of business confidence in theregion along with an increase in inflation—which rose from 2.45 percent to 2.62 percent in a month’s time.
So what’s next? With no timeline for a new government to be set in place what can we expect in the preceding months? Certainly with each passing day the people of Thailand grow more impatient and mass gatherings, which are forbidden by the military, show there is immense pressure for a return to a democratic form of government.
With all that is taking place, it is important to remember how strong and welcoming of a country Thailand truly is—something I experienced during my own travels. I have faith that the people of Thailand will build a government that they can all be proud of, putting an end to the political turmoil.