Written by Grace and Lucy on our South East Asia program.

After the meditation retreat we returned to Chiang Mai for what would be an exciting couple of days! After our arrival, we all participated in a cooking class at “A lot of Thai.” The class was instructed by the founder, Yui: a self- taught Thai chef. She began the class by giving us an informative tour of the produce in a local market. We purchased the traditional Thai food items that Yui uses in her home-cooked meals. We learnt about the different vegetables, fruits, meats, and spices that Yui incorporates into her cuisine. We then made our way to the kitchen to put our knowledge to the test! First, Yui walked us through the steps of how to make a dish of Pad Thai. Using noodles, different vegetables, chicken, and egg, we followed her instructions and made our own delicious Pad Thai. The next dish Yui introduced to us was curry. We each got to decide if we wanted to make a red or green curry and how spicy we wanted it to be. After devouring both meals, we all enjoyed a delicious dish of mango sticky rice Yui prepared for us. We were not only grateful for the lessons that Yui taught us about our specific dishes, but also the many general skills that are involved in traditional Thai cooking.

After testing our taste buds in kitchen, we decided to step it up to the next level by testing our physical capabilities in the gym. The next few days passed and we found ourselves at a Muay Thai lesson at Jackapong, Maser Boom’s gym. There, we were taught the essential fighting techniques that are traditionally used in Muay Thai. We were given the opportunity to apply what we learned by taking on a trained Muay Thai fighter!

Our last few days in Thailand flew by, and on October 8th we said goodbye to the country we called home for the last three weeks and headed towards the border. A couple of van rides and a few immigration papers later, we found ourselves in Laos. There was no better introduction to the country than two days of river boat rides along the Mekong River where we learned about the history of Laos, whilst looking out at the epic ,mountainous scenery. Upon arrival in Laung Prabang, the group bid the river boat farewell and we found ourselves in be one of the more well developed cities in Laos. We all relished in the air conditioning, WiFi, and the comfortable beds of our guest house as we awaited the four day trek in the Laos jungle. The morning of our first day trekking, the group, squeaky clean from our last hot shower, lugged our day packs into vans and headed towards the jungle. We sent our last snapchats and goodbye texts, and listened to one last song while we ate Pad Thai from banana leaves , and lathered on sunscreen at our lunch spot.

For those who read the itinerary, the initial plan for trekking was two days of shorter, lighter hiking ,  and two more days of tougher, longer hiking up and down a mountain. Typical of this trip, the initial plan did not become a reality. After lunch, the group split equally and we headed in opposite directions. The first group headed straight for the mountain still under the impression that the hike was only two hours, but after five hour of difficult, sweaty hiking they found themselves in a small village halfway up the mountain. To the groups surprise, they were informed that they were to do the two hardest days first. After bathing in a river with the locals to cool off from the hike, the group ate delicious rice and pumpkin underneath the stars, and all piled into one bed to rest up for another day of difficult hiking. The second group after lunch that same day, embarked on a scenic 30 minute boat ride followed by a two hour hike through rice patties and hilly, jungle terrain. They ended their trek with a breath-taking view of the mountain range and spent the night in a village.

The next morning both groups, though miles apart , were awoken by roosters - something we had to get use to during our homestays. After breakfast both groups set out for a second day of hiking, excited that tonight they would meet in the same village. After an hour of challenging up hill hiking, the first group made their way to top of the mountain and after a short stop to take pictures and gawk at the magnificent view, they started their slippery, steep decent down the mountain. After about four hours the first group was welcomed by the other group  at our second homestay. While the first group trekked down the mountain, the second group  started their day walking to a neighboring village. While walking along a dirt road, the group watched as locals motorbiked to work and took in the scenery around them before arriving at the second village.

Once both groups were settled in, some group members fished while others played with the children.  After a filling dinner, and a ritual blessing that involved boiled eggs, white strings, and whiskey shots, we settled down under our mosquito nets in our cozy huts and drifted off to sleep. Whether it was the deafening thunder or raindrops on your face from a leaking roof, it’s safe to say the entire group found themselves awake at 2 am in the middle of a thunder storm. After some of the group took refuge in the main house ,  some us were able to fall back asleep.

The next morning after breakfast and coffee, the group received some rather disappointing news. Due to the storm the night before, the conditions on the mountain were too dangerous for the second group to hike. The second group relayed they felt a mixture of disappointment and maybe a little relief. After packing up, the whole group set out to walk to the village the second group had stayed in the night before. After arriving at the village we settled in our huts and ate lunch. After our meal, we lathered on sunscreen and headed to the rice patties to help the local villagers harvest their rice. After two hours, the sweaty and tired group headed back to the huts to take a cold shower and aid our scratchy arms and legs. After a hard days work and a final meal, we headed off to bed.

The next morning, looking forward to hot showers and a change of clothes,  we hiked our last two hours through the Laos jungle. After a thirty minute boat ride, lunch at a restaurant, and a three hour van ride, the exhausted group arrived back in Luang Prabang.

It can be concluded that even though the hiking was difficult and sweaty, every group member was able to take something positive out of the experience. When describing the trip during a debrief, some group members expressed that the village stays were eye opening and perspective altering, as we were immersed in the lives of the locals in Laos villages. Although trekking proved to be challenging, it was like any formative experience in life - it took some struggle to get to the top, but in the end it was all worth it.

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Author Nicky Sygrove Posted