Our Summer Program in Thailand has started with a bang. They decided to get creative which we love and make a vlog for us! Have a look at all the highlights throughout their time in Thailand. We hope you enjoy the video!
They also wrote down their stories and shared their unforgettable experiences with us. These weeks have seen them learn Muay Thai, attend an authentic Thai cookery class, volunteer with elephants and also scuba dive in some of the clearest water they have ever seen.
WEEK ONE by Macy, Dina, and Drew
After much preparation, numerous documents, and over twenty-four hours in the air, our group of eight strangers from California, New York, Texas, and Colorado arrived in Phuket, Thailand. Here, we were incorporated into the newly designed Phuket sandbox and headed to our accommodation for the week. We spent much of the first two days adjusting to time zones and humidity, while getting to know one another through orientation activities and time spent on the beach, which lay directly outside of the resort.
On Wednesday, July 7th, with negative COVID tests in hand, we were able to head outside on a tour through Thai culture in Phuket, which thrust us into some of the sights and smells we’d become familiar with in the weeks to come. We started at a Buddhist temple, which was shockingly beautiful with bright colors and ornate designs, where we received our fortunes for the day, which all seemed to predict high amounts of bad luck and loss of money (preemptively anticipating our shopping day?).
We then made our way to the Big Buddha statue located on top of the biggest mountain in Phuket, where we had our first witness to the mischievous monkeys of Thailand (in this case, the culprit was found eating a leather motorcycle seat). After taking in the views from the top and many photos with the gargantuan pristine white statue, we were given an introduction to Thai food and dessert, which introduced us to palm sugar syrup, a pink, bubblegum flavored substance that would be found in many sweet drinks we would have in the days to come, whether we wanted it there or not. After a homemade meal with a class on making our own green papaya salads with as many or few peppers as we could handle, and a very public and poor attempt at chopsticks by Macy, we headed back to the accommodation for some much needed air conditioning and rest.
The following day had us leaving the mountains and heading to the ocean floor for scuba diving. With the help and patience of our instructors, each of us were able to complete two dives, in which we saw four-legged star fish, Kuhl rays, and a picturesque motorcycle. As certified and experienced scuba divers, Nicolas and Ben were able to swim down further and traverse a shipwreck in the depths of the ocean. Some of us did not fare as well, with Maddie and Christian returning to the boat with sea urchin punctures and jellyfish stings respectively, and Macy being taken down by sea sickness soon after, but all ailments aside, we arrived home exhausted and extremely satisfied.
Friday, the 9th, we had our first experience with the “party bus” as our transportation, in which music videos from our pasts were blasted at maximum volume and multicolored lights flared, which would remain a staple throughout our time in Phuket. It brought us to Old Town, a street of shops that we’d briefly seen in the cultural tour, for some highly anticipated shopping. We walked up and down the streets, braving the rain, with hopes of Thai pants and jewelry in our minds. We explored storefronts full of multicolored elephant pants, silver and jade rings, and a surprising amount of stores devoted solely to tie dye, and left with wallets newly empty and bags full, ready to face the heat fashionably while respecting Thailand’s cultural dress code.
After almost a week of exploring the vastness and richness of Thailand, half of the group took the 10th to relax, while Drew, Macy, Madeleine, and Nicolas headed up in the rain to the Black Rock for a day of hiking. Led by Art, our Thai guide, the four of us spent the day trekking down the cliffside to the ocean, helping each other on the steep and slippery rocks while taking in the blues and greens around us, professional and disposable cameras alike capturing the day. We returned mud-covered and rain-soaked, but feeling very at home in a very unfamiliar country.
The rain halted any hopes of our planned sunset cruise the next day, but we made the most of it relaxing at the beach and in the pool which both rested at our fingertips. As we packed to leave for the next accommodation in Phuket, we learned that Georgia would be leaving us the following morning to head home early. And so, the night was filled with goodbyes and remembrances of so many memories from just a week of knowing each other.
WEEK TWO by Christain, Nicolas, and Madeleine
July 12: Today marked our first day of the second half of quarantine! We were packed and ready to move to the Burasari in Patong Beach, after an immersive organic farm tour. We learned how to harvest and cook several Thai staple plants. Later, we participated in a chocolate making workshop, and then were treated to a five-course dinner by the Tourism Authority of Thailand!
July 13: We had a great time touring coconut island; exploring the local village, eating some amazing food, cooking our own dessert, and finishing the day with a sunset paddle board. The day was filled with moments of pure absurdity, like Christian getting bitten on his butt by a fish, and Mr. Kim having an extended conversation with alarmed and skeptical room service as she tried to order a singular side of mayonnaise and nothing else for Macy.
July 14: We started off the day as complete strangers to Thai cooking, and by the end of the day we learned how to make Pad Thai, Spring rolls, and a local Thai dessert. These accomplishments earned us a sleek piece of paper officially honoring us as Thai culinary geniuses. After the class, we went exploring, investigating all the shops Patong had to offer, and ended the night with a fashion show starring Nicolas.
July 15: When you think of the greatest boxers of all time, who do you think of? Rocky? Maybe Mayweather? Wrong! The only right answer is Macy, with her quick reflexes and extraordinary ability to kick the instructor. This was our first day of our two day intensive Muay Thai lessons. We started off by running, jumping on tires, learning proper techniques and then moving on to the punching bags. This was only the warm up and we were already feeling tired. We finished off the session with learning combos and taking turns sparing the trainers. After a long day of training, we were craving a little taste from home so we decided to order American food. To call it food would be a disservice to food everywhere. Unseasoned, microwaved and bland are some words we could use to describe the meal. But luckily our kind instructor Mr. Kim took this as an opportunity to improve our meals by adding a little bit of spice and ordering another side of Mayo.
July 16: The second day of Muay Thai was possibly even more intense with the trainers' small children joining in to beat us up. We also ended the second session of Muay Thai with doing literally hundreds of sets of different ab workouts. We also enjoyed playing soccer in the gym with the kids.
July 17: We started off the day with a great meal at a brunch place that looked like it was straight out of LA. We then split up with the bravest of us going to the beach, i.e. Maddie, and everyone else going to the pool. We then got Thai massages together. It was a great experience, relaxing for some and very, very painful for others. After that, we went to a night market to buy clothes and food. Nicolas and Christian ate some of the local cuisine, fried crickets, and the group enjoyed different street foods.
WEEK THREE by Macy, Dina, and Drew
The departure from Phuket and the sandbox finally greeted us, and we left the populated beaches and shopping districts for a more rural and secluded accommodation that had us sleeping up in the trees. We arrived at our open-air treehouses in the national park Khao Sok, taking in the array of new plants, insects, and creatures that inhabited the area. We immediately ran for the river just outside of the resort, feeling the current threaten to pull us downstream as we swung into the water via rope swing, again and again until dinner.
The group was warned not to keep snacks in our rooms, as they might attract an invasion of our fellow tree residents, macaque monkeys. With this advice unheeded and mostly forgotten, the group could only watch (or film, as Mr. Kim quickly and ever so helpfully jumped to do) as a monkey and her baby climbed down onto the lunch table in the hotel restaurant and, with haunting eye contact, pocketed Macy’s disposable camera and quickly disappeared out of sight (the camera was later found nearby on the ground by Art, and Macy was surprised and reunited with her camera, only slightly punctured). We spent that first evening listening to a biodiversity presentation by the resort owner Ben.
Our first full day in Khao Sok was spent traversing the national park on a half-day hike, learning about various plants and animals that surrounded us, notably the yellow flower used for tooth aches which turned the mouths of Nicolas, Drew, and Dina numb, and the leeches that seemed to sense us passing, finding their way into our socks. After some swimming near a waterfall and many mangosteens, we took the rest of the day to chill by tubing down the lazy river near our resort, which quickly grew less relaxing for Christian and Mr. Kim, who both became feast to the biting puffer fish that resided below us. The night brought another discussion of ecotourism by Ben.
The next day brought us a unique class in the morning from an instructor, brought all the way in from the exotic shores of Santa Barbara, California, who walked us through her own version of yoga movements. In the afternoon, she led us once more in an enthusiastic workshop entitled ecstatic dance, in which we were to let our bodies feel the music. The class brought a strange combination of us attempting to make Muay Thai into some passable form of dance with Macy teaching the group a dance from her cheerleading past. This was quickly followed by some laughing therapy, and then a cool-down of meditative ohms, rounding out the fever dream that seemed to encase the day.
The night served as the start of the multiple celebrations of Nicolas’s birthday, as some miscommunication brought us a cake a day early, which we enjoyed nonetheless. We were met by the solemn news that because of the rapidly worsening Covid situation in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, we would not be able to make it up north during our time in Thailand. Despite this setback, we packed our bags for the promise of elephants in a mystery location, the thoughts of those suffering in the north very fresh in our minds.
We arrived in Phang Nga the next day, quickly heading out from the hostel to the elephant park nearby to meet and begin to work with the four elephants that resided there. We learned quickly that elephants are very particular about how you approach them, and that you must always call them by their name. In the four days that we spent at the park, we were able to get dirty in the pond, scrub them clean, make them some highly nutritious food, create a garden for their food to grow in, and clean the waste from their cage, which Mr. Kim and Nicolas seemed to take immense pleasure in. It was an incredible experience to work so closely with these giant creatures, who each have their own personalities and habits, making them fascinating to learn about.
Behind the scenes of our work at the elephant park, we celebrated Nicolas’s actual birthday, as well as the day after, rounding out the holiday with three cakes in total. Drew, in a series of impulsive decisions, dyed his hair navy blue, then pink (ginger), only for it to quickly wash out and remain similar to his original color, minus the bleach blond sideburns.
To round out our last day at the park, we celebrated with a Thai-style barbecue, in which we cooked noodles, various meats, eggs, vegetables, and tofu on hot grills right in front of our eyes. We left with many souvenirs in hand as the sun went down, reminiscing on the surreal experience we had just left, still not entirely sure what awaited us in the last week of our program, but ready to explore Koh Lanta, an island reached by ferry, protected away from the chaos of the mainland.
WEEK FOUR by Christian, Nicolas, and Maddie
July 26: Today was our most active day yet! We left around noon for rock climbing along Krabi, a 2 hour drive away. And the drive was totally worth it! We learned how to belay each other, and took turns climbing the giant limestone cliffs. Some went as high as 300 meters up! Although we stuck to lower heights, the views were still stunning. The routes were hard, and everyone but Drew, our one actual rock climber, fell at least once, but we all continued on up to reach the gorgeous views from the top. After an exhausting but very rewarding day, we headed back, stopping at a 7/11 for snacks to tide us over until dinner. Unfortunately, Nicolas chose the equivalent of chemical warfare in a bag, otherwise known as squid chips, as his post-climbing snack. Even more unfortunately, he decided to open them for the first time in the van as we were heading back to Koh Lanta on a ferry, and instantly flooded our van with the smell of extraordinarily bad cat food. (He had to finish the rest of them outside as we all made our best effort to air out the van).
July 27: We all woke up sore from rock climbing, but ready for our next challenge! We met our guide for the day, and she helped us all find a good bike for our upcoming bike tour. Once everyone had a bike, we were ready to go. I don’t think anyone was expecting it to be as hard as it was, but while we were all struggling, Christian was having the time of his life. We biked through the jungle, going up and down the mountains on dirt paths, and took a route through a rubber plantation as our guide pointed out the sights. Once we finished the first half of our journey, we stopped in the middle of the jungle for a 45 minute hike to a viewpoint. It was so steep, but the view was beautiful! Heading back down was almost as hard as we all tried not to slip, and then most of us took the truck back. The rest, who decided to bike, went back through the jungle, and arrived at the hotel exhausted but happy, especially once they got a chance to jump in the pool.
July 28: In the morning, we headed out to explore the town and the beach, which was only a walk from our hotel. We wandered along the main road, stopping to grab some water, then set our path for the beach. We walked along the shore for a while, until clouds started to gather overhead, reminding us it was still rainy season. So, we turned around, and made it back to our hotel with plenty of time for another Muay Thai session. Our awesome hotel staff went all out for dinner tonight, cooking us an amazing seafood barbecue, starring giant crabs, whole cooked fish, mussels, noodles, and so much more!
July 29: Today was a very chill transfer day, leaving Koh Lanta for Ao Nang, a 3 hour drive away. Once we were all settled into our new accommodations, we got ready to head out to the beach for some sun and shopping. Wandering through the shops, we saw a lot of souvenirs, and everyone found something they liked! Once we were all satisfied with our purchases, we went down to the water to float among the waves before heading back for dinner. After dinner, we found a pool table, and even made a friend!
July 30: We left for Railay Beach right after breakfast, arriving after a short van ride, and a longer boat ride. As we arrived, we were greeted by stunning limestone vistas surrounding the town. We debarked, and went to find a coffee shop to get our daily dose of caffeine, then walked to a hidden beach among the cliffs. Walking along the sand, we found a tiny path through the trees, and our guide led us along it to the beginning of a giant cave. We ventured in and up for a while, navigating solely by flashlight. Occasionally, there would be a window in the rock and we could gaze out over Railay. We even saw a Komodo dragon through one opening! After taking in the view from the very top, we headed back down to a relaxing paddle board and kayaking adventure. Given free reign over the bay, we took a lot of pictures, and saw some awesome sea life before saying our goodbyes to Railay.
July 31: Today was a series of ups and downs: quite literally! We rode out to the first of the islands we planned to visit on a longboat, which got rocked around by stormy ocean waves. Luckily, by the time we had reached our first destination, it had cleared up and the sun was out again! We hung around the Separated Sea for a while, giving everyone the chance to adjust after our boat ride. Once everyone was feeling good again, we went to our first snorkel destination, and there were so many fish! They weren’t very scared of us, and a school of them actually followed us around for a bit. We eventually left for our third island, and we snorkeled there as well, but ended up cutting it short as the waves got bigger and bigger. Even though we had to rush back to avoid the oncoming storm, everyone left with all smiles (and a lot redder than we were that morning).
August 1: This morning was the last of the dreaded COVID tests. After we had all received our tests, we had a leisurely lunch at a nearby cafe. Once we finished, we picked up our negative results and headed to Spirit Mountain for a meditation class surrounded by majestic limestone cliffs and the sounds of Thailand wildlife. We were all bummed to leave, as we knew this was our last true day in Thailand, so we made sure to enjoy the time together, before finally going back to our hotel!
August 2: Departure day! After a long van ride into Bangkok, we said our final goodbyes to our instructors before starting our journey home. We are so grateful for the memories, experiences, and friendships that we have made here in Thailand!