Thai Volunteer Program

11th of August was a very interesting day, I already added an entry about the volunteer program, so you can read the stuff which happened on this day there.

Thai Volunteer program
Imagine, you are a student at a big city somewhere in America or Europe. Someone offers you to talk to foreigners about the culture in your home country and show them the city you are living. To spend your spare time with people you don’t even know. What would be your first thought? Probably “How much do they pay? For students in Thailand the question is probably: Where do I have to sign?

But here is the whole story!

I already wrote about the Thai Volunteer program at the Bangkok International Youth hostel, but after staying here a few times and spending the past week at this place, I got a much closer look on the whole project.

“It’s a program where local Thai youth volunteer their time to connect and familiarise travellers thus creating cross-cultural exchange and enhancing a strong international friendship which result in travellers been guided around and shown the city and put in close contact with Thai culture. Instead of being a lost traveller or anonymous member of a large tour group, travellers are able to spend time interacting on a personal level with Thai youth, all the while learning about Thai culture, visiting local landmark with a new found personal guide and generally being welcome and save in a place which may initially save seemed intimating and foreign.” (That’s the description, written by Promvit, leader of the program)

I was invited to be guest at the opening ceremony of the 8th volunteer program (I was the only foreigner there). The volunteers change every fourth month, so other students get the chance to join the program. Mr. Ong-Ard, Director of the Thai Youth hostel Association took me to the ministry of youth, where the ceremony was set. Volunteers from the 6th and 7th program guided me around and introduced me to the new group of volunteers. A lot of students who join the volunteer program work on other tourism-projects afterwards.

There are more then 300 Thai Students, who want to join the volunteer program, but only twenty of them are finally chosen. My guide asked me to introduce myself to the students and I told them what I’m doing and that I’m travelling around for Worldsurface. The students then asked me questions about what I like in Thailand most, what I think about the program etc. The minister of youth also showed up at the ceremony, which is I think proving that the program already got some attention in Thailand.

First Mr. Ong-Ard talked about the International Youth Hostelling and the Volunteer Program. After that, the minister of youth started to talk. It seems that Thai politicians love long speeches just as western politicians do. They all spoke Thai, but fortunately one of the volunteers translated the important stuff for me. The minister was a very nice guy. He talked about his time as a student and how important the volunteer program is for Thailand.

He finished his speech with little quotes in English, which I also want to post:

Reason only is not enough, but feeling and emotion is equal important. To lead means to serve and to lead means to follow.

Unfortunately I had to leave the ceremony before the official ending, but it was very interesting to talk to the volunteers and meet the people behind the project.

If you come to Thailand and look for something special, (I’m not talking about the Khao San Road stuff.) then come to the Bangkok International Youth Hostel and meet up with the volunteers! It’s a great experience, which I can recommend to everyone!

Bangkok for a few days

6th of August, A new passport,
Martin and I had to get up early in the morning, to go to the Austrian embassy and the immigration centre, to get new passports and a new visa. Five days after our “Worst Case Scenario” on Ko Pha Nang we finally became full Austrian citizen again and Martin was able to leave the country without any problems. I think this is also the right time to thank Martin to accompany me for almost three weeks, and staying calm during the “Worst Case Scenario”. We had a lot of fun together and also a lot of serious discussions about tourism in Thailand, which was a great input for my writing.

7th and 8th of August, Stomach sick,
I was a bit stomach sick on the 7th of August, so I decided to stay at the hostel and explore a bit of the neighbourhood. On the 8th of August I met Nancy, a girl from Canada. She is currently bicycling around the national park somewhere in South Thailand as I’m writing this. It was really difficult for her to get from the hostel to the train station so I decided to help her. Taxis don’t carry bikes and neither do busses, so Nancy went to the train station by bike, and I took her stuff and followed her with the bus. I don’t think Thai’s see a lot of foreigners on bicycles in Bangkok, everyone in the bus and even on the street was looking at her (some of them where laughing, others just nodding their heads).

By the way, Nancy arrived at the train station before I got there, so bicycling is a non-polluting fast way to get around in Bangkok, if you can bear the heat. Unfortunately I couldn’t join her, I love hiking and bicycling around in the nature.

9th and 10th of August, Sightseeing and relaxing at Siamsquare
To wait for a flight to Australia can get quiet boring, fortunately Bangkok has a lot to offer. The 9th of August was a typical sightseeing day, I woke up around 8:00 am, looked at my map and decided to visit the temple of dawn (Wat Arunrat) and a fish market I discovered the day before. Both sights (the fish market isn’t really tourist attraction.) where close together, so I could easily walk from one location to the other. . The smell at the fish market was unbelievable, but after a few minutes I got used to it. I spend there about an hour, walking around, talking to some of the sellers and taking some pictures of the huge hills of seafood. On the 10th of August I went once again to the Siamsquare, to watch a movie, have something to eat and look around in the hundreds and hundreds of little shops.

Exploring the city of Ayutthaya

4th of August, Weekend Market Bangkok
The weekend market is every weekend (hence the name of it.) and it’s definitely not like the night market in Chiang Mai or Kao Shan Road and worth to be seen. You get everything at the weekend market, food, cloths, gems even furniture’s and its really crowded. Most of the people going there are Thai, because it’s much still cheap then the rest of Bangkok. It takes about an hour by the bus to get there and if you are in Bangkok on a Saturday or a Sunday, don’t miss it! We also went to the Bayoketower, which is the highest building in the city, but that was a disappointment.

You have to pay 120 Baht to for the elevator to the observation deck and inside the tower there are shops selling stuff just like on Khaosan Road. We accidentally took a wrong elevator and ended up the 12th floor. Just to find out that there is nothing between the 12th and the 9th floor, just empty unfinished rooms. The Bayoketower probably also was a victim of the financial crisis in south-east Asia. You see a lot of unfinished buildings in Bangkok, waiting for a buyer, or to collapse.

5th of August, Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya was the Siamese Capital from 1350 to 1767 (one of the most important and biggest cities in the world at that time) before the Burmese destroyed it.. It’s about 70 kilometres north of Bangkok and a nice day trip if you have some time left. It takes about 2 hours to get there by train. Most of the books recommend to rent a tuk tuk or a bicycle to explore the city, but we decided to walk around which is also a good way. The city itself is an island, so you have to take one of the boats to get there (there are also some bridges).

The ruins in and around Ayutthaya are really impressive and show the old power of this magnificent place. We visited a few temples and had a rest in the park in the middle of the city. The park is not just a big meadow or something like that. There are a lot of little islands, connected by bridges which creates an awesome scenery.

Bangkok, New Passport

2nd of August, On the Way to Bangkok
We had to stay up early to catch our ferry back to Surat Thani. I got new traveller cheques 23 hours after they where stolen, which was a big relief for me. We also went to the police station to ask if the found our passports or something, unfortunately not. On the ferry back to Surat Thani I met old friends again. Steve and his wife. I met them first when I went to Ko Samui and now they also where on their way back to Bangkok.

3rd of August, Bangkok, Austrian embassy
Arriving in Bangkok, once again. We first went to the travel agency RICHLY, where we left our luggage. I want to mention RICHLY, because they where a very big help during our stay in Thailand. The told us how to get to the embassy, how to get a new airline ticket, helped me with my new credit card and even phoned the police station in Thong Sala to ask if our passports where found. RICHLY is next to the main train station in Bangkok at the Longmuang Road.

At the Austrian embassy we watched a quiet strange situation. A guy (he looked really nasty.) asked for a visa extension for a Thai woman, standing behind him. He said that he already went to Austria with that woman to three months, and now he wanted to get another extension for three months again. We saw another men the next day at the Austrian embassy, asking the same questions, and also when we went to the embassy of Australia. I don’t want to judge people for the way the dress and I don’t know what those guys do with the Thai woman in their home countries, but I think its not just conversation, and I feel very bad about what’s going on in Thailand and probably other places on this planet.

Getting robbed on Ko Pha Ngan

31st of July, Ko Pha Ngan
My second visit on the “Party Island”. Martin and I decided to stay up in the north of the Island at a bungalow village I discovered during my first stay. The northern part of Ko Pha Nang is still a quiet and peaceful place, you don’t have the mass tourism there and the local people and tourists are more like a little “community”. The place we stayed is next to Bottle Bay, but still reachable by car and called “Coral Bay”.

1st of August, Worst Case Scenario
The day started usual, the sun was shining and we planed how to spend the day. We wanted to hike up the highest mountain on Ko Pha Nang, which was supposed to be a great experience. Unfortunately the car driver took us to Thong Sa La instead of dropping us of at the entrance of the hiking trail. Planes changed, like many times before, so we decided to do some shopping and get money from the ATM-Machine. We thought that we would hike up the mountain just a bit later.

We where already back on the way to the taxi, when I suddenly had this “feeling” that something was wrong. I checked my stuff and discovered that my “VIP Bag” was missing. OH OH credit card, passport, flight tickets, almost everything of importance to me (and also the passport of my friend) was in that bag. First we checked all the shops we went before, even started to look in the garbage cans. Someone must have had stolen it.

The most important thing in a situation like that is to stay calm, and try to get a clear mind. I immediately called my credit-card company to cancel my card. After that we went to the police station to report the loss. Thank god the policeman was friendly and we got a report in no time. Next we got tickets for a trip back to Bangkok the next day. My friend was leaving soon and needed a new passport. We went back to our bungalow to pack our stuff and prepare to leave. I also had to get new travellers cheques so I had to call American Express. They told me that I would get my traveller cheques the next day at a bank in Thong Sa La.

Chiang Mai to Ko Tao via Bangkok

28th of July Stopover in Bangkok
We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning. Our first stop was at the travel agency where we booked the trip to Ko Tao. We then went to the Siamsquare shopping centre. If you are in Bangkok and the weather is very hot, that’s one of the best places to go. Air-condition and hundreds of shops. The whole building can be quiet confusing, we couldn’t find a plan or a map in the whole building and most of the shop seemed to sell similar stuff. At 6:30 we went on the bus to Chumpon.

29th of July, Boat to Ko Tao
We arrived at Chumpon at 3:00 o Clock in the morning. The bus ride was very uncomfortable, sometimes the air condition turned off and the bus heated up within minutes. The boat from Chumpon to Ko Tao left at 6:30, so we had to wait another three hours. Another four hours later and we arrived at “Turtle Island” (the other name of Ko Tao). We stayed at Ao Thian in the South of Ko Tao. The Bungalows where quiet interesting, ours got a huge rock in the bathroom and all of them where built on rocks. At least they didn’t cut off another coconut wood to built those huts.

30th of July, Ko Tao
We decided to walk to Ban Mae Hat, the “main town” on Ko Tao. All the guidebooks I read about Ko Tao wrote that it’s less touristiy then Ko Pha Nang and more beautiful. Unfortunately those books are not longer “up to date”. Ban Mae Hat is not longer a “one street town” it start’s to look like a little Thong Sala. You find diving-shops, bars and restaurants all over the island. After dinner we decided to walk north along the beach of Ban Mae Hat.

Chiang Mai, Jungletrek to the Red Karren Village

24th of July, Jungeltrek to the Red Karren Village
We left Chiang Mai early in the morning. Up north to start our three day jungle treck.
Sebastian and Clara, a couple from Austria, Martin my travel companion, Veronica, a journalist from London, myself, Mr. Mong, our Trek guide and a cook. A small group of European’s looking for an adventure in the jungle. We started with lunch at Mr. Mong’s house and went on an elephant ride, which took about 1,5 hours.

We then hiked up to a little jungle camp, next to a river. It took us about three hours to get there. To swim in the river was an very welcome refreshment after the exhausting hike through the jungle. The dinner, a combination of chicken, stuff Mong and the cook collected in the jungle and rice was really excellent. We spent the first night in a small hut and slept on the wooden floor. It took some till I got used to it.

25th of July, Jungle, Karren village
We left the camp early to hike up a mountain, about 1500 Meters high. We ate our lunchpackage, noodles, on top of the mountain. The noodles where covered in a big leaf. A very good idea, because it doesn’t pollute the jungle. Three hours later, walking through the jungle we arrived at the Karren Village. The children in the village where already waiting for us. We had little presents (candy and cookies) for them. The kids then offered us necklace and some other stuff. I decided to not buy anything. It was a quiet difficult decision. On the one hand, these people are really poor, on the other hand, there is the risk that those people (especially kids) get depended of money from tourists. The kids were very interested in my binoculars and so I spend about an hour, explaining how to use it. I found out that I was the first one who ever showed them binoculars. After dinner, the cook asked us for help with a burning wound on his leg. He had an accident with his motorbike about two weeks ago. The wound was already badly infected. Sebastion is a med-student and knew what to do. He cleaned the wound and put some salve on it. Then he covered the wound with a sterile bandage. That’s when I realised that those people may know that tourists like coke and beer and that we have a lot of money, but they have no glimpse that you have to keep a wound clean and covered. We explained the cook how to handle the wound and told him that he has to change the bandage every day and use new, sterile bandage (to cook cotton bandage before usage) and put salve on the wound.

Tourists come to the Karren village for about four years. Every travel agency . The travel agency want to keep it that way, it’s still a very beautiful, quiet and peaceful place. Hill Tribes used to move around in the past, but the government doesn’t allow them to do that anymore. That’s also the reason why they can’t plant enough rice for the whole village. They have to buy it.

26th of July, Waterfall, Bamborafting
Our last day in the Jungle.. We left the Karren Village around 9:00 am, to visit an waterfall. The waterfall was really amazing, we spent their an hour, before we had to walk back to Mr. Mong’s hous, where we had lunch. Our last “jungle-experience” was bamboo rafting. Very funny, expect that I got bitten by a big bug.
>In the evening we went out with Mr. Nang, the guy who organised the tour. We had dinner at an local restaurant. I was surprised to find out that worms and crickets taste even better than chicken…

27th of July
Our last day in Chiang Mai. We had to catch the train at 4.20 pm and spent the day by visiting two of the 300 temples in Chiang Mai.

The jungle trip was a great experience, which I recommend to everyone who is going to visit Thailand. Choose one of the eco-tours, that’s what I did. Thai travel agencies (at least those I choose) keep their promises when they say ECO.

Ps: And if you find a some rubbish on your way through the jungle, take it with you :-)!

Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train

20th of July
5.00 am, arrival in the capital of Thailand once again… I had to pick up my friend at the airport around 2:00 p.m., so I stayed at the hostel and talked to some of the thai volunteers. The youth-hostel started a “volunteer-program” for thai students . Students can come to the youth-hostel and talk to foreigners to improve their English, and the foreigners get in contact with the locals.

We had an discussion about the differences between the way young Thai’s act in the public as an couple and western teenager. For example: You would never see a young Thai couple, walking hand in hand in Bangkok on the mainstreet.

We also talked about tourism in Thailand. Tourists bring in the money, thats a main statement of every Thai I talked with. It’s hard to find someone who wants to talk about sextourism in Thailand, or how tourists destroy and change everything like on the southern islands.

21st of July
A short visit at Khao San Road in the morning…. To be honest: I hate this place. It’s a big tourist trap, skip it if you visit Bangkok. That’s what tourism “can do” in the worst way. I felt like being in an European or American town.

At night we decided to walk a bit “of the beaten track” We left the youthhostel and walked until we could not see any tourists. We then dropped into a Thai Karaoke Bar ( I always wondered how Thai spend their sparetime, now I know…) and this was realy funny!

A lot of Thai’s visit Karaoke Bars at night.
Everyone sings their, no matter if you are old, ugly, a bad singer or a good singer. We watched the whole scenery for about three hours and tried some Thai beer and Thai Whiskey. Thai music on TV or radio sound’s strange, but it still got an western touch, Thai music, performed live and by a local is just amazing. Most of the the songs sound sad, and the singer never smiles.
(We also went to another Thai karaoke bar, but I don’t remember to much about it, guess why..). Altogether it was the best time I had in Bangkok so far, no other tourist, pure Bangkok and typical Thai entertainment.

22nd of July
Buses in Bangkok are a cheap and a funny way to get around. But when I tried to make my way to the railway station, I had find out that they can be also very confusing. I took Bus Nr. 53, which goes straight to the main railway station. Unfortunately not if you are in a hurry and want to go there as quick as possible. I had to find out that the routes can change, with in one day, so I had to get of the bus and walk to the railwaystation. fortunately I was able to catch my train to Chaing Mai just in time.

23rd of July, Chiang Mai
Our first day in northern Thailand after a 700 kilometre trip by train. Chiang Mai is like Bangkok, just a bit smaller, and a bit cheaper. The city itself is crowded with tourists, I even saw a “German Hofbraeuhaus” … Embarrassing to see young thai woman, dressed in Bavarian clothes. Why do Germans fly thousands and thousands of kilometres, just to sit in a look a like German restaurant and eat German food?!

Ko Phi Phi, The beach

After a last walk on the beach of Ao Nang I went back to Krabi and took the ferry to Ko Phi Phi at 2:00 pm.
After my arrival on Ko Phi Phi I took a taxiboat to “Long Beach” . Not knowing what to do I decided to walk back to the main village. It took me about half an hour to get there (10 minutes if you take the boat.). It’s just a small path and you even have to do some “climbing” (sort of…). I stayed in the village for about 4 hours, had dinner and watched the movie “The Beach”. After that I had to walk back to Long Beach, which turned out to be a real adventure. I left my flashlight at the bungalow, and when I started to walk back it has already been dark. I was hardly able to find the road, and sometimes I just bumped into a tree or a stone. It took me nearly 1,5 hours to make my way back…>

18th of July
The 13th day of my trip, which I think was the best day so far (right 13 is my lucky number!!)

I decided to join a snorkelling group to Ko Phi Phi Le. Perhaps some of you know that parts of the movie “The Beach” were filmed at Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Le. (There are two islands: Ko Phi Phi Don, which is where all tourists stay, and Ko Phi Phi Le, which is a national park). Usually, all the tours start at 9:00 am, but I took the one which started at 12:00 am.
We where a small group of six persons and Andrew, our guide. Snorkelling around Ko Phi Phi Le is amazing: You see a lot of fishes and different corals. Usually Maya Bay is crowded with boats, but when we got there it was just us and “The Beach”. I was even able to see sharks for the first time in my life. A big female and a little baby. They are not dangerous at all (but they DO look dangerous).

Unfortunately Ko Phi Phi gets more and more crowded these days, and some of the tourists just don’t care about rubbish and pollution on the island. If you go to Ko Phi Phi you will understand what I’m talking about.

I think that’s really sad. But there are also people who care about the island. Like Andrew, our guide. He doesn’t use plastic bottles or plastic bags. I think that’s very important on an island, cause every plastic bottle, every plastic-bag, even every can has to be removed from an island. And that’s expensive and someone has to pay for it. The best thing is to AVOID rubbish. Use your own bottle and bring your own cotton-bag.

19th of July
My last day on Ko Phi Phi. I had to take the ferry at 1:30 pm back to Krabi, to get on a Bus to Bangkok. What’s next? I meet up with my travel-mate Martin in Bangkok and then we are going to Chang Mai!

Trang to Krabi and Ao Nang

Trang turned out to be a very nice city, no tourists and very clean. But unfortunately the monsoon is very bad during July and August, so I decided to go north to Krabi.

The bus-ride took about 2,5 hours, and I found a nice way to spend my time: I counted the honks. All together it took me 155 Honks and 50 Baht to go from Trang to Krabi. I arrived there around lunch time. I wanted to go straight to Ko Phi Phi, so I got my ticket for the ferry and was supposed to be at the pier at 2:30 p.m. Unfortunately their was no ferry to Ko Phi Phi at 2:30… Still holding a valued ticket, I decided to go to Ao Nang, stay there for one night and then take the ferry. There is not much to say about Ao Nang, it took me about 20 Minute by a pick-up to get there and it looks very similar to Ko Samui (although – it’s not an island).