The Home Stretch- Goodbye Thailand Natalie

We’re back in Bangkok! We arrived this morning after a tiring ten-hour train ride last night. We’re all pretty sleep deprived and cranky from the long ride. We’ve been in the hostel lobby for a three hours waiting to get into our rooms for some well-needed showers and naps. I’m guessing tonight we’ll do some last-minute shopping and bonding in Bangkok before we leave early this morning for home. Deb and Wei-Hao are planning to take us out to one last big group dinner, yum (: 

Chaing Mai was really amazing. We stayed in the city for a day before we went to the Elephant Nature Park. The city was so much fun; the temperature was much better than in Bangkok  and there weren’t as many tourists. It was very authentic and quaint, we all really enjoyed our time there. Peter, Ade, Paul and David rented mopeds for the day and spent the whole day exploring the city. I let Peter drive me around on one for a little while; those things go much faster than you’d expect! We went to dinner at this really cool restaurant that night where you sit barefoot on the floor and they bring you out big trays of food. At the end there was a big show where they dressed up and performed a bunch of their traditional dances. I think that was my favorite day of the trip. The next day we drove to the Elephant Nature Park which is in the mountains about 30 minutes from Chaing Mai. The ride there was beautiful. When we got there we were welcomed by Jack, who was our volunteer coordinator for the week. Everyday we woke up at seven, had breakfast and then started our work. Some of it was really hard; the first day we drove to a corn field and chopped corn with machetes all morning. That was the hardest job, the others were all pretty reasonable. Everyday we fed and bathed the elephants which was really cool. We scooped their poop and made food for the old elephants who can’t chew vegetables pretty frequently. The staff told us each of the elephant’s stories; it’s really amazing what they have been through. Many of them were blind and or had awful limps or other deformities due to abuse from their previous owners. I was glad to be helping them in their new life. the living conditions were very simple, almost like cabins at summer camp, and although it was hard after a long day to have no hot water, roughing it added to the experience. The food was all vegetarian which everyone else complained about but made me a very happy camper (: I had great Thai meals three times a day with delicious fresh fruit and juice. The stars really amazed me, I don’t think I realized there were even that many stars in the sky. Everything was so clear. We met a lot of great young people at the park, most of whom were volunteering for a week like us and then continuing on to travel the world. I had some great conversations with a few of them in particular who convinced me to travel south america sometime before I get too old. I’m proud to say I’ll be coming home with more knowledge than I had when I came here, and a little tanner too (:

This experience has been amazing. I was fully immersed in a culture I knew nothing about, and although my naiveté was frustrating at times, I think it helped me learn a lot more than I thought I would. I like learning new things, and I like knowing that there’s still a lot I have to learn. I’m excited to get home and exchange stories with everyone, and I’m even more excited to travel to other places in the future. Being here has opened my eyes to what else is out here in the real world and made me realize that I want to do everything. It’s a great feeling, and it’s a feeling I hope I never lose. I’ll come home, and I’ll turn my phone on and return all the calls and texts and catch up on my Grey’s Anatomy and update my Facebook status and complain when my parents ask me to do things. In some aspects, I’ll be returning to my reality the same teenager I was when I left. But in so many more important ways, I’m coming home changed because my curiosity has been provoked. I want to do everything, I’ve awakened a sleeping monster.

The ten of us really worked famously together. I’m going to miss waking up to nine of the best people I know everyday. There’s a lot I’m going to miss about this trip; I already miss the elephants. Regardless, I’m looking forward to hugging my parents and sleeping in my bed. Dad and Franice: I’m requesting pizza and Velveeta mac-and-cheese for dinner when I get home (: Now to prepare myself for 40 hours of traveling… At least we still have one more day in Thailand!

Hello from Thailand!

Natalie here –

It’s been quite the trip so far! We arrived in Bangkok late Wednesday night after 40 hours of tough traveling. The trip was hard for me. I couldn’t grasp the concept of it never being dark out, the 13 hours of sitting on our longest flight, and all the time zones we were going through. It was exciting though, and worth it when we finally arrived in Thailand. The past few days have been all about exploring Bangkok. The first day we went to a bunch of really beautiful temples which I really enjoyed because I remembered a lot about the religious aspect of the structures from my World Religions class last year. It was cool to see the stories I’d heard about the deities painted out in gold across these huge walls. The boys all had to put zip-off pants over their shorts and tuck their shorts in (really quite the look) and I had to put a sweater on which made everyone a little grumpy since the heat is on the verge of unbearable. It was worth it though, and on our way from temple to temple we got to shop around. I think the vendors might be my favorite part of the city so far; the fruit is all so colorful and really tastes good when it’s 90 degrees and humid. The vendors who sell knock-off purses and such are fun too; it’s amazing how much you can get for almost nothing here. I bought my graduation dress for 9 dollars yesterday (bet you’re happy to hear that Dad c: ) and Lynn bought a Longchamp purse that looks really real. We’ve all had great finds with the vendors and are learning how to bargain effectively. The streets at night are crazy, all the good vendors come out around 8:00 and people crowd the streets shopping and trying to get by. It’s like a whole different city after dark. Last night we went to a Thai Kick-boxing fight; it’s amazing how into it all the locals are. They were all crammed into the stands shouting things and holding up signs with their hands that we didn’t understand. It was really fun to watch and the guys were very into it. I’ve had some trouble with the food just because the heat makes my appetite very small and I never want to eat anything hot, which all Thai food is. But there’s usually more Americanized options around. Today we’re going to a torture museum and a place where they make singing bowls which should be interesting. Everyone else is doing well too.  Tonight we have a ten-hour train ride to Chang Mai where the elephant park is. I’m nervous and excited for the service part of the trip, 50 hours is a lot of work but I’m hoping it’ll be fun since I’m with my closest friends and elephants are involved. I’m not sure I’ll be able to blog once we are there but I will try my hardest to keep you all updated. We’re all having a blast and are looking forward to everything that is to come from this trip (: Stay tuned!


3 Weeks Until Thailand!

Hello! I’m Natalie, and will be going to Thailand for my Senior Project with nine of my classmates. We leave for Thailand in about three weeks; the countdown is getting me through all my school work and stress. It seems so far away but I know I should be getting ready. My biggest concern right now is packing; I’m a little iffy about what/how much to bring considering I’m the world’s biggest over-packer and my summer wardrobe consists of sleeveless tanks and shorts. My renewed passport also hasn’t come in the mail yet, which gives me a minor anxiety attack every so often. Fingers crossed it will come in time.

I’m really looking forward to exploring Bangkok. I’ve never been to Asia and will admit I don’t quite know what to expect, but that is one of the aspects of this trip that excites me the most. I’m anxious to experience a culture so different from my own, and am fortunate to be doing it with some of my closest friends. I’m looking forward to working with the elephants as well; from what I’ve read in some of last year’s blogs it’s a really amazing experience. I know it will be pretty demanding work though, it’ll be interesting to see how well we all handle it.

I’ve always really loved traveling, especially to different countries because the cultural differences tend to be more extreme. I find it fascinating that so many people can live their lives in such a drastically different way than I do; believing in different things, eating different foods, and celebrating different traditions. I think traveling is a great way to expand your knowledge of the rest of the world because first hand experience is always better than something read in a travel magazine or text-book. I’m hoping this trip will open my eyes some to things I never knew before. Along with blogging, I’m hoping to document my trip with some pictures. Hopefully by some miracle I’ll pack light enough to have room for my cameras…yikes.

Stay posted!