Hello! James here…
So there we were again: stuck at another border crossing with travel agencies that didn’t see BreAnn and I as anything more than walking cash machines. This time, we were exiting Cambodia and trying to make our way through the eastern boarder of Thailand. We were on our way to the small town of Trat, Thailand for a volunteer opportunity, and the travel agency that booked our direct bus from Siem Reap, Cambodia was now telling us (after we crossed the border, of course) that we would be dropped off 20 kilometers away from the volunteer house in Trat to the complete opposite side of town. We were not given any
additional information other than the destination to which they planned to take us was different than what we had booked. We were stuck…no wifi, no English-speaking people, and few options other than to go to whatever random location they planned to drop us off and book a separate means of transportation once we got there. Ironically, we later found out that we had actually passed by our destination in Trat on the way to this other drop off spot! Ugh…
Anyway, after several hours of confusion and frustration, we finally arrived in Trat, Thailand and began one of the most fulfilling experiences of the trip to date. Trat is not considered a “tourist destination” as much as it is considered a stopover for most tourists on their way to a nearby island, Koh Chang. For us, it was the place we would call home for two weeks as we volunteered teaching English to elementary and high school students. We managed to make a connection online with a woman that ran The UV English Club and in return for our help teaching students, we would receive free accommodations. It was a pretty sweet deal because it allowed us to continue our travels on a shoestring budget and gave us a reason to stay in one place for
two weeks (as opposed to 3-5 days). The accommodations themselves were nothing extravagant and more akin to living in a typical Thai household. This means cold water showers, semi-reliable plumbing (based on the amount of rainfall), and both ants AND lizards are your best new friends. What we didn’t expect to receive from our time in Trat were both the significant culture experiences and overwhelming kindness of the Thai people we met while volunteering.
Meaw Manu, our volunteer host, is one smart lady. Not only can she speak several languages besides Thai and English, but she also recognized that BreAnn and I really like food. 🙂 Thus, in her free time, he took us to a number of local
restaurants and ordered plates that, “Most Thai people don’t know about,” as she would say. They were all delicious! I can’t even describe the unique flavor and spices used in some of these dishes other than it was SO different than all the other foods we had tried in Asia. She also taught us to cook some meals at the house so our travel recipes increased significantly after our time in Trat.
Additionally, her close friend, Adear, also took time out of her regular workday to show BreAnn and I around Trat, her hometown. We went to a very impressive (and brand new) museum that gave general information on Thailand as well as a highlight of Trat’s history. We had the museum to ourselves because it was so new and were very impressed by the content and interactivity of the exhibits. After our time at the museum, we traveled to Adear’s family orchard where we picked a number of Southeast Asian fruits that we had never even heard of before arriving in
Thailand: Longkong, Rambutan, and Mangosteen. Longkong was most certainly our favorite and became a normal snack for us in the weeks to follow after Trat, and BreAnn was especially excited, as it was the first time she actually enjoyed fruit as a “dessert.” We were very grateful for time Adear took to show us her hometown and the cultural experiences she gave us.
And as if the generosity and kindness of both Meaw and Adear were not overwhelming enough, we were absolutely amazed by the children that we taught at the schools. It is truly astounding how respectful and interested these children were to learn English and to spend time talking to foreigners. In every classroom we entered, we were always greeted with a communal, “Good morning, Teacher James! Good morning, Teacher Bee” (since they had trouble pronouncing the “r” in Bre). The interactive games and dances we taught were certainly the most popular with the children. Our favorite ones included songs like “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” [click here to see a video of BreAnn singing with the kids] and “The Hokey-Pokey.” Many times, the students would see us walking around campus and immediately start pointing out their shoulders and knees in English. It was very endearing and we all had a lot of fun together! [click here to see a fun video of me goofing around with some of the kids.]
We were amazed at the level of attention and respect that these students had with so little resources. The beginning of the school day was always commenced with a half hour morning assembly to represent the community the students share in their lives. Many of our English classes were taught outside, and the kids were great at assembling themselves in organized groups. Finally, it was the responsibility of the children to water the plants outside on campus and take out the trash before they went home for the day. The level of discipline and attention was really amazing and it was evident to us why many of the Thai people we met were so kind and generous.
After we finished with the elementary school students in the morning, we would teach more advanced students at the house in a more personal setting. For example, I worked with one group of high school students that all joined the club together because their family helped them see the importance of learning English. A few of them had aspirations to own their own business someday and saw English as a useful tool to help achieve that dream. Talking to these young boys and girls about their lives in Trat was very insightful and it was also very humbling.
So after two weeks of delicious food, humorous memories, and several new Facebook friends, we left for our next adventure. Thank you, Meaw, for a wonderful cultural experience and Trat has definitely made a mark on both our map and our hearts!
Click here to see a fun “daily summary” of one of our teaching and volunteering days in Trat.
Click here to see photos from Trat (more photos coming soon)