This past summer, I traveled with Rustic Pathways and spent 25 incredible days doing 60 hours of community service in rural villages of Northern Thailand. I spent the first week in the village of Tong Luong in the Chiang Mai province, where other travelers and I built a water tank to provide clean water for the villagers during dry season.
Each day, we woke up and ate breakfast in our village sala, the community room before starting at 9. We hauled concrete bags and poured them into bathtubs, mixing in several buckets of sand, rocks, and water.
We then passed down the buckets in an assembly line, where the local village workers poured the cement into molds. After lunch, we continued our work while taking many water breaks and subbing in for each other in the gruesome humidity. The service day ended around 4 or 5, giving us time to take showers before dinner at 6.
The shower water was in a bucket, about the size of a barrel, and we used a small pan to scoop up the water and pour it on ourselves. I quickly got used to the freezing cold water. We stayed in this village for four days and four nights, and although being such a short time, I felt very connected to my homestay and was sad to leave.
In between the village homestays, we visited and explored nearby cities. After the first village, we went to the city of Mae Sariang. We relaxed and got Thai massages, enjoying down time before we moved into our next village, Mae La.
This was my favorite village.My homestayparents were two teachers at the local school. The dad was an English teacher, so he could easily communicate with us. This village was particularly ‘rustic’, because there was no service and the electricity was extremely limited.
For our service project, we plastered the walls of the schools kitchen, and built them walls for a new community area. We would bring plastic bath tubs into the river, with mosquito nets and buckets.
We filled the buckets with river sand and rocks, poured it onto the mosquito net that was in the bathtub filled with water. The fine sand was filed out and we then passed the buckets full of the new sand up the hill to the work site.
From there, we mixed the sand, concrete bag, and water, making plaster for the walls. We were all motivated by music and we had several breaks to play with the kids at the school.
Despite the lack of verbal communication, we were able to understand each other and get along very well. Our final village was called Huay Kaw Bon. This village was very community oriented, and about 15 villagers from ages 5-70 helped us finalize our last service project.
I got close with my homestay family on the service site and off, playing games with their two young children. We visited a rice field towards the end of the village stay, and I was able to journal and reflect on my last three weeks in this fascinating country.
On this trip, I was learned more about the culture of Thailand, discovered more about myself, and truly learned why it is nicknamed ‘The Land of Smiles.’