As I waved goodbye to my parents at the O.R. Tambo International airport in Johannesburg, a tingling feeling seeped through my body. I felt scared, traveling alone for the first time, to new and seemingly strange places. But I also felt excited! And boy—I was in for both. The scary part started very soon, because trust me, having to do a taxi swap in the middle of the highway in Bangkok is as surreal as it sounds (Yes I actually had to do this lol!). After the scary taxi ride, I arrived at my, and soon to be companions residence for our stay in Bangkok (I arrived 3 days before the rest of the gang). The Hotel Erawan House, was a cute little hotel, with a market place right out the door and just a walk away from the famous Khao San Road.
After being in Bangkok by my lonesome for 3 days, I as about ready for some company. As the days piled up, so did my anticipation of meeting my soon to be companions. And they didn’t disappoint! One by one they each arrived. First Kieran, our mad man super athlete. Then Noah, our walking “bad pun” and later the last three arrived together: Sydney, our split personality Disney princess/Serial Killer. Hakke(Jake) our Trump impersonator extraordinaire and Gianna, the girl that “totally” doesn’t have an accent. *Cough*. Each and everyone one of them were fun and entertaining in their own glorious way! It was great to be in a space with such unique characters.
And now for the introduction of my 2 bosses, Lainie and Miro, the founders of Project World School and Michael, our amazing partner for the Thailand Retreat.
Lainie: Is just an absolute gem of a human being. She’s so crazy and upbeat that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, it’ll always feel like the space and time to be having fun! She’s the craziest teen of us all! But at the same time she’s also the “over protective mom”, so you always feel cared for and taken care of.
“Yes to new experiences”
Miro The Siegel: He’s our resident cool kid! Always entertaining. Whether it’s him humorously wearing a hilarious T-shirt that’s three sizes too small with “I love mom” written on the front or challenging us intellectually with well constructed arguments and dazzling us with charming (but most of the time confusing!) poetry. With Miro, we were always entertained.
“Down with the bourgeois!”
Micheal: Was just awesome! A very chilled, down to earth guy. He was always ready to shoot the shits with us! He also helped and guided us with a wide range of things. Michael’s skills and talents range from being a Tai-Chi and Qigong expert to Rock Climbing fanatic. A man so cool his only two fears are… Parallel parking and actually having to wear a shirt!
“Just one more move man. Trust the feet!”
The Volunteer: Now I guess it’s time to introduce myself. I’m Kaameel. I’m 18 and I’m from South Africa, where we will be hosting the NEXT Project World School retreat! So be on the look out, because it’s gonna be a good one.
“Every hook not thrown out is a hook missed”
(PS: The original version of this quote is “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” by Wayne Gretsky)
Being a Volunteer for Project World School was as interesting as it was rewarding! Lainie’s description of the job was as simple as “Be the best participant!!”, which was a gift on it’s own, because when a new experience was staring me down, my thinking was not “Oh man! That looks hard!” or “I don’t really feel like it” because that’s not my job. My job was to be the “Aw yes! Let’s do it!” guy. Whether it’s climbing up a mountain or helping clean up after dinner, that’s the attitude I tried to have.
“Yes! And?” is the famous Project World School motto
The other aspect of being a Volunteer was to have a sense of responsibility. One of Project World School’s greatest gifts, I found, was that everything was taken care of. Everything is very well thought of and well organised, so it really created an environment in which we could truly feel at ease. And as the volunteer, I had the opportunity to enjoy that lovely aspect, but I also got to play a role in helping to create that environment. I was part of the circle.
That’s it for the introductions… Now lets jump into the fun.
Our first day of activity started off in Bangkok. We took a ferry through the city’s canals to visit The Grand Palace. And wow! It really lived up to it’s name. From the beautiful gardens in the courtyard to the intoxicating architecture of the Palaces and Temples in the complex, it truly was a Grand Palace. As we were leaving, a gracious stroke of luck came our way, when the Princess of Thailand herself made an appearance right outside the palace where we exited. She was in a food cart alongside the road of the palace making and serving food to everybody lucky enough to be there. We got to eat lunch made by a Princess!
Later, we also had the privilege of being in the area while a festival was on in honour of the recently deceased King of Thailand (may he rest in peace). And what a unique and joyous festival it was. The part that made it most unique was the fact that everything on offer: foods; haircuts; Thai massages etc were free! And that fact is special because of the city we’re in – Bangkok, a city known for it’s exciting and never ending nightlife, but also (at least in my experience) for being a city with countless systems in place to really squeeze every last penny out of it’s very many tourists and travelers. So being at a festival where everything was free and in good spirit was a very enjoyable experience for me. We also made sure to indulge in all the treats on offer, the tasty food, the interesting lemon grass juices and they even gave us ice cream! And who doesn’t love ice cream?
After our short but sweet stay in Bangkok, we got ready to fly to our soon-to-be “home” for the remainder of our retreat, Ao-Nang, a beautiful island town located in the Krabi-Province, with gorgeous scenery and Indian Ocean beaches around every corner. It was a place we were happy to call home. Island life is something I thoroughly enjoyed and something I would definitely be happy to get to indulge in again (hopefully PWS Thailand 2017!).
The majority of our time was spent in the Krabi-Province and we got to have a hand in and enjoy a vast amount of experiences during our time there. Here are some of the highlights from my time there.
Rock climbing was one of my favourite activities and was an activity which we got to do quite often. Which made sense seeing as our residence was at the Chong-pli Rock bungalows and that our partner and guide for our Thailand Retreat was Michael, a seasoned rock climbing veteran with more than 10 years experience and an eagerness to create some new wall walking recruits. It was the perfect environment for us to flourish in our rock climbing adventures.
My absolute favourite thing were our visits to the surrounding islands. We visited 2 islands (besides you know… The one we stayed on!!), Railay and Ko Yao. Each completely different. Both absolutely lovely.
The Phra Nang beach on Rai Lay has to be one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited. The temperature of the water was just perfect and radiated a sparkling blue, with beautiful scenery all around. It felt like the perfect place to be in. Though that’s not all it has to offer. There’s also a cave that runs through it! And the trek through the cave gets you to the other side of the island, which hosts a large variety of climbing spots and yet another pristine beach where we got to catch an awe-inspiring sunset. My time on Rai Lay always seemed too short…
Ko Yao is a quaint little island, with long rolling hills and rice fields growing all around. A very pretty island to say the least. It’s also the place where we got to do the unanimously loved Batik paintings. But maybe the greatest thing about our time in Ko Yao was actually how much time we got to spend there, because after our fun filled day of activity and exploring, the realisation kicked in, that we were spending the night on the island, and in doing so we got to have one the of the most memorable evenings of our trip.
In addition to Rock Climbing and Island visits, we got to take on high intensity sports like Muay Thai and relax into some Tai-Chi Martial Arts and Qigong practices. We also got a glimpse into Thai cooking, had a hand in a two day Thai massage class, and painted in the park. We visited a number of fascinating temples, one so special it had a thousand step staircase to get up to it! We also got the opportunity to attend a cultural festival.
My Closing Thoughts…
I think project world school really hits the nail on the head when it comes to putting these retreats together. There’s such a wide range of things to do and experience during these retreats, that even though all the participants are different and have their own unique likes and interests, there is always something (or someone?) to really connect with.
And finally, I’d like to give thanks to all those who made my trip as special and as memorable as it was. A special thanks to Michael for being the best partner we could’ve asked for and to Project World School for giving me the opportunity to be part of this wonderful retreat. It will always and forever have a special place in my heart. I can’t wait until the next one!