02 Jan Thailand 2017!
The Project World School Thailand retreat participants and facilitators all had a fabulous time in Thailand – the food, the culture, the beaches, the sunsets, the elephants – what’s not to like?
The mindfulness add-on was a great opportunity for participants to get settled in to the area and delve into some useful mind-body practices. Each morning we woke up early while the sun was casting rays of light through the trees and did Tai-Chi, Qi-Gong and meditation. We would then continue our awareness through to our activities during the day which included swimming in the sea, a lot of climbing and fresh smoothies. On the last night of the add-on we enjoyed a fire with music which lit up the caves behind to make a very magical end to a mindful week.
Then, the official retreat began. We welcomed the rest of the group to the bungalows. Here, we had the luxury of having an expert climbing instructor on site with plenty of outdoor routes mere meters from our bungalows. With climbing at every level, everybody had the chance, along with a whole family of monkeys, to take in the breath-taking jungle views from the top.
As usual with our Project World School retreats, we kick off the retreats with team building exercises and improv games, which continued throughout the retreat. This included a lot of fun and also some trust games which then facilitated deep sharing and a connectedness in the group.
We also started each day with a check-in and ended each day with “circle”, reflecting on the day and planning the next. In the evenings this was usually preceded by a game of werewolf or a “session”, which is where one of the retreat participants leads an activity with the group. We had a wide-range of sessions this retreat from music to acro-yoga to dancing and a discussion on Thai culture.
Each day there was an opportunity for learning together as a team and build community. Each day, we had two different volunteers who would be responsible for preparing breakfast and carrying extra equipment. The daily activities were wide-ranging and usually active and adventure oriented; hiking to the top of a temple, exploring geology, kayaking and snorkeling. Some days were more focused on cultural immersion, interacting with the locals about the mix of religions and the effects of the rubber and palm industries and exploring the environmental and economic challenges they faced.
We explored Phra-Nang cave near Tonsai beach where fisherman traditionally make offerings (including many wooden phalluses) for good luck. Mostly, Southern Thailand has a mixture of Buddhism and Islam, but the sign on this cave stated no alliance to either, but rather “the belief of lingam and holy womb, shall create fertility and prosperity to the whole earth and mankind.” To our group, it was clear in many ways that Thailand is a melting pot for a variety of belief systems and practices in Asia.
On the same day that we explored this cave, we also went swimming in the area, scrambled through dark caves and repelled/abseiled down a cliff to another beach for more climbing. This was probably our most adventurous day and all of the young people overcame any challenges with the company and support of each other and the Project World School staff team. Activities throughout the month in South Thailand included Thai massage, Thai cooking and Muay Thai (Thai boxing). The views from the boxing gym were spectacular and everybody learnt new skills.
As mentioned, adventure activities included deep water solo, rock climbing, kayaking, snorkeling and hiking up high to mountain-top temples. We ended our time in Krabi with quite possibly our favorite and certainly most popular activity – market time! This was a chance for people to choose their own food and smoothies and even practice their Thai! We all tried food that was far spicier than we could handle and a few brave young people even purchased crickets and fried worms!
Chiang Mai was a short flight away and milder in humidity than down South. We did more shopping here in the eclectic markets, visited the spectacular temple at Phra That Doi Suthep & the illustrious Chiang Mai Palace.
We then went on to spend what was to be a powerful, beautiful, inspiring and emotional week at Elephant Nature Park. The week started with an opening ceremony from the local shaman in the area.
This was a real highlight of everybody’s experience and provided the opportunity to give back to the community. We learned the hard truths about the state of elephant exploitation in Thailand in fields such as tourism, trekking and logging.
The founder of the sanctuary even took special time for Project World School to give a talk about her experiences with the elephants. As a relatively poor lady living in the Chiang Mai jungle, she heard an elephants cry one day and knew that she had to be a guardian for the elephants. Just a few years later, she has made her dream come true and now has enough land for 75 elephants, 400 dogs and many cats! She was a real inspiration to us all about what can happen when you really have the passion to make changes. During the week, we mixed cement, laid down sand in “Cat Kingdom”, played with dogs, loaded up hay onto a massive truck, had an amazing musical jam session at a local school, fed the elephants, shifted a LOT of poo and prepared the elephant’s food (which is A LOT)!!
We also left our mark at Elephant Nature Park with a special PWS design when laying a path for future volunteers 🙂
All in all, we all had a wonderful time and I would recommend PWS retreats to anyone who is curious, adventurous and open to having a heap of fun and experiential learning!