Life on the Hills

I had my very own escorts everywhere in Chiang Rai. I was actually staying in Doi Mae Salong, a town about an hour north, in the hills of Chiang Rai bordering Burma. I lived at House Bethesda Orphanage, a place where kids from the Akha hilltribe can live if their parents can't afford to take care of them. There were a lot of different cases. The man who started it is a pastor at the local church, and all of his five kids, all University educated help him run the place. They have a big home and a farm down the hill from their house, and over the years have expanded their house to fit about 30 children, and a nice living area where Nim, the eldest daughter and manager of the orphanage, sleeps. It's a pleasant area for other volunteers to stay, and the view of the village from their roof is breathtaking. I was the first overseas volunteer to stay with them. There's tons of travellers looking for an authentic experience in Thailand, and this would definitely be one of them.

To keep busy during the day when all the kids went to school, I spent three weeks teaching English at the local schools; primary in the morning and high school in the afternoon. For about 90% of the students, I'm pretty sure I was the first native English speaker they'd studied with or maybe even spoken to, ever! I was the first volunteer teacher at both schools, and it was hilarious and fun for the kids to learn basic English with a tiny wavy-haired farang for a few weeks. "Teacher, you married? You have boyfriend? Teacher, you beautiful! Teacher, photo? You have Facebook?" As always, surrounded by adorable and giggly Asian kids, I felt special and loved.

Being a farang, and because the schools are much further from the orphanage due to all the hills, I was driven everywhere on motorbike. I'd ride to school with most of the kids in the House Bethesda pick-up truck driven by the dad. Then Jim, one of my host-sisters, would pick me up from school in the morning, drop me off at the high school about a kilometer down the mountain, and pick me up again a few hours later, after three hour-long classes of teaching high school kids, "Hello, how are you? Nice to meet you! How old are you? Where are you from?" over and over again. All Thai students must learn Chinese and with all the native languages spoken there (Akha, Lahu, etc), English is the fourth or fifth language for these kids. Consequentially the level is very basic, nothing compared to big cities like Bangkok, or even here in Yangon (yes, I'm in Burma!) where the colonial past creates good English skills for the future. And really awesome architecture.

Walking anywhere wasn't really an option for me. Everyone in the family was a great host and didn't want me wandering the village streets. I walked outside of the high school grounds maybe five minutes down the road and they thought this was the most hilarious thing ever, that I would just walk, instead of waiting alone in the teachers office for my pick-up. Motorbikes in small towns are pretty much the way of life. Sometimes Nim would drive her motorbike down from their garage to the front lawn (about 100 meters) before doing work in the yard or the farm. It's understandable to not want to walk that extra few minutes after working in the hot sun. And all the hardcore, punk-looking Thai boys would be waiting for their girlfriends outside of the high school on their motorbikes. It's just a way that many small villages are developing. The village also just opened a small ice-cream parlour. And there's one 7Eleven, which is always packed.

More on village life and Golden Triangle excursions later.

A South-East Asian life isn't complete without a motorbike

The entrance/garage of House Bethesda. There's the ol' pick-up they use to drive twenty kids to school in

View from the motorbike. Where will the road take us next?

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