Sunsets and Chiang Rai

Last week a couple of us woke up at about 6 in the morning to go check out the sunrise. We walked up a lil mountain path from the foundation and were pretty disappointed when the sky started to light up, but we still couldn’t see the sun. Apparently, even the sun is on “Thai Time” and didn’t get over the mountains til 7-7:30. It was still very beautiful when we saw it. All the smoke and dust in the sky actually gave the sun a diffused look and was a fun opportunity for good photos. 

There isn’t much to do at night around the Mirror Foundation. You can check your email and blogs when the internet isn’t crawling or at a complete stop, but you can have some pretty good conversations. Last week we were bored on Thursday and actually got P’Dae to call in a couple of Song Taus so we could go into town. This was my first night market and I couldn’t go my first night without some fresh coconut mango sticky rice from a street vendor. It was an expensive 30 baht or 1 american dollar. Delicious. All of us new people had a good try with the crickets that tasted just light salty chips, with a slightly weird texture. We also noticed some sweet Thai translations of food. Nothing sounds better than “The Demon Moustache Squid Roasts”, MMMmMmMm.

Floating Lanterns and the Burning of Thailand

The past few days have been nothing short of amazing. If IVHQ or the Mirror Foundation asked me to spend the same amount of money for just this week, I probably would.

Every year during this time, Thailand does a lot of burning. They burn down the hills before it gets too hot during the dry season, so the heat doesn’t burn down any of the cities or villages. It feels like all of Thailand is burning to the ground. You almost constantly smell smoke and I’ve actually picked up a cough since being here.

One night when walking back to my dorm I noticed the fires were a little closer than usual. They were burning down all the brush near the Mirror foundation that night. We ended up helping out the Thai people with the fire by keeping a fire break clear. I could not understand how they didn’t burn the whole forest down, the fire would be blazing one minute and clear the next. It was a beautiful and frightening sight.

The next day was the Buddhist holiday known as Magh Puga. We ended up going into town and seeing my first temple. We took lotus and incense into the temple and circled the temple three times while we listened to some chants. I thought that was the end of the night, until we ended up going to the brightest temple I have ever seen.

It literally lit up the night. As we approached it, it just got more and more enchanting. There were two huge dragon statues on each side of the stairs while a loud chanting from the monks could be heard in unison for at least a mile. As you walked up the stairs you were greeted with a giant wooden Buddha that took up most of the temple.

After they were done chanting they started the one thing I really wanted to see in Thailand, floating lantern ceremony. They first sent off maybe 10 or 20 lanterns into the sky at first, then started lighting more to send up into the sky. One very nice Thai man called me over to send one off. He told me to say, “Cho Dee”, when you send it off, which means Good luck in Thailand. It was honestly one of the most magical things I’ve ever done.

First Day at Mirror

So much has happened since the first day I arrived in Chiang Rai, so I will try to keep this post brief.

This place is really in the hilltribes, its embedded into the hilltribe community and at least a half an hour away from the small city of Chiang Rai. Its absolutely beautiful here and the people are the best part about this place.

The first person I met volunteering at the Mirror Foundation was actually in Bangkok waiting for the same flight I was. It was 4:30 in the morning and we were the only two people this early for our flight scheduled at 6:30. She actually slept in the airport, which I regret not doing in the first place.

From there, we ended up going to Mirror and meeting up with 12 brand new volunteers and 7 or 8 veteran volunteers. We have volunteers from all over the world: Wales, Australia, Canada, France, Spain, Scotland, and a couple more places that I don’t even remember.

The first day was pretty relaxed, we just got a tour of the foundation, which I have been trying to upload on tumblr, but is impossible to do with the terrible internet connection. The second photograph is actually the men’s dorm. It has bucket showers and to flush the toilet you have to constantly pour water from a bucket into the bowl. Its going to be a fun 10 weeks. Actually, after staying here a couple days, I really enjoy cold bucket showers after a couple hours of work under the sun.

After the tour, we ended up exploring a bit of the surrounding area by going down to the local shop and walking through some corn fields to get to rice patties. The surrounding area is amazing and I can definitely say I didn’t know what rural was until I came here.

I can’t wait for the coming weeks. If it is anything like this week, I am in for quite the adventure.

Arriving in Bangkok is when things got interesting. After over an 18 hour flight from California to Bangkok, I was ready to just get to my hostel and knock out.

But thats not what Bangkok wanted. 

I arrived in Bangkok at about noon and was expecting to be at the hostel by 2. But before I could even step into Bangkok I had to go through Passport Control. When I made it to Passport control there was a massive line (or more like a mob) standing and waiting to get their passport checked. I was thinking about waiting out of the line and just taking a seat, but people just kept coming.

I ended up waiting in line for 2 hours in 90 degree weather with a bunch of people who did not speak english around me. So when I got out and finally made it to baggage claim I really just wanted to get to my hostel.

I went outside looking for a taxi when a man with aviators came up beside and asked if I wanted one. I went with him, thinking nothing of it, until he started to lead me somewhere across the street from the airport. He had his friend in the taxi pick us up.

I asked, “So can you turn on the meter?”

"Oh we only turn on meter in Bangkok"

So, not knowing anything, I said ok. Anyways, he drives me to the gas station, and gets lunch. I definitely wanted to find another taxi now, but he had my luggage in the trunk and I was just sitting in the back seat waiting for the two guys to get back. They start driving me to my hostel and they say, “oh we take express way cause of traffic”.

I say ok again, and then we go through all these toll roads, all the while without the meter on. I don’t really say much because I’m so tired and just want to get to my hostel safely. So when they get to my street, they accidently pull up past the street they were suppose to turn on. But the guy is too lazy to make a U turn to get me on my street, so he pulls up to the side of the road and tells me to walk the rest of the way because its close. I say ok again, because now I’m in downtown bangkok and really have no idea if he’s right or not.

Thats when he gave me the bill. 2800 baht. Which is almost a $100. I asked him to bring it down, but of course he didn’t budge. I gave it to him while being pissed, but what are you gonna do in a country where you don’t know the language or the people.

Then I started walking up the street and couldn’t find the hostel. Thats when I was sort of freaking out because here I am in downtown bangkok looking like a target to be taken advantage of with all my luggage. I ended up asking a couple people I found along the way until one nice guard told me it was up the street.

Anyways, that was when I found out I didn’t like Bangkok.

The hostel was ok, but I was too tired and scared to go outside and do anything.

I only took those two photos from Bangkok that night because of my frustration. I probably won’t be going back to stay there unless I can get a hotel taxi to pick me up from the airport and take me back.

Luckily on the way back to the airport it only cost me 500 baht, I know even that was a rip off, but at least it wasn’t a $100.

The Flight Over


Well that was a doozy. Long flight, but EVA airlines is pretty sweet. They even give you some slippers and headphones. Not to mention they provides tons of entertainment for the ride over.

I couldn’t sleep much in the plane with all the anxiety and excitement, but everything with the flights was pretty nice. I was only in Taipei for a couple of hours and I only got to see the inside of the airport, but what I did see, made me want to come back. It was a nice airport and they even had a Hello Kitty nursery room. Maybe that’ll be my next trip overseas.

I’m currently sitting at gate 138 waiting for my flight to Taipei.

I spent my last day hanging out with my sister’s family and Jen. Got some Boba, In n Out, and just made sure I finished all my final preparations. Isn’t Vanni adorable?

Apparently there are also 12 other people starting on the same volunteer date as me. That was good news considering I didn’t even know if one other person was going to be volunteering around the same time.

Stuff to Bring
Backpack
Luggage
Sleeping Bag
Headphones
Mosquito Hat
Mosquito Repellent
Mini First Aid Kit
Plug Adapters
Laptop
Mouse
External Hard drive
Headlamps
Camera Bag
Small Camera Bag
Batteries
Small Camera
Big Camera
Instax Camera
Lens 1
Lens 2
Lens 3
Flash
Extra Battery for Big Camera
Chargers
Instax Film
USB cords
Socks
Underwear
Shirts
Shorts
Pants
Button Up
Pajamas
Tooth Brush
Tooth Paste
Floss
Deodorant
Contacts
Contact Solution
Glasses
Sun Glasses
Flops
Shoes
Hiking Shoes
5 Finger Toe Shoes
Wallet
Cellphone
Keys
Paperwork for Flights
Paperwork for Hostel
Paperwork for Travel Insurance
Passport
Copy of Passport
Beanie
Hat
Face Lotion
Sun Screen
Tablet
Thailand Book
Bible
The Giver
Belt
Money
Ring
Shampoo
Soap
Towel
Leaving tomorrow. Starting to get nervous.
Stuff to Bring
  • Backpack
  • Luggage
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Headphones
  • Mosquito Hat
  • Mosquito Repellent
  • Mini First Aid Kit
  • Plug Adapters
  • Laptop
  • Mouse
  • External Hard drive
  • Headlamps
  • Camera Bag
  • Small Camera Bag
  • Batteries
  • Small Camera
  • Big Camera
  • Instax Camera
  • Lens 1
  • Lens 2
  • Lens 3
  • Flash
  • Extra Battery for Big Camera
  • Chargers
  • Instax Film
  • USB cords
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Shirts
  • Shorts
  • Pants
  • Button Up
  • Pajamas
  • Tooth Brush
  • Tooth Paste
  • Floss
  • Deodorant
  • Contacts
  • Contact Solution
  • Glasses
  • Sun Glasses
  • Flops
  • Shoes
  • Hiking Shoes
  • 5 Finger Toe Shoes
  • Wallet
  • Cellphone
  • Keys
  • Paperwork for Flights
  • Paperwork for Hostel
  • Paperwork for Travel Insurance
  • Passport
  • Copy of Passport
  • Beanie
  • Hat
  • Face Lotion
  • Sun Screen
  • Tablet
  • Thailand Book
  • Bible
  • The Giver
  • Belt
  • Money
  • Ring
  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Towel

Leaving tomorrow. Starting to get nervous.

All the not so fun stuff

So this entry is going to get a bit wordy. Since I’ve never really traveled out of the country for this long or with a volunteer organization, I was pretty lost on what to do. The PDF that IVHQ provides is very helpful, but its like 80 pages and can get overwhelming at times.

I’ll try to make it easier by letting you know what I did for all the prerequisites that IVHQ and Mirror Foundation require. I’m not really digging these paragraphs, so I’ll try to make simple points for each item. And since I am simplifying them, there will probably be things missing, so make sure to ask me if you have any questions.

Background Check:

  • This takes a minimum of 8 weeks to do.
  • I suggest you apply for this one about 5 months before you go. Mirror foundation says it can’t be older than 3 months, but it takes 2 months to get back to you. Believe me, this will probably make you worry the most if you don’t do it on time.
  • This is all the steps to get a background check
  • $18 for background check, $20 for inked fingerprint card
  • I got my inked fingerprint card at my local police station
  • NOTE: There is no way (that I know of) to check if the FBI even got your background check request within the first 4 weeks.

This was the most nerve-racking because I submitted my request a little over 2 months before I was supposed to leave. It took 7 and a half weeks to get to me. You can call 304-625-5590 after 4 weeks to check if the FBI got your request, but when I called that is all they could tell me. They couldn’t even tell me if I forgot to sign something or if it was the right form.

Visas:

I don’t fully understand the visa process, but I’ll tell you what I think I know. And the Thai Consulate homepage was confusing for me to navigate, considering I can’t read Thai.

  • If you’re staying less than 30 days, don’t worry about this
  • I got the single re-entry 60 day Tourist Visa
  • With that tourist visa 60 days + 30 day re-entry = a max of 90 days
  • At my 60 day mark, I will have to cross the border and re-enter into Thailand
  • Here is some useful Visa information
  • Here is the Visa form for Los Angeles Thai Consulate
  • Remember to say your visit is for vacation and NOT volunteer. IVHQ says things get a bit tricky when you say volunteer.
  • Go to Albertson’s and get a money order for $40. They do not take cash or credit.
  • Takes up to 2 weeks through mail, or 2 days in person.

Everything else:

  • Passport stuff
  • I had to get a new passport since the last one I had was before I was 15, so I’ll spare you the boring information. And I think passport information is pretty self explanatory.
  • DO THIS FIRST! It can take 4-6 weeks, but a passport is always useful to have
  • Travel Inurance
  • State where you are from, pick a plan and get your policy number in the email. Pretty easy pleasy.

Ok! So that was longer than expected. I know I started to just list random stuff at the end, but this is already way too long for someone with internet attention span. This is of course just a quick and dirty guide and hopefully will help someone later on.