Before actually booking or researching, we first came to an agreement to complete the three aspects of CAS, through cooking for creativity, trekking for activity, and working at School For Life for service. This made the rest of the planning more straightforward since we all had a common goal and agreement of what we would like the trip to be. I wouldn’t say I had issues with my group at any point in the planning, and that was certainly quite the relief. From the beginning when we filled out the initial request form, each group member picked a role and followed through with it. I was first aider, and while this required more commitment than all the other roles, it didn’t mean that I didn’t help my group members when needed. Often times, I found myself filling in information or doing separate research, especially since I believe the coordinators actually thought I had a different role. Overall, it was very straightforward for us to find and coordinate the various parts of our trip. We had several Skype calls wherein we discussed plane tickets, accommodation, transport, and our different activities. As Chiang Mai was a very popular destination, the timing and duration of the trip had to be staggered and coordinated with the other 5 groups, and part of the UWC’s request was that there would be no interaction between groups, whether in the services, airports, or hotels. We requested to leave earlier rather than later since there were members of our group who had to be back in Singapore for the end of the given Project Week slot. Additionally, it was discussed with the other group going to work with School For Life that we would first completed our activity or creativity requirements before finishing our trip with service. With this in mind, we looked at airfare and tried to pick one of the cheaper flights (going through Bangkok instead of directly flying in). We also picked a location within Chiang Mai to concentrate our search for accommodation in, and settled with the Old City because lots of food, stores, and tourist sites were all within walking distance from one another and the area was relatively cheap and centralized compared to other hotel areas. I was responsible for looking for and booking cooking classes, so I researched various cooking schools online and found several located within the Old City that looked very promising. After having a meeting with our supervisor, I booked a cooking class with Thai Akha Cooking School. Around this time, we booked flights, and we found a very nice hotel for a good price that had a good location and had breakfast included. We also booking a one day trek with Wild Planet, a group that members of my group had actually trekked with previously on school trips in 8th grade. They were very accommodating, especially since one day treks were not typically offered. The actual booking of the hotel, cooking class, trekking, and plane tickets required flexibility and quite a bit of maneuvering, since they all required one other to be completed all at the same time. There were also shared difficulties between all the Chiang Mai groups that resulted in major setbacks in terms of booking, and we quite literally paid the price for the delay. I would say most of our problems came from working with the school instead of working with the the various partners in Chiang Mai, because there were many deadlines that needed to be completed by a set time, appointments that needed to be done with certain people on certain dates, and various other minor aspects of the trip that needed to be prepared for beforehand. Ultimately though, my group was not denied traveling to Chiang Mai last minute, and we had no issues with cancellations from any providers.
While the school often says that you don’t necessarily need to be with your friends in order to complete Project Week, there is something to be said about building better bonds with the friends you already have. Luckily, I did not really experience the struggle many people had of not fitting in to any one particular group, and I ended up being with my two close friends and two other girls I got along quite well with. I knew that all the girls I was with were each organized and prepared to take initiative during the planning and trip itself, which was a very key point in being able to work together. We quickly decided to have a Skype call to discuss location, focus, and our general ideas for what we wanted as a goal. Using some older resources from previous years, we went through a list of locations and services. We decided that we would rather do service along with something else, if not all three aspects of CAS, rather than doing activity and creativity alone. Some of the locations would work because we also wanted to prioritize safety, and the areas or cities were in unsafe times or we wouldn’t be familiar with the area at all. We also wanted to work more with children or with education-based focuses as opposed to working in environmental or animal focused services. I really wanted to focus on working with education because my GC is an education focused group that partners with a school in India. While I was unable to go to the school for a variety of reasons, it didn’t mean I would forfeit my desire to focus on education. Therefore, I was quite excited to work with a group that was also passionate about education. We originally decided on a school north of Phuket to work with, that was located in a national park, but when new resources were sent out, we discovered that the list of approved locations and services were greatly reduced. Continuing on the same line, we chose School For Life in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was located in a safe and familiar city, our service would be a school which fulfilled our focus, and UWC had pre-existing partnerships with various activity providers in the area. This meant that we had a good foundation to begin mapping out our ideal trip and see how we could best fulfill the different aspects of CAS in our own personal manner. We didn’t encounter many struggles into finding a location or focus because we all found ourselves in agreements about the various passions and interests that would help shape how we planned our trip, and this gave us a clear sense of direction that lasted the entire process.
We left for Chiang Mai around mid-day, meeting at Changi Airport with our parents for check-in. Since one of the group members bought the tickets together on one account, we all had to check in with the details from her flight details. We were using the digital check-in, and ran in to slight problems when only two of us could check in. While going to the counter to fix the issue, the two girls tried to get the printed ticket set. After completing check-in and immigration, we waved goodbye to our parents and went into the terminal. Some of us exchanged money to prevent having to worry about it later on, while others already exchanged money beforehand. We had lunch and then boarded our flight to Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport. Landing in Bangkok was confusing, as the airport didn’t have much signage for transfer flights and there were many people going in and out of the terminal. However, after going through a second immigration, we had around an hour to relax and get re-situated. Two of us bought Thai sim-cards in the airport, while the rest were going to use their Singaporean numbers with data plans. There was a slight mixup with our gate and our flight was delayed, but we landed in Chiang Mai International Airport on time. We arranged for a shuttle service to pick us up from the airport, but there was confusion with where they would wait for us as international passengers are divided from domestic passengers, even if the flight was domestic. Eventually, we found the shuttle and drove to the hotel. It was a short distance and checking in was very quick. After setting our things down, we went to the hotel cafe to eat dinner and went to bed not long after. Overall a successful journey 🙂
Bright and early, we scheduled our day trek with Wild Planet to begin at 8 am. Wild Planet came and picked us up, and we were informed that we would be driving for around an hour to a market to pick up supplies, before continuing up to the mountain area where we would be trekking. It started out fairly cool, but the weather eventually warmed up, and by the time we reached the base of the mountain to quickly stop for a break, it was already quite warm out. The temperature was estimated to reach 38 degrees, but humidity would make it feel like 42. As we drove up the mountain, I started getting a bit carsick as the road was very windy, but it was a beautiful location, forested treescapes as far as the eye could see. The top of the mountain allowed a wide view of the surrounding lands, and our guide pointed out our final destination, approximately 15 km away. That was our first issue, as we anticipated the trek to only be around 5-7 km. While I have done several hiking trips before, they have never been in such warm weather, and I knew this would be a personal difficulty. The initial part of the trek was slower going and also easier than the later parts of the trek as the descent was not as steep and we were not in heavily wooded areas. On this part of the trek, our guide showed us many local Thai plants, including coffee and tea plants, along with several different fruits and vegetables. He also showed us a particular type of wood that easily burns and was once used as torches by the local hill tribes. During lunch, we stopped in a small village. In my past hiking trips, we did not get the opportunity to interact with the local culture, so I found this to be a slightly different experience compared to what I have done in the past. After lunch, our trek because much harder. We were in much steeper sections of the forest, with many uphill and downhill changes. The path was only wide enough for single file walking, so we all took turns in the various positions. There were some parts of the trek where I was quite scared because one side would be the side of the hill and the other side would be straight down. I was concerned that someone in my group would slip and would be injured. It was also getting progressively warmer, especially as we exerted more effort, so we started taking electrolytes to make sure we stayed properly hydrated. One of our group members became slightly heat-exhausted over the course of the trek, leading the rest of our group to take initiative for various small tasks, such as periodically giving her water, ensuring she wasn’t the last person, fanning her if she needed, and trading bags so she was carrying a lighter load. This sense of responsibility and teamwork was the most important aspect of the 7 hour trek, and we gained not only an appreciation for the Thai landscape and Hill tribe culture, but also an understanding of our personal strengths and weaknesses, along with how we could support each other using these discoveries.
I found and organized the cooking class that we went to on Monday for the aspect of Creativity. We decided on cooking because food is an important part of culture, and we wanted to be able to take what we had learnt back home through learning something practical. There are actually many different cooking schools in Chiang Mai, but I found a cooking school within walking distance of our hotel called Thai Akha Cooking School that looked interesting because we would get to experience going to a Thai market to buy ingredients before cooking a variety of dishes. It was only around 10 minutes or so to walk to the school, and after the other participants arrived, we went to a local Thai market. Our instructor showed us various different food dishes and ingredients that are important to Thai cooking. I noticed that many of these ingredients were familiar to me, as my mom grew up in Thailand and cooks Thai food fairly often. Additionally, Indonesian cuisine also uses similar ingredients. The entire cooking experience was nicely planned out by the cooking school, despite there being 10 different dishes to cook. We also learnt that the Akha in the name of the school refers to a particular hill tribe, which has their own cooking style that differs from traditional Thai dishes. This day was far less challenging than our trek, but more creative and interesting. The environment we were working in was friendly and inviting, and the situation
was a very dynamic and animated one. I wouldn’t say there were any downsides to the cooking class, other than the fact that is was essentially outside, and therefore very warm, and the fact that we made 10 dishes and ate them all. I personally really enjoyed learning how to cook as I don’t cook very often, and I don’t often cook complex dishes such as some ofthe ones we made. It was an overall fun experience for everyone, and time passed very quickly through the “learning process”.