On a bike ride with kids from the Shelter Foundation

Chiang Mai is where we spent Christmas ~ yes, I realize how far behind we are on this blog! We didn’t decide to go to Thailand until two days before Christmas. Travel trip #72: if you plan to go to Thailand for Christmas, PLAN AHEAD! It is a huge destination for Europeans and we had a hard time finding a place to stay. I must have emailed at least 20 places before finding something. As always though, it ended up working out. We stayed at a lovely guesthouse called Joy’s House that we found on Trip Advisor. Turns out, Joy runs an organization called the Children’s Shelter Foundation for underprivileged children whose parents are not financially able to care for them. In some cases the kids have been abandoned by their parents, or they have a disability and their parents don’t have the means to provide them with a proper education. The basis of the shelter is to provide the children with a “home away from home”. They live and work on a farm where they learn about organic farming, composting & cooking. Some of the kids are deaf, so all of them are expected to learn sign language to communicate with their new family. The children stay in contact with their parents and visit them often, usually on weekends. Currently, the foundation houses about 40 children. It’s a wonderful foundation and Eric and I were thrilled to be able to be a part of it, if only for a short time.

Classroom on the farm at the Children's Shelter Foundation

Chopping up a banana tree for the compost

¬†Our first night on the farm the kids took us on a bike ride through the local village to a hot spring….where Eric and I assumed that we’d be going swimming ~ though, I did think it was odd when they told us we didn’t need to bring swimsuits. Once we got there, we quickly realized that it’s where the locals bathe. Literally. When in Thailand, do as the Thai, right? So the kids helped us get undressed and into sarongs and taught us the proper way to bathe in a public hot spring. Eric wasn’t too excited about bathing outside in the middle of a village with dozens of other people and god knows what types of bacteria, so he decided just to wash his feet. The kids weren’t about to let him get off that easily though, and they doused him with water & made him soap up. In the end we both really enjoyed the experience and appreciated that the kids took us with them to participate in something so unique to their village.

Heading out on a bike ride

Biking in the local village

Getting ready to bathe in the hot spring!

Eric getting a bath

Enjoying our time in the village

When we got back to the farm we had a candlelight dinner waiting for us. The kids who had stayed and not gone to the hot spring had been working away to give us a special honeymoon dinner. It was adorably sweet! They served us all the local fare: rice with home-grown veggies, a huge egg-omlet-type-pancake thing and some kind of soup. It was fabulous and we loved the thought that they put into it!

The downside of returning to the farm was that we found our bags had been rifled through. Turns out one of the girls who lives there has a history of stealing from the guests. Our door was locked and windows closed, but we hadn’t thought to make sure the windows were actually locked. And, this was THE ONLY TIME OF THE ENTIRE TRIP that we left our bags unlocked. Seriously, THE ONLY TIME! We were religious about locking our bags and making sure our computer, wallets, cameras, etc were always safe. The one time we laxed about it, because we were on a farm in the middle of nowhere with only 3 other guests — who would have thought??!! Anyway, she didn’t take anything but a small bit of change and my sunglasses, which I was actually really freaking out about because they’re prescription and we were headed for the beach the next day. We ended up finding my sunglasses buried under the cushion of a chair — so no real harm done. But we were a bit pissed about the way it was handled. Other guests at the farm (who were also American and regular visitors there) kept excusing her behavior, saying that because she grew up having to steal money for food she still resorts back to her ‘old ways’. What bothered us the most is that the teachers on the farm who are responsible for the children didn’t bother to speak to us about the incident at all. After the fact, when we left the farm and were back at Joy’s house we talked to her about it, and found out that the girl has been with them for 3 years. 3 years they’ve been dealing with her stealing from their guests!!! What??!! I had just assumed that she was new to the family. 3 years – are you kidding me?? As I’m listening to Joy talk about her, I have an Angel in one ear telling me to offer to set up a behavior plan for them and the Devil in the other ear reminding me that I’m on vacation and not working. Just as the Devil wins and I decide to keep my mouth shut and to let them continue down this path of craziness, Eric says to Joy, “well, if she’s been doing this for 3 years, and you know she doesn’t need the money, do you think she’s probably doing it for attention?” I couldn’t not smile at this. My husband of 4 months gets it. That’s why I married him. Joy totally didn’t get it and Eric figured out quickly that it wasn’t worth trying to explain. Ultimately the Devil won us both over.

Despite the 30 cents that we lost, we loved our time in Chiang Mai and at the Children’s Shelter Foundation. We’d go back in a heartbeat — we’d just be sure to keep our bags locked!

Some one on one guy time

Eric's teaching him everything he knows!