MY VOLUNTEERING EXPERIENCE IN THAILAND


Volunteering abroad is a great way of travelling whilst keeping costs low but how do you know if it's for you? Whilst it seems like a perfect idea beforehand, you have to do your research and really think about whether it's something you can really commit to. After a month of full on travelling, I decided to end my trip with a few weeks of volunteering. I opted for two weeks teaching and a week in an elephant village. It was an amazing eye opening experience for me and I got to meet some really amazing people. 


Teaching
We arrived into Bangkok and got transferred to the small town where we'd be teaching, Surin. Here, we had a guest house shared with other volunteers, some doing medical or child care. Our first day at the school was admittedly a bit strange. It felt a bit unprepared, from both us and the teachers of the school. We weren't fully briefed on what the students learning level was or what they'd previously been taught and it often felt as though we got chucked into a classroom at the last minute expected to teach a full lesson. There were a few times that we got some time to prepare, although, after a few days of being there, it became aware to us that some kids weren't properly taking in the information and would just memorise a word without understanding it. The teachers didn't understand what we meant when we tried to explain this and the miscommunication led to quite sloppy lessons. I've made it sound like a total mess and bad experience but those kids were amazing. They all had high energy and some had a real eagerness to learn but overall, they were all so welcoming and friendly and we all became really attached, especially with our year 4 class, who we'd taught more than others. 
I also have to give credit to the teacher who guided us along the way because although it felt like she was controlling, she really took care of those students and it felt like she had a lot of responsibilities. 






Elephant Village
The elephant village had no wifi or TV's so really, all we had was each others company. After two weeks teaching with three other girls and sharing a room with them in our guest house, we became pretty close - taking weekend trips together and basically doing everything together. It was a really cool experience spending this much time with people you've just met and it surprised me how we didn't manage to get sick of each other. Our roles in the village, were to help getting food, feeding the elephants and bathing them. When we got there, there were a couple of people who had been there for a week already and had expressed how much they had loved it here. There were 6 volunteers in total and they said they felt relaxed, they had loads of fun getting the food and in the evenings they would all sit together and help make dinner. However, by the time we arrived, it was 'peak time' for volunteers and suddenly there were nearly 20 of us in the village. From the minute we arrived, we knew it was going to be a strange experience. We discovered that there were only a handful of machetes to cut down the food for the elephants, which meant that we often were left to stand around not even helping out. Luckily, we managed to make friends with the non-English speaking guest house owner, Mr Lee, who took us ahead of the big group to let us actually do some cutting and we even got to sit front seat with him in the truck. There were also too many of us to help cooking with dinner and when it came to bathing the elephants, it felt so hectic with 20 volunteers, 20 elephants and 20 mahouts (the person who work with the elephants). Me and the girls all felt that we'd been a bit misled when booking this and don't felt that it was true to what it promised. I definitely felt that I should have looked into this further and found out how many people there would be volunteering. However, as I was with great people, we found ourselves having a really good time, entertaining ourselves with card games, kayaking down the river, squeezing ourselves into one hammock and taking selfies with elephants. 







What this experience showed me is how little I researched into this. I wondered once I'd left whether we'd actually made a difference - whether we helped those kids to learn a little more English than they would have without our help or whether we provided food that the villagers couldn't have managed to cut down by themselves and overall if our being there was beneficial for all of the locals involved. It's something I completely overlooked and although it sounds good to be a 'volunteer,' I urge anyone else looking to do the same to really think about these things when they book their trip. 
It was definitely a learning experience and I'm glad I've done it and know what to look for next time I think about volunteering. One thing I got right was choosing the 'Teach and Beach' option - when there's a beach at the end of all of it, who can complain...






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AFTERNOON TEA AT THE BAGLIONI HOTEL


Being British, you'd be surprised at how little afternoon teas I've been to. This is the only one. But I know it's going to be hard to beat. I was lucky enough to be treated to a gorgeous afternoon tea at The Baglioni Hotel in Mayfair. This 5* establishment invited us with open arms - the decor luxurious and decadent. 

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ARRIVING IN AUSTRALIA!

After months of planning, the beginning of our Australian road trip began mid-December and our first stop was Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays. I was looking forward to this part of our trip so much, since it was the gateway into the Great Barrier Reef and long time bucket list dream to scuba dive the beautiful reefs and corals.

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WORLD ELEPHANT DAY

From spending a week in an elephant village in Surin to spotting wild elephants in the Khao Yai NP and even splashing around with them in the Nam Khan River. After a wonderful two months spent travelling around South East Asia, home to these majestic creatures, I had to do a post in tribute to them on World Elephant Day (aka. best day ever?) 
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UBUD HOTELS | PONDOK NAYA

Anyone who revels in the chaos of endless mopeds, the smells of fragrant food drifting from street vendors, temples laden with intricate architecture and sticky heat settling on your skin, you'll adore Indonesia. Bali, in particular. Home to the tranquil town of Ubud, where rice paddies and luscious forests engulf a serene haven, set far from the madness of Kuta.

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THE STRUGGLES OF EATING IN TOKYO

Food, Glorious Food

The people, the culture, the sights but most importantly, the food. All these factors that help to mould your feelings about a destination and push you to decide whether you did or didn't like that place. For me, food is a key factor and does tend to influence my feelings on a place. Japan was definitely interesting in terms of food. Putting aside the fact that I am a fussy eater, when in Tokyo, I tried to open my mind to all the quirky things I was about to experience. Reading blogs and guide books glorifying the Japanese delicacies and wonderfully unique creations, a mild excitement got me wondering if I'd become a sushi fanatic upon my return.

I can confirm, I most certainly did not. The language barrier had a small part to play and although the Japanese were more than welcoming and amused by our games of charades at every meal time, I couldn't help but feel hugely ignorant to the fact I had turned up to Japan thinking most people would have a basic understanding of English. Brit fail #1.

However, I concluded that raw fish, seaweed and pickled veggies are not my friend. Regardless, there were a few dishes that left a lovely Japan shaped stamp on my heart.

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TRAVEL TALES OF AN INTROVERT

I think I consider myself an introvert. I don't have tonnes of friends nor do I go out socialising very often and I'm probably far too comfortable in my own company. I've always been the quiet one, seemingly shy and will often pick a night in over a night out. It came as a shock to myself as much as it did my friends and family by finally biting the bullet and booking a two month trip to South East Asia. Alone. As much as I wanted to go with one of my friends, sisters or boyfriend, there were too many elements getting in the way and I just thought to myself that I have to do this now otherwise I'll never do it; in the hopes that someone might one day be able to come with me.

A week before I'm due to leave, I've overpacked my backpack and I'm so overwhelmed by a terrifying mix of emotions ranging from utter excitement to gut wrenching anxiety in an instant. Will I make friends? Is two months too long? Will I get sick of being with people everyday? I can honestly say these worries evaporated as soon as I stepped off the plane.
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