Last week I had an amazing opportunity to partake in a train journey through the north of Thailand stopping in Chum Saeng, Uttaradit, Lampang, and the famous Thai city of Chiang Mai! The purpose of this week was not only to see other parts of the country, but also experience what it is like to do many things including rice farming, living like the hill tribes, learning about Nothern Thai culture, as well as how this culture is vastly different from the culture to the south.
Chum Saeng is a small village a few hours north of Sing Buri where I have been volunteering, and honestly you would not know it existed unless you looked for it, or were from Chum Saeng. This small town was mainly made up of rice farmers, crafters, and artists, all of whom make an average living for Northern Thailand. Seeing this town was much more of a cultural shock since we were the only people there who were not Thai, not working in the town, and not dirty and sweaty. Spending one night in Chum Saeng, we stayed at a local rice farm where we had the chance to work hand in hand with the farmer, his wife, and daughter. We experienced what it was like on a day-to-day basis to be farmer in Thailand and what it included! We did everything from making popcorn over a charcoal fire (later sold at the local market), to picking vegetables for meals, to planting and harvesting rice.
Rice harvesting was incredibly interesting since it is so unique to this area of the globe. It consists of a long 6 month process that starts when the seedlings are planted in knee deep water. They continue to grow for a long 6 months in a field about the size of a baseball field. At the end of the six months it is time to harvest your rice! Handpicking the rice can take days if not weeks. Once picked, the rice seedlings are then put into a machine that vibrates at a high rate and forces the white kernal out of the shell. The rice is the bagged and sold at the local market by the kilo, usually sold for 25-50 baht ($.70-$1.40) per kilo as decided by the government. I must say that I have an enourmass respect for these farmers and the painstaking hours they are put through. It is quite obvious that rice is what makes the Thai economy stable and to be able to see a real Thai farm was simply intruiging.
One of the most memorable parts of this whole week was the Golden Temple situated atop a mountain overlooking the city of Chiang Mai. We had the opportunity to travel about 45 minutes north to one of Thailands lesser-known Hill Tribes. Many do not know, but Thailand has a large concentration of Hill Tribes on the northern border between Laos and Thailand. Most of the members of these hill tribes are not registered citizens, hence they do not account for any statistics in either country (population, GDP etc…). However what makes these tribes special is how unique their culture is. The clothes are different, the language is different, even the food is different. What made this experience so sureal was that many of the girls and boys I have been working with at the orphanage have come from hill tribes just like these. Unforuntaly not all orphans from the hilltribes have been as fortunate. The sad reality for many of the young girls is that their families will sell them to brothels in Bangkok for large sums of money, sometimes as large as 50,000 Baht ($1,404.95). This is a topic I will discuss in my next blog, however it is quite emotional to see it in person at both the orphanage and the hill tribes.
What I have taken away from this past week is one major thought. The Thai people are a unique race. Not because of the color of their skin or even because of their culture. Instead it is because of the work ethic they show. It is because of their ability to live lives that many of us would consider extreme poverty, and still retain their happiness. The Thai people are as friendly as they are devoted which can be easily seen when you leave the streets of Bangkok and see the dirt roads of the country.