Around April 2003, myself and my best friend Nathan decided that we hated our jobs and were both going to look for new ones. Then we had the great idea of working in our horrid jobs until the summer, saving as much money as we could and then going travelling for a while. While researching places that we thought we’d like to see, we came across this website: http://www.tree-of-life-orphanage-thailand.com/ it was a Christian run orphanage North East of Bangkok. We exchanged several emails with the director of the orphanage, Roger (American) and his wife Pong (Thai), and arranged to stay at the orphanage for a couple of weeks and then visit the rest of Thailand.
:::BANGKOK TO BURIRAM:::
It is important to note that although the town is called Buriram, the Thai people cannot pronounce the letter R, so when we asked at the train station to go to Buriram they didn’t understand us! If you want a Thai person to understand where you are going it’s pronounced Bullilam. Because we had limited funds on this trip and we wanted our experience to last as long as possible, we went for cheap over quality every time! It’s about 250 miles from Bangkok and we decided on a 3rd class ticket. It cost us £1.50! It was an overnight train, and the carriage was full to bursting but with absolutely NO westerners at all. There were Thai people continually walking up and down the carriage selling chicken on sticks and cans of pop and full meals on plates behind polythene. There was no air-con so it was very hot and sweaty. One young man stared at us for the whole trip (8 hours), and an old lady shared some weird fruit with us. Quite an experience!
:::ARRIVAL IN BURIRAM:::
We arrived in buriram at approx. 4 in the morning. Directly outside the train station there was a huge fountain with lots of people sleeping there. When one of them saw us, they all woke up and were crowding around us. They all insisted to take us to hotels or restaurants or wherever we wanted. I don’t think they get many westerners in this town! We went to a hotel that was really near the train station. The price of this 5-floor hotel shocked me. Perhaps because it was 4am it was cheaper than normal, but it worked out about 45 pence each for a double-bedded room with a fan. At 4am, any room containing a bed is 5 star accommodation and we slept until the maid knocked on our door mid-morning.
:::LIFE AT THEORPHANAGE:::
Roger picked us up at the train station and took us to the orphanage. From the first moment I went into the place, I knew it was going to be a great time spent with this “family”. Because that’s what it was really; Roger and his wife and their 17 children. We were made to feel so welcome, like we were an addition to that family. Most of what we did there (none of which were expected of us) was playing with the kids. Giving them some much needed attention because they didn’t get a lot of that. We also fixed drains, cleared the attic, chopped down some trees, mowed a field, painted the entire outside of the orphanage and lots of cleaning and tidying. After the 2 weeks that we said we’d stay for were over, Roger pleaded with us to stay. We decided that they were still a few jobs that we could do and ended up staying another 2 weeks!
Roger scared me to death by telling me about the snakes that have come into his house at night. He said that one night he saw dark shadows moving under his door, when he went to investigate, it turned out to be a cobra that he then had to kill. And he said this happens about once a month! Then Pong told me that she woke up one night to find a cobra standing up looking at her with its hood open – she took a kitchen knife and chopped its head off! For the first week Nathan and me were too scared to get out of bed to use the toilet in the dark! During our time there, we saw a scorpion, lots of frogs, loads of millipedes (which are about a foot long and whose bite paralyses), a 3-foot grass snake, a baby cobra (while I was mowing the lawn), a massive spider, and red ants the size of English spiders! Very exciting to see snakes in the wild.
We went to Thailand at the end of the rainy season, and we saw some amazing storms. Not at all like English rain. One drop of this rain and you’re wet through. It’s like liquid marbles falling from the sky. One day we were in the middle of Buriram shopping for food and it started to rain heavily. We thought it would be quite an adventure to walk home in the rain (about 2 miles), and so we set out. I think that within the first 5 minutes we were as wet as we could ever get, but it was another great experience.
The darker side of this trip has been the food. My belief is this: it’s rude not to eat the food that is placed before you, the orphanage is a very poor place and I was determined to eat anything that was served to me. If there is a dish that is not agreeing with me it’s head down and shovel, swallow, breathe – shovel, swallow, breathe. The first time I got sick started with rice soup in the morning – I struggled with this dish every time. Somehow I managed to finish it though and thanked my hostess for such a delicious meal, then politely excused myself. I lay on my bed for half an hour and the sickness subsided a little until dinner when I had some duck soup – which I really enjoyed, but later I realised the error of my ways! I threw the contents of my stomach into the toilet – complete and undigested. It was gross; the smell of my sick was making me be more and more sick. Eventually there was no more! In the 3 months I stayed in Thailand I was sick about 6 times. Again quite a crazy experience!
I’m not sure I can recommend coming to this place just to see it. There are some nice places here, I especially enjoyed the night market, but I’m guessing that this town is pretty much like any other non-touristy town in Thailand. They have a snooker hall and a few nightclubs and that’s it I think!
We were only at the orphanage for 4 weeks and yet I completely fell in love with all the kids there. Most of them spoke no English at all but were desperate for us to teach them. This is how most of the friendships started. Pointing at objects and saying the English word and then they’d say the Thai word and we both learnt a bit of the others language. Really though, there was no language barrier. The kids knew we were there to help out and so they simply loved and accepted us. When it came to leave, 5 or 6 of the older ones came to the train station with us to say goodbye. Everyone one of them had a tear in their eye. It was quite emotional.
Anyone visiting Thailand could enhance their experience by volunteering in an orphanage for a couple of weeks. Although it was often hard work in the baking sun, I feel as though it is very worthwhile. We were told the tragic stories of each one of the kids and it really is a previlege to give your time to them. It doesn’t cost anything to help out; we just left a donation at the end of our time to pay for the food we ate. If nothing else, it’s a humbling experience that will make you thankful for how much you have.