Samart: “Make sure your swimmers are out of your bags.”
Adam and Karen: “What did he say? Swimmers? Are we going swimming?”
Samart: “Tubing. Tubing.”
This conversation is without a doubt one of the most unexpected moments we’ve had thus far in Thailand. One of our goals for this journey was to get to know people and places by way of volunteering when possible. However, the last few months we were either visiting with family or moving from place to place too quickly to get settled into another volunteer position. Fortunately, we got the opportunity to volunteer again at an eco-lodge located in the jungle outside of Chiang Mai.
The Spicy Villa eco-lodges are a group of hand-made bungalows nested deep into the mountains of northern Thailand. Our neighbors were the people of the local Karen villages (which made Karen feel right at home), and some other inhabitants who were much larger and a bit noisy at times. But it’s hard to be mad at noisy neighbors when those neighbors are…elephants!
Unlike volunteering in Chile, Spicy Villa houses guests in addition to volunteers. Spicy Villa provides guests with the opportunity to experience authentic lifestyles of the local villagers, participate in unique activities such as bamboo rafting and elephant bathing, and take some time to unplug and unwind. Our job, as we quickly found out, was to help out with whatever was needed!
And that brings us back to that first conversation with Samart. Our first mission as volunteers was to help a large group of British and Dutch guests safely navigate their way down the river in inflatable tubes. Karen was assigned to the rescue boat and Adam was assigned to his own tube. Luckily no rescue missions were needed and we continued on to the bungalows, where we stayed for the next eight days.
Some of the highlights of our time at Spicy Villa include: installing water heaters into showers, feeding pigs and chickens, cleaning rooms and dishes, catching chickens that had escaped from the coop, loving on Samart’s two adorable puppies, drinking rice wine (a favorite of our Thai friends) and helping to cook (and eat) many authentic Thai meals! In between all of that, we had some down time which allowed us to connect with some really wonderful people. Whether it was the Spicy Villa staff, other volunteers, or tourists visiting Chiang Mai, we met many generous and loving people and look forward to continuing those friendships for years to come!
We came across this volunteer opportunity through our friend, Sarah, who was a guest at Spicy Villa a few years ago. She put us in touch with Samart, the owner of Next Step Thailand and the eco-lodge, and he worked with us to set up the experience. We were drawn to Spicy Villa because of everything it represents. There are many parts to Next Step Thailand’s multi-faceted mission, which focuses on environmentally-friendly building materials (for the bungalows) and gardening techniques, the use of solar energy, recycling, employing local Karen villagers as their staff, doing business only with local companies who benefit from tourists staying at the bungalows, and the “Share the Dream” project serving children at local schools and helping these remote villagers to become self-sustainable. Though our volunteering didn’t directly touch each of these projects, we were happy to contribute our time and energy into supporting this mission.
Leaving the villa was definitely bittersweet, but we left on a high note much the same as the first day when we started. A trek through the jungle, walking through countless rice paddy fields, an open-fire lunch next to a waterfall and the opportunity to meet more Karen villagers. It was a fitting end to a great volunteering experience!
A quick note on service: It’s both a humbling and rewarding experience to serve others, even when it’s not…in a way you expected. God is always reminding us that we are put on this earth to serve our brothers and sisters, and forming new friendships is often the start of it all.
Check out our Kimblesinbits YouTube channel and the newest video of the Spicy Villa!