Once we were done with our passports, feeling safe and sound, we moved on to start our Homestay.

Why did we do a Homestay? Why engage in Ecotourism?

Brian and I wanted our kids to experience Thailand on a handful of levels that were beyond a “vacation”. We chose to stay in one place for a majority of our trip, so we could all sink into the community. But we also wanted the kids to see the more authentic sides of Thailand that you can’t see from a beach town. We wanted the kids to witness how simple the Thai homes and lifestyle are while at the same time see how happy and content everyone is. And if possible, we wanted to give back to the Thai people as a family.

We discussed a number of ways to do this; should we visit an orphanage, maybe go north to were things are more rural, etc. When the option of a Homestay through Andaman Discoveries came up, we thought this could be perfect. The kids would not only get to see a Thai village first hand, but they would be living with a Thai family where there isn’t the comfort of Western style any THING. Bathrooms for instance-they are getting lots of practice at squatting. And to paint the picture super clear, Blaze was still sitting when he’d go number one. He had no desire to learn how to pee standing up. When he walked into our homestay’s bathroom, he took one look at his surroundings and decided to learn how to pee standing up. He hasn’t looked back. :)

The bugs are also welcome in the houses, whether they are beetles the size of Blaze’s fist or spiders the size of TWO hands. Our little episodes with flying termites in the last few weeks are silly compared to the beasts in the houses here! And it’s hilarious how we’ll freak out and jump out of our chair at dinner, while the Thai people don’t even change the plain look on their face. You know they think we’re ridiculous when it comes to bugs!

The heat is also more intense up here than where we’ve been–reaching 106 degrees in the sun. The food is super-super authentic and not like being at a Thai restaurant. Our assigned village is a Thai fishing village. For lunch, we had fresh crab caught that morning!

I wondered if all these unusual and intense elements would shut the kids down, and instead they’ve been running through the village with the other village kids as if this was home!

We arrived in Ban Talea Nok Village this morning. Ban Talea Nok means the house that is on the side of the sea.

Around 200 people live here, and the sense of community is quite amazing. People start work before sunrise, and you would too if the heat reached 106 degrees before noon! Many of the men are fisherman. Some own rubber tree farms. The women stay behind and prepare meals, shell cashew nuts for extra income, weave palm leaves for their roof tops or make organic soaps to sell. By the late afternoon, everyone is sitting in their doorways, visiting with each other, repairing fish nets or getting a good nap before dinner.

All the children run free through the village. There have been countless times when I thought a child sitting in the house was the owner’s child. But it often turns out that the little one is a neighbor’s son–just hanging out as if he was at home. The village as a whole raises the children. Everyone disciplines and praises the children as if they were their own. It’s quite beautiful to witness.

We started Day One with a local villager walking us to the pretsunami village site.

This wide, open plain was once the home of all their huts. When the Tsunami hit on December 26th, 2004, Ban Talea Nok (along with many of the neighboring villages) was devastated. Our guide, Mr. Ramb, said three large waves hit, reaching heights taller than palm trees. There wasn’t any trees tall enough for villagers to climb, so many lost their lives. The old ruins of the one room school still sit alongside the beach. Mr. Ramb, told us that 16 of the children and one teacher were killed b/c of how hard the waves hit the school. Forty seven villagers total were killed. Mr. Ramb lost five cousins that day. Knowing all the tragedy this village has gone through, I’m amazed at how much joy the villagers express. To be here and know that our time, money and involvement for the next few days is going toward the Tsunami relief for this village…well, that is an awesome thing.

After the preTsunami walk, one of the other villagers, Mr. Hem, invited us to his home and taught us how to do the traditional Batik painting. This is one of the activities the villagers do to help raise Tsunami relief funds. The Batik painting has several steps to the process.

First, you sketch on the stretched canvas the picture you want to make.

Batik Painting, ecotourism

Then Mr. Hem taught us how to outline our sketches with wax.

ecotourism-batik painting

The wax will eventually dry and create white lines.

ecotourism-batik painting

Once the wax was applied, we started painting our canvases.

We all enjoyed this activity because the paint bleeds through the canvas, but the wax lines we made stops the paint from spreading any farther. And then you can start mixing your paint colors and bleeding them together. All four of our Batik paintings were totally different.

Blaze painted an octopus, squid and dolphin. :)

Pascaline’s swans had the most amazing detail! I painted some of the life I’ve loved seeing while scuba diving; sea turtles, Nemos, sea shells, and butterfly fish. Brian, wow…Brian’s turned out amazing. It’s this mural type looking painting with all our names and different symbols of each of us. Pretty intense. :) We all ended up loving the process so much that we spent over three hours working on our individual pieces.

But the funniest thing of all is how much our kids went crazy over the cats, yes cats, roosters, chickens, ducks and all their babies. Pascaline and Blaze ran around the village for hours chasing the chickens. You would have thought we brought our kids to Thailand to experience chickens and kittens instead of Batik painting! :)

Ecotourism, Pascaline with kitten

We ended our night with a special treat. The religion of this village is primarily Muslim. After dinner, our homestay family invited us to put on their traditional Muslim clothes so we could experience the dress for ourselves.

The beading is ornate, and the white cloths is bleached to a perfect, crisp white. You know these clothes are held in special regard. Being offered the chance to try their custom clothes on and take pictures was quite a gift.

The process of Pascaline and I having our head coverings pinned was quite thorough. I can’t imagine how the women do it every day in such intense heat.

And Blaze, he embraced his outfit without hesitation! :)

Brian really looks like a natural Muslim. Don’t you think!

Here we are…your Muslim family from Ban Talae Nok Village!

FUN ANNOUNCEMENT!!

In the midst of all this adventure, we just got word that our DVDs were selected to be a featured product as a perfect gift for Mother’s Day on TV!! If you have access to the Daytime TV show, check it out today! Go here to see what time the show airs! Can anyone tape it for us? That would be so AWESOME!!!

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Register for our Upcoming Discovery Workshop ! Ladies Only! :) CLICK HERE to get your spot!

For fun photo exercises, check out our popular Instructional DVDs Refuse to Say Cheese and (They are BACK IN STOCK!! Yeah!!), our 101 Kits for starting or expanding a in , click on the words of your choice!

20 Comments: “Ecotourism in Thailand: Day One!”

  1. Jen says:

    Hi MeRa!
    I just wanted to thank you again for sharing your adventures! I love reading them! And your pictures are beautiful! I linked to your blog in my blog this morning – thanks for being such an inspiration!

  2. Eric says:

    What an awesome adventure!! Spiders twice the size of your hands? Any photos? Ugh!

    I love the photo of Brian cutting on the wax. How did you acheive that balanced lighting with such a highlighted background? Looks like you had some reflected, diffused light source on Brian..gorgeous!

    Love the scrunchy face on Blaze!

    Eric

  3. jeramy says:

    i have wondered before if our ‘modern life’ is really a benefit. i mean we live in a world where we would never trust our neighbors to discipline our children….or even ride their bikes for too long with out coming home to check in. sad really. that element of community sounds like such a breath of fresh air. it would be awesome to have that AND network television. :-)

    great story. take care.

  4. ann page says:

    wow – just amazing – how lucky all of you are to be able to experience this! joy is what you make of it – it is wonderful that you were able to spend some time with people and in an area that has seen too much devastation. thank you for sharing your awesome trip!

  5. Addie says:

    Once again, all I can say is how wonderful an example you are to other parents to teach their children to know their world….walk the footsteps, wear the culture, gather the essence! Beautiful adventures!

  6. Marco says:

    That is amazing! congratulations! and your pics are incredible!
    Reading your post reminded me of UMZI WETHU Villages for displaced children in South Africa. The WILD Foundation will harness the opportunity offered by ecotourism growth and invite OVCs aged 13-18 in urban areas to join the uMzi wethu training and educational program in sponsored residential secondary schools placed outside game reserves.
    You can find more info about it here: http://www.wild.org/field-projects/umzi-the-full-report/

    http://www.wild.org/field-projects/umzi-the-full-report/

  7. Rhonda says:

    Your kids are going to remember this trip forever.
    You could probably write a book just about this trip.
    I’m incredibly greatful that you choose to share it with us – your cyber-friends.

  8. Paris Parfait says:

    This is such a fantastic gift that you’re giving your children – as well as experiencing these things yourself! When my daughter was small, we lived in Jordan and she learned to speak Arabic flawlessly. Learning another culture is always a good thing, in my view.

  9. Sue Christianson says:

    I agree! This is a fantastic gift you are giving to the kids! What an amazing experience! Love the pictures!!

  10. Kelly says:

    Wow. Just wow.
    I LOVE reading about your adventure MeRa.
    I wonder about your moment-to-moment feelings through-out your days. I wonder if you go from elation to discomfort and back to elation?
    I’ve taken trips where I find it so exciting and amazing but am then overcome by a strong longing for the comforts of home.
    I can’t wait to read more…

  11. Jo LeFlufy says:

    OMG! I love Blaze’s face in that picture. It made me laugh out loud. It always amazes me how the people we meet in third world countries are always so happy and seem so at peace with the world around them, despite the hardships. I always feel more centered and brought back to reality when we return from trips where we’ve met such amazing people. It reminds me that materialism is never as important as relationships. I love the fact that your kids are experiencing how other kids live. It’s a good life lesson for them, even if they are too young to understand it right now – although both of your kids seem fairly tuned in! I feel as though I’m experiencing Thailand along with you and now I can’t wait to visit it. Thanks.

  12. Wow! What an experience for your kids. I was born in Thailand to American parents and graduated from the International School Bangkok but I’ve never had an experience such as this. Loved hearing about it!
    Cheers,
    Tracey

  13. Brooke Snow says:

    What an amazing experience you’re having and giving to your kids! To be able to experience family life in a country that has so little compared to our American riches! What a perspective that will bring! Love reading about your experiences and seeing the pictures!

  14. Ria says:

    I am so inpired by your adventurous spirit MeRa… and also by your creative ability to relate your experiences to us through your amazing writing. What an experience!!

  15. aleyamma says:

    any completed pictures of the batik paintings?

  16. Thierry says:

    Hi!

    Loved reading about your home stay! My girlfriend and I stayed a few days in Baan Talea Nok last March. It’s an amazing experience you’re giving your children!

  17. H.B says:

    Wonderful images.

    Thanks for sharing the images and story.

  18. I was recommended this blog by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my problem. You are incredible! Thanks!

  19. During the past years, the tourism industry in Thailand has enjoyed tremendous progress, with the numbers of tourists increasing every year. However, the rapid growth of tourism has resulted in some deterioration of the environment, particularly related to waste and the management of its disposal. This has led to a negative attitude toward the tourism industry by the general public. And from the tourists’ perspective, repeat visits are likely to decline if these environmental problems are not addressed.