Asia,  Thailand,  Thyra Travels,  Travel,  Travel Advice

Thyra Travels: Volunteering in Chiang Dao, Thailand 2018

In early December I started to think about the route I was going to take in 2019. I had originally planned to go from Cambodia to Laos but was now rethinking that idea. I wanted to go through Thailand but was dreading the holidays as “Thailand’, ‘holidays’ and ‘party’ go hand in hand. I am not a huge partier, going against the (very true, actually) backpacker stereotype. My solution: find a hostel to volunteer at for a few weeks in north Thailand, where everything is more relaxed. That is how I ended up in the small mountain town of Chiang Dao. Chiang Dao is a little town at the base of the Doi Luang mountain, the third largest in Thailand. It is about one hour north by bus of Chiang Mai, the biggest city in the area. I grabbed a local bus for a dollar and promptly passed out, along with the lady next to me, sleeping the entire ride. I arrived to the town and hailed a cab to bring me to the lodging area of the city, close to the hot springs and the cave. Thus begun my two weeks of volunteering.
My breakfast view.


I was volunteering at Chiang Dao Home Hostel, which just had one dorm room with eight simple beds. Luckily for me, I had my own wooden bungalow. With a queen sized bed and never enough blankets for the cool mountain air, I was quite comfortable for a few weeks. I got free breakfast along with the room, which always included the best coffee from the local indigenous groups. I spent every morning watching the fog pass on. 
Mi casa.


The work was quite simple, help clean the hostel every day and work on content for the website. This usually kept me occupied for a few hours each day which meant the rest of the time I was free to explore, read, and relax. A perk of being a volunteer was that I could go for free on hikes, when guests booked it, as additional help. I got to go on a free camping excursion to the jungle which was great! For half of the time volunteering I was joined by a couple from California, who volunteered as well.
Sunrise in the jungle.

Doi Luang Chiang Dao Mountain.

Free Time

As can be interpreted, I had a lot of time to myself. Personally, there are three great activities to do in Chiang Dao. First, go to the Chiang Dao Cave. Not free to enter and after Phong Nha in Vietnam, not worth it. However, right behind the cave is another path where you can hike through the jungle and then do some light rock climbing to get to another cave. This one is more “legit” and never busy. The second thing to do is go to Wat Tham Pha Plong, a temple with 510 steps built into another cave. The steps are not hard at all and the temple itself is gorgeous and incredibly peaceful. This has been my favorite temple thus far. Last but not least, there are hot springs on the way to the cave. The hot springs are ~free~, amazing at night under the stars and moon. 

Because of my local connection with the couple running the hostel, I also got to go to a morning breakfest with monks at the local temple. At 6am we cooked food and delivered it, along with ten other women, to a monastery. We got to see the ceremony and how the monks eat breakfast. It was very interesting. First, all the food is laid out on these rolling tables. Slowly, all the monks come in and sit behind little tables with what looks like a small hollow drum around their necks. After they have all arrived the ‘head monk’ gives a signal (after he pointed at me and asked my where I was from of course) and they all start to chant. After the chant the food is passed out and they put it directly into their little drum. Very cool. Whatever they don’t eat, we did!
Xmas dinner hot pot style.

Inside the Wat – hundreds on pictures of monks.

Food Time

The best part about volunteering is that I was part of a mini-family again. We would always eat together and Aoi (the woman) always made us meals completely free of charge. Almost every night we would go to one of the gazillion markets in Chiang Dao. Every night there was a food night market and Thursdays there was a huge one that also had clothes. Tuesday mornings were also popping for food, as a huge market that spanned the whole of downtown appeared. My favorite spot to eat was at a noodle spot next to the 7-11 in town. Cheap and so so good. I walked in that shop like I had lived in CD my whole life after two weeks.
Man shaving the bamboo for bamboo coconut sticky rice.
Bamboo coconut sticky rice.

Injured but can’t stay away!

Accident Time

After being there for a while, I had made some local friends! Specifically, people who worked at the Cave Bar, CD’s only bar – an extremely fun place. Near the end of my stay, a woman asked if I wanted to join them for lunch and I readily agreed. Welp. One minute into the moto ride to lunch, I felt her get nervous on the bike and she crashed. I remember I immediately jumped up and checked my limbs – I was fine. I had a bad cut on my knee and my arm hurt a lot. After a few hours of lying around, I decided to double check with an x-ray at the hospital. I waited FIVE hours for the x-ray (foreigners on the back burner I guess heehee) and when the nurse cleaned my knee I had to put all my strength into not hitting him (reflexes!!). Conclusion: I was fine. I spent the next few days in a sling because my arm was pretty useless and for the next two weeks I had to change the gauze for my knee every day. I am almost back to 100%.
Directly after my injury, patched up at the bar. Not pictured: the whiskey I was given for the pain.
Looking back, I wish I had told nobody in the US about the accident. Everyone in the United States overreacted, giving me unhelpful advice and creating anxiety I didn’t initially have. It is near impossible to receive helpful advice when people are so far away and all I needed and wanted was a little ‘shit!’ or ‘sorry’. I had to take a mental health break from everyone and learned my lesson there. I was ready to move on from Chiang Dao when I left but I do miss the easy life I had, and the beautiful view each morning.


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