Since I've been back in the UK for just under two weeks now, I thought it was about time that I let you guys know about how our 16 day whirlwind trip (really) went...
I have worked in the travel industry for the past 17 years and I have never been backpacking. I’m used to lazing around in the luxury of 5 star hotel, (and being able to chill out on a sunbed whenever I please!)- so when I was first told I'd be going to Thailand it was mega exciting but also really daunting. The fear of the unknown is always the worst! I don’t even own a back pack... only a suitcase with wheels, so I knew I had a long way to go...
But, it was literally AWESOME. The accommodation I stayed in was basic but very clean- the only thing missing was the turn down service that I am used too, ha! Being submerged into the local culture, eating the street food and exploring the sites was all very new to me, but I absolutely loved the trip which not only surprised my friends and family, but shocked me to the core too!
Working with the children was something I especially enjoyed- helping to teach the little ones English was a tough thing for me to do. I have three god daughters who are around the same age as the children in the childcare centre/schools that Harriet and I worked in, and admittedly I struggled not to cry! I’m such a softy anyway but after a couple of hours I really did feel like what I was doing was really helping them and the smiles on their faces were priceless.
Working in the hot sun (90c) digging holes, mowing grass/weeds and painting is hard graft- but the feeling you get afterwards is just beyond rewarding, and you run on adrenaline constantly! I am a materialistic guy at home, but whilst I was out there I actually learnt an incredible life lesson- as long as you have likeminded people around you who all want to do good, it doesn't matter what you have or how you look. We all wanted to make the biggest impact possible to help these kids out, and I know the staff out in Thailand were really grateful for the hard work we put in!
I was out of my comfort zone for almost the whole trip- apart from when I had a beer in my hand in the evenings! I taught children basic English (ie- names, family members, colouring, dancing, singing and helping out at lunch time feeding them!), dug a hole that would transform into a water well for the new childcare centre, painted walls, and helped cement a wall that had just been built to keep unwanted people/animals out of the grounds of school to keep the children safe. The almighty list above are all things that I can quite honestly say that I have never done before in my life, I'd never wanted to before- but it was absolutely amazing and I LOVED it!
There were a fair amount of highs and lows:
One of the main highs was meeting the widest variety of people imaginiable. Even us Real Gappers were all different, let alone all of the fantastic Thai people we met- and everybody just seemed to get along so well! Everyone was so friendly and excited about the whole trip; we all enjoyed a few too many beers on an evening and when we looked back on what we'd done that day we'd laugh (or even cry in some instances!) about how emotional and amazing the day had been.
Another high for me was the fact that we were in Thailand – it's such an amazing country! It really is the land of smiles. All of the places we went on the Thailand Experience were so safe and friendly, and I learnt that I didn’t need to have a fresh outfit everyday, I didn’t need to shave every day, I didn’t need to worry about what people thought- everyone was in the same boat and it just worked.
The lows for me personally was the sheer amount of sympathy I felt for the children in the childcare centre. At home we're so sheltered from it all and when you arrive your mind goes wild – but I realised you cannot help everyone (but you can sure try!) and by the work that we do here at Real Gap, the efforts of our awesome Real Gappers will have a lasting effect on these people lives and the community that they live in. Once you get your head around the fact that you are doing a good job and you stop thinking overtime, you can just get on with it everything turns into a major high!
My Experience? 10/10. I would not change anything about my trip. I’m not hanging up my beach towel just yet and I doubt I ever will, but I will definitely be visiting more of our projects- perhaps in Vietnam and Africa, so I can see how I can help the people who are not as fortunate as myself. I've already started planning my next trip to Thailand too- I'm planning to go back in November so I can visit the community projects to see how they're getting on (... can't say no to another Full Moon party either!).
If you're in two minds as to whether our Thailand Experience is for you- please feel free to drop me a line in the Real Gap office! I love dishing out advice on Thailand and having a good natter about somewhere I love!
I hope you've all enjoyed reading mine and Harriet’s Thailand blog! We're going to be writing one more post giving you all some hints and tips- but if you ever want to find out more you could drop us a call in the office or ask us a question on our Facebook page! Cheers guys!