A boring summer was not an option

Last summer, our third Amazing Stories competition winner Chelsea Smith climbed waterfalls, rode elephants, floated down a river, experienced the hospitals and the culture of Thailand…

Elephant in Thailand

Text and photos by Chelsea Smith

Hotel in Thailand Being bored for another summer wasn’t an option. I wanted an adventure, so I made it happen. I contacted a company called i-to-i and asked about their summer programmes. They had so many to choose from! In the end, I chose Thailand: it looked amazing. As any student would, I paid for it with my student loan.

Chelsea Smith, second from left, with other volunteers and travelersThen, Thailand erupted into what looked like a civil war. The next weeks were hard: I didn’t think I would end up going. I did book my flights, um-ing and ah-ing about whether I would ever be able to touch down in Bangkok.

Bangkok

In the end, I was able to go. It was scary. I had just turned 19 and never been on a plane all on my own before. I arrived in Thailand and someone from the company met me. I was then taken to a hotel in Bangkok to find out my schedule.

Chelsea, teaching at a school

There, I met the other people who would go on this adventure with me. They were so nice. I knew I was going to have an amazing time. We set off in the morning to explore Bangkok. We went on a very choppy boat ride down the river to get to the King’s palace. I had a camera with me, which had cost me a bomb. As I stood up, the camera slipped off the boat and into the river. I stood there and I screamed. All the locals ran over, thinking I must have fallen in myself. There was nothing I could do about the camera and I just carried on crying. I got off the boat into a market, where there were people with no legs, eyes missing, children who had no limbs. I looked at myself and how I’d reacted and I felt so selfish. This was the first lesson Thailand taught me.

Volunteering

Mealtime in the orphanage
a group of children from the orphanage A week later we arrived in the jungle. This would be my home for the next few weeks. I would look after the children at the orphanage and teach English at the local schools. The orphanage was the most heart breaking experience. You see it on TV but don’t believe the extent they show you. Children not having toilets, no privacy, no washing basins for your hands… The children were whipped and had no teeth. They slept on the floors. When they saw a cockroach, they didn’t even acknowledge it. Yet, despite it all, they seemed happy just to be alive. I couldn’t eat there – everything was dirty. Even so, when I did eat, I got very very ill and ended up in hospital on a drip.

The school, on the other hand, was an amazing experience. I taught pupils up to the same age as me. They all seemed to want to learn and listen, unlike the children of Britain. One day, after teaching, a girl invited me back to her village to meet her family. It was amazing.

Party time

View from the beach in Thailand After the first part of my adventure ended on a high note, the next part was about to get crazy. We headed over to Koh Phangan – an island famous for its full moon party. The beaches, the weather… so beautiful, you’d end up pinching yourself every morning as you wouldn’t believe where you were.

Coming home :(

As much as I loved seeing everyone, showing off my tan and giving out presents, nothing could compare to the adventure of the summer I had had. There had been some hard parts dealing with the poverty in the jungle and ending up in hospital, but I think it has turned me into a better person. If I was to find more money, I would go back and see the children again to see how they were doing. I had the most amazing experience of my life in Thailand – it was an experience that you would never forget.

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