Thursday, July 23, 2015

Volunteering At Baan Ayui In Chiang Rai, Thailand - June - July 2015

I discovered Baan Ayui's website by accident in a travel forum when I was searching for information about Chiang Rai. There was no turning back the moment I started to read their newsletters. Initially I just wished to visit Baan Ayui for a few hours. I changed my mind by the time I finished reading all of the newsletters - I decided to be a volunteer for 2 weeks.
On the first day of arrival at the hotel, Wilacha Hotel, I was caught by surprise that the staff of the hotel didn’t know the location of Baan Ayui which was nearby. My friend and I had to search for the location ourselves. We got so lost in front a school that a boy on a bicycle spotted us and offered to help. He told us that he could guide us to Baan Ayui. He walked us to Baan Ayui. Eventually we found out that he was a new boy staying in Baan Ayui and his name was M (unrelated to any character from James Bond movies).

Wilacha Hotel was about 10 minutes walking distance from Baan Ayui. There was a market nearby which was opened entire day including at night. The goods sold at this market is cheaper than those sold in Chiang Rai town. Example: Camouflage shorts I wanted to purchase cost around 200 baht or more in town but I could get it for 150 baht without bargaining in this market. I could get cheaper one at a shop opposite the market at 100 baht but the stock was limited. The fruits/food in this market were cheaper too. Near the market was a noodle stall that the price was reasonable at 35 baht. The stall was often packed during lunch hour. I spotted the stall by observing the crowd. There was Tesco Express Lotus outlet that you can shop. If you are a simple person that does not have to do a lot of shopping, Wilacha Hotel is a nice place to stay because the location has almost all the basic stuff. Clock Tower is about 30-45 minutes away on foot. The shopping complexes Big C and Central Plaza are probably too far to walk there under the hot sun. Steamed Pork Leg With Rice at the food court of Central Plaza is probably the delicious meal you do not want to miss in Chiang Rai.
At the Chiang Rai town’s night bazaar, try to avoid the food court. The food is more expensive. Try the stalls outside the night bazaar for better cheaper food such as Khao Soi. I fell in love with a shop selling rock t-shirts costing 770 baht for 3 t-shirts. At the street, you may find another stall selling lower quality Heavy Metal t-shirts at about 200 baht (I forgot the exact price).
At King Meng Rai Monument, free tour tram is available daily from 9.30am till 1.30pm. I didn’t have time for this during my trip.
A trip from Wilacha Hotel to Clock Tower would cost around 80 baht by taxi. A trip from the hotel to Big C or Central Plaza would cost around 100 baht (Found out from the staff of the hotel that I was over charged for 150 baht by a tuktuk).
Drivers in Chiang Rai were not as crazy as Malaysian drivers. A car rental shop worth checking out is Chiang Rai Car Rental located at the left lane of Clock Tower. Mazda 2 or Honda Jazz cost 1000 baht per day. A manual Isuzu truck cost around 700 baht per day (good for fetching the kids – they loved sitting at the back of the truck under the sun). Website:
Being a volunteer was a decision I would not regret as the experience is beyond the expression of words. Without any experience in teaching, initially I was a bit sceptical of myself but it went on smoothly. I still remember on the first day of stepping into Baan Ayui, the first question popped up in my brain was, "How will I remember the names of 26 children?" (The number dropped to 25 when one of them left) and "What if the kids throw rotten tomatoes at me for being a lousy teacher?" Of course, the tomatoes throwing incident did not occur as they were very well behaved kids.
Most of the time, I spent time teaching the children English and art, as well as playing various indoor and outdoor games such as Jenga, card games, throwing/catching water balloons, takraw, soccer, badminton, cycling and chasing & catching games. I almost created a “riot” when playing card games with the kids – they seemed to enjoy it so much that they got over excited by yelling the names of animals I showed them in the cards competition. I felt like a child again whenever I played with the children in the field and I could run around chasing the children. It was a wonderful experience.

During the last weekend in Baan Ayui, we went to the beautiful Huay Maesai Waterfall that the children loved. As I walked towards the waterfall and returning from the waterfall, I realised some of the children were very caring and helpful. Some of them often checked whether I was too tired of walking and some offered to carry my bag. The boys caught some small fishes with their nets. I didn’t expect anyone would eat those small fishes that Malaysians normally kept as pets but I was told that they ate them.
With the donation money contributed by my friends and family members, I managed to shop for various items required by Baan Ayui such as art materials, writing materials, a fan, fruits, computer keyboard and a battery replacement required to get a PC fixed.
Based on my experience in Baan Ayui, it was good that I could make use of some simple Thai language that I learned from watching Thai television programmes when I was a boy (I used to live near the Southern border of Thailand). In addition, I managed to learn some extra Thai words from the children that will be handy whenever I travel in Thailand.
By the way, I got a new nickname, Nongkran Soong (Nongkran Number 2), from the children because I imitated one of the girls, Nongkran, for bouncing the takraw ball with hands illegally during the outdoor games. Despite not following the official takraw rules, the games often drew laughter and it was always fun.
In my English class, I unofficially made one of the girls as my assistant. Her name was Angkana. She was always the curious and helpful one in the class. Sometimes she helped to translate to the rest of the children in the class after reading the English-Thai dictionary for words I had difficulties making them understand.
Gigi was another interesting girl in my class. She was always a happy-go-lucky type of girl. She seemed to enjoy laughing and having fun. A very cheerful girl indeed. She enjoyed posing for the camera too. I consider her as the “model” of my photography sessions.
I had been told that Nongkran cried easily. I didn’t see this as her weakness. In fact I considered that she was a very kind person with compassion. She often tried to help in the class too. I have a gut feeling that she will grow up to be a very good kind hearted person.
Amy was an adorable girl. She was a little bit quiet but she was always ready to help. I really appreciate her that she offered to help many times on simple chores. Whenever she sensed that I was a bit bored, she would offer me something to keep me busy. I jokingly told my wife that she was the “daughter” I always wanted.
Ameerat was another happy-go-lucky girl. She could be poured with water till she was soaking wet and being targeted by everyone, but she did not shed her tears, showed her anger or complained. Sometimes I felt bad for her but she seemed to be having fun. I salute her attitude.
The boys in my class were rather quiet. They seemed to stay away from the limelight. Unlike some boys in Malaysia that I called “monsters”, these boys were better behaved than those “monsters”. Asong seemed to enjoy our “kung fu fighting games”. Apichart was a good soccer player and he seemed to be interested in technical stuff – proven when he observed me fixing the PC and I taught him to connect the wires of the PC.
Unfortunately, all the good time had to come to an end. I had to leave Baan Ayui to return to Malaysia. It was very heartbroken to leave the children on my last day.
As I have promised, I will be returning to Baan Ayui again next year. Possibly I will be bringing in another group of volunteers. I definitely miss all of the children at Baan Ayui. Thanks to Sue for accepting me as a volunteer. A big THANK YOU goes to the children of Baan Ayui for making my life wonderful in Baan Ayui. Meanwhile, I would also like to thank the house parents, Wit and Tam, for the guidance in terms of Akha culture and talked about their lives as well as their help in language translation. The sound of “Pi Siang” (older brother Siang) with children voice will always be remembered because that’s how the kids called me. 

Useful Information For Volunteers

When to Volunteer:


The children are likely to return to their our villages during school holidays. Therefore, you need to plan for your volunteering service at Baan Ayui. Their long summer holidays start around in the middle of March (include Songkran in April) until first week of May. They also have almost all the month of Oct off for term holidays, and 2 weeks off in Dec-Jan around Christmas/New Year. The nicest time to go is Nov-Dec because the weather is nice and cool/cold at night, and so they can do outdoor activities like campfires and camping at the boys' land.

Summary of When to Avoid Volunteering:

- Middle of March till May
- October
- 2 weeks around Christmas/New Year in between Dec and January

What Can You Help?

Baan Ayui is one of the least fussy NGOs I have come across. Any help you can contribute is useful. You can teach the children English (They can teach you Thai/Akha in return). You can also teach them art, handcraft, cooking, playing guitar, singing, sewing, carpentry, gardening, fixing PC, etc. You can play indoor games (i.e. Jenga, card games, etc) and outdoor games (takraw, soccer, badminton, cycling, hide & seek, etc) with them. You can even invent your own games. Spend some time chit chatting with them. You can create a discussion topic about teenagers, culture, education, etc (but you may need the house parents or Sue as translators). You just need some creativity to suggest something which is fun/useful for you and the children.

Daily Schedule:

During weekdays, the children return from school around 4.30pm to 5pm. Volunteers usually arrive around 4 to 4.30pm. At 5pm, normally volunteers can conduct English class till 6pm. Those in charge of cooking will leave the class earlier. 6pm will be their dinner time. The children will be having their shower after dinner. At 7pm those with homework will be doing their homework. Those without homework will be playing games. Volunteers can help them with their homework or play games with them. 9pm is their bedtime.

On Friday and Saturday, the schedule is slightly different. No English class but the children are allowed to go to the nearby school field to play. Volunteers can spend time playing takraw, soccer, volleyball, badminton, cycling or simply running around with them . Trust me, this is the fun time. On Saturday morning, you may opt to visit Huay Maesai Waterfall which the children enjoy swimming, splashing and catching fishes.

On Sunday, volunteers will be having a break. If you insist to go on duty, I am sure that nobody will oppose. There is sewing activity between 1.30pm to 2.30pm that you need to be aware though. I am not sure whether I was interrupting them or not but I personally find that when they were sewing, it was a very good time to have casual chit-chat with the house mother, Tam, as well as the children about their lives in general. It's good to learn about their lives and volunteers could share theirs in return too. At about 4.30pm till 6pm, you can spend time with outdoor activities with the children at the school field.

Summary of the Daily Timetable:

4.30pm: Children return from school. Some will be doing house chores
5pm: English class
6pm: Dinner followed by shower
7pm: Homework/Playing games
9pm: Bedtime

4.30pm: Outdoor activities at the nearby school field
6pm: Dinner followed by shower
7pm: Art, handcraft or any activity you can think of
9pm: Bedtime

Sunday (An officially off day for volunteers):
1.30pm - 2.30pm: Sewing activity
7pm: Hostel meeting
9pm: Bedtime

Sample of things you can donate:

It's best to discuss with the houseparents or Sue to find out what they need before purchasing. You should also keep an eye to observe what they need. So, that you won't waste money purchasing something unnecessary.

- Clothes (children, adults and baby's clothing will do as they are donated to the villagers, not just for the kids)
- Fruits (watermelon, honey dew, papaya, rambutan, durian, etc)
- Food (ice cream, snacks, candy, rice, etc)
- Stationery (pen, pencils, paper, dictionary, etc)
- Art material (art paper, glue, water/pastel colour, colour pencils, etc)
- Balloons (the kids are crazy about them)
- PC/laptop
- Household items
- Small guitar amplifier

To check out more details of Baan Ayui, please visit:

Note: Check out their newsletters especially because it has plenty of information

Useful Information For Shoppers:

I am not a hardcore shoppers but here are some tips of what are worth checking out in Chiang Rai.

At Chiang Rai town's night bazaar:

- Hilltribes' handcraft such as bags, purses, etc
- A shop selling Rock Music t-shirts (3 for 770 baht) and a street stall selling Heavy Metal t-shirts (1 for 200 baht I think)
- Look for a rather nice Khao soi (special noodle of Chiang Mai) stall beside the bus station

At Chiang Rai town's market:

- Local homemade junk food 
- Fried insects/worms (if you dare to try) 
- Cheap socks (3 pairs for 50 baht) 

Shops near Clock Tower:

- Near the Clock Tower, there are some shops you can purchase art supply, balloons & stationery for the children 
- Chiang Rai Car Rental 

At Big C:

- Small unbranded pouch costing 100 baht

At Central Plaza:

- Steamed pork leg at the food court is yummy
- You can find dictionaries for the kids 

At the market near Baan Ayui:

- Cheap camouflage shorts (between 100 baht to 150 baht) & pants (2 for 500 baht)
- Fruits are cheaper than town area (the children love fruits)
- Cheap household utensils

At Tesco Express Lotus near Baan Ayui:

- Soap
- Tooth paste
- Mineral water 
- Soap powder
- Snacks at 150 to 200 baht (snacks in Thailand are not as salty as the ones in Malaysia)

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