Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Three Questions

Lately I've been in a bit of a traveling funk. The holidays haven't helped and I feel like I haven't done anything worth while lately. Initially I turned to Eva who told me that before she left to travel, the production she was working on in Norway was based on a short story by Tolstoy. Since she was the person who had to give the actors lines when they forgot (I know there is a name for this person but I can't remember it, sorry) she knew the script inside and out and was moved by Tolstoy's "three questions." "What is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times?"  She decided to keep these in mind while she traveled. 
Since I turned to many people for help out of this funk, I received an e-mail a couple days ago from Anna whom I also traveled with in Laos. As I read through to the end of this e-mail she forwarded to me from her friend Chad, I was stunned as I saw the link to this same short story. I think these questions are wonderful guidelines to travel and live by. So I've decided to share this lovely story with you all. 

Three Questions - by Leo Tolstoy

One day it occurred to a certain emperor that if he only knew the answers to three questions, he would never stray in any matter.

What is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times?

The emperor issued a decree throughout his kingdom announcing that whoever could answer the questions would receive a great reward. Many who read the decree made their way to the palace at once, each person with a different answer.

In reply to the first question, one person advised that the emperor make up a thorough time schedule, consecrating every hour, day, month, and year for certain tasks and then follow the schedule to the letter. Only then could he hope to do every task at the right time.

Another person replied that it was impossible to plan in advance and that the emperor should put all vain amusements aside and remain attentive to everything in order to know what to do at what time.

Someone else insisted that, by himself, the emperor could never hope to have all the foresight and competence necessary to decide when to do each and every task and what he really needed was to set up a Council of the Wise and then to act according to their advice.

Someone else said that certain matters required immediate decision and could not wait for consultation, but if he wanted to know in advance what was going to happen he should consult magicians and soothsayers.

The responses to the second question also lacked accord.

One person said that the emperor needed to place all his trust in administrators, another urged reliance on priests and monks, while others recommended physicians. Still others put their faith in warriors.

The third question drew a similar variety of answers. Some said science was the most important pursuit. Others insisted on religion. Yet others claimed the most important thing was military skill.


The emperor was not pleased with any of the answers, and no reward was given.

After several nights of reflection, the emperor resolved to visit a hermit who lived up on the mountain and was said to be an enlightened man. The emperor wished to find the hermit to ask him the three questions, though he knew the hermit never left the mountains and was known to receive only the poor, refusing to have anything to do with persons of wealth or power. So the emperor disguised himself as a simple peasant and ordered his attendants to wait for him at the foot of the mountain while he climbed the slope alone to seek the hermit.

Reaching the holy man's dwelling place, the emperor found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut. When the hermit saw the stranger, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to dig. The labor was obviously hard on him. He was an old man, and each time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn the earth, he heaved heavily.

The emperor approached him and said, "I have come here to ask your help with three questions: When is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times?"

The hermit listened attentively but only patted the emperor on the shoulder and continued digging. The emperor said, "You must be tired. Here, let me give you a hand with that." The hermit thanked him, handed the emperor the spade, and then sat down on the ground to rest.

After he had dug two rows, the emperor stopped and turned to the hermit and repeated his three questions. The hermit still did not answer, but instead stood up and pointed to the spade and said, "Why don't you rest now? I can take over again." But the emperor continued to dig. One hour passed, then two. Finally the sun began to set behind the mountain. The emperor put down the spade and said to the hermit, "I came here to ask if you could answer my three questions. But if you can't give me any answer, please let me know so that I can get on may way home."

The hermit lifted his head and asked the emperor, "Do you hear someone running over there?" The emperor turned his head. They both saw a man with a long white beard emerge from the woods. He ran wildly, pressing his hands against a bloody wound in his stomach. The man ran toward the emperor before falling unconscious to the ground, where he lay groaning. Opening the man's clothing, the emperor and hermit saw that the man had received a deep gash. The emperor cleaned the wound thoroughly and then used his own shirt to bandage it, but the blood completely soaked it within minutes. He rinsed the shirt out and bandaged the wound a second time and continued to do so until the flow of blood had stopped.

At last the wounded man regained consciousness and asked for a drink of water. The emperor ran down to the stream and brought back a jug of fresh water. Meanwhile, the sun had disappeared and the night air had begun to turn cold. The hermit gave the emperor a hand in carrying the man into the hut where they laid him down on the hermit's bed. The man closed his eyes and lay quietly. The emperor was worn out from the long day of climbing the mountain and digging the garden. Leaning against the doorway, he fell asleep. When he rose, the sun had already risen over the mountain. For a moment he forgot where he was and what he had come here for. He looked over to the bed and saw the wounded man also looking around him in confusion. When he saw the emperor, he stared at him intently and then said in a faint whisper, "Please forgive me."

"But what have you done that I should forgive you?" the emperor asked.

"You do not know me, your majesty, but I know you. I was your sworn enemy, and I had vowed to take vengeance on you, for during the last war you killed my brother and seized my property. When I learned that you were coming alone to the mountain to meet the hermit, I resolved to surprise you on your way back to kill you. But after waiting a long time there was still no sign of you, and so I left my ambush in order to seek you out. But instead of finding you, I came across your attendants, who recognized me, giving me this wound. Luckily, I escaped and ran here. If I hadn't met you I would surely be dead by now. I had intended to kill you, but instead you saved my life! I am ashamed and grateful beyond words. If I live, I vow to be your servant for the rest of my life, and I will bid my children and grandchildren to do the same. Please grant me your forgiveness."

The emperor was overjoyed to see that he was so easily reconciled with a former enemy. He not only forgave the man but promised to return all the man's property and to send his own physician and servants to wait on the man until he was completely healed. After ordering his attendants to take the man home, the emperor returned to see the hermit. Before returning to the palace the emperor wanted to repeat his three questions one last time. He found the hermit sowing seeds in the earth they had dug the day before.

The hermit stood up and looked at the emperor. "But your questions have already been answered."

"How's that?" the emperor asked, puzzled.

"Yesterday, if you had not taken pity on my age and given me a hand with digging these beds, you would have been attacked by that man on your way home. Then you would have deeply regretted not staying with me. Therefore the most important time was the time you were digging in the beds, the most important person was myself, and the most important pursuit was to help me. Later, when the wounded man ran up here, the most important time was the time you spent dressing his wound, for if you had not cared for him he would have died and you would have lost the chance to be reconciled with him. Likewise, he was the most important person, and the most important pursuit was taking care of his wound. Remember that there is only one important time and is Now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future. The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at you side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life."

Leo Tolstoy

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Decorations

Christmas just isn't Christmas without decorations (just ask my Nana, she'll tell ya, and then give you an arm-full). Holly, mistletoe, garland, twinkle lights, Santas of various shapes and sizes, reindeer, and of course the tree. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of decor in S.E. Asia until I arrived in (a somewhat Catholic) Vietnam. The following are random decorations seen throughout Mui Ne. 

Almost Garland

Blue Christmas

Slightly large Chalie-Brown X-mas tree

Twinkle Lights!

Parachuting Santa (my favorite)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas on the Beach Mui Ne, Vietnam

If someone would have asked me last year "Hey Britt, where do you think you'll be for Christmas next year?" I would have replied, "What a ridiculous question, of course I will be in Washington state most likely the Longview/Vancouver and/or Seattle area like I am every year, sipping hot coco and listening to the Amy Grant/Kenny G Christmas Albums my mother loves so much, duh." Never would I have thought to reply, "Oh, you know, on a beach on the south west coast of Vietnam. It'll be close to 80 degrees, I'll get a nice freckle-tan while sipping Pineapple fruit shakes." And yet, here I am in Mui Ne, a small town on the coast doing exactly that.

The journey here was a bit rocky. Apparently when you don't book a place to stay 2 days before Christmas it is expensive to stay anywhere on the coast, that is if you can even find a hotel/guest-house/hostel that isn't full. But I made it! And I was reunited with Eva, whom I met in Vang Vieng, after a crazed night of riding up and down the main drag on the back of a motor bike, enormous backpack on my back, holding on for dear life. The next day the guest-house we were at originally was going to make us move to a more expensive room so we decided to go next store to the Ly Ly guest-house. Normally I wouldn't even mention where I'm staying/have stayed but moving to the Ly Ly guest-house was the greatest decision.

On Christmas Eve, Eva and I decided to lay on the beach and just generally treat ourselves to a day of relaxation.

The night of Christmas Eve the family that owns the guest-house invited us to their Christmas dinner *Barbecue*! So there I was sitting with an assortment of Vietnamese, German, Australian, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, and Americans, listening to stories of travel, and Vietnamese Christmas traditions. I was not expecting to enjoy myself on Christmas. In fact, I was anticipating sitting in the dark, listening to Christmas music and being generally depressed to be so far away from my family. I was pleasantly surprised and grateful that I had found such a wonderful group of inclusive, and welcoming people.

Moments like that are what make being away from the people you love bearable.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope your holidays were filled with joy, lots of hot coco and, above all, love.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Same Same... But Different"

Often shortened to simply "Same Same." All the time I hear this. Scarves, tuk-tuks, bananas, bikes, etc. all are "same, same but different." What does it mean you ask? It could mean a variety things. 
Could mean: 
1. Very similar
2. Somewhat similar
3. Somewhat different

Last night I was enjoying some local Cambodian cuisine (delicious fried rice, the best) when I was approached by two young boys selling postcards and books. After 3 minutes of their attempt at salesmanship I began asking them about school, where they lived, etc. They sat down at the table and we chatted for a bit. They sang me some Justin Beiber. I requested Britney Spears and they looked at me blankly then starting singing JB again (side note: I called him Justin Beiber, they corrected me. Apparently it's just JB). Out of the blue the boy sitting the left of me put his arm next to mine and poking me shouted, "Same Same but Different!" Every once in a while I have a "huh" moment. For example: "Huh, how interesting that he should point that out." Obviously he is much darker than I am and was amused (sigh) by my freckles. But there seemed to be a bit more to that statement. My interpretation of traveling as a "Bonderman Fellow" means one must understand how privileged westerners are and have a constant awareness of and respect for the cultures you visit. The "same, same" statement was interesting because we were talking about what they are learning in school and what I learned in school. Our experiences were very much "same, same but different." Then I thought about my life at home, my day to day, my culture, etc. and what these boys were telling me about their own lives: "same, same but different." 
I'm sure I'm not articulating this idea very well but I think doing the "tourist thing" at Angkor Wat also made me realize how "same same but different" every traveler experiences these countries. To many this is just a photo op., a way to brag to their friends and family, another country they can add to their list. For others it may be a way to gain new perspective and genuine cultural understanding. 

And that, friends and family, is as deep as it gets (for me). Tonight I'm heading to Vietnam. Hopefully I'll make it to the coast for Christmas! Cross your fingers and pray to whatever higher power you believe in that my bus doesn't break down from here to the coast. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Temples of Angkor

I realize my first day account of Angkor Wat is a bit depressing. Sorry about that.
Speaking with/seeing (via Skype) my family celebrating Christmas the other day rejuvenated my adventurous spirit and I was ready to see the rest of the Temples.  

Onward and Wat-ward. 

First stop: Ta Prohm temple. I know it's difficult to see the picture, the stupid sunshine was shining so darn bright I couldn't get a good photo. This massive tree is growing out of the temple. It has, over time, merged with the structure and simply tried to grow around it. 

I think the roots look like a giant octopus. Very Pirates of the Caribbean. I think Tomb Raider was shot here or something? I dunno. All over Siem Reap there are remnants of Angelina Jolie (drinks and various meals named after her). 

Then I made it to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is massive. It is a fortified city built by the Khmer Rouge, did I mention it's MASSIVE? Within Angkor Thom is Bayon Temple famous for all of the FACES. 

Tried to fit my face in next to it
Then was the Terrace of Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. They were terraces. With stone carvings. After a couple of hours you become less excited about large stone structures. After the terraces I returned to Angkor Wat this time with a more chipper attitude than my previous visit.

I know it's a bit cliched and overdone but I just couldn't resist taking a photo of these monks outside the entrance to Angkor Wat. I love the contrast of the vibrant orange set against the gray of the building. 

Climbing more stairs to get a good view.

Worth it!

I took close to 300 photos after three days and most of them, I realized later, weren't of the buildings themselves but of the carvings/engravings on the walls. They are so intricate and beautiful I was blown away. Especially knowing that they were carved by hand. 

Angkor Wat from outside

And to finish off the second day I climbed to the top of a hill, then to the top of a temple on the hill in order to get a view of the gorgeous sunset. I'm sure there are some that prefer the sunrise but, really, nothing beats a sunset. 

To see more pictures see: Angkor Wat

Friday, December 17, 2010

Angkor What?

Angkor Wat.
A massive temple located near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Why did I come here? Fellow backpackers that have been there say it is the "bees knees!" A "must see!" etc.

This morning I woke up at an ungodly hour (4:30 AM) to see the Sunrise at Angkor Wat. I stood there in the dark, listening to Explosions in the Sky (music not actual explosions), anticipating the rising the sun. As the sky slowly lit up, I understood why so many had recommended that I extend my trip to include this wonder of the world.

But as I stood there, looking around at how many people had gathered behind me, I began wondering how I got here. Not to Angkor Wat, I remembered how I got there ($7 tuk-tuk, that's how). The question was really: how did I end up surrounded by tourists, at this tourist attraction (which is historically important, of course), taking pictures that many others before me have taken, and feeling generally apathetic towards it all.

I think it came down to the lack of originality and the fact that I wasn't really taking in the experience, I was just taking pictures.  I came to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. I could have spent another week in Laos, easily and I feel like I need to be enjoying myself to prove that I didn't make the wrong choice in coming here. Originally I had planned to spend the entire day beginning at dawn exploring Angkor Wat but as the sun finished rising I realized that I couldn't force myself to enjoy an experience. I want to want to Angkor Wat, to choose to explore it and really enjoy my time there. Had I stayed all day today I think my memories of Angkor Wat would be much more jaded. So, since I have a three day pass, I've decided that when I feel like going to Angkor Wat I'm going to take a bicycle there and then, instead of doing what people tell me I should  do, I'm going to do what I feel like doing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

EEFA (Equal Education For All)

My orientation to EEFA went a little something like this: "Here is the book, the curriculum is up on the board, you make up a lesson plan. You teach at the primary school for 50 minutes Monday to Wednesday at 10:30 am then from 5pm-7pm Monday - Thursday at the evening classes." Ready? Go!

Day 1: Thrown into the Lions Den

Dear lord. The only thing more frightening than standing in front of 25 anxious 4th graders with nothing what-so-ever prepared is maybe... scratch that. There is NOTHING more frightening than standing in front of 25 anxious 4th graders with nothing what-so-ever prepared. Lesson of the day: Color (more specifically, "I See (insert name of color here)). So, what did I decide to do? Point at things. Yep. I spent 20 minutes pointing at colors and having the kids say "I see" and then the color that I was pointing at. What was going through my mind? "Okay 20 minutes down, 30 to go... what now?" Stroke of genius! "Everyone take out a piece of paper! (blank stares) Um... paper?" I point to a piece of lined paper, girl sitting in front says something in Laotian and they all take out a piece of paper, phew. I proceed to have them write the names of all the colors and then we draw pictures of objects that are that specific color. Or if you are a 9 year old boy, you take the crayon and do whatever the heck you want with it. Like draw a picture of a spider playing soccer. The best part of the morning class was the last 10 minutes in which we sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." So cute!

Boys at Primary School
Then the evening class. And I thought 50 minutes with 4th graders was hard. Try one hour with a bunch of rambunctious 5th grade boys followed by an hour (teaching a lesson that should really only take 30 minutes) with students ranging from 14 to 20 years old. Beginners class was learning about the past tense: Score! I've totally got this one! ... or not. I'm sure they came away with some understanding but the blank stares were not helpful. Alright the next class should be easier. Nope. How to teach the word "Enough" as in: Am I strong enough to lift this table? and Is there enough bread for everyone? Why are they different? In addition let's throw in some vocabulary... like lift and mechanic and secretary. Now what do those words mean? Seems easy right? Now teach it to 20 people who understand 60% of what you say. There was a lot of gesturing and over-simplifying but I got through it.

Level 2 (2nd hour)

After it was over, I was probably the most exhausted I'd been in a very long time. But the feeling I  had after teaching and the response I received from my students after class "Thank you, teacher!" was enough to make the whole experience worth while.

Day 2 and 3 were fairly similar to the first day. The lessons were equally challenging and my class periods never really went exactly as I had planned them but they always seemed to finish on a relatively positive note.
Day 3 was my last day teaching at the primary school so I waved goodbye to my students and sang one last round of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" before I went back to the farm.

Primary School

Evening Classes

My final day teaching for the evening classes was a bit more difficult. With the primary school children I saw a different group everyday but the evening class students were the same for all four days. I was just beginning to get to know the students when I had to leave. It was a review day so luckily it was an easy lesson. After the first hour with the beginners I got a high five or a handshake from each of the students as we said goodbye. The second hour was also review and was probably the most engaging lesson I taught during my time there. Students were asking questions and I could tell they were really trying to learn what I was teaching. At then end I taught them what "What's up" means in the U.S. and we talked about how bad I was at speaking Laotian (really bad by the way, just awful). 
It was a great way to end my time volunteering and although I would have liked to spend another week getting to know the students and teaching, it is time to move on. So, south I go feeling all sorts of accomplished. 

I think this was exactly what I needed to get myself back in the right mind-set. My time traveling shouldn't be spent focusing on the negative (like how horrible I think the tubing industry in Vang Vieng is) but on  the positive experiences. 

I'm also leaving the farm with a new goal: WWOOFing. (I can do it in Uganda!)

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Quick Look at My Time in Vang Vieng

Today marks my last day of volunteer teaching for EEFA (Equal Education For All), my last day on the Organic Farm and my last day in Vang Vieng. Since I was without internet for the majority of my time volunteering, I will write a summary of some of my experiences and thoughts during teaching along with pictures in a later post (because I'm using a stupid internet cafe thing). It has been a truly incredible experience and I hope that I'm able to work in a school again. I finally feel a sense of accomplishment!

Teaching English to a group of children who don't understand 70% of what you're saying is a challenge. Thank gawd I'm fluent in gesticulation or else I'd be completely out of luck. I would also like to thank gawd for songs like " Mary had a little lamb" which turned out to be most helpful in teaching the past tense as well as "I'm a little Tea Pot" which helped in teaching the letter "P." You try teaching 25 hyper active 3rd graders who don't speak the same language as you an entire 50 minute lesson devoted to the letters "P" and "G" ... yeah, not that easy. Solution? "Let's sing a song!"

Speaking of the letter "G," I milked a goat. Yes, I finally overcame my fear of goats and I helped clean out their house, fed them and yes, milked one of them. I've decided that some goats are O.K. as long as they don't: jump on me, try to eat me, try to mount me, try to climb me, ram me, sneeze on me, or poo on me.

More to come later when I destroy the Trojan Horse that has invaded my laptop. Stupid technology.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

First Impression of Laos

I can't quite put my finger on it but something here just seems a bit off. I don't know if I was just getting too comfortable in Thailand or if Luang Prabang is just a little too backpackery (it's a word I made up, if Sarah Palin can do it I can too). I also think my state of mind upon arrival has had a lot to do with how nonplussed I am about this place. I think if I would have made it off a bus or mini-van I wouldn't be so quick to compare it to a completely different country and a completely different set of experiences. I might be going through the same sort of thing I went through in Bangkok; I just need to give Luang Prabang a second chance and then move on. For the most part it seems like a much more laid back country than Thailand was. In this "booming metropolis" of Luang Prabang the pace still seems exponentially slower than Chiang Mai or Bangkok.

Of course to make myself feel better about the situation I bought a scarf (or three)! And then, oh happy day, Anna Kramer joined me after an entire day of travel from Hanoi to Vientiane to Luang Prabang. It was a joyous reunion. I can't express via blog how thrilled I am to have her here. It feels like I finally have someone to travel with who "gets it." Plus it's refreshing to talk with someone from home.

Three days later we decided to head to Vang Vieng and here we are using the slowest internet in the world. Soon I will be staying on a farm teaching local children English so I may not be updating this blog for a while. I promise to update it as soon as I can.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Leaving Thailand on the Slow(est) Boat (in the world!)

Have you ever thought to yourself: What on god's green earth possessed me to do such a thing? By the second day of the Slow Boat ride down the Mekong River. That's exactly what I was thinking. Don't know what a slow boat is? Basically it's a boat used primarily for cargo. Think Teeny Tiny Tug Boat and you're probably close. For some reason, back in the day when tourism was developing in S.E.Asia some genius said "I wonder how many foreigners we could trick into riding on one of these things" and from then on Thai and Laos slow boat drivers have been making a fortune.
The crew and driver were actually very nice (on the first day) and I have no hard feelings towards them, I will, however, being holding a lifelong grudge against the person who designed the most uncomfortable (not to mention unstable) bench on the face of the planet.
Other than the ass-numbingly slow ride down the Mekong, this was actually a fairly enjoyable trip.
This is a Slow Boat

This is what it looks like on the inside

Now, this was the first day. Look at all that SPACE! My, oh, my did we have it good. This was the second day: Imagine being tired, frustrated, cranky and above all riding on a bench that is about to break with a sore ass. And that was my day from 10 am to 6 pm. 
As negative as this post may sound there was, of course, some good to be found in it all.

In conclusion, boats are usually fun, unless you are tired and cranky. Then, hopefully, there is some beautiful scenery to keep you complacent. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Loi Krathong (The Festival of Lanterns)

I made it back from Pai just in time to catch the famous Loi Krathong.

The festival occurs on the full moon in November (same day as the full moon party which happens down in the south). Everyone is supposed to have a lantern. The lanterns are made of this thin paper material and are attached to a small ring of wood (bamboo I think) and when lit, it creates this little hot air balloon/lantern that floats up. Each lantern is supposed to represent a wish that the person who releases the lantern makes to the Buddha. 

  After the Monks give their blessing they give an announcement telling everyone to light their lanterns, make a wish and then everyone standing in this large field lets their lanterns go. It looks a little something like this:

Or if you're in the middle of the field (which I was not) it would look something like this:

It was absolutely beautiful. The lanterns continued to go up into the air well into the night. Some were caught in trees and some just fell, but the majority floated away. Thousands of wishes ascending into the night sky.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I took a bus to Pai and instead of taking in my surroundings on my first day here, I fell asleep for 13 hours. Go me! But no worries, I rented a scooter on the second morning and set out for an adventure. Sort of. First off I had to teach myself to ride a scooter. On my first attempt down the street I ran into a street vendor. And it wasn't "ran into" as in "oh hey, ol' chum! How are things?" It was more like, "HOLY COW! Move out of the way! Batten down your hatches! Hold on to your sticks of meat!" and then thump. Don't worry no damage to anything but my ego. And of course I wore my helmet. Safety first, kids.

After half an hour of riding around I finally mastered the art of the turn and then it was off to the water falls! I saw two in a day and that was good. Too many people and not enough water fall.

Overall Pai is gorgeous. I made a few wrong turns and ended up in the old part of the city and the farming area. I almost hit a cow as well. He/She seemed completely unaware of my existence and just carried on crossing the road. But, back to the point, gorgeous countryside.

It's a charming place and I wish I had more time but I'll be back in Chiang Mai tomorrow and then onward to Laos!

Welcome to the Jungle

Watch it bring you to your Sha-na-na-na-na Knees Knees!
After three days and two nights I made it out of the jungle alive (barely).

Day 1: You know where you are? You're in the Jungle, baby.

After visiting the Elephant Nature Park I was a bit weary about riding elephants. But I will admit it was a little fun.

View from atop the elephant
And then we trekked. For 4 hours. Through the jungle.
Jungle (see above)
Since we were hiking through the unpredictable, wild terrain, our guide, "V", made us some sweet bamboo walking sticks with his machete.

V with his machete
And we trekked for hours uphill through the jungle: past the annoying mosquitoes, beyond the enormous spider and the poisonous centipede we finally made it to the top.
To the top!
There we were rewarded with breathtaking views and aching muscles.
I wish my camera could capture the color but this is as close as I came

Hmong Village hut

Day 2: Are we there yet?
Bridge crossing to get to the waterfall
The second day started out fairly simple. Walk to the waterfall: check! Swim at the waterfall: check!

Next, more uphill. Woot. Only 3 hours this time.  
View from the top

Dairy followed us all day the second day. From the Hmong village to the second village.

Did the damn thing. 

And then we made it to the bamboo huts.

And then there was this gorgeous sunset.
Final Day: The School and The End
In the second village we stayed in, we were shown the school. The schools, V explained, have students of all ages and from what we were able to see it seemed to be from the youngest, the little boy above, at about five or six up to maybe thirteen or fourteen years old all being taught by one person.

It was so nice, especially in the context of what I set out to do, to see that there is education for these children even in the most remote locations. In fact, as V was explaining, the Thai government recently declared that all villages must provide education for twelve grades.

The conclusion of our excursion was a brief trip down the rapids and then a quick ride on a bamboo raft. Obviously being surrounded by water meant no camera so no pictures.