See you again, Thailand!

See you again, Thailand!

By Melissa Ann and Leony Garcia

(First-time out-of-the-country traveler Melissa Ann Garcia details her Thailand journey in December 2019 before the pandemic. Additional information was provided by her mom, Leony R. Garcia, a veteran of many travels, locally and abroad).

THAILAND—It’s a good thing we were able to go out of the country before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted all local and international travels.

My daughter Angeline, together with her Ate Melissa, were supposed to visit Osaka and Hiroshima in November 2019. Unfortunately, we were denied the Japanese visa even if Angeline and I already had travel history in Japan in 2017.

Of course, we were saddened when our visas were denied. Angeline wanted to see Osaka again and meet friends, teachers at the Saori training center. Likewise, I was excited to meet my niece and her family again. They were based in Chiba Prefecture during our first trip in 2017 and we would be visiting them in her newfound place in Kure, Hiroshima, where she’s currently working as a kindergarten teacher.

But really God has other plans. And so we made it in Thailand instead.

Just like our Japan travel, the trip to Thailand  was made possible by Angeline’s school, St. Francis Integrated Arts School, Inc., as part of the school’s program on
educational/cultural immersion and further training for Saori weaving and other programs for differently abled- bodies like Angeline. Joining us in Thailand were St. Francis School founder Rebecca Santos and Saori Japan executive officer Yoko Hiroshiwa. It was made possible through the kind invitation of Dr. Sujin Sarangswi, PhD.

We took the plane at 11am on December 2 via Air Asia. It was fortunate of us that the flight pushed through despite the typhoon that was about to enter the Philippines at that time.

We arrived safely in Don Mueang International Airport at 1pm. This old airport is almost similar to Manila’s Terminal 1.

Lopburi, our provincial destination, is about 3 hours drive from the airport.

Thailand’s road have their left and right turns above (similar to overpass) thus minimizing traffic. We were on the second hour of the travel when New, our female driver, bumped into the car in front of us, then that car hit the car in front of them as well. Thankfully it was just a minor
accident. But it was amazing how they handled the situation — there were no shouting matches and there  was no need for the militia. New simply went out of our car and was talking to someone over her phone when she approached the driver of the car she accidentally bumped and settled everything in less than ten minutes — no drama, not causing traffic on the road, and as if nothing had happened at all. We finally reached our destination on the third hour which was Jaifa Farm Social Enterprise Resort-Hotel in Lopburi.

Jaifa Farm

It was late lunch when we arrived at the beautiful farm. It was not a simple farm we expected as the place was huge — set on the foot of the mountains of Lopburi. It was nearly 3PM, yet it was cool and relaxing. We were toured to the whole area via riding the farm jeepney with other guests and farm manager’s family who were on vacation at that time. The sceneries and sights were breathtaking as we were just near Lopburi mountains bearing various Buddhist temples. We had been shown the plants, fields, animals and the sea within the vicinity.

We had our last stop at the green field — part of the farm which was being converted into a softball training. Yes, there would be a softball academy right at the middle of this huge, sustainable and non-profit farm which aims to train farmers and ordinary folks including the PWDs on organic farming, sustainability and entrepreneurship.

Based on the FB post at Jaifa, the Football  Academy have been operational since March 2020 where a football clinic for children aged 7-8 years old are being held for free. Thereafter, they have it every Saturday and Sunday from May 23 onwards.

After all the sight-seeing and picture-taking, we were led to the farm’s restaurant for early dinner. Along with fresh fruits, we were offered Thai dishes such as green salads, soups, fishes and, luckily, rice. Thai soup had strong taste and pungent smell but we were all hungry and tired of the day’s trip. That made the food  sumptuous and really satisfying. There was a bonus of Thai cake which was not as sweet and creamy back home but nonetheless, yummy. The farm’s executive in-charge, Dr. Sujin Sarangswi, threw a birthday surprise at the farm for her daughter, Mhai.

By the way, Mhai and her younger sister speak good English as both were able to study the language — where else but in Cebu — the Philippines’ most publicized city for English language proficiency.

We had a good night sleep at the farm’s well-appointed and sturdy hotel room complete with newly laundered sweet-smelling beddings.

Lopburipanyanukul School

We were advised to bring light and summery clothes for the Thailand trip. Good thing, we brought some blazers, leggings and sweaters/winter coverings. It was terribly cold and windy throughout the day at the farm, moreso in the morning!

Our second day destination would be the Lopburipanya School, a special school exclusive for PWDs. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by the school officials and teachers. The school offers a special curriculum for the PWDs aged four to 18 years old. It’s a huge public school funded by Thai government and supported by various NGOs and philanthropic individuals, organizations and generous companies. Here, the students are provided with a dormitory, fed with nutritious food, given school uniform and other amenities all for free!

Most of the students go home to their families at age 19 by the time they are employed or are ready for household chores which are taught and practice in school during the duration of their stay.

The school houses coffee shop which is being mainly operated by the students from preparing and serving the drinks up to cleaning the area. There’s  also a beauty parlor  where the students are trained in beauty culture, guided by their teachers. Young as they are, the pupils are also being taught other skills such as fruit and vegetable  carving, curry and sushi-making, and competitions  with other schools to further hone their skills.

Teenage girls have actual training for laundry, ironing, towel folding and bed-making at accredited hotels while the boys go to authorized motor shops to learn motorcycle accessories and proper assembly. The ever-smiling, soft-spoken Thai teachers also teach weaving, planting and gardening, farming, mushroom culture, carpentry, and selling/entrepreneurship, among others.

In short, the students are being taught life skills which would arm them when they return to the actual, real world. This special curriculum was developed no less by Dr. Sujin who became an educator and school principal all his life before assuming a new role at Jaifa farm. This unique curriculum is recognized and practiced in the whole region of Thailand which currently has 19 schools replicating the good practices at Lopburipanya School. Check out www.lopburipanya.com for more details.
Angeline made friends and joined her Thai counterparts in the Saori weaving session, towel-folding, and art crafts. She also insisted to play the drums with the music teacher in charge.

Touring Lopburi

Central Thailand’s Lopburi is one of the oldest cities in the country. It was within the large Khmer empire in times gone by and was briefly the capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

Today, Lopburi is known to be the sunflower province of Thailand and home to many temples which the country is famous for. There’s also a road in Lopburi where macaque monkeys roam and live around with the locals.

Unfortunately, the sunflowers were not yet in bloom at the time of our visit. But the monkeys in Phra Prang Sam Yod
live among the Thais. They freely roam the street and jump onto the cars to look for food. The locals had made it a point to leave foods or bananas for the monkeys on top of their cars. Some locals feed them on the street.

Temples are everywhere. Even  street rotundas are made of old, restored temples. We visited Somdet Phra Narai National Museum where special, ancient temples can be found.

King Narai the Great, King of Ayutthaya during the second half of the 17th century built his palace near the Lopburi river.

The palace was designed by French architects in a mix of Thai and European architectural styles. Construction started in 1665 and was completed 12 years later in 1677.

After King Narai’s death in 1688 the palace was abandoned. It was nearly two centuries later King Mongkut ordered restoration of the palace and the construction of several new buildings. Nowadays, the palace buildings are in use as exhibition halls for the Lopburi museum.

The 17 acres palace grounds, enclosed by brick walls covered with plaster, consists of an inner courtyard, central courtyard and outer courtyard, separated from each other by high walls.

Prutanam, Bangkok

After four days of refreshing farm life, it was time to see the country’s capital which is Bangkok.

Of course, no trip in Thailand is complete without seeing Pratunam and doing the rounds of its flea market, Bayoike, for quality, affordable wear, t-shirts and souvenir items.

We rounded the touristy and high-end establishments of Pratunam and caught up with several  friends on group tour who were billeted at Novotel Hotel. The hotel district is some 10-20 minutes walk away from Baiyaoke while Bayoike is five to 10 mins away from our  home away from home, at Dream Hotel, where we stayed for two days prior to going back home.

Traffic in Bangkok is as bad as the traffic in Metro Manila. But we noticed that the Thais are more disciplined — even our Tuktuk driver never overtake the cars or Tuktuk ahead of him. Thai drivers, including taxis, would wait and queue in proper lines, thus avoiding chaos and more traffic on the road.

Thailand is about two times bigger than Philippines. Philippines is approximately 300,000 sq km, while Thailand is approximately 513,120 sq km.

Thailand is famous for foodies as a street food haven. It is also most visited for its beaches, jungles and elephants. We wanted to see more of Thailand and the elephants but we only have Lopburi and Bangkok in our itinerary.

With friendly Thais who look exactly like us and more places to discover in Thailand, we will definitely be back.
Here’s praying that this pandemic would be eradicated the soonest so we can all travel again. 

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