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In late December of 2014, along with 35 of my California State University of Fullerton classmates, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Thailand. My classmates and I are all child and adolescent study majors and we traveled to Thailand to complete our second required internship in order to complete our degree.

The purpose of the trip was to give us further experience with working with children and also to expand our cultural knowledge. We started in Chiang Mai, then we traveled to Chiang Rai and stayed at the Lanjia Lodge. The Lanija Lodge provides tourists with the unique experience of helping the hilltribe community while simultaneously engaging in fun and educational activities. The lodge is comprised of little bamboo houses surrounded by the Hmong and Lahu hill tribe villages and beautiful mountain ranges.

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Each house was assigned two concierges that come from the hilltribe villages. They served us breakfast, lunch and dinner on our deck and took care of our needs during the stay. Staying at the Lanjia lodge was extremely relaxing. At night, it was so quiet and tranquil, while during the day the villages were bursting with life.

Our first day exploring the hill tribe village, our tour guide, Ton, gave us a tour through the Lahu and Hmong villages, where we met the shaman of each village. We were invited into both of the shaman’s homes and taught about the important role the shaman has in the village community. It was very interesting to learn about the duties of the shaman and it was an honor to be invited into their homes.

After exploring the villages, we got to learn not only how, but why the women of the villages put intricate design on their costumes. The unique and colorful costumes worn by the female villagers are hand-made by the women themselves. They work very hard, sometimes taking weeks, in order to complete a beautiful outfit, with the hopes to someday catch the eye of their future husband.

We were sat at a table and then handed a cloth with a design on it, we were then given a plain white cloth, wooden tools and hot beeswax. The instructors then asked us to try to copy the design given to us by dipping the tools into the beeswax and dragging the tools onto the cloth. This proved to be a much more difficult task than expected. The village women helping us made it look easy. After we attempted to make our design, we dipped the cloth into indigo dye and they kept it there to dry. When we left the lodge, we got to take it home!

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Next, Ton took us to a tea and coffee shop near the Villagers called Teacher. The tea and coffee served there is made in the tea plantations that surround the quaint little shop. When we sat down, we were given hot tea served inside two little tea cups. Ton showed the unique way they drink tea in their culture. The tea was deliciously sweet and smelled amazing. I bought an iced coffee and it was some of the best coffee I have ever had, even better than Starbucks.

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Our last activity of the tour was to plant our very own trees. We were given little wooden posts and paint to put our names on the posts in order to mark where we plant our trees. Then, we were given our tree seedling, crossed over a bamboo bridge and walked up a hill to find a bare spot to plant our trees. We were given shovels to dig holes in the dirt, then we put the seedling in, put the dirt back in to secure it, and watered it. It was so neat to know that all the surrounding trees were planted by tourists before us.

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Our very last day at the Lanjia lodge, we were provided with the opportunity to give Christmas gifts to all the village children at their school. It was a very memorable last day and it felt great to see the smiling faces of the children when they opened their gifts. My experience at the Lanjia lodge was truly life-changing and I feel so lucky that I had the chance to stay there. Not only did I get to learn all about the hill-tribe people and soak in the beautiful scenery, but I got to be involved in helping their community. I would love to visit again someday and I strongly encourage fellow travelers to visit the Lanjia Lodge if they ever get the lucky chance to visit Thailand!

The story is written by Tori Flynn