I always wondered, how different can it really be? We’re all human after all, with the same wants and needs.
Adjusting to life in Huay Pakoot hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I expected a couple of “what have I done?!” moments but I haven’t had one yet (other than my stressful/exhausted airport experience) and other than Cadbury’s chocolate and normal crisp flavours (spicy lobster.. what!?) there aren’t many home comforts that I would say I truly miss. Other than my family, friends and pets of course.
Huay Pakoot is a small mountain village with a school, several shops, a coffee shop and a temple for the monks. The villagers consist of large families and everyone appears to know everyone else. Other than the one leading to the village, there are no roads. The ground where you walk and drive is generally muddy, stony pathways interspersed with areas of cement. The preferred mode of transport is a motorbike, although many houses do have cars and trucks for transporting goods. There are no street lights, pavements or road signs. The paths are all pretty steep; it is built on the side of a mountain after all. Many houses are on stilts (it rains a lot) and most are made of wood, but a couple have bricks and a few huts are made of bamboo.
Rice is prominent throughout breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is either fried rice or boiled/fried egg with bread. Lunch is almost always a tin of rice with a dish such as miscellaneous vegetables with scrambled egg, sometimes with a bit of meat mixed in, or pumpkin. Cabbage and rice noodles are also frequently served. You can buy chicken noodle soup or fried chicken from Weapon’s shop but on a lucky day I have been given it for lunch. Dinner is more varied, on the odd occasion I have been given spaghetti bolognese, but it is usually rice with veg/meat. Fried pumpkin or banana are favourites among the gollas (westerners) here. The food is not as spicy as I expected, but I think it has been toned down for my sake.
Everyone here is very hardworking, getting up around 5am each day, but very kind and family orientated. Married couples live with the wife’s parents as one big family unit, which is lovely to see. They’re also very welcoming, not only are you allowed to walk into someone’s house without an invitation (in fact you’d probably be welcomed with open arms) but it’s not often you’d find a village in the UK so willing to accept up to 30 foreigners into the village and into their homes, providing food, clean clothes and a place to sleep for up to 6 months at a time. We often eat at each other’s houses, collecting the food provided by our individual homestays along the way, arriving to a huge grin of the villager whose house we are eating at. My homestay has a nearly 3-year-old boy who they are very keen to get me to teach English. Currently his favourite words are elephant and bellybutton!
The language is Pakinyaw (not Thai), which is spoken only by the Karen people in this area. Some villagers can speak Thai, and even fewer can speak English, although we are teaching them and they teach us Pakinyaw in return. It is a tonal language, with many of the words and phrases sounding very similar, and it seems to me that they just use the same 5 words in a different order! I’m doing my best to learn it, and I can understand the odd word that my homestay family say to each other but I cannot (yet) have a full conversation.
Toilets in the village are squat toilets. They are not difficult to use, you just have to remember not to flush toilet paper down the loo, and in order to flush them you have to throw water down them from a bucket. Showers are bucket showers. You wash with cold water from a bucket that is so cold you have to build up a bit of courage for the first load you chuck over your head. After hike though the freezing water is very refreshing and I look forward to it. I’m lucky enough to have a shower head attached to a hose, and despite the pressure being pretty rubbish it does make showering a little but easier (when the water is actually running).
My room is one half of a bamboo hut situated next to my homestay’s house. The second room appears to function as a store room/spare bedroom when needed. My room is small but perfectly sized for what I need. I have a mat to sleep on, a mosquito net and a set of 3 shelves where I put my clothes. I have a few nails in the walls where I hang towels, my bags and coats. I wove a basket in my first week here, which is where I keep my toiletries. I have a porch, which comes in handy to hang my clothes on the rail to dry.
While Thailand boasts having a rich diversity of birds, they are not often seen or heard quite in the same way as back at home. The most common noises are of insects, cicadas and crickets performing the daily background music. We do see birds around, and I have had to learn 34 species as part of my internship, but more commonly you see butterflies and moths flying around. These are brightly coloured and a lot bigger than any you’d find in the UK! Around the village the most common animals you will spot are dogs, cats, chickens, buffalo and pigs. Dogs are around because the villagers believe they keep away bad spirits, but they are not looked after like domestic dogs at home. This is something some people struggle to understand when they come here, as dogs as pets are a huge part of western culture. Oh and of course there are the elephants, not something you’d see everyday back in the UK.
So whilst living in Thailand does throw up a fair few differences from living back in the UK, it is a way of life that I am enjoying living. It is so relaxed, it is so beautiful and it is a life worth living. When you get to see a view like this every day, can you ask for much more?