Andaman Discoveries Blog

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Staying Connected

Twitter arrived on the technology and social scene in 2006. In a short period of time, it has become a wildly popular method for businesses to keep their clients and supporters informed, friends to share news of a weekend outing and many others are joining every day to stay connected.

Andaman Discoveries has become a tweeter (a user of Twitter). Read our tweets (a message sent on Twitter) by visiting our Twitter page.

Twitter is commonly referred to as micro-blogging. What exactly is this phenomenon called Twitter? According to their Web site, “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”

Updates to Twitter can be made on one’s computer or by phone, making it an efficient, accessible means to let people know what an individual or business is up to. For example, someone could update their Twitter at a conference, to ensure that their supporters know which booth to find them at a given moment.

Do you want to stay connected to Andaman Discoveries? In addition to Twitter, Andaman Discoveries is active on Facebook and LinkedIn.


Monday, March 30, 2009


Journey to a Border Town

Experiences in Thailand
By Leslie Welshimer

There are many fabulous places for weekend excursions within a few hours of Kuraburi, like Phuket, Khao Lak, Koh Surin National Park (seasonal) and Khao Sok National Park. I ventured out for two days of solo travel in March to explore a town about two hours away from Kuraburi called Ranong. It is a small, border town that has remained mostly untouched by tourist influences.

Ranong is celebrated for its surrounding natural wonders, like hot springs, Ngao National Park, Bald Hill and Ko Phayam and Kam Islands. It’s also frequented by travelers in need of a speedy visa run.

I was greeted by a torrential downpour the moment I got off the bus in Ranong. Turning down offers from motorbike taxis, I walked about 10 minutes into town, determined to get a feel for the area and find lodging before setting out for the day.

Finally I couldn’t take the rain anymore. I was drenched. A tourist office / restaurant appeared and I joined others taking shelter.

Once the rain sort of cleared, I departed the restaurant. There she appeared, a woman with a giant backpack who was speed walking with authority. She didn’t have the clear confusion and lack of bearings that I did. She knew exactly where she was going. I paused for a moment and then doubled my speed to keep up. She was about 20 feet ahead.

After about 10 minutes I began to consider stopping my stalking attempt. She had turned on to a back road and was walking on a residential street that appeared to be leading out of town. Then she rounded a corner and my breath was taken away. There was Khao Kives View Point, with steps leading up a hillside, and Throne Hall, with immaculate landscaping and ornate temples on the grounds. Across the street from the viewpoint, I saw where she was headed, a guesthouse called Palmy Home.

This guesthouse had just opened three months prior, was in remarkable condition, had new furnishings and a welcoming staff. I never would have found this place with my normal strategies of wandering, asking locals, Google search, reading travel reviews and Lonely Planet. Perhaps stalking is the new Lonely Planet.

I felt like I’d won the travel lottery. My amazing fan room at the Palmy Home was 250 baht / less than $10 for a place significantly nicer than a dozen or so others I’d passed while wandering on my own.

Once lodging was taken care of, I went outside to flag a songtaew (a marriage of a taxi and metro bus). My goal was to reach Bald Hill, which is approximately 13 kilometers away. I got dropped off about 20 minutes later alongside a main highway.

Due to the moody weather earlier in the day, I found myself hiking around this wide-open Bald Hill area with no one around for a good mile or so, except for a man with an axe in hand.

I paused for a moment, thinking what close friends would think of me walking alone in a foreign country into a mountain area where the only person I could see was a man with an axe. As I approached this man with an axe, I listened to my gut. I felt only peace, so I continued past him and up to the top of Bald Hill. Bald Hill is famous for being naturally treeless, and in non-dry season, is covered in a blanket of grass.

Ngao National Park is within walking distance of Bald Hill. With my hiking shoes of flip flops on, I trekked through the national park to viewpoints, a breathtaking waterfall and checked out their awesome accommodations of a pod-like version of a tree house that tempted me to stay the night, foregoing my earlier find of the Palmy Home.

The natural beauty of Ngao National Park was overwhelming. The waterfall poured down into a lush forest with bright flowers.

I stopped in the park visitor center to look around. A warm, park staff member said hello and started a conversation. I asked her what the best way to get back to town was, admitting that I had gotten so absorbed in the beauty of nature at the park that I lost track of time. She said I could still flag down a songtaew along the highway. Then she said, “I noticed you came alone. Where are you staying tonight?” I told her and she began speaking Thai to a co-worker.

The woman showed amazing kindness. She said that I could catch a ride with the other staff member who lived in Ranong. I ended up sitting in the back of a pickup, while a husband, wife and their daughter sat in front. It made my day that someone would be as kind as to give a perfect stranger, a foreigner in their country, a ride. I can only imagine how my experience would have different had I tried to flag a songtaew as the sun went down.

As I arrived back at Palmy Home, I saw a rainbow that seemed to be bursting directly out of Throne Hall. There was energetic music playing that sounded like a concert. At a closer look, I found a Thai dance-aerobics performance on the grounds of Throne Hall. These are the moments I travel for, the surprise finds and glimpses into another culture. I joined the audience as people cheered on performers.

The night at Palmy Home was bliss. My feet were nearly raw from walking endless miles around Ranong, Ngao National Park and Bald Hill. Relaxing in the queen-size bed, watching television, felt like paradise. There were even two English channels.

Checking out of Palmy Home the next morning felt like saying farewell to a friend. It was one of the most comfortable places I’d rested my head in Thailand.

I trekked a sizable distance to the hot springs. The area around the hot springs was stunning. Vibrant green trees and flowing water are all around. People sat splashing water on their legs and soaked their feet. There were no other farangs around. I felt like I was seeing authentic Thai life. Families splashed in the river while others picnicked.

I attempted to soak my feet after observing how it was done. The pain was so intense on my sore feet I grimaced, which drew odd faces from the Thai people.

A captivating gold Buddha was discovered at the top of a steep staircase. As I climbed this staircase, a second dose of torrential rain came.

It was time to walk the three-plus kilometers to the bus station. Gaining more strange stares I walked and walked in the rain. A motorbike taxi stopped, looking concerned. I asked him how far to the bus station. He said, “far.” I said I would walk. What can I say, I love to explore on foot, even when my feet hurt so bad that it causes me to limp.

He came by a few minutes later and pointed at his bike. I asked, “tou rai/how much?” He shook his head. I decided to accept the offer and my interest was peaked about the possibility for my first motorbike taxi ride.

A few minutes later I was dropped off at the bus station, and I asked again, “tou rai/how much?” He shook his head, motioning that it was okay, that he just wanted to help. He walked me into the bus station office. I wanted to pay him, but before I could ask again, he was gone. This second act of Thai kindness touched my heart, making my last impression of Ranong positive.

The weekend was a mix of people, places and emotions. Ranong surprised me in many ways. It was the epitome of a border town in some areas, while in other areas, it seemed to match the theme of a hot spring, spa town. The mixture made for a smorgasbord of a travel experience.

The kind staff and tree house pods at Ngao National Park may inspire me to make a return trip.

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Friday, March 27, 2009


First Person: Claudine's Reflections on Tung Dap

Gill, P' Noi, and Claudine in front of P' Noi's house in Tung Dap
Gill, P' Noi, and Claudine in front of P' Noi's house in Tung Dap
Perhaps the most enjoyable and memorable part of our stay in Tung Dap (apart from the fresh seafood dinners and meeting a tame otter with a liking for farang ankles) was listening to the stories of our homestay host, P' Noi.

P' Noi is a fantastic story-teller. After we had eaten an amazing dinner of fresh seafood we would sit on the floor in P' Noi’s beautiful wooden house listening to stories from her Moken childhood. Both P' Noi’s parents died when she was a young girl, but she was fortunate enough to have eight brothers and sisters, including a twin sister P' Ya. P' Noi spent the majority of her childhood aboard a Kabang -- a traditional wooden boat which the Moken use as a home, fishing boat, and for transportation. The Moken used to spend months at time on the ocean, travelling around the Andaman Sea in search of the fish which make up the majority of their diet. Moken fishing practices are low impact and sustainable -- only taking what they actually need to survive and putting back any fish which are too young.

P' Noi and her family re-built their home with wood collected from the island’s mangrove forests
P' Noi and her family re-built their home with wood collected from the island’s mangrove forests
We also loved hearing the stories of the time that P' Noi and her sister visited Bangkok, in order that P' Noi could undergo a major hospital operation. It’s hard to imagine how these ladies must have felt coming from a small traditional fishing community on a tropical island into the heaving metropolis of Bangkok with its traffic jams, Skytrains and shopping centers. Their story of standing in a stationary elevator for ten minutes because they didn’t realize they had to press the buttons is an absolute classic! These ladies have a great sense of humour -- even when they themselves are the object of the joke.

Pee Noi has certainly experienced a great deal during her lifetime. After the tsunami wiped out most of the homes, farms and fishing boats in Tung Dap, P' Noi and her family re-built their home with wood collected from the island’s mangrove forests, with minimal assistance from the many aid organizations present in Thailand at that time. The family didn’t want to live in a house built by somebody else, because they wouldn’t feel they truly owned it or belonged there. P' Noi believes that the events of December 2004 helped her become a stronger person. Her resilience, self-reliance and positive attitude towards such a catastrophic event is a huge inspiration.

P' Noi and the Moken community live in a way which some people might think of as basic or ‘backward’. They have no cars and there are no shops nearby. Yet the island’s rivers, forests and oceans provide almost everything they need to live a happy, healthy and comfortable life. Having money is not important to them. Offering homestays to responsible and respectful tourists offers P' Noi a way to try to protect and preserve her way of life and the Moken culture against the potential encroachment of commercial mass tourism.

A visit to Tung Dap offers a fascinating insight into a way of life which is slowly disappearing. It often touches visitors in ways they don’t expect and leaves them with incredible memories to take away with them.

We are grateful to P' Noi for inviting us into her home and sharing her stories and her lifestyle so openly with us. Thanks also to Tu for being such an excellent guide and translator.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Share YOUR Story

Andaman Discoveries relies on people like you to assist us in contributing to cultural understanding and the livelihood of villagers. If you’ve already participated in our programs, what made you travel with Andaman Discoveries?

As you reflect on your time in Southern Thailand, other than still being able to taste the flavorful feast of fresh curries, vegetables, fruits and seafood, what are the other memories that resonate? As you gained understanding of another culture, did you do something that another person would find helpful, informative or perhaps entertaining?

We’d like to include personal stories on our blog and newsletter from guests who’ve seen Andaman Discoveries’ programs in action. Whether your memory is of a village homestay, an island tour to Koh Ra Ecolodge, an adventure to the Kuraburi dam or nearby waterfall, dining in Kuraburi at Cucina Andaburi or the area markets – we want to hear from you.

Please e-mail your first-hand stories to info[at]

Have you seen a post on the Andaman Discoveries’ blog or newsletter that sparked your interest? We welcome comments on our blog and newsletter. Don’t be shy – share your thoughts.

Other travelers planning a trip to Thailand can benefit from your experiences. We've found that posting on forums is one of the best ways to share the Andaman Discoveries’ story. If you have time, some great Web sites to write about your experiences to share with others include:

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Monday, March 23, 2009


What makes an ecolodge more than just another hotel?

Experiences in Thailand
By Leslie Welshimer
The Koh Ra Ecolodge experience begins with a scenic boat ride.

There are seemingly endless options available on where to get some much-needed z’s while traveling. One option is to select an ecolodge for your accommodations. So, what makes an ecolodge different from any other hotel?

Our bungalow was reached by walking along a peaceful path.

An ecolodge is defined on as a, “Type of tourist accommodation designed to have the least possible impact on the natural environment in which it is situated.”

I had never stayed at an ecolodge before three friends and I traveled to Koh Ra Ecolodge. The only way to Koh Ra is by boat, which is about a 20-minute trip from Kuraburi Pier. The lack of easy access to Koh Ra enhances its isolation, giving the feeling of escaping to a hidden paradise.

Sea kayaking offers a different perspective of Koh Ra.
We spent our two-day stay swimming, snorkeling, sea kayaking, napping in hammocks and enjoying the natural beauty of the area. The accommodations are comfortable. The natural feeling is completed by sleeping under a mosquito net in the bungalows. Our bungalow, sans items like a television and phone, allowed us to fully relax in nature. Our palates took delight in a healthy and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Relaxing is a task achieved easily with the sound of the sea and cozy hammocks.
The Koh Ra Ecolodge is an ideal place for those who want to relax and/or be active in nature. The ecolodge runs on generator power from about sunset to 11 p.m. Then it’s lights out, or time to find a flashlight.

Koh Ra offers numerous special packages for activities like diving. Rates may vary depending on season and occupancy.

An organic garden provides fresh produce and a volunteer opportunity for guests.
Also, there is a chance for a discount if you’re willing to put your hands and mind to good use. The Koh Ra Ecolodge provides volunteer and research opportunities, in addition to a chance to soak up the sun on the beach. Volunteer experiences include coral reef monitoring, organic gardening and community education to name just a few.

The Andaman Discoveries' team can book your stay at Koh Ra Ecolodge.

To arrange accommodation at an ecolodge near you, visit Responsible Travel.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Homestay with Andaman Discoveries

Reposted from the Briefcase to BACKPACK Blog
December 9, 2008 by Michaela Potter

Michael and I traveled to Thailand as part of our 2007 career break. The following is an excerpt from our travel blog.

Of all the places we would visit on this trip, the last place I thought Michael would be able to relate to the most was a small Muslim Village in Thailand. But surprisingly, he eased right into sleeping on a mattress on a floor under mosquito netting with roosters crowing at 2am, speaking a completely different language from anyone else around us, and feeding baby goats twice a day. But he easily compared it to consulting -- traveling endlessly from one hotel to the next, needing to learn a new dialect or corporate speak, and understanding a new corporate environment and supporting it. Makes perfect sense.

Our stay in Tung Nang Dam was thanks to Andaman Discoveries -- an offshoot of the North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR) organization. As their website states “we started by doing relief projects FOR community members, then we progressed to development projects WITH community members, now we are assisting with projects led BY community members.”

We were to stay four days/three nights in this small Muslim village, which consisted of just 35 homes and a population of 115. Even though Tung Nang Dam is protected by mangroves, (hence you can only access it by boat), and no homes or lives were lost during the tsunami, the fishermen lost their boats and livelihood and many fish farms were damaged beyond repair. And as part of the evolution of NATR “villagers decided that community-based tourism would allow them to generate additional income and support the community of their traditions, culture and lifestyle. Community-based tourism could fit into their lives, and not force them to sacrifice their traditional lifestyles for the sake of tourists.”

Our host, P’Noi, and her family were the perfect hosts for this experience. P’Noi was part of the NATR seven-month vocational training program that focused on using tourism as a tool for community development; cultural, environmental and adventure-based guiding methods; first aid and safety training; English language and computer skills; small business management and entrepreneurial training; and hospitality and travel planning skills.

One of P’Noi’s projects was an orchid conservation farm. Orchids in Tung Nang Dam are becoming increasingly rare, as they are popular decorations for homes and restaurants. Over-harvesting by mainland people has become a big problem in the jungles of the village. P’Noi has developed a program of incubating orchid cuttings on her farm and transplanting them to the jungle once they are mature. In addition, volunteers add their names, hometowns and date of planting on a plaque next to the orchid in hopes of dissuading people from cutting them. We did our part by planting cuttings in coconut planters with hopes of them returning to the jungle in the future. We also went on a jungle trek to fertilize those orchids that have been returned.

P’Noi and her family also had a goat farm, so every afternoon we would help shepherd them into their homes for the night as well as feeding the baby goats by bottle. Michael quickly took to this chore and had a few favorite kids that would nip at his feet for more. Another cultural activity that P’Noi shared with us was cooking. She shared with us how to make the Thai equivalent of a small pancake, guided us in cooking a seafood lunch, and even grilled oysters on a fire with her brothers.

Of course the activities were just a side to the actual experience of living within a completely different environment, learning to communicate in broken Thai and sign language, and placing ourselves out of our comfort zone. But as much as we struggled in this new environment, the fact that these people, who come from a very shy culture and have to learn much more in order to accommodate us, opened up their homes and lives to us was extremely humbling.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Gin Khao Reu Yang?

Experiences in Thailand
By Leslie Welshimer

It began with an intense craving for American food – a meal of a tuna sandwich, fries and a salad.

As I was savoring my meal, another farang smirked and laughed as he walked by my table, mocking my choice of dinner. And, so it began. March 6 marked the beginning of a one-month pact to eat only local cuisine in Kuraburi.

Prior to living in Thailand, I too mocked the thought of travelers dining on Western food abroad. Then by week three in Thailand, it occurred to me that I had been a giant, judgmental hypocrite for mocking others.

Week one of Western-food free month included a visit to Tung Dap village where we feasted on crab, squid and fresh coconut for a beverage.
Yes, it hit me – longings for meals sans rice or noodles. I wanted a Gorditos' burrito, a Red Mill burger, sushi from Umi Sake House, Beecher’s Mac n’ Cheese, Trophy Cupcakes and all the other diverse options I took for granted in Seattle.

It had never occurred to me that the ability to get nearly any type of food, at any time, is a luxury. Yes, I realized, I had taken that delicious, juicy burrito, the size of a baby, for granted. Gorditos, please forgive me.

Other than a Gorditos-absent environment, what is different about eating in Thailand? For starters, Thai food is generally eaten with a fork and a spoon. The spoon is the star of the show, bringing the food to your mouth. The fork, held in the left hand, is used like a knife in Western cultures to push food into the spoon. Chopsticks are used rarely, primarily for the consumption of noodle soups.

Rice is a beloved food here. It is so beloved that the phrase for, “have you eaten yet,” is “gin khao reu yang" or “have you had rice yet.”

Delicious waffles are sold at the Kuraburi morning market.
In America, at a family dinner, people pass dishes around the table taking some of each dish before beginning to eat. In Thailand it’s customary to take a small spoonful from a dish near you and eat that. Then you go from there, trying other dishes. Take it slow, even though this is hard with all the amazing food and smells.

Food is eaten slowly, savored. The sharing of food with others is part of the fun. When eating with Thais, the concept of “my entrée” is uncommon.

What will you share? A Thai meal commonly contains a soup, a curry dish with condiments, a dip with accompanying fish and vegetables. A spiced salad often replaces the curry dish. The overarching key is a balance and harmony of tastes and textures.

Fresh fruit is a treat at area markets.
There is a morning and night market in Kuraburi. Markets are famous throughout Thailand. Vendors fill an area with vibrant colored, fragrant food. Often, there are hard goods as well, like clothes and home accessories.

Tables full of fresh fruit and vegetables are a common site. There are several varieties of ready-to-eat food, including a noodle bar where you choose your toppings, fish cakes, barbecue chicken, sticky rice, fried bananas, and on and on.

My favorite meal from the morning market is a hot coffee (10 baht) and two waffles (10 baht), purchased from separate vendors. The grand total is less than $1 for a scrumptious breakfast.

Pad med mamuang (cashew chicken) with a fresh fruit smoothie at Cucina Andaburi.
For dinner or an evening snack, I love to get sticky rice, a piece of fresh fruit and a dish called Roti from the night market. Roti reminds me of crepes. I usually get it with egg and banana – Yum!

One observation I quickly made in Thailand was there aren’t designated foods for different meals. I see people eating the same noodle dishes for breakfast as they have for dinner. Barbecued chicken is seen at the morning and night market.

As far as ordering food, I’ve found it’s useful to know how to say and understand numbers in Thai. It’s helpful to know a few words like the names of foods you like or don’t like. If all else fails, pointing with a smile, rubbing your belly or using a phrasebook works.

Som tam is served at this atmosphere-filled restaurant on stilts.
As week one ends, I’m having a surprising craving for rice. It really is a remarkable food.

(Note: These experiences are from Kuraburi. Food in other parts of Thailand may vary)

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Thursday, March 12, 2009


Muang Kluang Village

Andaman Discoveries introduces new destination

Andaman Discoveries began working with Muang Kluang village last year as part of our effort to further diversify our award-winning village tours and homestay program. We're now ready to invite guests to spend time in this unique village. Working with Muang Kluang accomplishes two goals: expanding our support network of communities in the north Andaman area and offering more cultural activities for our visitors.

Andaman Discoveries invested extensive research into Muang Kluang by personally visiting the homestays, participating in village activities, and talking in-depth with homestay group coordinator Khun Jo Jo . We're confident that Andaman Discoveries’ guests will thoroughly enjoy spending time in Muang Kluang as well. The program will benefit the villagers through revenue generation that will go towards skills development and youth education.

In 2007, Muang Kluang received the accolade of “The Most Outstanding Community-based Tourism Award” by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Andaman Discoveries is excited to offer this additional destination for guests seeking an authentic cultural experience. Please contact us for more information.

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Sad news from Ban Talae Nok

Tragedy struck in February when three-year-old Chukran was struck by a motorbike. He was rushed to the hospital with critical injuries and passed away the next morning. The community gathered together in accordance with Islamic tradition for the burial ritual that same afternoon. Two of our guests were invited to the ceremony, and this is their touching account of what happened:

"It was solemn and terribly sad, but a dignified occasion as we witnessed the whole community coming together to share in the grief, support each other, and take comfort in the rituals of the funeral. We were invited to visit the house and pay our respects…We were also invited to help the women who were preparing food for the funeral. I was grateful to be able to offer both our condolences and a tiny bit of practical support, and felt as though even in this small way we were being included in and welcomed by the community, rather than feeling uncomfortable, or in the way.”

Our hopes and thoughts are with Chukran’s family during this difficult time. If any guests would like to offer condolences or support to Chukran’s family, please let us know.


Youth in Action

Local conservation gets international recognition

Ning, third from left, is the "Youth in Action" program manager.
With the tragic death of Chukran, the last month has been a time of reflection for us here at Andaman Discoveries, and also a time to honor the importance of children to a community’s happiness and future. After weeks of preparation, we launched the Youth in Action project with support from the European Union and French partner Pistes Solidaire.

This program will support the youth conservation group in Ban Talae Nok, and link them with youth groups across the world, including a visit from partners in Senegal, Italy, and five other countries. By doing their own projects and learning from peers all over the world, youth are given the skills to create sustainable development.

The initiative recognizes that young people need to take an active part in the decisions that will affect their futures. Ning, from our long time partner Mangrove Action Project, will act as program manager. She recently traveled to France for the project’s official kick-off. Since then Ning has developed programs such as climate change-related activities, a community waste management and recycling program, kitchen gardens, mangrove forest monitoring and restoration, and a youth learning center. Ning is enjoying the work and the enthusiasm of the local youth. “We decided to have a team leader for each research project topic, selected from the youth members who are the most interested and keen in the each topic,” she reported.


North Andaman Community Tourism (N-ACT) Network

All together now!

N-ACT unites communities, responsible tour operators, and other stakeholders in community development.
The North Andaman Community Tourism (N-ACT) network was established over a year ago to help local communities secure their future through sustainable tourism and conservation. With support from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), new villages are developing activities for guests.

Tung Dap and Muang Kluang will begin receiving respectful guests in the next few months. Other recent successes include promoting Ban Talae Nok soaps to several distributors, sharing the “North Andaman Adventure Handbook” with select tour operators, and visiting a rare hot/cold springs that the local ranger swore to “protect and care for like his own virgin daughter.”

Now under the umbrella of Andaman Discoveries, N-ACT will also work with government and other tourism businesses and organizations to develop institutional capacity. “The joining of N-ACT and Andaman Discoveries makes sense. We can support each other on product development and livelihood diversity,” said N-ACT Project Manager Nattaya “Nat” Sektheera. Next month, N-ACT will be helping tourism coordinators in each village focus on marketing and promotion, and will soon have its own website, so stay tuned for updates!


Phuket Special School

A UK Visitor Reflects on Volunteering

Two of Nolawi's students at the Phuket Special School.
Nolawi (UK) recently spent a month volunteering at the Phuket Special School for disabled children, coming through our UK-based partner Twin UK. His experience was quite transformative.

“I spent one month volunteering at the Phuket Special School. It was without doubt one of the most special months of my life -- and it was a very sad moment when I left. The teachers are truly amazing and it was an absolute pleasure to have met them, they ALL treated me like a member of their family, but what made the most impact on me was the fantastic, talented children at the school. I think I learned more from them then they did from me, one of the many things they taught me was sign language, which I hope to improve on in the future. They are all so unique and always smiling. What I liked about my time at the school was that no two days were ever the same, which meant the month, sadly, just flew by.”

Nolawi added that he plans to visit the school again. “This was truly life-changing. Thank you to everybody at the school for what you have done for me.”

The Phuket Special School for disabled is one of several long-term volunteering programs offered by Andaman Discoveries. We can also arrange placement at the Burmese Learning Center in Kuraburi. Our team is developing more programs, so please check back!


Andaman Discoveries Highlighted in Guidebooks

Rough Guides and Michaels Hemmelige Guide

Lucy and "Pink" string soap together in Ban Talae Nok.
Lucy (UK) returned to Kuraburi for the second time in as many years to update the latest edition of “Thailand's Beaches & Islands,” produced for the Rough Guides series. “I have spent a lot of time in Thailand, so some aspects of village life were not new to me. However, I was very glad to experience two different homestays and to spend some time in village activities that are quite new to me.” As a journalist who spends a lot of time in Thailand, Lucy has done similar tours and activities, so it’s especially rewarding for us to get such great feedback from her! Andaman Discoveries also recently appeared in the Danish guidebook “Beach Huts in Thailand” by Michaels Hemmelige, and has since welcomed many guests from Denmark to the north Andaman Coast.

Lucy was also impressed with our guiding and support staff, adding, “special thanks to Tui for guiding and tireless interpreting, and to Karen and Mimi for excellent backup and company. You are doing a great job here!” The several Danish families that have found Andaman Discoveries have also enjoyed their experiences. “The trip exceeded my expectations,” said Anja following a three-day family tour. “Tui is fantastic! The villagers are very, very kind, friendly, and smiling,” she added.


UK Responsible Tourism Partnership

Andaman Discoveries Homestays Diversify Itineraries

Responsible tour operators work with local Thai community members to develop new programs.
In his recent article, “Taste the Spice of Local Thai Life,” Peter Richards of the Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute (a partner organization of Andaman Discoveries) describes how some of the most highly-acclaimed responsible tour operators in the UK and Thailand have been working with local Thai community members to develop new community-based tourism programs. Andaman Discoveries is working with several UK-based operators, providing them with stand-alone community tours or adding a cultural component to an existing offering that might also include sightseeing and beaches. “Incorporating a cultural exchange into a package itinerary gives more travelers a chance to visit the community and to make a positive contribution,” said Andaman Discoveries Program Development Manager Mimi Cheung.

This groundbreaking initiative has given the tour operators and local Thai community members a unique chance to meet each other and compare their different roles, experiences, and needs, and to design new tour programs together. “We’re very grateful to CBT-i for their role in facilitating these productive discussions,” Mimi added.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Mu Koh Surin National Park – Paradise Found

Experiences in Thailand
By Leslie Welshimer

As a child I showed my love of the ocean by covering the ceiling of my room with glow-in-the-dark dolphins. Giant posters of beaches and sea life covered nearly every inch of my room. Each year I had an island calendar full of photos of clear turquoise water, white sand and palm trees.

On the last day of February, six friends and I boarded a speed boat from Kuraburi Pier to spend the weekend at Mu Koh Surin National Park – the home of the Surin Islands. The speed boat ride is about an hour.

As the islands came into view, it felt like we were moving into the calendar I’d had on my wall as a child. Paradise means something different to everyone, but Surin is the picture I’d been seeking.

Our group shared two beach-front tents at Mai Ngam Bay. The tents in the camping area are close together but amazingly there was still a serene, peaceful atmosphere.

The beach is just a few strides from the tents. We splashed, played and swam and then rested in hammocks strung from trees along the shore.

Near the campsite was a park restaurant which serves traditional Thai food. The park had reminders to care for the precious environment, like educational signage and separate bins for compost, recycling and trash.

We boarded a boat on the first afternoon to go far out in the sea to snorkel. The water was so clear. I could see deep into the water at stunning coral reefs. Schools of glimmering, tropical fish swam all around me.

Even a non-experienced swimmer would enjoy snorkeling because the salt water keeps one buoyant. I come from swimming in Lake Washington in Seattle where I begin to sink if I stop moving for a moment. At Surin, I could stay on the surface of the water without a single swimming stroke.

Four of the girls I traveled with are Thai, which I especially appreciated when taking a trip to the Moken Village at Bon Bay of Koh Surin Tai. The owner of Cucina Andaburi, Tu, is friends with people in the village. She went into one of the homes to buy mats and coasters for her restaurant in Kuraburi. We sat in a home as she chatted about what she wanted to buy. Farangs (foreigners) would rarely have this unique viewpoint from inside a Moken home.

Several of us purchased handicrafts like model kabang boats. This is a great way to support the community, instead of just wandering around their village with a camera. I did my share of wandering around the village as well.

Aside from the chance to observe the Moken culture, there is also a Chok Madah Nature/Culture Trail in the Interpretive Center at the Moken village, Large Bon Bay. Our return boat on Sunday was at 1 p.m., so we ran out of time to explore the trail.

I’ll be back to Surin soon. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen and surely deserves another visit. I’m planning to wake up there on my 26th birthday to spend the day snorkeling with my fiancé. Hopefully, on this second trip we’ll explore the nature trails. We’ll be there just in time for a last-hoorah at Surin, as the national park closes for rainy season from May 16 to Nov. 15.

Want to see for yourself? You can learn more about Mu Koh Surin National Park, or book a trip through Andaman Discoveries by visiting:

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009


First Person: Rowena's Reflections on Ban Talae Nok

A Village Homestay from a Writer’s Perspective

The four of us slowly strolled down the dusty road, away from the main village and towards the beach, to watch the sun perform its slow swandive into tranquil blue waters, heralded by a dusky pink and orange sky.

Concerned by our silence, Tui enquired, "Are you tired?" "No," we replied. She paused. "Are you relaxed?" she asked. "Ye-es," we sighed, our voices lifted with smiles.

That's the impact that life at Ban Talae Nok had on us after just two days. The slow-paced way of life, the welcome of the villagers wreathed in smiles as warm as Thailand's sultry climate, the seemingly infinite supply of tempting food, the precocious cuteness of the children -- I loved it all.

After a year spent working all the hours God sent, mostly while sat in front of a PC in England's rainy Manchester, I came to Thailand looking like many others to relax and unwind in the sun -- but also to find out more about a culture and people who I had first met and fallen in love with over seven years ago. Through Andaman Discoveries, I found that -- and more besides.

I found that it's impossible to come to this part of the world and not appreciate two things.

Firstly, the devastating impact that the 2003 tsunami had on this rural community. Our visit to the beach site of the old village school gave us some clues, where photographs revealed the devastation left by a massive wave, where 16 children lost their lives and where only a flagpole survived the site's destruction. All this belied the tranquility of the ocean that we watched gently lapping the shore.

Secondly, the value of sustainable tourism projects like this. Aided by the non-directive education and support of Andaman Discovery staff and volunteers, the residents of Ban Talae Nok are able to make the most of community-based tourism, given full control over where their guests stay, what they do and what impact they choose to let us have on their lives. And they show us a good time.

Every activity that we tried was a great deal of fun -- designing batik, weaving palm leaf roofs, planting mangrove trees, shelling cashew nuts, making soap, and more. And it gave us a far greater appreciation of the skills required to undertake these labours -- skills that us farang were sadly lacking in, to the great amusement of all concerned.

For me, the chance to meet and interact with Thai people outside the tourist touts and restaurant owners; to witness, learn from and participate in the various activities that these people undertake in order to support themselves and their community in a post-tsunami world; to gain a more profound insight into a culture and lifestyle so distinctively different from my own, all combined to create an experience that I know I will remember forever.

Put simply, this trip made me think, made me laugh, made me cry -- and made my holiday.

Thank you.

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