Andaman Discoveries Blog

Monday, August 31, 2009


UCLA Study Trip

Students Complete Month-Long Study Tour

Students and staff from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) turned Thailand into a classroom for their field study course: “Thailand: Sustainable Communities and Ecosystems.” The course is a community-based, integrated, and social and natural science field research program. Students engage in sustainability research, intercultural activities, and fieldwork. Students used their knowledge to join Thai villagers and organizations in community service.

The study tour was sponsored by the UCLA Institute of the Environment. Professor Michael Silverman was involved at each step of the development and implementation of the program. The dedication of Professor Silverman and the UCLA Institute of the Environment were crucial in the success of the program.

“The thing that I liked the best about this program and AD is that it allowed me to go to places and get involved in activities that I would not have known about otherwise. If I were to come to Thailand on my own, I doubt I’d have ventured too far from the major cities, so this definitely made for a worthwhile and more authentic experience with Thai culture,” said Michelle Honda, UCLA student.

For the final project, students had the opportunity to do their work in different places. Some students spent five days at Ban Lion Village on Koh Phratong Island. The group’s activities included two mangrove study visits, interviews with the locals regarding the opinions and impacts of community-based tourism at Ban Lion, homestay sign preparation, making certificates for the winners of a garden competition, as well as repairing the school-kitchen garden fence.

“University groups benefit from study tours because the students learn firsthand through work that helps ordinary people in their day-to-day lives. They can experience rural culture and practice ways to preserve local lifestyles. Our goal for study tours is to help students give back to the communities and gain knowledge about the importance of responsible tourism and voluntourism,” said Karen Spackman, AD client and community relations manager.

Mimi Cheung, AD program development manager, said, “The students were enthusiastic, collaborative, attentive, and flexible, which allowed all the activities to run smoothly. Having a group of energetic students in the village resulted in the locals’ attitudes being more expressive, appreciative, attentive and proud. For example, the interview allowed the villagers to express their views regarding the outsiders’ input to their village. The villagers had positive opinions towards the CBT-development program. Additionally, the locals learned many lessons from this visit, including improving some of the CBT services provided and on the visitors’ orientation regarding dress code.”

Students also spent three days at Koh Ra Ecolodge. Awe, Study Tour Project Coordinator said, “On Koh Ra, the students did a hornbill and strangler fig count. This type of information has not been recorded before and is essential if we are to know the impact of humans and ecotourism on the island. They also learned how the sea gypsies use medicinal plants and natural resources.”

Thank you to the students and staff of UCLA for completing your course in Thailand -- we hope to see you again next year!

Visit the UCLA blog and the UCLA Institute of the Environment Web site, to read more about the UCLA study tour. Also, please feel free to contact us if you’d like to know more about the program.

And special thanks to everyone who collaborated to make the UCLA study tour possible.

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BBC Filmmaker’s Unique Experience

World Challenge 2009 - Voting Opens September 28

The BBC film crew captures moments of the UCLA study tour in Ban Talae Nok.
Andaman Discoveries (AD) is one of twelve finalists for the World Challenge 2009, a global competition aimed at finding projects or small businesses from around the world that have shown enterprise and innovation at a grassroots level. As a finalist, AD will be featured by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In July we welcomed a film crew for a three-day visit that coincided with the UCLA study tour, allowing students to travel with the film crew.

The film crew visited several AD projects, including Tung Dap, the Burmese Learning Center, and Ban Talae Nok. “The visit to meet the Moken villagers on Tung Dap was truly a unique experience. I have traveled far and wide to over 80 countries in the course of my work and leisure, but rarely have I experienced what I did that day. I was let into and warmly received (with no strings attached) to a private and special community. The sensitive manner in which Andaman Discoveries and the communities it works with approaches these visits, is in my opinion the only sustainable path in order to retain a true taste of adventure without trampling all over and quickly losing what was special and attracted one there in the first place,” said the film crew director.

According to Kevin Hung, a UCLA student, “being part of the filming of this program as an active participant in ecotourism has given me hope for the people of Thailand and the world's environmental mindset as a whole. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of something so big and I wish you the best of luck in years to come.”

While the filming was timely to be during the study tour, it wasn’t timely for weather! During the three-day visit, Phang Nga province had record rains that caused severe flooding, closing roads and requiring evacuations. The students, guests, film crew, and all of us have a newfound appreciation for the term “monsoon”!

Andaman Discoveries will be in the spotlight on BBC World News on Oct. 17 at 2:30 p.m. (GMT) and Oct. 18 at 2:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. (GMT). Also, Newsweek will have a feature article coinciding with the BBC World News broadcasts. We’ll announce when the Newsweek article has gone live.

You can vote for Andaman Discoveries from Sept. 28 through Nov. 13. Voting will be available at the World Challenge Web site.

Special thanks again to Stanislava Cholakova, on behalf of the SEED Initiative, for the nomination.

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Local Action

Ban Talae Nok Youth Group

Ban Talae Nok organic garden
Ladda “Pink” Aharn, Ban Talae Nok (BTN) community coordinator, is pleased to share the progress of all of the great work that the youth group is doing in the village. Here’s a look at four projects underway that the youth group is leading:

Waste Management Project: Many children participate in this activity each month. “It is about more than collecting garbage,” said Pink. “It helps the youth have unity and work together. Then after their hard work, they all join together for snacks.”

Organic Farm: This project is a favorite of the youth and adults in the village. They started with one garden, which has been a success. The next step is to have a pilot garden program where about 20 houses will have their own spot to grow fresh food.

Landscaping: The youth group is working on building a fence along the main road with carefully planted greenery such as local leaf (Pak Leing), fruit trees like rose apple and mango, to enliven the village environment.

Community Forest: The youth group and BTN villagers want to plant more Nipa palm it is an essential resource. It can be used to make roofing to sell. The villagers are seeking to plant more seedlings.

Thank you to Pink and the BTN Youth Group for all of your contributions to the community. To see all the youth projects, or participate with them, please contact us.

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Career Breaks that Matter

Southern Thailand Orphanage Volunteer

The study tour participants weren’t the only UCLA students we welcomed in July -- UCLA alumnus and Los Angeles resident Christina Liu-Shaffer also joined us as part of a two-month career break. Christina wanted to experience a place abroad rather than just see it, so she chose to volunteer for a month at the Southern Thailand Orphanage before traveling throughout Thailand and China.

Christina said, "My volunteer experience has been amazing. Volunteering at the orphanage has changed my life! I feel so lucky to have been a part of the orphanage’s family and I will cherish this experience forever.

"I was warmly welcomed into the family as soon as I arrived. When the kids got home from school they ran out and gave me hugs and flowers.

"Before I arrived I was worried because I thought volunteering at an orphanage could be really sad. This proved to be the exact opposite of everything I worried an orphanage might be like.

"The kids are the happiest kids I have ever seen! The director and his wife are amazing and their huge hearts and desire to help others is truly inspiring. I love everyone at the project and always want to stay connected and help them in any way I can.

"What I enjoyed the most at the orphanage was that I could see I was making a difference. Whether that was seeing the newly re-painted bedroom after I just helped paint or making the kids laugh and smile. I could see that my time there was making a difference and that was the reason I wanted to volunteer."

If you’d like to contribute your time to volunteering at the Southern Thailand Orphanage, please contact us to learn more about how you can get involved.

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Experiences to Savor

Burmese Students impacted by Volunteer

Jeannine volunteering at the Burmese Learning Center.
We bid farewell (for now!) to Jeannine Curd of New Zealand, who volunteered for two months at the Burmese Learning Center. Jeannine was touched by the experience and hopes to return.

“Forming fantastic relationships with the children and the staff will forever be treasured by me.

"Things that made my stay memorable were the little things unbeknownst to me. At the last class every day, I would say 'see you tomorrow', and before I knew it, the students were saying it to me at the day’s end. I thought, How do they know that?, Then I realized that despite thinking the students were not learning, that every little thing you do and say is savored.

"Experiences I treasure include seeing the joy and excitement when giving such little things like a pencil, balloon or even a piece of paper to draw on, hearing the younger children start to say a rhyme because they want to sing it with you, watching them going from building single towers from Play-Doh to constructing various towers and buildings. Asking questions of the older children and getting the right answer the next day, when I thought no one was really listening, will last with me forever.

"The Burmese people live a very basic life and face many challenges, so the work you do is hugely appreciated. I can see from the parents around the school that the time we spend is greatly valued. Helping educate the children in any way is a huge step toward a better life.

"The whole experience has been memorable for me. I plan to return home, work hard, earn some money and come right back for more."

If you’d like to contribute your time to volunteering at the Burmese School, please contact us to learn more about how you can get involved.

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In the Jungle, the Ban Na Jungle

N-ACT supports communities through survey tours

The trekkers were rewarded with views of Waterfall La-On Dao.
Two intrepid trekkers from Germany ventured deep into the Ban Na jungle with N-ACT program manager Nattaya “Nat” Sektheera and five local guides this July. Ani and Anne were excited by the unique opportunity to join a survey tour in a local community while volunteering at a tsunami-orphan aid project near Khao Lak. The jungle trek consisted of two days and one night of camping.

“We had a wonderful time on the trek, the guides were so knowledgeable and helpful. Nat, our translator, was fantastic. She helped us to understand by translating our questions to the guides. We did not expect the food to be so good and we will definitely come back for a longer trek the next time,” said the trekkers.

The trek provided important training for the guides, as they were the first foreigners to complete the trek, providing the guides with an authentic opportunity to practice their English and learn what is interesting to guests. The trek itself is an exhilarating walk that takes guests into the heart of the local jungle. The route has scenic sights, including a great banyan tree and many local herbs and flowers that the local guides will teach guests how to use in cooking and for medicine. The guides are knowledgeable about the land and enjoy showing guests the foot prints of wildlife that inhabit the forest.

To learn more about how to participate in survey treks organized by N-ACT, like the Ban Na tour, please contact us.

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Welcome Aboard!

Experienced Program Manager joins Andaman Discoveries

Claudine Nagiah, UK, has about 10 years of experience with a focus on international development projects and natural resource management. She has been living in Thailand since January 2009, and is planning to be with Andaman Discoveries until November, assisting in the office and on-site at projects.

“My passion is to work in ecotourism and community-based tourism, as it’s an area which I find interesting, varied, challenging and fulfilling. I am looking forward to learning about Andaman Discoveries and Kuraburi, which I hear has some of the best food in Thailand,” said Claudine.

Mimi Cheung, program development manager, said, “Claudine has joined our team at the perfect time. She has extensive knowledge about community development, which will be highly valued as we research new programs to offer our guests. Thank you for being a part of our team, Claudine!”

There are periodic openings for an opportunity to be a part of the AD team. Are you a student or recent graduate eager to gain more hands-on experience? Or are you a professional ready to take a career break, but want to utilize your marketing and business skills? If yes, then Andaman Discoveries wants to hear from you.

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News that’s Fit to Print

Journalists become a part of the story

We welcomed freelance journalist Sarah Warwick in July. During her visit, she spent time in Ban Talae Nok, the Burmese Learning Center, and Kamphuan Community Learning Center.

Sarah is writing about community tourism and voluntourism for TNT magazine. She said she “felt an affinity with the town of Kuraburi because you get a real feel for the people and they are so friendly.” Thank you for visiting Sarah. We hope to see you again.

Also, Andaman Discoveries was featured in the July/August issue of fahThai, the in-flight magazine for Bangkok Airways. The article called, “Have Heart Will Travel,” recommends voluntourism opportunities in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnan.

Rebecca Kelly wrote, “Yes, we’re living through some tough economic times. But instead of staying at home and sticking your head in the sand, read on about the growing number of people choosing to roll up their sleeves and become involved in projects aimed at making the world a better place. Voluntourism is a way for people to combine their tropical trip with a working holiday – and across Asia there’s certainly no shortage of worthy projects on which to lend a hand.”

Read the entire article in fahThai, click here or visit our press page.

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Andaman Discoveries Store

Show your support. Become a part of the story.

Have you been searching for the perfect gift for your friend’s upcoming birthday, or are you one of those ambitious holiday shoppers already on the gift hunt? Then visit the Andaman Discoveries Store, which has a gift for almost any occasion. Products include t-shirts, hand-made cards from women in Bak Jok village, herbal soap made by the women of Ban Talae Nok, and hand-carved Moken boats from Bak Jok.

If you have a suggestion for something you’d like to see in the store, please leave a comment or contact us.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009


Leslie’s Top 10 Thailand Highlights

As I was packing my bags to bid Thailand farewell (at least for this time), Kelly May mentioned a North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR) tradition in which all departing team members shared a Top 10 list of their experience. Why not carry on the tradition with Andaman Discoveries?

There are far more than 10 things I’d like to rave about, but in the Twitter age, I think this will do the trick. In no particular order, here is my Top 10 list from this February to July that I spent with AD.

Thank you to the AD team, the town of Kuraburi, and all the many other wonderful people who made me feel at home in Thailand.


1. Jai Yen + Sanuk + Mai Pen Rai = Awesome
Three phrases I wish I could have brought home to the U.S. from the Thai culture include jai yen (cool heart), sanuk (having fun) and mai pen rai (it's not important). The phrases are a large part of the core that is the Thai way of life.

Note: Hot heads need not apply for a Thai visa.

2. Andaman Discoveries
The AD team is one of the hardest-working groups of people I’ve met. They believe in what they’re working for and it’s like a small family. If you come to Thailand to work with AD, you might not want to go home. There has been a trend with the team where people plan to come for short periods but extend their commitment. For example, Karen Spackman originally came for three months. However, she fell in love with life in Kuraburi and has just renewed her visa for a second year.

3. Diversity
There are 76 provinces, 148 national parks, and an estimated population of 64 million people spanning a country that is 514,000 square kilometers. About 10 million Thailand residents call Bangkok and its surrounding area home.

Being bored in Thailand may be the least of anyone’s worries. The country is separated into four distinct natural regions. Each offers a diverse landscape to explore. Just Thailand’s national parks alone could keep someone entertained for years.

Statistics are from the United Nations Thailand, Tourism Authority of Thailand, and Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

4. The Markets
Every town I visited in Thailand had a market worth visiting. There is a morning and night market in Kuraburi with friendly vendors dishing up rice soup, barbecued meats, fish, waffles, roti, pad Thai and fresh produce. Wandering the markets in search a snack or meal is a great way to try new foods and practice language skills.

5. Kuraburi Restaurants
The best food I had in Thailand was in Kuraburi. Cucina Andaburi was an AD team favorite. The food was exceptional, but it was made better by the personable chef, Tu, who often doubles as an AD guide on village tours.

6. Warm Sea Water
Swimming in Lake Washington near my home city of Seattle, even with a wetsuit, can be a grimace-filled experience at times. Playing in the Andaman Sea felt more like a trip to a spa.

7. Dance Aerobics
Dance aerobics seemed to be wildly popular in Thailand. I heard energetic music while wandering Lumpini Park in Bangkok. The source of the fast beats was a nightly aerobics class with about 100 people jumping, dancing and working up a sweat to imitate the movements of a lively instructor. There are week-night community aerobics in Kuraburi too. It’s worth going just for the fun music and contagious energy.

8. Saying Goodbye to Skin Cream
Some people acclimate to new climates. I was not one of them. I sweated as much on my last day in Thailand as I did on the first. The good news was that I got to say farewell to a routine of lathering up in skin lotion to avoid looking like a lizard. The only change in my body happened in my brain, as I grew to love the heat and humidity.

9. Koh Ra Ecolodge
A 20-minute boat ride from Kuraburi Pier takes people to a seemingly-secluded island called Koh Ra. The ecolodge is a fun vacation spot in itself. However, the dedication and kindness of the staff is the reason I put the ecolodge in my top 10. Kim, Awe and Joom are three smiling people who helped make my Thailand experience. Read about my visit to the ecolodge here.

10. Fruit Galore
The fresh fruit readily available in Thailand makes me think of the scene in the movie, Forest Gump, when Bubba lists all the types of shrimp. Bubba says, “Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it.”

It was rare to go a restaurant in Thailand and not have the beverage option of fruit shakes with a selection of watermelon, mango, pineapple, papaya, banana and many more to choose from.

What was my favorite fruit in Thailand? The Queen of Fruit, of course, also called the mangosteen and mankut. Read about mangosteen here.

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