Our arrival in Om Goi wasn’t announced by a road sign or a catchy touristy poster but rather by the sound of hushed giggles in nearby bushes. Emerging from the undergrowth, multiple pair of eyes peeked out from the undergrowth to reveal a whole jumble of kids hidden within. Evidently eager about our visit, many of the local kids had gathered all along the road to greet us into their homes.
Welcome to Om Goi I suppose?
Last week, I traveled as the ‘photographer intern’ for Educational Travel Asia
to a remote Karen hill tribe village in Northern Thailand. Coincidently enough, all of the students and teachers going were from NIST, an international school in Bangkok that had been my high school’s friendly rivals. So over the course of four days, I hitched along with the other 22 students, 3 teachers and 4 local guides to document our time spent in Om Goi.
I will admit that before the trip, I was anxious at the thought of jumping into an unknown group of students and having to constantly take their photos. Personally, I just feel more comfortable photographing strangers on the street over a handful of high school seniors. Noting this, I figured that if worse comes to worse and I found it impossible to connect with anyone, I’d still try to get the best shots by sticking to myself and completely delving into my photography. Trying to get the best shots was why I was there right? On one hand, yes, but luckily for me, I didn’t have to stick by plan B.
Simply put, I struck gold with the company on the trip. From the students and teachers, to the local ETA leaders and Om Goi villagers, everyone made me feel right at home even though on paper, I was literally just another body/liability/mouth-to-feed/free-spot-on-the-bus. Despite the genuinely shared concern over the sanity of my upbringing at ISB, I was blown away by how welcoming everyone was!
On a side note, this trip also reconfirmed how creating new relationships and gaining the trust of others will completely kick the door open for photo opportunities (Y)
So overall, 10/10 for company and photo opps.
3 hour ride from the Northern city of Chiang Mai to the small village of Om Goi –> 3 hour hike to the local Karen hill tribe village of Om Goi
End of the hike/arrival in the Karen hill tribe village of Om Goi
Different return route on the last day – scenic rice terraces and semi dense woods
As we were the 4th NIST student group to visit, there was already a strong relationship built between the villagers and NIST community. In fact, a few of the students have been on all 4 trips and even planned to return for future ones! Previous need & analysis projects had already been implemented to improve the villagers’ quality of life in a sustainable and manageable manner with past projects including the construction/completion of toilets, water filter, etc.
This time, we built the foundation of a communal water storage tank that’ll be useful in the coming dry months.
Lastly, a big hurrah to those in the NIST community who’ve put time into the Om Goi projects. Even from an outsider’s perspective, it’s seemingly evident that the changes made have positively impacted the community.
Final thanks to the Educational Tours Asia staff for allowing me to help out as well as the NIST group for making it such a memorable time. I only wish we could have had more time!