My daughter teaches at an international school in Chaing Mai, Thailand. During her fall break, she participated in a Charity Bike Ride to raise funds for the relief of tsunami victims. What follows are excerpts from her account of the trip. Also featued are her photographs. If you wish to contribute to the relief effort please visit http://www.pierssimonappeal.org/v2/
Day 1 & 2:
Starting in the busy streets of Chiang Mai, we biked north along the Ping river valley and into the "land of a million rice fields." As we passed by small villages, workers and especially children frequently turned their attention to us to smile and wave in the typically warm and friendly Thai manner. "Hello! Sawadee ka!" they yelled as we cycled past or paused to take pictures. We climbed the foothills of the nearby mountains and ultimately reached spectacular views of limestone mountains.
A few of the off road trails led us past remote hill tribe villages. The hill tribes are an interesting and colorful ethnic minority in Thailand who live in rural mountain areas and have preserved many of their traditional ways. The hill tribe children were interested and mesmerized by us - our bikes, our cameras, and especially our food.
The purpose of our trip was to raise money for the Piers Simon Appeal. My friend Luke was vacationing on the island of Koh Phi Phi in December 2004 with his brother Piers and three friends, including one friend, Ben, who was also on the bike trip.
They were sitting in a café near the beach when a few people came running through the café and out the back door, knocking over chairs on their way. Following their instincts, they too ran out the back. They found absolute chaos in the streets, people running in all directions with no idea what was happening. The reality was beyond imagination.
They followed the crowds and ran away from the water that they could now see approaching. They ran hand in hand but the panicking crowds quickly and hopelessly separated them. Luke managed to climb onto a roof, Ben and the others found safety, but Piers went missing. One moment he was there, and the next he was gone.
It was all a matter of seconds and inches. Seconds and inches determined who managed to find something to hold onto and who was carried away, who was hit by passing debris and who was left without a scratch, who lived and who died.
Luke spent five days conducting the search for his brother and finally found Piers, his body having been taken to a Chinese Morgue in Krabi. Luke launched the Piers Simon Appeal soon after. Its mission statement is "To aid the regeneration of communities and alleviate suffering and hardship caused by disasters worldwide regardless of race, religion, or politics."
Today we were introduced to, or for Luke and Ben reminded of, the potentially destructive power of water. We traveled off our route to reach the small Chinese village of Bang Yang which was devastated by a flash flood about a week earlier. We walked through the muddy streets, past houses missing first floors and empty lots where houses used to stand. In the village of about 250 houses, almost half were destroyed or severely damaged in the flood. The villagers luckily had some warning of the oncoming flood so most reached safety, but they had no idea what a toll it would take on the village. Five people lost their lives.
It was difficult to walk around the town, faced with so much devastation, clearly sticking out as a "farang" (foreigner) in spandex, camera in hand. What made it different was that we went to the village with the purpose of finding a reliable contact so that some our own fundraising money might be used for rebuilding the village.
It's an irreplaceable experience to see this kind of destruction with your own eyes. There's a duality that invariably exists in these kind of trips that separates the long-term charity side from the daily bike riding and socializing. Today these aspects were united, and while it created a more somber tone, it reminded us of both the devastation that can occur and our ability to help.
Days 4, 5, & 6:
Today we biked 20 km and then took a long-tail boat down the Mekong River. After another 7 k of off-road biking we took a side trip to a small village where we fed elephants and held an enormous snake that weighed 120 kilograms and was about 4 ½ meters long! On the fifth and final day, we biked 100 km, again passing breathtaking scenery of mountains and rice fields along the way. We finally arrived at ourdestination- the legendary Golden Triangle, with views from Thailand of both Burma and Laos.