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2014 April 17- Fox Valley Program

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2014 April 17- Fox Valley Program

  1. 1. GeneralGeneralGeneralGeneral OverviewOverviewOverviewOverview ofofofof thethethethe ProgramProgramProgramProgram With their cache of well-preserved temples and rich tapestry of cultures, traditions and history, Thailand and Laos top the itinerary of most Asian explorers these days. As an integral part of the Fox Valley program, the students will take a peek into Thailand's past by visiting many of its historical landmarks for which the country has earned a distinct spot on the world map. They will also come face-to-face with a riveting display of Hmong ethnic minority culture, as they will hike up the lush mountains in Chiang Mai. In fact, students’ time in Thailand promises to go beyond its vast, blue seas laced with coral reefs. Held in high regard for its minority cultures, Thailand will open a new door for students to study and soak up a culture that is all its own – the culture of its colorful Hmong ethnic tribe. Raised on a diet of relocation and immense hardship, it is intriguing how Hmong people still manage to hold on to their distinctive traditions and fierce sense of independence. As a part of this program, the students will get to learn about the hardships the Hmong minority groups encounter on a daily basis in order to eke out their living. After spending one week in Thailand, the students will movie to Laos. Originally from South China, the Hmongs here were forced to the mountains of Laos in 19th century by Chinese opium farmers who had forcibly acquired their farmlands. The time in Laos will enable the students to explore the rich culture and life of the Hmong minority settlement groups in this country. Students are sure to be astonished when they hear of the Shamanic rituals followed by certain Hmong communities to this day. Besides the awe-inspiring vistas of densely forested mountainous terrains and paddy fields, students will explore magnificent monasteries, UNESCO-listed shrines and vestiges of its colonial past in Laos, one of the most fuss-free community in the world. It is the kind of place where one can step out for a walk in any direction and return tired but knowledgeable with the fascinating history of the Hmongs here. Already quite progressive in its blend of tradition and modernity, Laos is eager to learn and impart knowledge. Just what the Fox Valley program aims to tap. AboutAboutAboutAbout MindsMindsMindsMinds AbroadAbroadAbroadAbroad Minds Abroad is a US-based organization that conducts study abroad programs in Asia for both individual students and customized groups from colleges and universities. Our programs are a blend of weekly classes, interning, volunteering or language exchange sessions, evening cultural activities and weekend excursions to sites of educational value. ProgramProgramProgramProgram ComponentsComponentsComponentsComponents ExcursionsExcursionsExcursionsExcursions andandandand TrekTrekTrekTrek As part of the Fox Valley program, students will hike through some deciduous forests and trek up some of the steepest hills in Thailand and Laos in order to visit Hmong communities. A strong pair of lungs and legs is in order. Be it climbing the Doi Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai or trudging up the Phu Si hills in Laos, it does not come easy. But the students are in for a soul- cleansing experience. Excursions to UNESCO-listed sites during the weekends are another aspect of this program that students will thoroughly enjoy. The hallowed town of Luang Prabang will present the students with the magical experience of shifting gaze from one spectacular temple edifice to another
  2. 2. against a backdrop of mountainous terrains. The haunting mystery of the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan and Udon Thani that boasts of being the origin of Bronze civilization will follow close by. CulturalCulturalCulturalCultural ImmersionImmersionImmersionImmersion withwithwithwith EthnicEthnicEthnicEthnic MinoritiesMinoritiesMinoritiesMinorities throughthroughthroughthrough VariousVariousVariousVarious StructuredStructuredStructuredStructured ActivitiesActivitiesActivitiesActivities Hmong ethnic minorities in Thailand and Laos are often a throw back in time, as they resolutely stick to their traditional way of living and evade the full brunt of modernity. To give the students a practical understanding of the country’s past, the Fox Valley Program has many activities that aim at cultural immersion with Hmong communities. This will take the students to less- travelled locales, leading to the discovery of dozens of quaint villages and ancient shrines. Through volunteering at non-profit organizations that work for the upliftment of Hmong people and refugees in Laos and visits to minority villages, students will get to closely interact with the Hmong locals and therefore, know about their culture in-depth. ServiceServiceServiceService learninglearninglearninglearning inininin thethethethe HmongHmongHmongHmong communitycommunitycommunitycommunity Hmong communities in Laos are mostly settled in densely forested areas. The incredible remoteness of these villages has discouraged their development as well as integration into mainstream Laotian society. Many non-profit organizations (NGOs) work relentlessly for the betterment of Hmong communities in various fields such as education, healthcare, technology and community service. The main aim of our student volunteers is to mingle with them and understand their needs in order to cater to them in the best way possible. By volunteering in a local NGO focusing on a particular field will help our participant students learn the fine art of social service in Hmong communities. ItemsItemsItemsItems IncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded inininin thethethethe ProgramProgramProgramProgram PricePricePricePrice The program price includes the following: · Shared rooms in hostels/ guest-houses · All meals during the days of the program · Land transportation to sites listed in the program and train to Chiang Mai from Sukothai Flight from Thailand to Laos · Detailed in-country orientation within the first few days of arrival, · 24/7 staff support throughout the program. · Tickets to cultural sites and cultural performances listed in the program Our program fee DOES NOT include visa fees or the cost of airfare to Asia and back home. For students from North America and Europe, a visa to Thailand is not required. Other students should check with the Thai consulate in their home country
  3. 3. DayDayDayDay bybybyby DayDayDayDay ActivitiesActivitiesActivitiesActivities asasasas ListedListedListedListed inininin thethethethe itineraryitineraryitineraryitinerary DayDayDayDay 1,1,1,1, FridayFridayFridayFriday Depart Chicago. BangkokBangkokBangkokBangkok Bangkok, with its gold-speckled temples, traditional musical performances and world-class cuisines, rides high on the world travel list. In order to understand Bangkok, it is necessary to go beyond its commercial call to discover some of the most wondrous cultural and historical gems of the world. As a part of their Bangkok adventure, students will tour the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Kaew), the most renowned temple in Thailand. They will round off their Bangkok trip with a stroll around the bustling Khao San Road and a riverside dinner against the backdrop of a setting sun. DayDayDayDay 2,2,2,2, Saturday,Saturday,Saturday,Saturday, BangkokBangkokBangkokBangkok Arrive in Bangkok, get settled and adjusted to the jet-lag. DayDayDayDay 3,3,3,3, Sunday,Sunday,Sunday,Sunday, BangkokBangkokBangkokBangkok Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: Visit the Grand Palace, once the home to the Kings of Siam, is situated at the heart of Bangkok and is a collection of buildings. Afterwards, students will take a boat-ride on the Chao Phraya river, one of Thailand’s major river that cuts right through the heart of Bangkok before it flows into the Gulf of Thailand. They will stop over at the beautiful Wat Arun, also famously known as the Temple of Dawn. It consists of a gigantic Khymer-style tower, which is flanked by four miniature towers. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: Students will visit the grand Emerald Buddha Temple, located on the grounds of the Grand Palace. It houses a figurine of Buddha, made of emerald and swathed in gold and happens to be one of the most renowned temples of Thailand. This trip will be followed by a stroll around the bustling Khao San Road, where the students can indulge in some people-watching and soaking up the local culture. Evening:Evening:Evening:Evening: The day will be capped off by a quiet dinner by the Chao Phraya river, watching the sun set beyond the horizon and ruminating on the day’s activities. SukhothaiSukhothaiSukhothaiSukhothai Once the capital of the Thai kingdom and now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sukothai is steeped in rich history. Sukhothai epitomizes the “golden age” of Thai civilization and as a result, it boasts of some of the most formidable and awe-inspiring temple ruins of Thai antiquity. Many temples salvaged from the ruins have been partially restored. The ruins are not limited to temples only. They encompass ancient kilns and lofty Buddha statues, some of which have been restored to their ancient glory. Old Sukhothai is a peaceful, little town away from the din and bustle of big metropolitan cities. In fact, the town's serene solitude and languid, rural charms are its greatest attractions. Exploring the ruins of the historic parks of Sukothai will be the main highlight of this leg of the trip DayDayDayDay 4,4,4,4, Monday,Monday,Monday,Monday, SukhothaiSukhothaiSukhothaiSukhothai Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: Upon arrival at Phitsanulok, students will drive to Sukhothai and will commence the tour of the famous Sukothai Historical Park. Here they will explore the awesome ruins, including
  4. 4. remains of prominent Buddhist temples such as Wat Si Chum and delve deeper into the history of the place. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: They will head off to Si Satchanalai and round their exploration off with a tour of the ruins and temples of the legendary Si Satchanalai Historical Park, which like historic parks of Kamphaengphet and Sukhothai, has been labelled as a World Heritage Site. ChiangChiangChiangChiang MaiMaiMaiMai Chiang Mai, considered the heart of traditional Thai culture, is the largest city in northern Thailand. The city is hemmed in by the Ping River and is peppered with innumerable temples. This modern and dynamic city is a melting pot where the past meets the present and blends in perfectly. Only a few hours’ drive away from the city lie the quaint Hmong minority villages tucked away in the brooding mountains that flank the city. As they say, a Thai adventure remains incomplete, if it is not rounded off with a visit to Chiang Mai. DayDayDayDay 5,5,5,5, Tuesday,Tuesday,Tuesday,Tuesday, ChiangChiangChiangChiang MaiMaiMaiMai CityCityCityCity TourTourTourTour Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: Students will arrive in Chiang Mai and get settled. Students will explore relatively less explored Chinese temple, Pung Tao Gong Ancestral Temple. The temple is famous for its somewhat off-the-beaten-path, idiosyncratic architecture that has a beauty of its own and is located at the heart of Chiang Mai’s flower market. Students can check out the bustling flower market and pedal further south along the Ping River, while enjoying the charms of a typical Thai countryside. Afterwards, students will visit the ruins of the former capital of Lanna. DayDayDayDay 6,6,6,6, Wednesday,Wednesday,Wednesday,Wednesday, ChiangChiangChiangChiang MaiMaiMaiMai (Hmong(Hmong(Hmong(Hmong VillageVillageVillageVillage Trekking)Trekking)Trekking)Trekking) Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: Students will start early and will be driven to a relatively unexplored and charming Hmong minority village, a few hours away from Chiang Mai. They will start their trekking adventure from this village. As students hike up some steep hills, they will visit several Hmong villages along their trail. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: After a well-earned lunch in one of the villages and spending some time socializing with the locals, students will continue hiking uphill, while exploring other small, quaint hamlets of various local hill-tribes along the path. Some of the hills that students will hike are peppered with small forests and farmlands. In the process, they will also get to appreciate the breathtaking scenery of rural Northern Thailand, its horizon being helmed in by lush green hills. On clear days, hikers and adventurers are greeted with the beautiful views of the imposing mountains in the distance. At the end of their hike, students will be driven back to Chiang Mai. LaosLaosLaosLaos Laos can feel an eternity away from the fast-paced modernity one might spot in the neighbouring countries of Burma, China, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Chipped and chopped by hue mountains, it wasn’t long ago that this staunch Buddhist nation was synonymous with images of war and isolation. But these are now things of the past for this vibrant country and visitors are welcomed warmly now. Laos also entices academicians as it is home to many ethnic minority groups. The Hmong community is possibly the most well-known among them. No matter how unexplored the country is, one will never have a dull moment here. LuangLuangLuangLuang PrabangPrabangPrabangPrabang Luang Prabang is Laos's hallowed town, brimming with artistic aura and ancient temples. Each shrine has a saga hidden in its carvings and engravings that depict scenes either from the life of Buddha or from Asian mythologies. The mix of spectacular scenic beauty, famous architectural
  5. 5. gems and friendly natives makes for a pleasant visit. The town brims with ancient shrines, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. DayDayDayDay 7,7,7,7, Thursday,Thursday,Thursday,Thursday, LuangLuangLuangLuang PrabangPrabangPrabangPrabang MorningMorningMorningMorning: The students will arrive in Luang Prabang early in the morning. After rest and settling down, they will be driven to the ancient Wat Xieng Thong shrine, one of the iconic monasteries in Laos. Its sweeping roofs seem to touch the ground tantalizingly. This 16th century temple, adjacent to the Royal Palace at the Phu Si foothills, is typical of Luang Prabang's architecture. But it is as stunning as ever with intricate wooden figurines and golden murals etched on the pillars and the portico entry. These elaborate panes portray parts of Buddha’s life. If the students have the opportunity to participate in the Bun Pimai (Lao New Year), they will witness the holy Buddha image, as it will be taken from the Royal Palace to Wat Mai for the ceremonial cleansing. The Royal Palace Museum is also a must-visit as it houses relics that trace the life and times of Hmong ethnic minority group. Right next to the Palace is the Wat Mai temple, the most opulent architectural wonder with a liberal dose of art done, all in gold over its walls and pillars. Interestingly, it survived quite a few wars simply for the reason that it is too beautiful to be destroyed. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: Volunteer at an NGO working for Hmong communities and Hmong refugees. The students will be taken to visit the Hmong refugees living in Luang Prabang. Students can spot white elephants there, which have long since been associated with Hmong culture. The Quiet War (also known as the Secret War) is a civil war that broke out after the 2nd World War between the government and the leftists. It has adversely impacted the Hmong communities in many parts of Laos. But those in Luang Prabang have escaped the worst. That is why quite a few refugee camps can be seen in this part of Luang Prabang. Evening:Evening:Evening:Evening: Students will stroll around the local night-market, brimming with Hmong merchandise. The hustle bustle here with the hawkers and merchants vying for everyone’s attention as well as the multihued display of the Hmong artifacts on sale never stops. Students here can check out the treasure trove of trinkets to take back home. It is worth going for a walk through the night market simply because of the vibrant ambience. DayDayDayDay 8,8,8,8, Friday,Friday,Friday,Friday, LuangLuangLuangLuang PrabangPrabangPrabangPrabang Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: The students will be taken to the Hmong villages Ban Pickngai, Ban Longlun and Ban Bo Hae at the foothills of Luang Prabang. This is where the Hmong ethnic minorities reside. They can teach the students a thing or two about the traditional way of making iron knives and Sa papers. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: Volunteer at an NGO working for Hmong communities and refugees. Tiger trail is one socially responsible trek many Hmong centric NGOs endorse as it benefits the ethnic minority people directly. Forging through the dense woods and villages, students can opt for elephant rides during the trek. This trail touches nearly all the Hmong villages in Luang Prabang and will be a unique experience for the students. DayDayDayDay 9,9,9,9, Saturday,Saturday,Saturday,Saturday, LuangLuangLuangLuang PrabangPrabangPrabangPrabang MorningMorningMorningMorning: Students will wake up early in the morning to feast their eyes on a spectacular ceremony dubbed as ‘Tak Bat’. It has become an iconic image of Luang Prabang. All the resident
  6. 6. monks, barefoot and clad in scarlet robes, belonging to various monasteries come out and stroll quietly down the streets in a perfectly disciplined manner to collect alms from the hoi polloi. Every morning this town wakes up to an exotic scene. Afterwards, students will be taken to Pak Ou Caves in a boat or tuk-tuk. Few holy sites can match the intensity and timelessness of these mystifying limestone caves. Since the devotees have been leaving behind figurines of Buddha for hundreds of years, the caves are practically filled with idols of different shapes and styles. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: Volunteer at an NGO working for Hmong communities and refugees. DayDayDayDay 10,10,10,10, Sunday,Sunday,Sunday,Sunday, LuangLuangLuangLuang PrabangPrabangPrabangPrabang Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: The students will be taken to Kuang Si Waterfalls, the largest in the town. This is a scenic spot around an hour from the city. As the students trek through verdant woods, they will reach a series of natural pools where sparkling water surges over gracefully to create a number of charming waterfalls. The students will have a picnic lunch here before heading back for volunteering. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: Volunteer at an NGO working for Hmong communities and refugees. PhonsavanPhonsavanPhonsavanPhonsavan Beloved for its complex, layered and mysterious Plain of Jars, Phonsavan is UNSECO-listed precisely for this reason. It is guarded by the highest mountain peak in Laos, the imperious Phou Bia. Unleash the curious learner in you and Phonsavan will bring stunning rewards. Surrounded by pine forests, ephemeral woodlands and meadows, this small town has a feel of the 'Wild West' with blooming sunflowers and Pointsetta. DayDayDayDay 11,11,11,11, Monday,Monday,Monday,Monday, PhonsavanPhonsavanPhonsavanPhonsavan ---- PlainPlainPlainPlain ofofofof JarsJarsJarsJars (Journey(Journey(Journey(Journey Hours:Hours:Hours:Hours: 4444 hrshrshrshrs 30303030 mins)mins)mins)mins) Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: Students will head to Phonsavan early in the morning. They will be taken to one of the major archaeological wonders of the earth, the Plain of Jars, just two hours away from Phonsavan. The creation of these jars is still a mystery to mankind. The Plain of Jars is the territory of the Xieng Khouang plateau of Laos, strewn with hundreds of megalithic stone jars that are more than 2000 years old. It is a place where history comes alive. The stone jars are divided into small groups that vary from a few to hundreds. The tallest jars are as long as 12 feet. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: Students will take a trip to the Ban Ta village, which is easily accessible from the Plain of Jars and worth a visit for its settlements of Hmong ethnic minorities. This highland is studded with around 300 jars that glisten in a mesmerizing grey. The students will interact with Hmong refugees over there and if time permits, they will also visit a local NGO devoted to their welfare. They will also be taken to the former capital of Phonsavan, Muang Khoum and its surrounding Hmong villages. VangVangVangVang ViengViengViengVieng Nestled between Vientiane and Luang Prabang against a backdrop of towering cliffs and a carpet of green paddy fields, Vang Vieng is a haven for those who want to soak up Hmong culture and lifestyle. A short distance away is the multitude of ethnic villages of Hmong. It is a wonder how this picturesque transit point on the Nam Song banks escaped the intrepid backpacker’s eye until recently.
  7. 7. DayDayDayDay 12,12,12,12, Tuesday,Tuesday,Tuesday,Tuesday, VangVangVangVang ViengViengViengVieng (Journey(Journey(Journey(Journey Hours:Hours:Hours:Hours: 4444 hrs)hrs)hrs)hrs) Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: The students will be driven to Vang Vieng early in the morning, They will be taken to the ethnic villages in Vang Vieng, where they can get to know about the distinctive culture of the Hmong ethnic minority groups. Here, each community has its own unique set of costumes. The Hmong women are particularly famous for their skills pertaining to embroidery and batik, a traditional way of decorating clothes with natural dyes and wax. It is a great chance to learn more on what defines the Hmong community in this part of Laos. Students will also stroll along the banks of the Nam Song River, flanked by massive and craggy limestone mountains. AfternoonAfternoonAfternoonAfternoon: Students will visit the organic farm in the tranquil village of Phoudindaeng on the Nam Song banks. The mulberry fields stretching for miles against the backdrop of towering cliffs are something that students can feast their eyes on. They can spend the night in the mud houses at the farm. VientianeVientianeVientianeVientiane The nonchalantly slow Mekon River or the delightfully serene Vientiane town on its banks– it will be hard to say which of the two the winner is. Scattered around the town are umpteen French colonial buildings and ornate temples- all in the backdrop of abundant greenery and bourgenvillas in full bloom. From the ancient Ho Phra Keo shrine to the Buddha Park and the ethnic market, one will be charmed by this developing backwater. DayDayDayDay 13,13,13,13, Wednesday,Wednesday,Wednesday,Wednesday, VientianeVientianeVientianeVientiane (Journey(Journey(Journey(Journey Hours:Hours:Hours:Hours: 3333 hrs)hrs)hrs)hrs) Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: The students will be driven to Vientiane early in the morning. They will be driven to Ho Phra Keo, the oldest and the most remarkable of Vientiane’s temples and the 17th century Wat Sisaket Museum opposite to it. Wat Si Saket, beng the oldest temple in the town, is famous for its jaw-dropping beauty with thousands of delicate niches and carvings of Buddha figures. Enroute, if time permits, they will stop over at the Nam Phu Square, a favorite local hangout. Students will also visit Wat Si Muang, named after a young pregnant lady, who supposedly sacrificed herself at the temple site to appease the guardian spirit of the place. The transition of Laotian’s animist beliefs to Buddhism might come across as interesting to the students. The stunning Pha That Luang monument is the pride and joy of Laotians. This golden Buddhist Stupa is believed to be the site that housed the breastbone of Buddha since 3rd century. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: NGO Visit – (Preferably an NGO for underprivileged children. For eg - Sunshine School encourages volunteers to take classes for the kids) EveningEveningEveningEvening: Students can opt for a slow boat ride on the Mekong and call it a day after a glorious sunset view from the river.
  8. 8. DayDayDayDay 14,14,14,14, Thursday,Thursday,Thursday,Thursday, VientianeVientianeVientianeVientiane Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: Students will be driven to the Talat Sao Indoor Morning Market, where they can soak up the ultimate Viantiane experience. The vibrant yet organized emporium has everything from handmade clothes and carved figurines to beautiful jewelry that the students can feast their eyes on. Afterwards the students will be led to the spiritual Xieng Khuan Buddha Park on the Mekong banks, a unique attempt to integrate Buddhism and Hinduism by a priest 50 years ago. A walk in the park amidst a collage of Buddhist, Hindu and miscellaneous sculptures in all forms and shapes can be a throwback in time for the students. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: NGO Visit – (Preferably an NGO for underprivileged children. For eg - Sunshine School encourages volunteers to take classes for the kids) UdonUdonUdonUdon ThaniThaniThaniThani Creative and reverent, Udon Thani is famed for its archaeological gems, dominant among them the UNESCO-listed Ban Chiang village. This is where the first Bronze Age civilization is supposed to have thrived thousands of years before. The city flourished on the back of the Vietnam War as US air bases were set up which brought in more infrastructure. Today Udon Thani is mostly agrarian with little traces of its prosperous past. Tracing this transition by interacting with the locals will be interesting for the students. DayDayDayDay 15,15,15,15, Friday,Friday,Friday,Friday, UdonUdonUdonUdon ThaniThaniThaniThani (Journey(Journey(Journey(Journey Hours:Hours:Hours:Hours: 2222 hrs)hrs)hrs)hrs) Morning:Morning:Morning:Morning: The students will be driven to the hamlet of Ban Chiang, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Archaeological excavations in this place have unearthed hundreds of relics like pottery, wrought metals as well as human skeletons that date back to 3600 BC. The displays can be seen in the Ban Chiang National Museum. Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon:Afternoon: Students will fly from Udon Thani to Bangkok. DayDayDayDay 16,16,16,16, SaturdaySaturdaySaturdaySaturday Depart home from Bangkok.

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