Zomia student retreat 2017

Hemmed in the mountains of northern Thailand is a string of lodges belonging to Chai Lai Orchid. This award-winning eco-travel lodge and elephant reserve is not just a tourist destination, though—one of its subsidiaries, Daughter’s Rising, is an organization dedicated to empowering at-risk girls to end human trafficking in their communities.

Run by Zomia lenders Alexa and Bay, Chai Lai hosted Zomia’s 2017 student outing, an annual event we host to give students the opportunity to connect and build relationships. Altogether, 23 Zomia students and team members joined the weekend eco-travel experience.

Hiking the Inthanon Range

Views like this of the Inthanon Range revealed themselves on our hike from Chai Lai.


Our hiking trail ran parallel to the Wang River. Here, Thukha marks the spot—a path to the middle of one of the waterfalls.

Swimming and splashing

Splash! Pwint catches Thukha off guard in the pool at the base of the waterfall.

Bamboo rafting down the Wang River

Shengsar surfs the Wang River on her bamboo raft.

Shengsar surfs the Wang River on her bamboo raft. Photo by Jasmine.

Sleeping in huts

Mornings steeped in fog and under the canopy of trees. Yes, this is what you can expect when you stay at Chai Lai. Anui sits outside one of the huts dotting the property. Photo by Thukha.

Hanging out with elephants

What good would an elephant reserve be without elephants? Chit Chit encounters her first gentle beast of the forest.

Hanging out together


Girls just wanna have fun! Or, as Sandy described it, “Early morning craziness.” From left to right: Maybel, Pan, Flaurince, Zinghang, Pwint, Mway, and Sandy. Photo by Ying.

Group photos with elephants…


Our crew with Chai Lai owners Alexa, Bay, and their baby, Tla (TEE-lah). This group represents just under one-third of the total number of Zomia students.

… group photos on the bridge leading to Chai Lai …

A fun photo (for those without a fear of heights) on the only bridge connecting Chai Lai to the road to Chiang Mai. Photo by Luci Laffitte.

… group photos from the bridge at different angles …

One last group photo over the Wang River looking down (or up?)! Photo by Luci Laffitte.

Guitar playing and singing

And a song before departing Chai Lai. “Phay Thein Lite” is an encouraging Burmese song about friendship, overcoming obstacles, and finding hope and strength during difficult times.

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