The joys of luxury travel are many, but for us, the opportunity to leave the confines of our luxury accommodation and connect with people in our destination is one of the things that we love most. When we had the opportunity recently to visit Chiang Mai, in Thailand, and see an Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy project, we were taken aback by what we discovered.
Thailand is one of our favourite countries and we’ve been there often enough to have visited the tick-them-off-your-list popular Thai attractions as well as those that are off the beaten track. We’ve also had the pleasure to spend time with local people and have a real experience of real life there.
This time we sampled the country through Abercrombie & Kent’s Discover Thailand package, and despite our considerable experience of Thailand – this was our seventh visit – we still found much that took us closer to Thai culture.
One of the most unexpected, humbling and joyous days we had was at Wildflower Home Foundation, which we visited as part of a cooking challenge, in a city famed for its food.
We were in Chiang Mai, in the north of the country amid the splendour of Thailand’s second city, when we were picked up by Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy Bangkok co-ordinator Emily Etue, and guide Peo at our hotel, 137 Pillars House. Abercrombie & Kent is one of the world’s premier luxury tour operators, so our trip featured all you might expect of a luxury escape. 137 Pillars House’s secluded location, personal service and endless luxury touchpoints such as butler service, spa, and a restaurant serving possibly the best Thai food we’ve ever tasted (and we’ve had a lot of good meals there) certainly met all expectations.
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But today was going to take us away from our Rajah Brooke suite and to a project whose work is transforming the lives of families in the city.
Wildflower Home Foundation was founded in 2008 by Elizabeth and Michael Thaibia after they found pregnant women sleeping rough on the streets in Chiang Mai.
These young women were often ostracised by their families and communities for being unmarried and pregnant, others had suffered domestic violence, some were even at risk of human trafficking.
Their aim was to provide pre- and post-natal care to impoverished local women and help them get back into society.
The Sisters of Good Shepherds congregation of nuns, who took over after Elizabeth and Michael moved to the US, has run Wildflower Home Foundation since 2013.
Abercrombie & Kent supports the foundation and the women there through Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy, a non-profit arm of the travel company dedicated to positively impacting lives and livelihoods in the communities where their guests travel.
For us, despite all the wondrous comforts and delights of our luxury-filled days in Thailand, our visit to Wildflower Home Foundation was one of the best and most worthwhile days I can recall in years. It made a huge impression on us.
Arriving at Wildflower Home, set in a rural location, just outside of Chiang Mai we met Sister Anurak. Her passion and commitment to supporting the women and children there shone brightly.
She explained Wildflower’s work – providing shelter and emotional support for women in crisis situations, and their children.
However, as she pointed out – it’s the longer-term aims that will bring about real change to the lives of these women, and Wildflower Home Foundation’s philosophy operates around the proverbial, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.
Wildflower Home Foundation enables the women to be economically independent, by giving them access to healthcare, providing education, improving literacy, and teaching them life skills and vocational studies.
Sister Anurak and a team of committed young international volunteers work to ensure Wildflower solves the root of the problem and doesn’t merely stick a band-aid on it. Everything is geared towards preparing these young mums to be able to rejoin society and be self-sustaining.
Emily explained Abercrombie & Kent’s involvement started in 2016 when they provided funding for a mushroom farm.
I must admit when I heard this my first reaction was: “A mushroom farm? What is the big deal about that?”. However, it turned out to be a very big deal indeed, one that has transformed Wildflower’s fortunes.
The mushroom farm has had a major impact and now provides 20% of the homes’ food. Furthermore, the women from Wildflower Home Foundation sell 80% of the mushrooms produced and the mushrooms are now providing them with a regular and dependable income.
It was fascinating to tour the grounds and see how they grow so much of their own food, while using organic methods. Here they also keep chickens, rabbits and geese. The diligence and love the young mums who live here lavished on the farming activities is a testament to its success.
We also talked to a number of the young mums, some spoke a little English and it was enlightening to hear their appreciation of Wildflower.
A few mentioned feeling empowered, as a result of being there and all were grateful for the sanctuary it provided.
After touring the farm and grounds, Sarah and I set to work to cook lunch. The idea was we would use ingredients grown at Wildflower and the children would choose which of the dishes we prepared was their favourite.
Our attempts at cooking a local dish, using local produce was great fun and surprisingly tasty. After picking the ingredients ourselves from Wildflower’s gardens, Sarah cooked up a tom yum soup while I made a stir-fried mushroom and tofu dish.
All the staff, the mums and their children dined on our efforts, and even seemed to enjoy it!
We were pleased with our efforts and everyone gave very positive feedback, with Sarah emerging victorious in the cooking contest.
Sarah and I had a truly delightful time at Wildflower Home Foundation. We saw how the wonderful work there was serving to transform the lives of vulnerable women and their children.
The project’s mission is to provide safety, shelter, education, and health care to young, single mothers in need. Wildflower is a wonderful example of how luxury travel, and projects such as Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy can make a real, worthwhile difference.
Have you experienced a project where luxury travel is making a real difference to local people’s lives? Tell us about it in the comments below…
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Hang out like a local as part of A&K’s 12-night Discover Thailand itinerary which includes flights and accommodation. Delve deeper into Bangkok’s temples and bliss out on Phuket’s beaches, with some authentic detours thrown in.