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About the Author


Une française à Phrao

Rang Mai library, founded by ARC

It has been six months since I have landed in Thailand for the first time. On the 8th of March, I will take the plane again, destination Cambodia. Well, I have to admit that I am not ready at all to leave the country.

On the 31rst of last August, Yoshimi and P’Jiew welcomed me at the Chiang Mai airport and a few hours later, I arrived in the charming town of Phrao. Located at two hours from the big city, Phrao is the center of the the district of the same name, on the way to Chiang Rai.

It was love at first sight. 

The view I have on the way to the libary – INCREDIBLE !

Surrounded by mountains, located in the Lanna country, Phrao is simply lovely. Thanks to my colleagues, I found a house in the middle of the town, at around twenty minutes by bicycle from the Library where I have spent most of my time, five from the market, where you can find anything, and ten minutes walk from the bus station. The location is simply perfect. Every morning, I am amazed by the view as I am riding my bicycle to the library. The funny thing is that during my first three weeks in town, I was the “farang”, the stranger, the white girl riding her bicycle and people kept staring at me. As I took almost the same path every day, they started to know me and since then, we are just exchanging giant smiles, and warm “hi” or “sawasdee kha/khap” ! It is a real pleasure to ride the bike, even if it is sometimes quite hot.

In six months, I had time to do a lot of things a especially many projects with ARC. First, I discovered how an association works in Thailand. Well, it is my first time working in a library, but all is related to culture and fun activities, at least my missions were.

What did I do ?

I gave english classes to kids at the library, basic english of course, I am a French native speaker, not an english one. It felt great to teach them. I only had a class of 6 kids, it was quite easy to manage. Of course, P’Jiew helped me a lot as my thai was very basic (and is still so- ..) to explain about each exercise to them. Then, it was easier for me to teach French. I had a chance to work as teaching assistant for some french classes for Kru Tom, french teacher at Phrao Wittayakom, highschool of the town. I also went for weekly activities with the mobile library in villages around, visited disabled people who could not come to the library but wanted to read, I met a lot of people, learned a lot about thai culture and asked a lot of questions. Thanks to my missions, I really had a chance to discover a lot within my time in Phrao and around.

As Thai culture is different from mine, I was really curious about everyday things that I did not understand or that I could not read about. Meeting people who did not speak the same language as mine, forced me to step out of my “comfort zone”.

Let me tell you about one situation where I really felt like stepping out of my culture, and that was when I tried spicy food… I think that everyone at the library will remember me as the “not spicy” woman, as I could barely eat a “Pad Ka Pao” without crying. But then, I went to Mae Wean Noi, the village in the mountains to visit ARC’s early childhood literacy center, Little Smiles center. I was living among a Lisu family, P’Pim’s family, and there, everybody was used to eat spicy food since the youngest age. So, one evening, for dinner, I asked P’Pim it the sauce that she made was very spicy or not. You have to know that to the answer “pet mak” (very spicy) I usually step back, and to “nid noi” (a little bit), I usually try. Then, her answer was that it was “pet nid noi”, understand “a little bit spicy”. I tried it, and felt suddenly very hot, and super sweaty. After the ten minutes I needed to recover from the awful burning feeling, I asked her how many chili she had put inside the sauce, she then told me, as if it was totally normal “50”. I then cried again.

Picture taken right after eating this chilli meal

During my stay in Phrao, from where I am writing this article, I was confronted with myself and the others as well. For me, “pet kid noi”, was a maximum of 3 chillis, but for her, it was 50. And in fact, the entire family was eating it without even crying… It felt amazing to understand that the fact that I really thought that by “a little bit spicy” did not meant the same thing for her than for me. You can say that this always happens when you are travelling. Of course, but when my codes, my “already known notions” are challenged, I feel great, because I am rediscovering what culture-s really means. 

In six months, being the “farang” sometime forced me to step out of my comfort zone for the better and the worse (especially when there was someone to take picture of you). But i had so many great moments, with the kids, with my colleagues, with the people (farang or not) that I met here and I have discovered so many places and events as the different temples, some school camps, temple festivals, hill tribes villages, local high schools, and of course, the Rang Mai library.

This experience benefited me in so many ways that this article wouldn’t be enough to describe all of them. But I have to admit that the will of having new experiences I more present than ever in my mind.

I was supposed to stay only for five months in Phrao, and I just realized that it has been six months already.

Well, it is sure that I will come back for more !


Merci beaucoup et à bientôt !

One smily week in Little Smiles Center

Mae Waen Noi Village

   In order to well beggin 2018, I spend one week living in a hill tribe community. Here is the enssence of my personal experience there.

Three years ago, ARC opened the Little Smiles center in Mae Waen Noi village, the place where I have spent one week, living among the Lisu tribe people.

P’Pim’s family house were I stayed for the week


I stayed at P’Pim’s house with her family, her two sons, her husband and her sister in law, P’Kung, who is also the second teacher at the Little Smiles center.

     Mae Waen Noi is located about one hour drive away from Phrao town,center of the district. P’Pim, my host, picked me up in Phrao. After the rough ride through mountain, we arrived in the beautiful little village. From my first moments there, I felt warmly welcomed. I loved every minute and every moment I have spent there.

The view from around the village

    P’Pim was my guide during this week. She showed me different places around the village. Few times a day, we walked around, so that I could discover the views and the way around the village. As it is a mountain village, the road is quite curvy and hilly. You need to have quite a good motorcycle or car to drive there, at least one with gears.

Every day, P’Pim gave me a lift to and from the center. Onfoot, it would have taken me at least one hour to get there. The kids arrived between eight to nine am as their parents drop them before going to the farm. The class starts at 9.30 and the parents usually pick the kids up around 3pm, on the way back from the farm.

Little Smiles Center where 12 a dozen of kids come daily

So, basically, one week is divided in three parts. On monday and tuesday, P’Pim and P’Kung teach thai reading and writing, then english for the next two days, and on friday, simple mathematics.

The kids are aged between 2 and 5 years old. P’Pim takes care of  younger ones while P’Kung teaches the older group.

    So what’s a normal day ? When the kids arrive, they drink milk that the teachers are give to them, they can have two cartons per day. then, they can go play with toys and stuffed animals. Around 9.30, everyone is supposed to be at the center.

Then the class starts with activities for the younger and for the older, then comes lunch time, and, after brushing their teeth, the kids take a big nap until 3pm.

Kids brushing their teeth after lunch

    During my first two days at the center, I was just sitting there, helping P’Pim and P’Kung whenever they needed help, and teasing the kids whenever they came close to me. Most of them avoided me, staring at me from behind their milk carton or toys.

Then, once they got used to my presence, they asked me to play with them and to help them.

The english class on wednesday helped a lot as I helped P’Kung teaching them songs as “Old MacDonald had a farm” and as they were singing with me the alphabet song. From that moment, they kept calling me by my name “P’Emi” and ushering me to play games ans sing songs.

To my greatest pleasure, I felt accepted by the kids and couldn’t help laughing with them as I was making a fool of myself to hear them have fun.

Kids warming up in the morning before learning

After all these activities, I could enjoy a bit of rest in the afternoon as the kids were asleep.

During these moments, I used to walk around with P’Pim or P’kung. We went around the center and as my guide was showing me the different plants and fruits you can find in the mountains like ginger, mint, corn, rice, young onions, coffee, bananas, and much more which I don’t remember the name, I’ve always been amazed by the beauty of the mountains.

You see, in France I live in the countryside but not surrounded by mountains. The nature there is so different. I guess that is what I will miss the most once I’m gone. The wildness and the peace of the mountains in the North of Thailand. Nature is beautiful and in Mae Waen Noi, I discovered that I do not wish to live in big cities. Life in the mountain is more attractive to me.

Mae Waen Noi surrounded by mountain, an amazing view

   Even if I couldn’t really discuss with my hosts, due to my lack of thai langage skill, I really enjoyed my time there. I made some new friends and I will surely go back to Mae Wan Noi one day. At least I hope so !