Week 25: The Last Hurrah!

My last week in Thailand- it was very action packed and fun, a great way to finish off my time there!

Part 1: Pai

I ended my last post describing some of my goodbyes on Saturday afternoon (read here) – Emily (my traveling companion) and I departed Chiang Mai quickly that Saturday afternoon for an exciting and free, week long adventure in Northern Thailand. On Saturday evening, we arrived in Pai. This was my second time visiting Pai (read my first visit here), and oh goodness it sure was different the second time. My first time in Pai was in rainy season, so everything was green. This time of the year, it’s burning season, and since Pai is surrounded by a lot of agricultural communities, there was smoke blanketing the area. It was still so beautiful, just in a different way. Another difference from the first time I went to Pai was that I had more freedom as a traveler – the program had ended so Emily and I decided to rent a motorbike, something that was previously a program restriction. All this called for an vastly different traveling experience, and I’m glad I got to visit Pai on both occasions. Anyways, we stayed in Pai for three nights. On Saturday night, we got checked into our hostel and laid low, and the following days were filled with adventure.

Emily and I at Pai Canyon

On Sunday morning, Emily and I got ourselves some wheels so we could venture around to our list of activities in Pai with ease. We rented a motorbike for 200 Bhat per day (about 7 dollars per day) – motor bikes are a very common mode of transportation in Thailand and on this trip, we found out why. It was very easy to learn how to drive and was unbelievably convenient. Anyways, on Sunday, we hung out at a cafe with a beautiful view for awhile, and then we headed to Tha Pai hot springs. The hot springs, located inside a national park, were so big and impressive – there were many different pools at all temperatures of water. They also had other hot springs so hot that they were boiling. It was very cool! After relaxing and soaking for awhile, we went to the Pai Canyon. The Pai Canyon is a popular spot for the sunset, but we went there a few hours before sunset to hike around. It was beautiful, both the hiking and the sunset! That evening, we went to the Pai Walking street, and next thing we know, we ended up at a fire show. The fire show blew my expectations! A traveling circus, Medicare Circus, did a lot of different circus acts (dancing, nun-chucks, acrobatics, etc…) with fire! .

Pom Bok Waterfall

On Monday, we went chasing waterfalls – we started off visiting Pom Bok Waterfall. We got there early in the morning which was amazing because we practically had the waterfall to ourselves. We got to go swimming in it – it was so cold it reminded me of home. Next we headed to Mor Paeng Waterfall, stopping at the Pai Land Split on the way. Mor Paeng was so fun! Last week, we had visited a “sticky” waterfall in Chiang Dao, due to the porous rocks, you could climb all over it. Mor Paeng was described as “slippery;” the rock under the water is so smooth that you can slide on it like a waterslide. There were all sorts of different pools and places to slide in. It was super unique and fun. After working up the nerve to slide down the big waterfall, we headed back into town for the evening. In the evening, we got Thai massages and hung around the Walking Street before going back to our hostel. Pai was so much fun but we were heading off to our next place early the next morning.

Mor Paeng Waterfall

Part 2: Mae Hong Son

The van ride to Mae Hong Son, another small town further north than Pai was three long hours and super curvy. The first thing we did in Mae Hong Song was rent a motorbike – our final destination, Pang Ung Campsite, was about two hours away. It was a long traveling day, but the campsite was worth it! Camping in Thailand is really convenient and fun! At all the campsites I had the chance to visit, you can rent tents and sleeping gear for a very reasonable price. There’s also a small food shop at the camp ground so you don’t need to pack tons of food. Once we got set up at our campsite, we kept things pretty chill. Our goal of staying at Pang Ung was to relax and take in some of Thailand’s natural beauty. The next day, we walked/hiked around the surrounding area, went on a bamboo raft on the lake, and relaxed at the lake front. The Pang Ung lake/resivour was beautiful – it was a blue lake in the mountains, surrounded by jungle and pine trees. There were black swans there which were stunning. It was a quiet place but it was perfect for us. I don’t think we could have pulled off traveling there if we didn’t speak Thai so I’m so glad we had the means to visit Pang Ung responsibly.

View of Pang Ung campsite from bamboo raft in lake

On Thursday morning, Emily and I got back on our motorbike and headed back to Mae Hong Song. On the way back to town, we were able to stop at several attractions that we had to skip on the drive up. First, we stopped at Pha Suea Waterfall, yet another beautiful waterfall. This waterfall was massive and its dry season, I can only imagine what it’s like in rainy season. Next, we stumbled upon Phu Klon Mud Spa – Phu Klon Mud Spa’s phamphlet explains it as “a mud source and natural mineral hot spring which is between 60-140 ° C. Mixed together with the mineral water, boiling black mud is clean, free from sulfur smell and full of healthy minerals.” This ended up being a super unique experience as there are only three mud springs like it, the other two being in Israel and Romania. Emily and I, a bit short on time and on a budget, just got a facials with the mud and a hot spring, mineral foot soak, but there were tons of options including totally covering your body in the mud. It was a really cool experience and I’m glad we ended up checking it out. Afterwards, we made it to our hotel in Mae Hong Son. We dropped our stuff and then went out for an afternoon/evening adventure. First, we went on a brief hike to another simple but pretty waterfall, and then we drove to a temple near the town that had an amazing 360 degree of Mae Hong Song and the surrounding mountains. We enjoyed the view from up there so much that we went back up there on Friday at 6:30 am to catch the sunrise. I think it was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve even seen.

Sun set in Mae Hong Son

Part 3: Last 24 hours in Chiang Mai

On Friday afternoon, we had to leave Mae Hong Son and get on a 6 hour van ride back to Chiang Mai. It was a long ride, but it was definitely worth it after the awesome week we had. We arrived back to Chiang Mai on Friday night. Saturday was departure day. We met up with Gabby, the other K student who stayed another week, and did our best to take in the last of Chiang Mai and also get ready for the long travels ahead of us. In the morning, I went to the mall to pick up last minute goodies. At the mall they were having some sort of singing competition that I watched for a bit – they played a few Thai pop songs I came to know which hit me hard. By the evening time, all of us were ready to go but still had hours left before leaving to the airport – we decided to spend our last few hours at the Chiang Mai Saturday Night Walking Street. It was nice to take in the scene one more time, get up some last street food before leaving.

Goodbye, Saturday night walking street.

We made it to the airport to be surprised by my Thai teacher! We had thought since we stayed the extra week, we thought that we missed the big airport send off, so this was incredibly sweet. We were soon joined by our program contact at Payap University. We got in some last conversations, hugs, and photos. I was and still am overwhelmed with appreciation for the people I met on study abroad because I know their work made the experience for me. At the airport, we also had a short and sweet video chat with our program coordinator. It meant a lot that my Thai teacher was there as she was the reason I loved learning Thai and going to class each day. Sadly, it was soon time for us to get through customs, so we said our final goodbyes and started our long journey “home.”

Our airport send off crew. Goodbye, Chiang Mai ❤

Thank you for reading this long post! This week was action packed so I had lots to write about – there are also lots of accompanying photos you can find here! I am now safe and sound back in Oregon. I anticipate a few more posts from me further in the spring as I share my experience with first year students at Kalamazoo College. Thanks for following my travels and stay tuned!

Weeks 22-24: Wrapping Up Thailand

Hello! It has been awhile, in fact, I’m actually back in the US as I’m writing this! The last few weeks of my time in Thailand were wonderful, and I found myself trying to soak up the last of my experience rather than write about it. This post is about my last few weeks at my internship at Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (CMRCA), as well as “Wrap Up Week,” the week that I had to work on my final assignments, pack up, etc…

Part 1: Internship

My internship was a really great and educational experience for me. I enjoyed my time in the field and got to meet a lot of really great, out doorsy people. For my last few weeks with CMRCA , I was working in the office, taking care of feedback from the school programs and working on future lesson plans. It was okay, though I did have a lot of sitting time in the office. This was my first time in a “full-time” (for five weeks, at least) position, and I learned about what it means to go to work all day, take care of my apartment and myself, and try to stay connected with friends. It was kind of hard to balance sometimes, but in general, I did managed it well and had some good times! I got off work at 5pm and would often do something in the Old City before heading back to my apartment or meet up with friends after work. I went to the night bizarre quite a few times which was fun. On the weekends, I would hang out with friends- we’d go to Chiang Mai’s amazing night markets and attractions. On my last weekend of the program, I went with my friend (and ex-roommate) Emily on a trip to Chiang Dao, a small town north of Chiang Mai.

Finishing up internship with CMRCA

During the end of the program, it was a bit harder to decide of things to do. On the weekend for example, I found myself asking myself “should I try to take in the last of Chiang Mai, or should I still keep checking out new places.” It was also strange because I’d be doing something I’d done many times before, like the soup visiting the shop next to work or walking down a certain street, and I’d realize “oh wow this is probably the last time I’m going to be doing this for at least a very long time.” Anyways, Emily and I decided to spend our last weekend seeing something new, and I’m so glad that we did! Our weekend in Chiang Dao was amazing! We took the bus there on Saturday morning (for the equivalent of $1.33) and stayed until Sunday afternoon. The town is at the base of beautiful, distinctive mountains and everything about it was great. On Saturday, we went to the Chiang Dao Cave and some hot springs. I’m so glad we took the time to check it out. Then, on Sunday, we visited “waterfall.” This waterfall was “sticky” so we got to walk up it. It was so fun. We could have spent the whole day there, but eventually, we had to head back to our wrap up week back in Chiang Mai.

View of Chiang Dao mountains as sun sets

Part 2: Wrap Up Week

We spent the last week of our program in Thailand (though I did elect to stay a week after program, read about it here) finishing up assignments and trying to say goodbye to the city that now feels like home. It was a pretty emotional and very busy week. We had two important deadlines: a 10 – 15 research paper relating to our internship due on Thursday, and a 15 minute presentation about our research on Friday). We were given a lot of free time to work on our assignments. We also had a “re-entry” workshop in which we started thinking about returning home: reverse culture shock, readjustment, applying what we learned in Thailand in the US, etc… It was helpful to start thinking about those sort of things before landing back in the US. I spent many hours working on my assignments in different cafes. My research paper was about the accessibility of outdoor education, specifically in the Thai context. Outside of research, I would revisit my favorite places in the city and work on the packing process. Friday came up so fast! My presentation went well (I think – still no grade back but it’s probably fine).

View of Chiang Mai from rooftop of Maya mall

On Friday, I got to say goodbye to my school uniform, to ISDSI, and to a lot of the people I’d gotten to know here. In the evening, we had a farewell/thank you dinner. It was nice to see our teachers from Payap, ISDSI staff, Thai friends, and people from our internships all in one place, but it was also sad. At the dinner, I most enjoyed reconnecting with my Thai teacher who I hadn’t seen since December. On Saturday, five of the K students got on their flights back home (3 of us chose to stay another week). Before they did that though, we did have time to hang out with our program coordinator one last time. She had become really close to all of us and was always such a beacon of light for me. We went to lunch with her and then checked out a beautiful spot on Chiang Mai University’s campus. It was a pleasant way to end the week. On Saturday afternoon, I had to say goodbye to our coordinator and my 5 peers, as Emily and I were headed off on our last one week adventure. I am extremely thankful that I grew so close with Chiang Mai and a few of the people here- this was an incredible experience- however, it sure made for some sad goodbyes. As we liked to say, they were’t necessarily goodbyes, they were “see yous.” I hope that I can return to Thailand sometime in my future.

Group photo from the farewell dinner ❤

Thank you for reading! Make sure you check out my pictures for the past few weeks, as well as the whole 6 months, here!

Weeks 18 – 21: Internship

Hello! I can’t believe it’s already the end of January – this month flew by! This month I’ve been working at my internship with Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures. I’ve been busy, but I get to work with great people and spend time outdoors so I’ve enjoyed it! During free time, I’ve been making the most of my remaining days in Chiang Mai! You can read more below!

Summary:

My internship site, Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (CMRCA), focuses on rock climbing activities – they do guided trips to local outdoor climbing sites and have an indoor wall in their office. They also do outdoor education and experiential learning based programs for school programs. I’m working with their outdoor education programs during my time here. For the first week there, I worked in the office, getting to know the company and coworkers, and helping with smaller tasks. It gave me another view of Thai culture – Thai culture in the workplace. In the workplace, Thai people tend to value relationships over efficiency. The CMRCA staff definitely has a strong community – we all work in coworking spaces and have plenty of breaks for snacks and chatting. Everyone still finishes their work though of course!

First day of internship at Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures

For the next two weeks, I was in the field working on the school programs. The first week, I worked on a program with an international school in Bangkok. They came to Chiang Mai to learn about Northern Thai culture and spend time outdoors. Three other CMRCA staff and I worked with a group of almost 50 13-14 year old students. Working with such big group was as new experience that was quite challenging at times. Sometimes the attitudes and enthusiasm of the students was also a challenge, but overall it was a good experience. We went to several village community centers to learn about farming, the Thai Royal Project, and other cultural aspects of Karen culture. We also went camping and rock climbing! The activities we did were in Chiang Mai providence, not the city, so it was a good way for me to see the surrounding areas.

View driving to the rock climbing site in Lampang

The next school program I did was for an international school based in Singapore. Of the two programs I worked, this was my favorite! The groups of students we worked with were smaller and the students were a bit older – this made it possible to actually connect with the students. I also just enjoyed the activities we go to do. For a lot of the program, we camped at a campsite with really cool hot springs. We spent a few days trekking with the students, teaching them back country skills like cooking and using a compass. We also did a rope bridge building activity, a farming day, and kayaking. With the CMRCA programs I got to do and see a lot of things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise!

One of our campsites. So many tents!

This week, I’m back in the office in Chiang Mai. I’ve been working on several projects related to the school programs. As part of my internship, I also have to do a research project. I’m researching the accessibility of outdoor education. CMRCA only does programs with international schools because those are the schools that can afford it. I’m looking more into the benefits and accessibility of outdoor education, along with the implications this poses. When I’m not in the office, I’ve been making the most of my time left in Chiang Mai. I’ve been going to the markets and visiting temples with friends. Not ready to say goodbye to this place in about a month!

Exploring Wat Umong – a temple with underground tunnels!

Thank you for reading! I’ll post my next update next time I have done enough to write about! Be sure you check out my photos page here!

Weeks 16 and 17: Winter Break

Hello and happy new year! It’s been awhile since I last updated my blog. I had a very packed but fun winter break and have been busy this week with the first week of my internship. For this post, I’ve written about what I did over my winter break as I had two weeks of freetime in Thailand! Lots of pictures to accompany here!

Part 1: Chiang Mai

For the first half of my spring break, I was lucky enough to have two of my friends from K come visit me in Thailand! I really enjoyed getting to see them and showing them around my temporary home. For the first few days, we stayed in Chiang Mai so I got to show them my favorite parts of Chiang Mai! On the first full day they were here, December 24th, I took them around to my favorite temples in Old City, fed them lots of street food, and at night, we went shopping at the Chiang Mai Night Bizarre. For Christmas, we got to spend most of the day hanging out with elephants! We had to get picked up from our hotel at 7:00 am, but it was totally worth it. We got to fed a baby elephant and some adult elephants, check out a beautiful waterfall, and then bathe the elephants. At the end, they served us Karen style lunch which was cool because it gave my friends a glimpse of life during my homestays in villages. It’s always so amazing to see elephants up close (engaging with them in responsible ways of course)! That evening, we went out to the movies. It was definitely a Christmas to remember!

Me, Talea, and Uyen with an elephant

During the last of our time in Chiang Mai, my friends and I visited Doi Suthep, a beautiful national park in the mountains near Chiang Mai that I have previously hiked and camped around. We got to see several great view points and Wat Doi Suthep. Afterwards, we went and goofed around at a fancy cafe and to finish off the day, we got Thai massages. Thailand is known for Thai massages, however, I hadn’t gotten one before. It was an interesting experience! Before our next stop, Bangkok, I got to show my friends the apartment that I live in now and introduce them to my friends here. It was really fun acting as a tour guide and showing my friends my life here. Next, we flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok for the next part of our adventure.

Uyen, Talea, and I at a view point overlooking Chiang Mai at Doi Suthep

Part 2: Bangkok

I was happy to visit Bangkok again because I got to see more of it than when I had just gone for the weekend. On our first night there, our only mission was to travel from the airport to our Air B and B. We took the metro a ton in Bangkok which was very convenient. On our first full day there, December 28th, we got to explore the area around the king’s palace. First we went to Wat Pho, a temple that had many intricate buildings and is home to one of the largest reclining Buddha statues in the country. After a few hours of exploring the temple grounds, we took a water taxi across the Chao Phraya River for 4 Bhat (equivalent to 1 cent). Across the river, we got to check out Wat Arun, one of the oldest and most well-known temples in Bangkok. It was so beautiful, especially as we got to see it as the sun was setting. For the night time, we wound up at Iconsiam, one of the many malls in the city. The following day, we went to Chatuchak Weekend Market. The Chatuchak Weekend Market is the biggest market in Thailand, about 35 acres with thousands of vendors. We spend hours there looking at and buying clothing, Thai handicrafts, other souvenirs , and of course eating tons of delicious food. That evening, we found ourselves exploring another mall before we headed back to our Air B and B. The following day, December 30 was less packed as I sadly had to return my friends to Japan, the country they are both studying abroad. We did get to squeeze in a quick visit to Bangkok’s China Town for one last delicious meal and temple visit. It was a hard goodbye to my friends, but it was amazing getting to see them. The following morning, December 31, I left Bangkok for my final trip to Phuket.

At Wat Arun in Bangkok

Part 3: Phuket

On New Year’s Eve, I met up with three of my friends from study abroad in Phuket, a popular island in Southern Thailand. It was great! We stayed just a ten minute walk from the tropical, sandy beach. For New Year’s eve, we went to a celebration/ countdown/ dance party on the beach! There were crowds of people there but it was a lot of fun. The following few days, we pretty much spent relaxing and hanging out in the beach. We were able to rent chairs and umbrellas which called for great beach lounging. Whenever we got too hot, we’d just go for a swim in the ocean. It was a much needed break and an awesome start to 2020. On Saturday, January 4th, we left Phuket and made it back to Chiang Mai for time to unpack and get ready for our internships.

Beach sunset in Phuket

Thank you for reading! My posting schedule is pretty sporadic as I no longer have a consistent schedule. This week, I started my internship and for the following two weeks, I’ll be in the field with my internship, unable to post. I’m excited for my internship – I will be working as a facilitator for outdoor education programs with Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures. You can expect an update shortly after I return to Chiang Mai in a few weeks! As always, make sure you check out my the rest of photos on the “pictures” page here!

Week 15: Mod Ta Noi Village Homestay

For our third village stay, we traveled down to a smaller fishing community in Southern Thailand called Mod Ta Noi. It was an amazing week- I will forever cherish my time there! After reading more about it, be sure to look at the rest of the photos here!

Summary:

To get to Mod Ta Noi from Chiang Mai, we flew to Bangkok and then a smaller airport a few hour south of Bangkok. After the flights, we then had a 3 hour drive to the village. We arrived to Mod Ta Noi around dinner time. I had a really great host mom at this village. She was really patient, kind, funny, and loved speaking Thai with me and my roommate Emily. On that first night, we had dinner with our mom and just talked for like an hour. It was cool that we had the Thai to do that (and she had patience), and it was also cool to learn about our family and the village so early in the stay. Along with my host mom, we had an 18 year old sister and a dad, though we didn’t see them much because they had school and work. We got settled in that night and got ready for a week packed with activities!

View from the beach of the village

This village was right on the coastline on the Andaman Sea and surrounded by mangrove forests. It was so beautiful and I learned a lot, specifically about sea and mangrove ecosystems. On the first full day, Tuesday, we went kayaking in the sea and within the mangroves. I’d never seen mangroves before- they were so cool! After some free time (which we usually spent hanging out on the beach) and lunch, we learned how to make a few snacks important in the region. Each night we would watch the sunset before walking back to our houses for dinner. Wednesday, we spent the morning building “fish houses” – we mixed a mixture of sand, water, concrete, and gravel and poured them into molds. Then, we rode in boats to drop the houses into the sea – the fish houses provide shelter for younger fish in areas that coral and sea grass has been damaged. After dropping the houses, we got to check out a nearby cave and then after lunch, we did a study on the mud flat during low tide. We walked onto the mudflats with a species identification packet and had to count and identify all the organisms we saw. I was amazed with all the life we saw in what at first just looked like mud. As we got our far enough, we even found sea cucumbers and star fish!

Kayaking through the mangrove forest
Starfish! Found during the mud flat exploration activity

On Thursday, we took a little trip to visit the NGO the Andaman Foundation to learn about their work with villages in Southern Thailand to conserve sea life through education. Also on that day, we did a beach clean up with our host families where we picked up trash that comes in with high tide. The amount of trash we picked up in just 30 minutes was saddening, especially knowing that most of the trash didn’t come from the villagers and that more trash will just come in with high tide. That night, we also went out into the sea to drop crabbing nets . On our way back to the village, we got to stop at a little island and go swimming in the ocean as the sun was setting – it was paradise! Early on Friday morning, we went back out with our host families to retrieve the crab traps. Along with catching crabs, the nets also brought up starfish and various eggs. It was so cool to look at everything from the ocean floor before putting them back in the ocean where they belong. The rest of that morning we had free time which again, we spent on the beach. For lunch, we had the crabs that we had caught earlier that day! Other activities we did that day included learning about sea grass and sea grass conservation, planting mangroves, and more secret island swimming.

Retrieving the crabbing nets in the morning sunrise
Swimming on the island coast as sun set

Saturday was our last full day there, we spent most of it on a bigger fishing boat so we could visit the Emerald Cave and snorkel at a few different sites. The Emerald Cave, most notably known for it’s feature in the movie “The Beach” staring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2000, was a bit spooky, but super beautiful. Swimming through the cave led us to a beautiful spot on an island, and the way the sun hit the water made it glow an emerald green! Next, we went back into the boat for snorkeling. We stopped at two sites. The first, unbeknownst to the students, was an unhealthy, almost bleached coral reef ecosystem. The coral was mostly a beige color and there were hardly any fish. I still had a great time here as I didn’t have any expectations, but the second location totally blew my mind. The second stop was a thriving coral reef ecosystem with diverse, colorful coral and lots of beautiful fish. I felt like I was diving in the “Finding Nemo!” This was a really effective way to learn about coral reef ecosystems and the impact human activities can have on them. That evening, we had a farewell dinner potluck with all of the families, and early on Sunday morning, we left for a day of traveling back to Chiang Mai.

The Emerald Cave with our host mom

Thank you for reading! If you want to hear about my other village stays, you can find the post about my stay in a sustainable farming community here and in a Northern Karen Village here. I have tons of photos here!

Weeks 14 and 16: Finishing Class and Bangkok

Wow I have been so busy since my last post a few weeks ago! I’ve finished my last week of classes, went on a weekend trip to Bangkok, went to my last host stay in a Southern Thai village, then moved out of the dorms at Payap University and into an apartment. I’m going to publish two posts in order to get caught up – this first one is about my last classes, trip to Bangkok, etc… and the next one will be all about my time in my last village stay. I have lots of pictures to accompany these posts so be sure to also check out my pictures page here.

Wrapping Up Classes

The last week of classes at Payap is kind of a blur at this point. The work load of classes tended to be significantly less than the workload at K, but this week felt almost like being at K again. We had papers and presentations due, as well as a 25 minute interview test in Thai. It was bittersweet to finish our classes. I’m especially going to miss Thai class; both learning Thai, and just going to class was just so fun. The interview test, for which we sat down with an unfamiliar Thai teacher and they asked us questions that got progressively harder and was cumulative, was pretty daunting. But now that the interview is over and I’ve reflected on it, it’s so cool that we have learned enough Thai to do that! Aside from classes and studying, we didn’t do much that week. Right after we all finished our interview tests on Friday, a group of 5 of us hopped on a plane to visit Bangkok for the weekend.

Said goodbye to my bike

Weekend Trip to Bangkok

Bangkok has too much to see in one weekend, but we managed to fit a lot in in the time that we had. Flying from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was a breeze on Friday afternoon. Upon arriving to Bangkok, we were a bit overwhelmed because it is soooooo big and different from what we’re used to in Chiang Mai. Our mission for the night was to simply find our Air B and B. We took the metro from the airport and then walked a bit to get to our building. Our Air B and B was in a condo building with a grocery store on the ground floor. We ended up cooking dinner which was very exciting as we haven’t had access to a kitchen since we left our homes in the States! We had pretty early night as we were exhausted from the week/traveling and we had signed up for a tour that began at 6:30 am on Saturday morning.

On the way to Bangkok – over the mountains near Chiang Mai

Though the tour we went on required us to get up at 5:30 am, it was a really cool experience that totally exceeded my expectations. For the tour, we went on an Ayutthaya Ancient Temples and History tour. It was about a 2 hour drive to our first stop as the tour we went in was in the next providence over from Bangkok, Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was the capital of what is now Thailand from 1350 to 1767 – it was very powerful during its reign and still is very culturally important. On the tour we stopped at 6 historically important sites that included temples, statues of the image of Buddha, and remains of old palaces. Each location was so unique – I can’t even describe them well. We had a tour guide tell us about some of the history of each place – it was really interesting and new information to me. The ruins were so beautiful! Some of the sites we visited had been damaged in a war against the Burmese- as a result of losing battles, all of the images of Buddha had their heads cut off. It was a very powerful site to see. The architecture was really different from temples and other sites that I’ve seen in Chiang Mai. My favorite stops were Wat Maha That and Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

Wat Yai Chaimongkol
Wat Maha That
Pratu Chai – 3rd largest relining image of Buddha in Thailand
Wat Phra Si Sanphet

After the tour, we returned to our Air B and B and checked out the pool. It’s pretty funny how adjusted my body is to weather in Thailand. Right now in Thailand, it’s “winter.” Whenever it gets below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, I find it cool. We ended up not staying at the pool long because the sun was setting and it was a chilly 60 degrees. In the evening time, we took the metro to check out one of the night markets in Bangkok. We had fun navigating the metro and walking around the market. The night market seemed to go on forever so eventually we headed back towards where we were staying and we stumbled on a little carnival/ street food market. The following morning, cooked an amazing breakfast (hash browns, eggs, waffles) in our our Air B and B before checking out. In the few remaining hours, we wandered around a mall nearby and then took the metro back to the airport. I really enjoyed Bangkok, but as we saw the mountains in the horizons from the plane as we returned to Chiang Mai, I felt a sense of relief like I was returning home.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

Moving into Apartments

Between Bangkok and now, I stayed in a village in Southern Thailand for a week. To see that post, check here!

As when classes ended, it was bittersweet to move out of the dorms. The dorms weren’t really anything special, but we had had a lot of good times over the past few months. Packing my stuff up wasn’t too difficult as I still really only have 2 suitcases of belongings, however, seeing the belongings of all 8 of us just piled up in the lobby of the dorm rooms was pretty funny. We’re moving into apartments for the second phase of our experience here: the internship phase. Our new apartments are super nice! We all got our own rooms with a refrigerator, bathroom, and balcony. They’re in a really nice location, close to one of the malls here, other restaurants, and Chiang Mai University. It will be much better getting transportation to our internship from here compared to at Payap. It’s been fun unpacking into my own space and exploring our new area!

Thank you for reading! This brings us pretty up to date. After this week I have two weeks of winter break! Over my break, I a few of my friends are coming to visit me in Thailand! I’m going to show them around Chiang Mai for a few days, and then we’re going to spend a few more days in Bangkok. Afterwards, I’m going to spend the last few days of break in Phuket with a few other people in my program. I’m not sure what my posting schedule will look like over break, but I’ll update when I can. As always, check out my pictures page here, and also, have a happy holiday season!

Week 13: Camping and Thanksgiving

Summary

For our Friday field trip on 22/11/2019, our class went to the MAIIAM museum as part of our social justice class. The MAIIAM is a privately owned contemporary art museum, so it was able to have some really powerful artwork relating to systemic issues in Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia that wouldn’t have been permitted otherwise. Some of the art critiques the Thai monarchy, land rights issues, globalization/tourism, and other social movements. At the museum, we got to wander around for a few hours looking at all the art, and then we had a class discussion about the art. It was a really interesting day. Afterwards, we had Japanese food for lunch. That evening, me and some of my friends got reading for a short weekend camping trip!

One of the showpieces at the MAIIAM – “Super(M)art Bangkok Survivor” by Navin Rawanchaikui 2004-15

A smaller group of 4 of us had been planning a camping trip the week before, and it paid off as it was a great trip! We went camping at a campsite at Doi Suthep National Park, about an hour away from Chiang Mai. We were able to borrow gear from ISDSI for free and for one night camping it only costed 30 Bhat ($1). We got there early in the day on Saturday to ensure we got a campsite, and then rested for a little while. We had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and apples for lunch – both foods we had been missing from home so it was amazing. After getting totally set up, we left to go on a day hike. We got to see several really beautiful view points overlooking Chiang Mai and a small waterfall on our hike. It was a really fun hike. Afterwards, we were able to eat dinner at a restaurant pretty close to our campsite – this called for pretty easy camping. I had Pad Thai! Upon returning to our campsite, we played cards, snacked, and talked and laughed late into the night. It was a much needed change of pace. The next day, we got up around 6:00 am to watch the sunset – however we couldn’t find where the sun was rising. We miscalculated from the night before which was pretty funny. After watching the “sunrise,” we went back to sleep, and then when we woke up again we packed up, had another round of PBJs, and headed down the mountain back to our dorms.

Waterfall from our hike
Viewpoint on hike- overlooking Chiang Mai

Academically, this week was a big week. This was our second to last week of classes so things are wrapping up – I had 3 different presentations this week. The presentation for Society and Culture of Southeast Asia on Tuesday wasn’t a big deal, but on Thursday (Thanksgiving), we had 10 minute presentations for Thai class and a 30 minute partner presentation for Environment and Sustainability in Southeast Asia. Leading up to Thursday, we all spent a lot of time and energy preparing for these presentations. Overall, study abroad hasn’t been as much work academically as a normal quarter at Kalamazoo College, but we definitely felt the heat this week. Luckily, on Thursday, all 8 of us did great on our Thai presentations! And then afterwards, we did great in our other presentations too!

Presenting in Thai class

Along with our presentations on Thursday, Thursday was also Thanksgiving. ISDSI served us Thanksgiving food after our Thai presentations which was really nice, but we were all definitely feeling extra homesick that day. It didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving, but when the photo’s of everyone’s families started showing up, we all felt pretty low. That night, to celebrate Thanksgiving and the successful competition of so many presentations, we went out to a Mexican restaurant. This was pretty fun and raised our spirits considerably. After getting back, we all stayed up very late talking to our families on the phone. Regardless of the homesickness, it was still a good day. I am thankful for all my experiences here and the people who I have met in Thailand, as long as all my friends and family back home!

My Thanksgiving Lunch

Highlights

This was a good week – camping was super enjoyable and Thanksgiving was nice, but I think my true highlight of the week was my Thai presentation. I am just so surprised/proud that I showed up to Thailand not even knowing the Thai word and then this week, I was able to give a 10 minute presentation in Thai. The presentation was a comparison between my family in the US and one of my host families in Thailand. Along with presenting, I also liked listening to my classmate’s presentations about their families. It has been a lot of hard work, but that showed that it’s paid off.

Thank you for reading! Make sure to check out the rest of my photos here!

Week 11/12: Back in Chiang Mai

Hello! I decided to combine two weeks into one again as I haven’t quite caught up yet from my last village post. These past few weeks back in Chiang Mai with classes at Payap have been nice! We got to experience the famous Loy Krathong festival and go on a few outings – hope you enjoy reading about it!

Summary:

It has been really cool learning about different holidays and festivities while in Thailand. Right after we got back to Chiang Mai from the village, we got to experience Loy Krathong – a celebration that falls on the full moon in November. Loy Krathong is a festival with Buddhist origins that, while celebrated in all of Thailand, is particularly important in the North because that’s where it originated from. The festival is to apologize and show appreciation to the river spirits. On Monday in Thai class, we learned about the Loy Krathong Festival and then got to make Loy Krathongs – small, little banana leaf boats decorated with flowers that people release into the river. It was a lot of fun learning the Loy Krathong song and making the Loy Krathongs in class. That evening, we went to an area on the Ping River to experience the festival. It was amazing! While the crowds were a bit overwhelming, it was really beautiful. The river was filled with the Loy Krathong boats and the sky was lit up with lanterns. It was very festive and cheerful. The Loy Krathong festivities last several days, so the next evening, we went to a parade at old city. I also loved the parade. It was very crowded, but the “floats” (not sure what else to call them but floats doesn’t seem like the right word) were like nothing I’d ever seen before. They were very detailed, smaller versions of images of temples, mountains, spirits, etc… The parade also had dancers and other musicians. I was very surprised/impressed that there were no advertisements at each “float” to show who supported the parade. It felt like the people were there without alternative motives of profit and fame. After the parade, people filled into the street to continue celebrating and set off more lanterns into the sky. Like the day before, it was very beautiful (while also created a lot of fire hazards) – my friends and I decided to light one off together. Doing so was a symbol of letting negative thoughts and experiences go. I loved Loy Krathong!

At the Loy Krathong Festival on Monday at the Ping River Bridge!

The rest of my time the past few weeks has been pretty normal. Thai class is still fun and very rewarding, though we do have a presentation and interview test coming up in the near future. All my classes have bigger assignments coming up as we are getting closer to the end of classes, but I’ve still had time to do things apart from school work. I’ve gone to the gym and the mall a few times. It’s been nice going to the mall just as a scenery change to do hw – I also got a haircut one day! Last Sunday, we went on a hike with our professor of Environmental Sustainability in Southeast Asia class. It was really nice – he just offered to take us on a hike in his spare time without anyone even prompting him to. We hiked on Doi Suthep, the national park on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. The hike was very challenging but very rewarding- we hiked for about 12 miles that day through the beautiful forest! It was a nice way to start the week.

One of the views from the hike we went on with our professor – on Doi Suthep, facing Chiang Mai

Highlights:

The highlight for me this week, if it wasn’t clear from my writing above, was definitely the Loy Krathong Festival. I had a lot of fun making a Loy Krathong and participating in the festivities, and I also was thankful to learn about it’s significance. While I learned about it in Thai class, Loy Krathong aslo came up that week in my classes about culture and the environment. For example, we talked about the environmental affects of Loy Krathong (all those lantrens end up somewhere) and then compared it to other issues like the environmental impacts of the 4th of July in the US. It can be easy to judge other cultures without examining your own and trying to understand the different perspectives. I’ve loved studying abroad in Thailand, but sometimes I forget that I’m actually studying abroad in Thailand because things can feel so normal – Loy Krathong made me think “omg I’m actually studying in Thailand right now” which I needed.

Making the Loy Krathongs in Thai class

Here are a few more pictures from my time at Loy Krathong – to see all my pictures check out my pictures page here!

With the Loy Krathong I made 🙂
Setting my Loy Krathong free on the river
Showing the bridge where people release lanterns and the water below for the Loy Krathongs
Hard to capture but it was very beautiful – all of these dot are lanterns in the sky symbolizing people letting go of things that weigh them down.

Thank you for reading!

Week 10: Chiang Rai and PhaMon Village Homestay

Hello! I’m a bit behind my posting schedule because last week I was on a homestay in a Northern Hill Tribe Village- it was a great experience and I had a lot to write about! Before leaving for the village, my group and I also went to visit Chiang Rai, another prominent city in the North. I’ve split this post up into two parts: Chiang Rai and my most recent homestay. I also have tons of photos from this week, so be sure to check them out here!

Chiang Rai:

I’ve heard a lot of good things about the city of Chiang Rai since arriving in Thailand so we decided to go see it for ourselves. We left the dorms very early in the morning on a Saturday- getting onto the bus was a breeze. The bus ride was okay, I slept a lot of the way. After about three hours, we were in Chiang Rai. We stayed in a hostel downtown – on the walk there, we stopped for lunch and checked out some other storefronts as it wasn’t time to check in yet. After checking in, our first stop was the Blue Temple or Wat Rong Suea Ten. This is a famous, more modern temple known the main color of the temple being a deep blue. It was so beautiful to see up close – the details were gorgeous, the statues around the temple were lovely, and because it was finished in 2016 (in contrast to many temples that are hundreds of years old), it had a very unique “vibe” to it. After walking around the area, taking some pictures, and enjoying some coconut ice cream, we went to the Chiang Rai Beach. Chiang Rai Beach is on the Kok River near the outskirts of the city. It was a beautiful, well conserved natural area with a nice river bank. We were some of the only people there when we went which was cool. We swam and sun bathed for a few hours – close to dinner time, we regrouped at our hostel and then went to the Chiang Rai Walking Street Market. There was lots of great street food as well as other vendors. Walking around the market felt endless so after a bit we went back to our hostel – they had live music performances all night.

The Blue Temple, Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai Beach

On Sunday, we decided to spend a lot of time visiting the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun, another famous temple in Chiang Rai. After checking out of the hostel and eating a yummy (American style) breakfast, we caught a bus to the temple. Riding this bus was an interesting experience for sure. For only 20 B (less than $1), we got to ride to the temple. The bus rode up and down a specific road, when we approached someone on the side of the road, the driver would pick them up if they wanted – there weren’t any bus stops. The man sitting next to be at first realized that he was on the wrong bus so he just got off the bus when we were at a stoplight on the highway. It was pretty funny to me but maybe it was a “you had to be there” kind of moment. Anyways, I liked the bus ride, but the White Temple was definitely the highlight of the day! It was stunning . Breathtaking. Gorgeous. Essentially all of the temple and its surroundings are white- the white contrasted beautifully against the bright blue sky and reflective materials made the details shimmer in the sun. We walked around for hours trying to take it all in. There were a lot of tourists there but it was still a very sacred feeling space. I was very impressed. Like the Blue Temple, the White Temple is also more modern, built in 1997. There were very modern aspects to the temple – pop culture references around the campus and the paintings on the inside of the temple included objects like oxygen masks, telephones, and TVs. It was very interesting. We had to leave eventually so we could catch our bus back to Chiang Mai. We caught the same bus I described back to the bus station and walked around a bit more until we caught the bus back. It was a great excursion, and we made it back to Chiang Mai in time to pack for our homestay!

The White Temple from a distance
Walking around the White Temple grounds (neither of these beautiful buildings are the actual White Temple)

Homestay at PhaMon Village

First, here’s some context. On this study abroad program, we have block classes. After one block, or three weeks, we stay in a village for one week that connects to themes we’ve been learning about in our classes. The village stays provide great immersion with Thai language and different cultures. This time we stayed at PhaMon Village, a Karen Hill Tribe in the mountains. The Karen people are one of the groups Indigenous to Thailand – they speak the Karen language and Thai, and their culture is in many ways different from Thai culture. At this village, we learned about community based tourism (CBT), different aspects of Karen culture, land rights issues Hill Tribe communities face, and growing rice and food access. Here’s what we did!

My roommate and I with our host mom and little brother

On Monday morning we left our dorms at Payap and traveled to PhaMon village. PhaMon is inside of Doi Inthanon National Park – I don’t want to over-simplify it, but basically the people lived there before the national park was established. Upon making it a park, the Thai government allowed them to stay there under certain conditions. I was a little surprised to learn that there are many communities living in national parks – this was a very interesting concept for me to see. Anyways, we stopped at one of the waterfalls at the national parks for lunch. It was a very rainy day but it was still beautiful and exciting. Once we got to the village, we went to the house of the leader of the village CBT program to learn more about community based tourism. CBT is a less invasive, more sustainable, community controlled type of tourism. It focuses on mutual learning and the income made from it goes to community development. While learning about CBT, we also got to roast coffee in a few traditional Karen ways and then drink it – it was really cool. Later in the afternoon, we got to meet our host families. My dorm roommate and I lived with the same family. For my host family I had a mom, dad, and two younger brothers ages 10 and 4. They were a great host family. On that first day, our mom gave us Karen nicknames- my roommate Emily was called what translates to “Rainy” and my name translated to “Rainy Flower” because we arrived on a rainy day. We spent the remainder of the day getting settled.

View of one of the rice fields in PhaMon Village

While we were learning about community based tourism, we were also participating a CBT program while we were there. Therefore, each day had a set structure and an intentional agenda. Tuesday was “Family Day” so we spent the day with our host families. Emily and I worked with our family on their tomato farm. Mostly we worked on adding supports to the younger plants – it was more fun than I was expecting and super satisfying whenever we finished tying up a row of plants. Once we got back, we relaxed a bit and helped make dinner. All the food we had in the village was delicious! We went to bed early in the village, around 9 pm when it started to get cold. On Wednesday, we had a busy day of learning. As a whole group, we split into two stations to learn about clothes weaving and bamboo basket weaving. I got to start to weave a scarf using a traditional Karen loom – it took me a long time to get a hang of, but at least me and the Karen woman who was helping me got to laugh a lot. Once I got okay at it, it was a very calming pattern to do. At the bamboo weaving station, we wove baskets out of strips of bamboo. I was already familiar with this type of weaving (though not nearly as skilled as the Karen men that taught us), so what I enjoyed most for this station was seeing how the bamboo is processed into the strips for weaving. After lunch, we learned more about rice. We got to harvest some and process it in the tradition way. This was a machine that resembled a see-saw – when you stepped/jumped on one end, the other end pounded the rice, removing the outer shelling. Afterwards, we cooked the rice we had just processed and another traditional Karen dish for our dinner. That evening we did an activity relating to food access in the village.

Learning about the Karen style of weaving
Presenting information about the villagers’ access to meat (learned information through conversations in Thai)

On Thursday, we went on a guided hike in the surrounding forest. We had several Karen guides who would stop periodically to explain the uses of various plants in the forest or explain a cultural aspect to the Karen like a story or world view. It was cool to learn on the hike – and we got to see a beautiful waterfall and views of different farms. We ate packed lunches wrapped in banana leaves for lunch and by the end of the hike, we found ourselves back at the village. After the hike, our group had to put together a performance for the “cultural exchange” – we decided to do a dance and lip-sync to the song “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. It was pretty fun. The following day, Friday, we went to the village school. In the morning, we did activities with the students there who were around 10 years old. We were at stations the kids rotated through. I was at the game station, so I played lots of games that day. It was fun but tiring. The students would often crack up when I spoke which was funny. After hanging out with the students, we went to a meeting with some of the teachers to learn about the school system there and how schools from the city differ from it. I was really interesting. That evening, we had the cultural exchange! First, we watched a few performances from the villagers. My 10 year old host brother did a traditional dance with knives while other kids played instruments. Afterwards, an older man played a guitar like insturment and sang a few beautiful songs. I enjoyed the performances but I was feeling awkward about after seeing their wonderful, culturally important performances, doing a silly dance to a Journey song. I was apprehensive but the villagers loved it – or at least I think they did as they were laughing almost the whole time 🙂

A photo from our hiking day
At the cultural exchange

We left PhaMon Village mid morning on Saturday. It was sad to say goodbye to our host family, especially our mom who we spent the most time with. I loved being in the village – it was so beautiful and I got to use lots and lots of Thai. Before the several hour drive back to Chiang Mai, we got to stop at a few popular attractions while we were still in Doi Inthanon National Park. We got to stop at the summit of the highest peak in Thailand and go on a short nature trail there. Afterwards, we checked out the Twin Pagodas and a Mon market before leaving the park. All of these stops were great – I especially enjoyed the nature trail as we got to see a lot of really unique plants that grew at that elevation. By evening, we made it safely back to our dorms! I had a great experience at this homestay, but it was also good to be back.

Twin Pagodas

Thank you for reading this long post! I’ll try to get caught up with the most recent week soon as well. In the meantime, be sure to check out my pictures here!

Week 9: Zip-lining and Reading

Hello and happy Halloween! Most people don’t celebrate Halloween in Thailand, but today was plenty spooky as we had a Thai reading fluency test. Anyways, here is what I’ve been up to during my ninth week in Thailand!

Summary:

I had a pretty mellow weekend. On Friday we didn’t have an outing because we had to go to Thai immigration as part of the process with our student visas. I had a relaxing morning sleeping in and hanging out at a cafe before we went to immigration. The immigration office didn’t take as long as expected so before dinner I went to the gym. In the evening we explored a few bars in the old city and by the end of the night ended up at an open-mic. On Saturday, I got to sleep in yet again- I hardly get to do that here! Then I went to a pool at a hotel and hung out in Old City again with a few friends. It was great! I ate some vegan pizza and went to the Saturday night market for the first time. We went to bed pretty early because we had plans to go zip-lining the next day!

On the wall in the Old City

We went zippling with a company based in Chiang Mai called Flight of the Gibbon. To be honest, we chose this place because they had a great student discount, but it ended up being a great place for us to go! They picked us up from our dorm around 9 am, and then it was about an hour drive to their location. Once there, we signed forms, got into our helmets and harnesses, and had a few lessons. Then we went on a short hike to the first platform. The first zip line was described as “one of the longest ziplines in Southeast Asia” – it was really cool. Along with being super long, the zipline was really high and gave a great view of the jungle. Over all, we did 12 ziplines that morning. Some of them were designed to be fast and there were a few ziplines we could go on with a partner. The surroundings were incredibly beautiful – I only brought my cheap little digital camera and the photos definitely don’t do it justice. When we finished all the lines, we repelled down from the platform and onto the ground. Once back at their headquarters, they provided us a lunch – rice with a bunch of small side dishes we got to share. Before heading back to the dorms, they stopped at a popular waterfall nearby, Maekamnong Waterfall. This was a beautiful waterfall and a fun bonus as we didn’t realize the waterfall stop was included in our student discount. Once back at the dorms, I spent the rest of the day working on school work. It was a good weekend!

The K group at Flight of the Gibbon Ziplining

The rest of the week was pretty routine. Thai class has been going well. The range of things I’m able to speak about just keeps getting wider and wider. As I mentioned earlier, we had a Thai reading test on Thursday, so I spent a lot of time practicing reading outside of class. Thai has a lot of symbols to memorize (around 44) and a lot of the words are very similar. Luckily, I think I did okay! Aside from Thai class, my other classes are fine. This is the last week in the block before our next village stay so we were wrapping up our units. After classes, I haven’t been up to much, just went to the gym a few times and have been studying lots. Thursday was Halloween – on a whim, we decided to meet up with other American students in ISDSI programs for games and candy as a little Halloween party. It was fun! Some of my friends whipped together some costumes – three of us went as Alvin and the Chipmunks (I was Simon).

Alvin and the Chipmunks for Halloween with Caitlin and Kelly 🙂

Highlights:

Ziplining was a big highlight this week. I had been ziplining before in a place nearby where I live in Oregon, but this was totally different. I loved seeing the jungle up close – there so many huge, beautiful trees, colorful flowers, and cool fungi. We’ve done some hiking in the jungle by now but this gave me a whole other perspective. Also, it was just a fun change in pace in what I normally do.

The start of the longest zipline we went on

This weekend we are going to visit Chiang Rai, another well known city in Northern Thailand, and then for week 10, I will be at my next homestay in a village! Due to lack of service, my post for this week won’t be on Thursday, but sometime early the following week. Thank you for reading! As always, be sure to check out my photos page here!