Spirituality in Thailand

What an incredible week it has been in this beautiful country! Each day has held a new adventure and learning experience. Exploring in Bangkok, Thai cooking lessons, monk chatting, school and village visiting, fraternizing with elephants and spending quality time with some old souls of Thailand are just a few of the experiences that have moved me in the short time I have been here. Throughout all of these activities, one key aspect of the Thai culture has stood out to me the most. The prominent role that spirituality plays in the lives of Thai people has been apparent to me since I landed in Bangkok.

While driving to my hotel from the airport upon landing in Bangkok, the first thing I noticed about this country was the attention to detail surrounding artifacts of significance to the Thai culture. Right away, I could tell spirituality was a huge part of their lives. The highway was decorated with well-tended flower boxes displaying a large, gold Buddha. As we drove deeper into the city, I kept noticing  beautifully decorated little houses outside of every building and home. I figured these houses were praying stands for those practicing Buddhism. However, I learned they are called spirit houses and are not part of the religion.

I was informed by my Thai cooking instructor that the people of Thailand believe spirits protect their buildings and houses. They put spirit houses outside on the property and decorate them with flowers and bright colors. These houses provide a place for the people to leave an offering for the spirits who protect them. Thai people leave water and fruits on the stands of these houses for the spirits that inhabit them. This is how the people give thanks to the spirits for protecting them from harm and bad luck.

What I find most interesting about these spirit houses is the placement of them. They can be found outside of every facility in Thailand. I think it is so unique to have such an ornate structure amidst such an ordinary setting. Concrete, advertising and garbage surround these beautiful spirit houses. I have even seen them under large trees and on the outskirts of forested areas. It shows that spiritual belief holds very strong to the people of Thailand. Even as the country moves towards globalization, the people hold on to the spirituality that outlines their culture.


Yes! It’s Thailand!

I was fascinated by how respectful the students in Chiang Dao school are. I remember when we step into the building, where we will be watching the students perform one of the students smiled at me and wai to show respect. They really show respects to their older peers and adults. I was very shocked to learn that the students here in Thailand really have the skills that can help them to live independently without depending on their parents. As for the students in America we were not taught the skills to live by ourselves other than focusing on our education, ourselves and find which career we want to do. I also learn that schools like Chiang Dao has goals of making sure after their students graduated the students are able to find a job and have the skills to live independently. I noticed that in Thailand the main language is Thai but then there are also other tribes that still speaks their native language.

I noticed that the climate changes as we go higher up the mountains. When we were in Bangkok the weather was very hot and the air is very thick. If we are not in a room with cool air conditioning it will be hard to breathe. However, when we went up hill to Pha- Nok- Kok Hmong village the air is more refreshing. Although it may be a little bit humid we can survive because of the refreshing air and breeze. I also noticed that uphill in the mountains it is more green then in Bangkok and where we stay at. I think the reason for this is because it is less populated where the tribes live.


On our first day when we arrived to Thailand we went to a cooking class called Cooking at Home. This is where I learn about how families are in Thailand. I remember that our cooking instructor’s husband told us that they own their own business at home. When it is not busy it will just be their family running it but then when they have like tourists like us come, their neighbors will also come to help them as well. This is something that I was very surprised to had learned about. Because in America our neighbors will not help us like how the neighbors will help this family.

Blog #2

imageIn just the past few days, I feel as though I have gained so much life experience and so much insight into the way in which others live and perceive the world. Through the monk chat to the Hmong village, we have already observed the lives of others immensely that we can apply to the Human Ecological Model.  The Human Ecological Model consist of four lenses: the sociocultural, the family, the human built environment, and the natural built environment. The experience that I have chosen to apply to this model is the visit to the Hmong village.  In the Hmong village it was facinating to observe how the homes were built into the mountains and structured around the natural enviorment and the way in which they adapted to the nature that surrounded them. The crop designs and green house were built around stairs that were structured specifically to avoid erosion. This displays the human built environment, how the people built their lives around the nature. It was such a profound experience to observe how the village acted as a collective family with smaller units within it. The village survived and thrived based on the connections they had with one another. Every individual portrayed strong family values, they took pride in their village and the simplicity it was made up of. I felt that when they spoke about their village and then way they live it was almost as if they were privileged to have this village, to have the opportunity to live simply, without materialism, without chaos. To have this extremely rare and unique opportunity all to themselves. There was an interdependence within the family, the sociocultural, and the human built environment lenses. How they only went to the city when they didn’t have a choice, for necessities such as education and essential economic resources. Even when the young adults went off to college, they were eager to return once they were finished their four years Eager to return to the solitude, the nature, and the simplicity and peace that they found only in their village.  Continue reading Blog #2

1 Week Reflection: values

This past week in Thailand has provided a lot of food for thought.  It was very intriguing to compare and contrast changing culture here to that in minnesota (and the US). I noticed traditional values of simplicity in daily activity, particularly during the visit to the Hmong village and in the relaxed, patient outlook of Thai society. Some of this simplicity stems from collectivism, sharing and accommodating woven into the cultural fabric. For instance, as guests at our hotel in Chang Mai we have been served breakfast with the intent if never leaving a guest unfilled. This intent results in a lot of food leftover with each breakfast. When we attended the cooking class, water falling from the roof was used as a method of cooling. These approaches to treating guests went above and beyond our usual expectations of how to please guests. I am intrigued from a sustainability standpoint on how to take only what I need (values of simplicity) without being wasteful. It was extremely encouraging to see the strides in sustainable agriculture in the Hmong village. It serves as a great example for the complex simplicity I see everywhere here in Thailand. Detail is placed to add meaning, such as on temples, but also creeps into daily life subtly through rich plant life between buildings.

Taking such care of visitors comes from different ideals from what is familiar to me, centered on sharing what you have and receiving joy from the joy of others. Although changes from globalization are adding faster-paced industry and technology to Thai society, individualism appears slower to catch on. This is in part due to core values of family and grounded patience.

We saw values of family in how both communities and businesses are run. The school itself is a community, one that contains students from very diverse backgrounds living as siblings with their teacher acting as a parent, nurse and companion. It seems that lines between societal roles are blurred so that everyone within a community work collectively. I look forward to spending more time in more traditional cultures in the next few days! Here are two pictures of the beautiful landscape, examples of IMG_2212FullSizeRender (1)cultural practice informed by nature.

Children = The Future


As I reflect learning about the children in Thailand and their futures, I see that there is a glimmer a hope and prosperity in their futures. However, learning about the children trafficking, the poor educational system in place that makes it hard for families to afford schooling for their children, and also learning about how Hmong villages only provide primary school, or not even, a standard education for their children saddens me.

First off, learning about the children trafficking in Thailand and forced child labor really intrigued me because I wanted to truly help the future generations. However, I witnessed first hand children working at the night market that same day we learned about the 7 tips to stop and prevent child labor. These two innocent girls were selling peanuts and flowers to tourists and natives at the night market. It was about 9:30PM already and still, from what it seemed like these two girls were forced to sell these items before the night was over, when they should have been sleeping to get up for school the next day. I sat there contemplating if I should have called the help line, or just observe and absorb my emotions as I watched these two girls sell their items. There was no smile, no motivation, and no emotion on the faces of the two girls. My heart was crying, but the tears of reality didn’t come out.  These girls are the future of Thailand. They need an education in order to succeed and not have to work on the streets to earn a living. There are other ways to get past the hardship that they may encounter, but this seemed normal to the natives here. Although there are child labor laws in Thailand, why aren’t they doing anything more? I noticed that at the night market, there was little to no police or security enforcing these laws.

Another incident that made me truly value children and education is when we visited the boarding school Chen Dao. These children come from different backgrounds, different tribes and villages, and yet they seemed to co-exist as a community. Learning about how these innocent children can be saved through education and school from issues of sex trafficking, drugs, child labor and orphanage is so powerful to me. I truly believe that school and education can lead the way towards a better future for these children and that no matter the differences, educating each other about how similar we all really are is the glimmer of hope we all want to see in the future of these children. It was so welcoming to me to see how easily these students welcomed us and wanted us to co-exist with them as they have co-existed with each other in school. I was also amazed on how smart and intelligent these students were when we played our game charades. The true meaning of happiness and joy from these students was truly getting an education and going to school, and it brought me joy and happiness seeing the smiles and laughs on the student’s faces.

However, there are so many unanswered questions I still have as I absorbed my thoughts and feelings of seeing these children struggle.  Seeing the struggle to have an affordable education and the struggle of making it through the trafficking and child labor issues in Thailand made me realize how privileged I am to be in America. Sometimes I feel like we take things for granted, such as free primary and secondary school. There are numerous cases of high school drop-outs in the U.S. and still, these children in Thailand would do anything in their power to even get a chance to go to high school, like the kids in the Hmong Village.  We take for granted that the U.S. has financial aid services that help with college tuition and that we don’t necessarily have to pay college all on our own.

I can now understand and truly appreciate children and education from witnessing these two cases while in Thailand. It is no wonder why my own parents always encouraged me to go to school and get good grades at a young age, because my parents lacked a formal education while growing up in Thailand and in the U.S. Our future in the hands of our children, and we can all work together to overcome these barriers that take children away from these privileges they deserve.

NT Blog 2: Busy But Calm


Before coming to Thailand, I was expecting to be in a very busy place with very busy people.  I expected the people to very fast pace like the place.  I was wrong.  Every person I met during the first week in Thailand was very calm.  Even in the midst of the busiest time, I noticed something calm about Thai people.

During the cooking class when the moths came and flooded the area and everyone was f20160517_192300reaking out, the instructor kept her calm and continued to teach us how to cook.  I felt like it was a very busy moment because everything and everyone was so chaotic with the insects.  There were moths landing in the instructor’s hair, near her face, the food, on the people in the audience,  and everywhere that I could think of, she and her husband kept going and did not lose control.  Even though I was terrified and scared, I noticed how smooth and controlled she continued to talk.  They took the situation really well and I felt like their harmonious reaction influenced everyone else calm down.

Not just the cooking instructor, but everyone I’ve encountered think about what they say before they talk.  I didn’t realize this until we had the monk chat with KK. KK is a very humble monk and I noticed how he thinks every question and his answers through before speaking.  He paused a lot to think.  He also took his time to talk and spoke slowly.  It seemed as if he wanted to make sure he didn’t say anything offensive or wrong.  After the monk chat, I started observing how Thai people speak and it’s true that the majority have quick pauses before they speak.  This made me reflect a lot about myself.  I am quick to answer and ask things but I never consider how the people I am talking to feel or interpret my words.

Reflecting about what I thought prior to this trip, I learned that Thai people are very cautious of what they say and how they act around others.  Even though they are in a very busy setting, I find that they balance it out with their calmness in how they act and talk.

Nina Thao
May 21, 2016


Choice, blog post 2

imagePride is a common thread that runs through Thai culture. I’ve seen the pride of ethnicity, culture, food, and nature in a handful of interactions this past week. In the Hmong village, the village leader spoke of his community with great love and conviction. He praised their ability to peacefully coexist within a religiously diverse space, their sustainable agricultural practices that pave the way for other hill tribes, and the impenetrable bond that allows the youth to study in the city but then feel moved to return. Shamefully, I must admit that when I was walking around the village I felt impressed but also very sure I wouldn’t want to reside there. HOWEVER, I also came to the realization that the people in this community CHOOSE to live here.

This situation reminds me of a book I read last semester called “The Art of Being Ungoverned”. The book discusses the hill tribes residing in the mountains of Southeast Asia and challenges the narrative that they are the “forgotten” ones who were skipped by modernity and civilization. Instead, the author recounts the agricultural practices, choice of crops, and reliance on spoken languages to actively resist the state and it’s imposed practices. Basically, the communities living on the periphery actively chose to resist “civilization” because the conditions under state law (poverty, indentured servitude, disease, pollution) hindered their freedom and decreased their quality of life. They have the option to live in the cities and in “modernity” but choose not to. THIS is why the immense pride voiced by the Hmong village leader cries not for our pity of their perhaps antiquated technologies and way of life but of praise to their ability to lively freely.

(This may have been a tangent)

Thai vs. American Consumerism

  1. imageThroughout our time here in Thailand so far, I’ve noticed how different the markets and interactions between consumers and vendors are from the United States. The most prevalent difference is the presence of open air markets. These take the form of food markets (mostly for those living here) and markets like the Night Bazaar catered to the tourism sector. By looking at the differences between these two markets, one can see a huge differentiator between American and Thai culture: materialism.

Although we all already know that we as Americans value material things, it’s amazing how the people of Thailand have come to not only accept this difference in the people who come to their country, they capitalize on it. The entire Night Bazaar is catered to the things that tourists buy and want in souvenirs. Tourists spend tons of time walking around and bartering with the vendors to buy the things they sell. In comparison, the food markets that people who live here shop at are for necessities. We also saw from the elderly home and the Hmong village that people live much more simply and with a lot less. The sociocultural aspects are much different between Thailand and the United States; and the Night Bazaar shows how Thailand has come to realize this difference and the people can use it to their advantage.

The human-built environment in the form of markets catering to tourists allow us to see the difference in business in general between the two countries. There are few regulations in Thailand, and prices aren’t fixed in stores or areas – you barter. The appeal of the products in Thailand (beyond the price) is that a lot of them are crafts also. This is a huge trend in the United States, so it’s also popular in other countries to bring back handmade trinkets. The United States has farmers markets, but they have tons of rules and specified times when they can take place in a specific area, so the markets here are very different overall.

Consumerism here in Thailand is very different from the United States; Thai people don’t shop or buy extra things like Americans do, they live much more simply and they don’t necessarily need as many rules and regulation on businesses because the vendors are not greedy in the same way American business owners are.

Blog Post #2

After experiencing so many things in one short week, one experience has stuck with me and created some conflicting feelings within me. The day I am talking about is our visit to the Mae Sa Elephant camp.

I was excited when we arrived to the camp because I had never seen an Elephant close up before, besides the zoo. I had preconceived notions of what to expect as far treatment towards the elephants. We had talked as a group before the outing about how it is inhumane to “ride” the elephants. I was under the impression that this camp did not take part in that. After seeing this taking place I was questioning the treatment of the elephants. I also had conflicting feelings because I was enjoying the time we got to spend with the elephants and realizing how lucky I was to get the chance to be that close to such a beautiful animal. 

For the most part, I think the treatment between the mahoot and the elephant was very gentle and warm. The mahoot grows with the elephant and they create a special bond together. They also took very good care of them as far as feeding them and bathing them. I liked being able to see them in the river because the mahoot bathed and scrubbed the elephant. They also were able to communicate with the elephants. It was amazing to see how smart the elephants were and what they understood. This helped ease some of the conflictions I was having during the outing.

However, it was very hard for me to know how to feel about the elephant show. The elephants were able to do so many things, but I kept thinking about them in the wild and how they would never be painting a picture. I remember feeling upset when the elephant closest to us was the last one there and his mahoot kept making him do more. I kept thinking that he had already done so much, and was one of the younger elephants. I also thought the whole experience was created for tourist. The whole day was surrounded around visitors and catering to them. The elephants knew how to pose, the show was put on to make people clap and pay money, sugarcane and bananas were provided for a price, even the “bath time” was scheduled so that people could watch. Again, all very unique and once in a lifetime experiences, but also not very realistic. I guess one could argue that any “elephant camp” would not be considered realistic, especially with a lense of wild elephants in your mind.

Overall, I am still not sure how I felt about it. I loved the experience and took pictures with the elephants like a tourist, but I left feeling unsettled about my prior knowledge to this experience.

lindsey blog 2

lindsey blog

Hmong in Thailand. :)


Being in Thailand has put a lot of things in perspective for me. Back in Minnesota, going to a predominately white university, I have always felt like minority. Like I was always the one getting the shorter end of the stick. Then I come here and I realize how ignorant and privileged I am to live in a country where I have to drive 20 minutes to school and still complain about how bad traffic was on highway 94. How privileged I am to have air conditioning in every building that I walk into even though it is only 80 degrees outside.

Everyday here the sun is hot and the air is humid. Now I can finally understand why my mother has the heat turned on when it’s 70 degrees back at home. After being in the United States for over 30 years, she still hasn’t adjusted to the cold of Minnesota. Visiting the Hmong village was definitely my biggest wake up call.  Things are so much different than the Hmong movies that I have seen. Both girls and boys have access to education and agriculture is so much more advanced than I had even considered. Furthermore, I was surprised to learn that only about 10 out of 200 families still followed the traditional Hmong practice of Shamanism. I thought that the conversion of religion was only a trend in the United States, but apparently that did not stand to be true.


Although so many things surprised me, I can say that I have never felt so proud of my Hmong heritage. Seeing the spinning tops, shooting the cross bow, and riding the kart down the hill really helped me embrace my Hmongness. Especially hitting the coconut on my first try! I had always known that those were genuine Hmong traditions but had never had the chance to actually do it. It made me feel like I could relate to my parents childhood. Walking around the village, getting caught in the muddy rain, and playing with the village children made me feel so at home. These are my people. This is my community. And I am their person.

Love from Thailand,

Maiv 🙂