All posts by Catherine Solheim

Elephants & Psychiatric Hospital

I cannot believe a week has already gone by since we first arrived in Thailand. We have just arrived in Chiang Rai & our resort is beautiful here! I have already experienced & learned so many things on this trip, but know there is so much more to experience.

This past weekend our group chose to go to an elephant camp for a day. It was definitely an experience that I will never forget! I was so excited to feed an elephant, learn about them, & was definitely excited to ride an elephant. When we arrived there was a mom & baby elephant that we were able to feed bananas & sugar cane to. Next we witnessed an elephant bath in the river. I wasn’t exactly sure how the keepers were going to bath them, but the elephants actually laid down in the river– allowing the water to run over them & wash the dirt off. Next it was time for the elephant show– we got to see two elephants paint beautiful pictures & this huge elephant kick a soccer ball. It is truly amazing how intelligent elephants are. Finally it was time ride an elephant! I didn’t imagine it to be a smooth ride, but it was definitely more bumpy than I had imagined. I was actually scared at the beginning because our keeper kept telling us that we were sitting wrong, but we didn’t understand how to change our positions– we eventually figured it out though. At the very beginning we had to go down a steep hill into the river & I felt like I was going to slide right under bar, but thankfully I didn’t. It was about half & half where we were on water & then land. I honestly don’t know which one I liked better because our elephant kept stopping & refused to walk in the river & then on land it was a lot of steep hills going up & down. We arrived at our destination & it was time to take an ox cart ride back to the main camp. After eating lunch at the main camp we went on a nice raft ride down the river. Our two guides kept joking that there were alligators in the water, but we never saw any. At the end of our tour this day we were able to stop at a seven-layer waterfall. Some of us attempted to climb up the whole waterfall, but at one point we got stuck & forced to journey on the trails provided. This waterfall reminded me a lot of Gooseberry Falls up the North Shore from Duluth because it wasn’t huge, but had all the beautiful aspects that a waterfall should.

One of our cultural visits that really opened my eyes to a new view was at the psychiatric hospital. In the United States, our mental hospitals make it appear that the patients are almost under lock down & not allowed to do certain activities. At the psychiatric hospital in Chiang Mai, their view is very different. It is a very open environment compared to the United States, doors are rarely locked & patients are free to walk in their designated campuses (separated by male & female). A therapy that they focus on at this psychiatric hospital is anything that involves the patient’s hands. For example, playing the piano or cutting fabric with scissors to make into crafts.

These were only two experiences that I choose to describe, but I will be back soon to post about more.

How to fix a problem

The first experience that was truly shocking to me as far as the seminars go was the statistics that were shown at the nursing college. The effectiveness of the Thai’s to create a system to track illnesses and outbreaks has tremendously helped them make decisions about what kind of care needs to be administered throughout Thailand. This tactic seems very cost efficient and will actually protect the health of their people. The basic understanding that to take of the people will take care of the country is a concept I’m questioning if the U.S has adapted. When the discussion of how they dealt with the HIV issue once it was introduced in Thailand was the most interesting and shocking. The openness about contraceptive at a young age and the availability of resources to those who are affected by HIV was amazing. Through their statistics they were able to literally show us how they decreased the number of people being infected with HIV within 3 slides, it was the simplest presentation but I sat amazed. The idea of being practical and putting that concept into action was all it took. It made me feel like the U.S. complicates things to no end and makes everything a judgment call, a moral standard set by the deviant politicians, or some 100 year old knowledge that is as useful in today’s society as a wooden tire. The medical staff of Thailand has seemed to be able to adapt and identify what the needs of the people are make the necessary changes. It’s that simple. 

Friendly People from Veronica Jasperson

I can’t believe I am finally here! It has been an exciting start to a long anticipated trip! I have only been here for a short while, but everything that I have read about all the friendly people in Thailand has turned out to be true. Consideration for others is built right into their culture in Thailand. I have gotten great responses by the people here by just smiling and bowing. In the beginning when I started to say thank you and hello they would laugh at me because I was obviously saying it wrong, but I can tell that they appreciate the gesture of trying to learn the language and culture.

At home I know I have a tendency to over analyze peoples reactions to my gestures and stay conscious of how they react to me or how I make others feel. I have had to adapt to American culture and pay less attention to what other people think, but here I almost feel more at home.

Thai food experiences from Naomi Timm

Food in Thailand- I expected this Thailand trip to be filled with extravagant elephants, zip lining adrenaline rushes, and culture shocking experiences, but the food here is one experience for which my taste buds were not prepared.  I thought that living in Texas and being familiar with Mexican food and Cajun spice would be an easy transition to the intense chili flavored Thai food. However, my meal at the elephant farm shot that theory down very quickly.  The food was served buffet style so I tried this delicious looking chicken and green bean dish. I anticipated it to be spicy-like most Thai food is, but I thought I could handle it especially after our cooking class. Nope. That green bean dish was made my entire mouth burn! My eyes were watering, my nose was running, and my throat and tongue craved some sort of liquid to calm the spice down. Only the Chang beer and water only made it worse. I tried to tame it with bread and rice, but no relief. I ran back to the buffet line with haste and blood shot eyes from the intense curry flavor-pretty sure my intolerance for spicy food was written all over my face! I grabbed a watermelon slice and threw it in my mouth before I even sat down and finally received some liberation to the hot flavor.  And of course, because I now view eating spicy Thai food as a fun challenging game, once my mouth finally got back to normal, I took another bite of that delicious looking green bean and chicken dish.  I now have a new goal: return to Texas with an outrageously high tolerance for spicy food!

Intermountain Peoples Education & Culture in Thailand

On Monday, Jan 2nd, we met with the director of the IMPECT organization ( which stands for Inter-mountain Peoples Education and Culture in Thailand.  They describe the organization as a collective of independent indigenous groups that come together to address issues impacting indigenous peoples in northern Thailand.  The 10 represented groups are: Karen (largest), Hmong (2nd largest), Lisu, Mieng, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Kachin, Thai Yai, and Data-ahng.  The three primary issues they address are 1) alternate education and cultural revival, 2) development of the indigenous peoples network (capacity building and leadership), and 3) natural resources and environmental issues.  Interestingly, 70% of their funding comes from abroad.  The remaining 30% comes from the Thai government and is primarily focused on education.

Mr. Sakda, IMPECT director, and Ms. Mee, IMPECT program coordinator, explained how changes in access to land has impacted the hill area people.  Before they were able to practice a natural cycle of crop rotation – moving from year to year on a six year cycle to a different place for planting.  Thus, they did not deplete the soil.  However, now they must cultivate a particular parcel of land every year.  The soil gets depleted and they must now use chemical fertilizers in order to grow the crops.  Additionally, about 30 years ago, the government worked to eliminate the growing of poppies, a native plant on the mountains.  They introduced non-native crops which require fertilizers and pesticides to grow; this has created environmental issues that were previously non-existent.

Ms. Mee talked about the Hmong New Year Festival we would be visiting shortly.  She shared that at this time of year, Hmong families gather and offer food to their ancestors.  They also gather as a community to have fun.  Young men and women toss a ball back and forth as a way to meet each other.  Elders share their cultural traditions and inculcate values in their young people.  A very interesting addition to contemporary festivities is holding a gender debate to talk about the changing roles of men and women in Hmong society.  She said they focus on the good aspects of being wife and husband, highlighting the positive side of relationships in order to strengthen families during rapidly changing times.

Human Trafficking in northern Thailand

This morning we visited TRAFCORD (, an NGO with a vision to “function as a network center providing a comprehensive range of services regarding human trafficking solutions in Northern Thailand with a professional and effective operation”.  TRAFCORD’s project manager, Ms. Duean, gave us an overview of their work with and on behalf of victims – reporting, investigating, protecting, rehabilitating, reintegrating, and preventing.  She highlighted the links between human trafficking, immigration and deep poverty (and resulting debt bondage(), noting how those factors intertwine in this part of Thailand, which borders on Burma/Myanmar, Laos, and south China. 

Reflections on January 2, 2012 by Katie Timms

Is this really happening?  Even after being here almost a week, I still have to remind myself that I am in Thailand. This is unlike anything I have ever done or experienced and I am loving every minute of it.  Thailand has so much to offer and I am just taking it all in.  We have been busy from day one doing so many exciting things.  I particularly enjoyed going to the Chiang Mai University Faculty of Nursing.  We learned about the HIV and AIDS in Thailand.  Thailand does a great job of educating people in a way that people can relate to and is easy to do in people’s daily lives.
Over the weekend, I was able to cross some things off of my bucket list.  This included elephant riding and zip lining!  Both things in which I have been wanting to do for a long time, and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to do them in than Thailand.  The scenery is breath taking.  I took many pictures, but they won’t do justice compared to the real scene.  I honestly couldn’t have thought of a better way to bring in the new year.
Some culture aspects that I have observed is the way Thais always greet you with a smile.  They are so friendly and truly care about others.  On the other hand, I get very nervous when I ride in a car or a bus because the driving here is very crazy.  People swerve in and out of lanes, drive fast, and drive so close to one another, yet there seems to be very few accidents. 
Other than the scary driving, I am loving the culture and temperature here in Thailand.  I am very excited for what the next two weeks will bring!