I have been in Thailand for just over a week now and have experienced and seen so many incredible things; ranging from riding on an elephant to traveling to a hill tribe of indigenous people. All of my experiences have been wonderful and I am lucky to have been able to take part on this trip. I must admit at first when my mom mentioned traveling to Thailand it was not a country that was first on my list of places to see, however once I looked more into it I was extremely intrigued and could not wait for the adventure I was going to embark on. Not only was I going to be able to travel to a country very different from my own but while I was there I was going to be taking part in activities and lectures I would not have had the opportunity to experience otherwise. The trip has been amazing thus far and worth the 20 plus hours of travel. When we finally arrived in Chiang Mai the hotel was beautiful, snd the manager and workers were so friendly…we would soon see that Thais are friendly and from my experience very welcoming as well. I was not sure what our next week in Chiang Mai would be like but it was remarkable. The first night we headed into the town and experienced the night bizarre, it reminded me of shopping in Mexico/ New York because of the set up and how busy it was. Because we all were exhausted from flying the first night was an early one for everyone, we all were in bed by 9 with the cooking class in the morning to look forward to. I am very happy we took part in the cooking class and that it was right away in the trip, it helped knowing what was in the food we would be eating over the next few weeks. We cooked curry, tom yum (soup), pad thai and a steamed banana cake, all of which were delicious and if I say so myself some of the best food we’ve had;). The cooking class was preceded with a visit to our first temple, this was something I was greatly anticipating for I did not know much about the Buddhist lifestyle. While at the temple we were able to talk with a monk and ask him questions, he was extremely friendly and surprisingly very young; 21 years old. Prior to my visit I had thought monks were older around 50 + so talking with him was very interesting. I learned a variety of facts about what it is to be a monk and how it works, but I am still intrigued to learn more about the monk lifestyle and buddhism. Earlier that day we had heard about the Royal Flora, a flower show that is held yearly in Chaing Mai we decided to head there after the temple. The show was beautiful, there were different exhibits through the area. The setup was much like the state fair you walked from one flower exhibit to the next. The designs were remarkable, there were hanging Mosquitos, to women whose dresses were made entirely of flowers. We spotted a ferris wheel and headed that way, the view was unreal. We could see the whole Royal Flora and up into the mountains, I saw what looked like someones house perched at the top and I thought how marvelous it would be to live there and wondered what that view must be like. I am extremely glad we were able to go to the show; even thought I did take a lot of pictures I don’t think I was able to capture the essence of it all. Friday we went to a mental health center, the setup was remarkably different from any mental institute in the u.s ( at least from what I know). The patients were able to be out and about together in the institute and could partake in various therapy activities for example gardening or playing the piano. I found this to be very unique but I believe extremely beneficial as well for the patients. Later that day we visited Chiang Mai university where we were able to tour the nursing school, the setup reminded me of my CNA course I had taken in the sense of how the students learned and practiced their studies. I found the university visit very interesting and looked forward to having another visit the following week and learning about the trauma center. As far as outside of our scheduled visits, Friday was our first night as a group we went out to experience the town. We headed to the riverside area that had been recommended to us, I was not sure what to expect normally while traveling the places I go to are mostly tourists however this was different, and it was quite nice. We were one of the few non thai groups in the restaurant, the place was packed and we were seated along the river. It was gorgeous, lights hung above us there was a thai cover band playing and everyone around was enjoying themselves and it was our first night to get to know one another. From the start I could tell our group was going to get along really well and I was right. Everyone was very outgoing, talkative and welcoming and coming in the trip knowing nobody I wasn’t sure what to expect but the experience with the group has been wonderful. As the night went on everyone was getting to know more about everyone and the bonding began we left the restaurant and went to another area in Chiang Mai. Traveling in Chaing Mai from one place to another was extremely easy, you had the option of tuk-tuk, bed of a pick up truck (there were benches and a cover) or there was always the walking option. The evening was a lot of fun, Chiang Mai was lit up, and tourists, expats and Thais were out and about enjoying themselves. It was cool to seen how well everyone could mesh together, when we were out s couple approached a person in our group and was very friendly and talked with us the rest of the night. My first few days in Chaing Mai were great and experiences I will never forget. The culture here is so different from ours, there are homes made from bamboo, toilets which are used like that of a bush and you can ride on an elephant in a forest. The culture here is wonderful, as being a foreigner there has not been a moment I have not felt welcomed into the country. By coming here I have learned a lot about an entirely native culture to me and also about an entirely new side to myself. I am seeing the way of life everyone lives here and how happy they are, the in the moment living and overall the buddhist lifestyle. I find that I am being pulled towards learning more about this way of life. I believe it would be beneficial to learn more about buddhism and fully intend to, it is something I would like to try to implement once home. There are so many more things I have to look forward to, I am so blessed to be here and be learning so many things about the Thai culture,and myself it is a wonderful and life-changing experience. Hopefully you enjoyed my first blog, I’ll be continuing to blog throughout the trip about all my experiences and thoughts. Until then…Sawadee-ka.
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.
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.
On Monday, Jan 2nd, we met with the director of the IMPECT organization (www.impect.org) 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.
This morning we visited TRAFCORD (www.trafcord.org), 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.