Before coming to Thailand I tried to research as much as I could about the country and one of the first things that struck me was that it was nicknamed "The land of smiles". I really did not understand the significance of the nickname until I actually got here. During my first week here I had contracted a very nasty flu, not wanting to spoil my trip I decided to go to into a pharmacy were an extremely nice pharmacists asked what I was feeling, she carefully listened to my every word and gave me the medicine she thought appropriate for my symptoms and as I left she waved and said "hope you feel better". It only got better when I meet Ajarn Yupa, my Thai advisor, she greeted me with a giant smile on her face and we spent the first day laughing despite of the language barrier. When it came time to travel to Korat for my research, she took such great care me I felt like I never left home. She would order foods she knew I liked and would wrap her arm around mine to help me cross the street as if instinctively knowing that I was afraid too. In fact, everyone in Thailand seemed to have the same instinct of wanting to help. Even our van driver, Mr.Naroung has become a wonderful friend that helps all of the SMRT and LSAMP students when they are need of anything, even if its something small like finding the chili sauce at a restaurant. I will also admit that although I have picked up some Thai words it is not enough to get me by so when I go shopping I am a typical foreigner asking how much something is in English but instead of getting nasty looks or being shunned the store clerks smile and try to answer as best they could. Random strangers on the street are even willing to help anyway they can. Yesterday a group of us got lost looking for a restaurant named "volcano", we ran into some students and asked if they knew how to get there but instead of just pointing us in the right direction they actually drew out a detailed map with a "you are here" and land marks to help us get there. There is a million more stories I can tell about the people here fortifying the idea that this land truly is the land of smiles, not just because people smile a lot but because everyone is so caring and genuine. This is an aspect of Thailand that I will never forget and a virtue I will carry with me the rest of my life. by Crystal Cortez
Living in Thailand has been an experience to say the least. Day to day activities become challenges and nothing is what Americans would consider "normal". Even simple things like crossing a street can lead to an adrenaline pumping, heart stopping experience. While there are a few stop lights around the city, crossing lights are nearly nonexistent leaving you to fend for yourself while crossing up to 4 lane streets. Not to mentioned the fact they drive on the other side of the road so remembering to look right and not left while crossing the street can be a life lesson to learn. I have found the easiest way to overcome this obstacle is to take it one step at a time. First you look right to cross the first set of lanes then stand in the middle of the road, until you can cross the other set of lanes, sounds simple enough if it wasn't for the motorbikes. The most interesting thing about crossing is that cars are actually the last thing you think about while crossing the bustling streets. Here in Thailand the most dangerous vehicle is the motorbike. They are cheap, fuel efficiency and everyone drives one leading to an over abundance of them on the streets.They whip around cars and sometimes even drive on the side walk, keeping you on your toes at all times. They sometimes drive in the center of the road where you are usually standing waiting to cross the second set of lanes turning you into a human dodge ball as you sprint across the road to avoid being hit by something. I am the first to admit I have gone out to eat and purposely avoided restaurant on the other side of the street just to avoid having to cross. Oh Thailand you sure now how to keep me on my toes. -Crystal
During our three-day excursion we visited three waterfalls and the highest point in Thailand. Our first stop was the Sirithan waterfall, on our way there we saw what we thought was a cat in the middle of the road. Once the “cat” moves we realized it was a monkey! We quickly tried to snap as many pictures as possible. Unfortunately it was too quick for my lens, but one of the other students captured its pink rear end. We thrived on the monkey adrenalin when we hiked up to the waterfall. The waterfall was majestic yet dainty. It was very tall and surrounded by a wide diversity of flowers and fungus. We took as many pictures then headed to our next stop, which was the highest point in Thailand. In order to get to the highest point in Thailand one had to walk along a wooden path. I forgot to mention that it was raining; this made the walk a little more difficult since we tried our best to stay dry. Once we got there we were not able to see anything because of the mist, fog, and rain but at least we had the chance to be there. On a happier note I managed to take wonderful pictures of our path, it looked enchanted. Next on our list was the Wachirathan waterfall; this was the slipperiest waterfall I have ever visited. All of the giant boulders we had to go through in order to get to the waterfall were covered in slime, this made our journey dangerous. Wachirathan waterfall was bigger than the first waterfall we visited, some of the people in our group decided to go for a swim, they said the water temperature was perfect. Our Final stop in our journey was the Maeya waterfall which was the biggest waterfall of all. The waterfall definitely demanded respect, its roaring sound of the water flow could be heard from the parking lot. Doi Inthanon is one of the most beautiful places that I have been fortunate to visit. ~Jasmin
Admittedly, some of us were slightly upset during our first few days in Chiang Mai when we couldn't find places besides 7 11 that were open at night. I can't believe how wrong we were. This city's night life is unlike anything I have ever experienced before, and I am happy to say that we made some of these places our home. I want to talk specifically about four different locations. Magenta, The Monkey Club, Warm up Café, and Shazz Addicted Bar.
Our first legitimate outing was to Magenta and The Monkey Club a few weeks into our trip with Kyley's and Miranda's lab mate: Phaitong. Magenta was a beautiful club fairly close to the main street. Live music, pool table, good drinks, and fantastic people. Every now and then a random vendor would pop in and ask us to purchase some of their goods which would range from things like pastries to garlands and flowers. Monkey Club is again just a few minutes from Magenta and it's a bit more active. There are two sections: one is more relaxed where you can have a seat, grab a few drinks, chit chat with friends, and enjoy the performance of a large but surprisingly entertaining and exceptional dancer and singer; and the other has a live band performance and a huge crowd of people dancing. I would just like to say how it's set up differently than a typical club in the States. How it works is that you go in with a group of people, order whatever snacks and beverages you want, find a spot somewhere on the floor, and then the servers will bring you a cart with water, ice, and your snacks and drinks. Then the entire night you pretty much dance and hang out with your friends. Totally different than just walking to a huge area where everyone is dancing, which is typically what we would find in the States.
Next is the Warm up Café. This place is ALWAYS hectic and has a similar set up to the Monkey Club with a relaxed area on one side and dancing on the other. No matter what day, Warmup Café is packed and the people are always having a great time.
Finally, Shazz Addicted Bar. The absolute, no-doubt-in-my-mind best club in Chiang Mai. This is a tiny little place, about the size of our room, underneath a rooftop bar and in between two equally small shops. There's always great soul, jazz, and house music playing that, no matter what, will have you dancing at least once during the night. The owner is fun-loving, generous, and simply a fantastic host that will make sure her guests are always having a great time. This Soulhouse/Jazzbar stays open into the wee hours of the night and is always there when you need an escape from the everyday stresses. One of my greatest memories of this trip will be when a few of us went to the Shazz Addicted Bar for the second time. The bartender and owner recognized us and greeted us with a familiar "Heeeeeeeyyy!!!" Then we set up shop in the middle of the bar, busted out our jenga, and played and talked and had an absolutely unforgettable night. (Props to the Theary,our own personal great idea factory.)
There are many more places that we've been to enjoy the night life (such as Dude Café, Night Bazaar, Drunken Flower, and more) but the aforementioned places have been the most memorable for innumerable reasons. We've made new friends, created stronger bonds, learned and shared equally fantastic stories, and have always had an incredible times in the middle of the night because of these fantastic places. These are some experiences that I will always treasure.
Last year I visited Costa Rica with the International Volunteer Headquarters team. My volunteer peers did not speak Spanish, and I have to confess that I was quick to judge. Traveling to a country where you only know how to ask for the basics sounds crazy. English is not my first language; I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. We lived two hours away from the border and it was necessary for us to learn English in order to get a good job, have more opportunities, and be competitive academically; you have to be able to communicate with the rest of the world. You have to be able to communicate with foreigners that visit your country. English language is the real deal and native English speakers are the lucky ones.
I am not trying to discourage anyone from trying to learn a second or third language but learning another way to communicate is a rewarding challenge. I will try to explain the process I had to go through the first year I lived in the United States. I do not think that everyone's experience is the same, but I am sure that there are some similarities when I think about what our Thai lab mates have experienced and are currently overcoming.
First you are self-conscious about every sentence you formulate; naturally you start thinking in your native language and try to translate. By the time you realize you are doing this, the person you are talking to already finished their statement. Now you have to translate what they have said, process it, formulate a response in your native tongue, translate it to English, and hope it makes perfect sense. As if it does not sound complicated enough, there is a possibility that you start speaking in your primary language.
When we arrived to Chiang Mai University I was nervous about the language barrier, but the feeling of awkwardness and shyness went away by the third day. My lab mates realized that as the guest in their lab, I would try my hardest to explain myself and to learn as much Thai as I possibly can. Since we were accepted in the SMRT program we were given the chance to work in a laboratory thousands of kilometers away from home, and to take advantage of the opportunity to learn a new language. I could not be more grateful for all the effort and dedication my lab mates have shown towards this farang (Thai word for a foreigner or tourist). .
I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for what our Thai host are going through. I encourage everyone that is reading this post to learn another language because it opens many doors for you.
Every day is a new adventure here in Thailand, and believe it or not, most of those adventures involve food. Growing up in Southern California provided many opportunities for tasting some of the more notable dishes from most countries, but it definitely did not prepare me for some of the things I have ended up trying. The local markets offer some of the best chances to try out new things as food carts line the streets selling anything from rotee (a delicious pastry type dessert usually glazed with condensed milk) to dried squid. Usually priced at less than an American dollar, there is no reason not to give in to your curiosities. In the markets alone, I have tried crickets, dried squid, and have even found my favorite dish in all of Thailand...Khao Soi! Khao Soi (in my opinion) is quite possibly the best thing you can eat here, and although served at many restaurants, the best can only be found at the Sunday market. An older woman scoops this Northern Thailand specialty consisting of noodles, meat curry (chicken, pork, or beef), and crispy noodles to a diverse group of customers feeding into an addiction that starts from the second you take that last bite, until the next week, when you can once again taste her amazing concoction. Fortunately, there are plenty of other delicious restaurants that help hold me over during the week. Another hidden gem that we have discovered is the "veggie place." For forty baht (less than two American dollars), you can get an entire meal consisting of brown rice and stir-fried organic vegetables and meats. For dessert, you needn't look far, and on the top of the list is The Volcano. Soft, thick Japanese brick toast is served smothered in caramel, condensed milk, and fresh cut bananas. With the first bite you are overwhelmed with flavor, and the focus goes from your previous conversation, to a determination to finish every last piece, which actually proves to be a pretty daunting task. Almost every other building is another restaurant, and although we have found our favorites, we try our hardest to branch out and try new things. When I came here, I thought I would crave American food every day, but my experience has been quite the opposite (even though my first stop from the airport will be an In-n-Out drive-thru). With less than two weeks remaining, there are plenty of new restaurants and food carts to experience and I can't wait to find my next favorite. -Kyley Olson
One of the best parts about the SMRT program is the feeling of total cultural immersion—I feel beautifully enveloped in Thai culture, language, and religion. Most of Thailand’s people are Buddhist, and we need not travel far in order to stumble upon a Buddhist temple. These wats, as they are anglicized, are the physical manifestation of hundreds of years of love and respect for Thai religious ideals. Typically, the wats have one main temple with many Buddha images and often murals on the walls depicting Buddha’s life. Many of the temples here are very old, dating back to the founding of Chiang Mai over seven hundred years ago.
During the past weeks we have spent in Thailand, we have visited several different wats. In Bangkok, we visited the Grand Palace, which included one of the most famous temples in the whole country. Here in Chiang Mai province, we have visited Wat Phra Singh, Wat Lok Molee, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, and many others. A “master monk” presides over each wat. The “master monk” is responsible for the well-being of hundreds of village children, giving small Buddhist-style sermons, and making sure the temple’s activities run smoothly.
My favorite wat so far has been Wat Tham Pha Plong in Chiang Dao. Buddhist proverbs and sayings lined the way to provide enlightenment and encouragement during the steep climb up over five hundred steps. The physically demanding walk became easier as glimpses of the temple could be seen through the trees—it was truly an amazing sight. The lower half of the temple was partly inside of a cave. It was lined with Buddha images, dragons, and photographs of different monks. As we ascended to the upper half, the only sounds were those of nature—birds and many bugs—and occasionally the soft steps of our shoeless feet. At the very top, we enjoyed a rewarding view of the entire forest that brought peace and an inner sense of calm. Wat Tham Pha Plong not only continues to be a religious retreat for those in need of meditation, but also one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in all of Thailand.
Every time I turn a corner, whether it be on campus or on the streets of Chiang Mai, I find a new dog or cat friend. Unlike the more familiar sights of starving dogs, matted and flea ridden in Mexico, Thailand's stray animal population seems to be well taken care of. When I first arrived here, I was shocked and saddened by the number of animals that call the streets their homes here. It wasn't until I had my first interaction with one in the bustling streets of Bangkok, that my opinion soon changed. I saw a black and white mutt making his way through the crowds of tourists and street vendors and I decided to buy him a snack. I stopped at a vendor selling different parts of a chicken (chicken butt, chicken liver, etc.) and handed over my ten baht for a skewer of meat. I chased down the dog and offered him the meat, but to my surprise he turned his nose away and walked off without the least bit of interest! I stood there dumbfounded with a slab of meat I had no interest in (try finding a trashcan anywhere in Bangkok) and suddenly a new outlook on the stray animal situation in Thailand. I then realized that i had yet to see a skinny dog here, so someone must be feeding them. We later learned that most people offer food and water to the animals and that their culture and religion believes that every animal has a right to live. In America, countless numbers of strays are euthanized every day. Our method of dealing with the stray animal population is to hide it away from sight and kill them, whereas in Thailand, they are able to live out their lives with the help of caring strangers. As a pre-vet student, i have been inspired to hopefully one day return and educate the population about spaying and neutering animals to reduce the amount of strays on the streets. I know that the people here genuinely care about the animals, and hopefully with some education and programs to spay and release those living on the streets, the issues can be minimized. My heart no longer breaks when I see a stray, but I take the opportunity to say hello to a new friend before they decide to continue on their journey down the streets of Thailand. -Kyley Olson
Last Saturday some of the SMRTies went in a walking tour in the old city. Since the majority of the population in Thailand practice buddhism, there are a significant number of temples within walking distance. The temples range from gigantic displays such as Doi Suthep (last week’s blog entry) to cozy not so tourist oriented located nearby the university. We decided to walk around and every time we saw a wát (temple) we will go in and respectfully observe. In total we visited 5 temples. Something that caught my attention were the fiberglass statues. Jasmin had visited that temple before hand and shared her impression of these monk figures, her lab mates explained the material that was used as well as some of the monks’ background. So, I had an idea of what to expect once I entered the temple.
Imagine yourself entering this quiet and dim building and three monks are sitting in something that looks like a table! The monks look so real: skin tone, wrinkles, freckles, and candid smiles...but they are not moving. I have seen wax statues before but these pieces of art truly captured my curiosity and attention the second I locked eyes with one of them. Personally, I prefer the less-tourist oriented temples because you can observe a more authentic scene, I was not exposed to Buddhism before moving to the United States, in Mexico ninety two percent of the population is Catholic. Once I moved, I started learning more about this religion since one of my best friends is buddhist.
I am honestly enjoying visiting temples and observing the religious traditions that buddhism encourages. Something new that we observed in a couple of temples there were some blue metal signs that had several phrases, proverbs or old sayings written in white font. Personally I like the lessons that each of those blue signs were trying to point out. The major concepts were perseverance, kindness, and above all humbleness.
I like the philosophy of helping and looking out for others, I do believe it can create a more united and happier cultural environment, and last I believe this ideal should be incorporated in more social contexts
This week, three other students, our Ajahns, and myself had the unique opportunity to meet with the Chiang Mai provincial Governor, นายสุริยะ ประสาทบัณฑิตย์. This rare event was made possible by Aj. Richard and his long-time friend, Ms. Nongsakran Odton, who actually attended high school with the Governor. We first got a tour of the judicial building. Inside the building, there were little comic books written in Thai about proper protocol for suing, what to do when a crime happens, and many other legal scenarios.
We then got a tour of a second building that was built using traditional Northern Thai architecture. I have included a picture showing the roof style. The interior of the second building was adorned with pictures of the Royal Family. A large picture of the King’s celebration for his 60th year in power was also displayed on the wall—many of the world’s royal families attended the celebration. Thailand’s King has reigned since 1946 and is the world’s current longest-serving head of state. He is also Thailand’s longest-reigning monarch.
The second building housed a large green field surrounded by many government offices—social security, passport, etc. Many people dress in traditional Thai outfits on Fridays, so I was able to see many Thai people in more traditional garb. We were led first into a conference room that had microphones similar to a much smaller House of Representative chamber. We were then led into the provincial governor’s private office. Each of us greeted him individually with a wai and we sat down on very fancy couches, where two girls kneeled down and served us tea. The governor asked us how we were enjoying Thailand, and he told us about how he was trying to reform the public transportation system. He is also trying to solve the air pollution problem—many farmers from Thailand and Myanmar burn their fields after the harvest, which creates poor air quality. Trash is also burned here almost unregulated; recycling and composting are not very popular here. Lung cancer is becoming more and more prevalent in the “basins” of Thailand, like Chiang Mai. It will be very interesting to see the impact that นายสุริยะ ประสาทบัณฑิตย์ has not only on Chiang Mai province, but also on Thailand as a whole.