A Village School

One of the most enjoyable and meaningful trips/experiences happend when I least expected it.  We were told to go buy toys, balls, and various other items that kids would like as we were going to visit a local school.  When I say local I mean, 1 1/2 hour Song Thaow ride Northwest of Chiang Mai in the middle of no-where.  I don’t know if I’ve ever meantioned what a Song Thaow actually is, well it is a small pickup, the size of a Toyota Tacoma, with a canopy on it.  The canopy is not the normal canopy as you would see in the USA, it is taller with a single bench running the length of the truck over each tire.

After our long journey up the mountain we were greated by the children at a grade school, it was a couple of buildings with 1 or 2 small classrooms each.  The children were just getting done with lunch as we pulled up, and came running once they saw us.  Now being that I love kids and am a kid at heart, I had no problem adapting to a quick game of keep-away with a soccer ball we had brought for them.  We got enough kids together to play a game and after a half hour or so the kids started showing us the games they play in the field.  They liked to play snake, which you get in almost a conga line and the first people in line, or the head, fight over and try to get to the back of the other snake.  I was the head of one of the snakes, and after a little while I fell and thus the other team won.  It was fine until the kids told us we had to perform the losers dance, which looked a lot like a chicken dance here in the states.  We obliged and after humiliating ourselves, we done playing and ended up just talking with the children.

As our trip came to a close we were serenated by the children with local Thai songs and dances, as we were walking back to the Song Thaow one of our professors told us that these children wouldn’t see past the 6th grade.  Because we were in farming coountry we were told that that is as long as the parents can afford for the kids not to be working the fields with them.

As we drove away the kids chased our Song Thaows and waved goodbye.  I will never forget the fun we had in the hills Northwest of Chiang Mai.

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Road Less Travelled!

My study abroad was in the final days as we partook in the Buddha’s birthday.  Now some people may think this would be cake and ice cream or a nice Thai treat, but in fact it was the most grueling days I’ve experienced in Thailand.

The tradition in Chiang Mai is to walk to the Doi Suthep Temple, starting from the edge of the city. It was a 6.2 mile walk up the mountain to the temple, but was well worth it.  We were one of the first groups up the mountain, starting an hour or so before sundown.  It took over 2 hours to get up the mountain, but luckily our tour van was stopped at various locations along the route with water and snacks to get us up the mountain.

Once we made it to the top, which the last 200 yards or so seemed to be the most strenuous on the walk and by that time my hip started to hurt.  It seemed amazing to make it to the top and have completed the journey without getting into the van and letting it take me part of the way up the mountain.  It felt like a great victory, until I learned that there were 309 steps up to the actual temple.  They have a tram to help those who can’t make it up the steps, but the line was too long and my group didn’t want to wait, after all we beat the mountain to get up there, why not take the steps?!

After the trek up the mountain, the strenuous 309 steps, we finally made it to the top, just as the sun was setting over Chiang Mai, and remains as one of my most memorable experiences in Thailand.

Finally done in by the afternoon jaunt, we headed back down the mountain in a Song Thaew only to be bombarded by the droves of people making the same trek we took an hour or so earlier.  It seemed as though there were millions of people on the road, not like when we came up with our group and sporadic Thai’s making the trek.  It was amazing to see the people and hear them singing on the way up.

A Day Out

I wasn’t in Thailand just to go to school or work at my internship, I was there for fun as well!  One weekend we took a trip to Lampang, making several stops before we actually made it to Lampang.  Our first stop was the Thai Elephant Conservation Center…

I was excited to see the elephants, even in my early 20’s I still had that excitement you get when you see an elephant at a Circus. This experience was mixed, The elephants were well trained to paint, raise a flag on the flag pole, carry trees with their tusks and trunks, but one thing stuck out at me.  On the elephant ride, the handler had a bullhook, that he dug in the ear of the elephant twice on the trek through the jungle.  I know that they need the control over the beast, but is this really something a conservation center should be using?

Our next stop was the Wat Pra That Lampang Luang just outside of Lampang. The temple is said to enshrine a relic of the Buddha. Such relics are typically bones and ashes believed to be gathered after the Buddha’s cremation. The relic is installed in the main chedi of the temple. This was also interesting because it was the first temple I saw were a building was only available to men. Pictures in the Gallery above.

Our last stop was Lampang, where we took a horse carriage ride in the middle of the city and out ultimate stop, a spa located near the river.  The carriage ride was a bit much for me, as I am extremely allergic to horses.  I believe it was 15 minutes of hell, sneezing and teary eyes.

For anyone going to Thailand, one of the best things can be the value of the dollar, it goes far especially in personal grooming.  At our International center, a guy did pedicure’s, $10 with tip, and yes I got one!  At the spa in Lampang, a 45 minute massage, and aroma therapy bath, with tip $25.  It was tough to relax because you go into a room with other people in the group, there were two other guys and one was giddy like a school girl and couldn’t shut up when the masseuse touched him.

I highly recommend using the dollar to it’s fullest, you can get some great deals on food and personal services, and if you think I mean erotic services think again, that shouldn’t be tolerated especially underage. Who knows, you may end up with a ladyboy like on Hangover II, but that’s just Karma saying punked you!

Chiang Mai University

CMU would be the place I would call my University for 4 short weeks.  You have to understand, we were there with professors from my own University, so it didn’t seem like I was a student at CMU.  Even so, we got a CMU student ID and had to dress in their normal school attire, Black pants, white button up shirt and a purple tie.  NO pajamas like you see back here in the states!!  Even though my professors from WSU were along for the journey, we still experienced a lot of local customs and teachings.  We met with the VP of the college to get his take on Thailand and South East Asia, several Buddhist monks, one from Australia and the other a native Thai.

The path to enlightenment begins with how you treat the world, so so one of the monks told us. He explained that Buddhism is not a religion, it’s a way of life!  Explained the Buddhist take on 9/11 as well as killing living organisms.  I thought it was interesting, because he explained how we as Americans live, killing everything in sight just to have fun or eat.  We weren’t brought on this earth to kill, and your progression to killing things starts small, first a bug, then a small animal, then a large animal, and finally another human being. In retrospect, it does seem that way, that you do have a progression of doing things, not just killing things, but how you treat people.  Learn more about Buddhism, because it won’t interfere with your religion, think of it more as an addition of how you live! Who knows, it may just help this World become a better place!!!

Chiang Mai, home for the next 3 months!

Chiang Mai University (CMU) and the International Center would be home for a little over a month.  We arrived to the International Center a little later than expected.  It was close to midnight by the time we made the trek from Lampang.  Our bus driver even got pulled over and got a ticket trying to get us to campus!  Having spent 1 year in the dorms in the US, it was a little different being at a dorm at CMU, but like most dorms it was minimal.  Since we were in the International student center, I think we got a little more luxury items than most college kids at CMU.

The first night at CMU was spent walking around and learning the lay of the land.  We came across a bar, that we frequented often, which played a lot of American songs.  The song that always sticks out is Signs by Snoop Dogg.  The bar had an interesting atmosphere, there was a pretty nice restaurant in the front and in the back next to a bar was a small room for the dance floor.  It was mostly full by the time we got there so we weren’t able to find a table next to the bar, and sat close to it on the restaurant side of the place.  It was our first experience with table service, and believe me, it should be in every bar and nightclub in the US!  No waiting in line to get drinks and the ability to have multiple bottles of booze, soda, and ice buckets was a nice surprise.  Heineken was surprisingly the beer of choice for the bar, but having only had Heineken and reluctant to try the local beers I settled for the Mekong Whiskey.  All in all a great night!

Chiang Mai, for those who’ve had the experience of going would be my ultimate destination in Thailand.  You can have your beaches and Bangkok, I’ll take the jewel of the North.  There is so much to do in Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas, that in the 3 months I lived there, I didn’t scratch the surface!  Which is said, because we went some place new every day!

Cross Country

So Long Bangkok!!!! – Now don’t take this the wrong way, but I found Bangkok to be well, not my cup of tea to put it nicely.  It is a city to visit at least once in your life, but being from Montana, people upon people is not my ideal city.  Interesting enough Travel + Leisure just voted Bangkok as the #1 2011 Best City in the World, but I fail to see their basis.  Anyway back to my story, we only stayed in Bangkok a couple of days and left on a Saturday, we had to get up to Chiang Mai for schooling starting the next Monday.  When I say we left Bangkok, I mean we drove on a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai!! It was 14 hours of interesting travel.

On a bus – which wasn’t so bad because it was a private bus for those in my group, but the picture on the right says it all, no room. To be fair, I am 6’6 so I don’t fit into a lot of places here in the USA, but basically I stood decapitated in the toilet.  For those of you who have only travelled in the US on buses, ie sports trips, the bathrooms are nice and located at the back of the bus. This bus in Thailand is located basically where the luggage is stored.  Their are two doors on the Thai buses, one being in the middle of the bus so you go down a set of stairs and the toilet is right there! Enough about space, travelling across the country is something I have loved since I was young. My parents used to load me into our van and drive 16 or 11 hours to Minnesota and Colorado, sometimes every weekend, but that’s another story.  You can tell a lot about a country and the make up by seeing from the ground as opposed to in the air.

While driving I remember seeing Buddhist temples on the hilltops every so often.  I was amazed at not only the number of temples between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, but also the size.  The Buddhas stuck out over the trees and vegetation like they were ants, and another amazing thing is that it seemed as though half the temples were in the middle of nowhere.

One Stop –  We made a couple of stops along the journey, but the main site seeing stop was Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand.  It was hurried so we were only able to make three stops in Ayutthaya, highlight being the Buddha statue in the tree at Wat Mahathat followed by a Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon and the pagodas filled with bats. At one of the temples near Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, we saw an offering to Buddha of a Washington apple, and having lived in Washington for the last 10 years thought it was interesting that an Apple would show up at a temple in Thailand.

All in all, the bus ride was a great experience, and something I highly suggest for those who have some extra time to meander.

See more pictures on our Flickr page by clicking links above.