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!!!

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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!

On My Way Home!

On the bus – we were driving cross country, on our way to Chiang Mai.  We made several stops, for about 15 minutes, but were making a major one for dinner.  Our dinner destination, Lampang, and because we had learned a little Thai before we left for Thailand, it was my honor to say thank you in Thai.  We pulled up to a small restaurant/bar along the river, it was hot and muggy and I just wanted to pass out.  After ordering some drinks I looked up to find geckos on the ceiling.  I thought, Wow this would not fly in the USA, because of health standard. This restaurant was also the first experience I had with a”local” watering hole.  I thought this was great, we’re hanging out at a local hangout, and experiencing a new World of cuisine. The meal past and it came time for my speach, I know what your thinking, kaub-koon krub, but my thank you was a short 4 sentence paragraph.  Which, not until after I spoke it, did I learn that I could have just read if off the a piece of paper, instead of memorizing it like I did, not to mention the restaurant owner, was British.

On My Way Home! – With the meal at hand, it was time to head to Chiang Mai and check into the International Center (IC) at Chiang Mai University.  Since we were on the bus for 14 hours, along with a several hour stop in Lampang, it wasn’t until late that we arrived at the IC.  We checked out our digs and headed out to the bar a couple of blocks away.

7-11 – It is amazing to see the reach of American born companies, and 7-11 is no different.  The 1st night in Chiang Mai, I saw 2 within 2 blocks of each other.  It was definitely a staple for junk food when the IC store was closed.

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.

Temples

Cultural Experience – We got the opportunity to tour the Grand Palace on our second day in Bangkok, and a better opportunity, local college students were coming along to give us their perspective!  We were greeted at our bus by the local students, who brought us an assortment of local sweets.  It was a interesting mix of gelatinous and coconut filled goodies, and for someone who doesn’t like coconut, thought they were amazing.

Grand Palace – After a half hour bus ride we arrived at the Grand Palace.  Greeted by the Thai military marching outside the main gate with what appeared to be AK-47’s.  I was taken aback by a military escort on arrival, it wasn’t for us they were marching, but where we we in proximity to where they were marching it might as well have been.  So we followed numerous tourist from around the world and entered the main gate of the Grand Palace, where gold pagodas and temples abound.  We saw many demons, Buddhas and other items that odorned the buildings, but the most impressive element was all of the gold.  One of which was a 2 1/2 ton gold buddha and another was the reclining buddha, both impressive in their own right. We also got to go inside the Chakri Mahaprasad Hall, because one of the local college guys had a Dad that worked at the Grand Palace.  In the Hall, we saw some of the royal carriages used to carry the King and Queen.  It also serves as a banquet hall when they would use/live in the Grand Palace.  Due to a mysterious death of King Rama VIII, the Grand Palace is more of a tourist destination instead of a royal residence.

   Rain/Weather – After the Grand Palace tour, we were supposed to go on a longtail boat ride on the Chao Phraya river, but due to inclement weather we had to        settle for the Vimanmek Palace.   Vimanmek Palace is a beautiful teak palace that is a now a museum of old Royal items from King Rama V. Normally I don’t like museums, I think they just distract us from the real reason to go places, the culture, but there is something about the Grand Palace, and Vimanmek Palace that makes it worth the tours. It gives you a sense of history.

Did you know Bangkok is not the real name of the city?

Bangkok’s real nameKrung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. Krung Thep means City of Angels.