I finished up my last class and final presentation on Friday, so now I have a week of exploring to do before we have our final USAC trip next Thursday! I decided to do a full day tour of Chiang Rai, which is another city in Northern Thailand (about 3 hours away). I booked with a local tour company and they took care of everything including transportation, lunch, temple tickets, etc. We fit a lot into the full day trip, but it was a wonderful experience!
Our first stop was at Wat Rong Khun, which is more commonly known as the White Temple. I have heard about this temple for a long time and was so pumped to finally see it in person. It is a unique temple in that white is typically not used in Buddhist temple designs, and this temple bridges the gap with modern design and the Buddhist culture. It was stunning! You cross a bridge to get into the temple and there are these hands reaching up supposedly from hell to try and get in to the temple. It was very interesting and the temple design elements were just amazing.
We headed to the next temple for the day, Wat Rong Suen Ten, most known for being the Blue Temple. This temple was designed by a student who studied under the designer of the White Temple. It was another modern, contemporary design and the interior was the most stunning temple I have seen so far. It was magical!
We headed to Baan Dam (Black House), which is a museum showcasing the Lanna woodwork of a famous Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee. There were 40 buildings on the property to explore, all of which Thawan Duchanee designed and built. The craftsmanship and woodworking was incredible!
Our final stop was the Golden Triangle, which is where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet along the Mekong river. We took a boat over to Laos and were greeted with some very strange Laos whiskey (I did not drink it – yikes!!). We spent about an hour in Laos at the local market and then headed back to Thailand to make the journey back home to Chiang Mai!
On our first morning in Lyon, the USAC staff arranged a walking tour (both French & English) of Vieux (Old) Lyon. This was a lovely way to be introduced to the history of the city. We covered a lot of ground, literally and figuratively, in two hours, more than I could pack into one blog post, but here are some highlights:
The view from the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourviere:
(More on the Basilica and on Fourviere later, because we will go there again.)
Traboules: these are fascinating passageways — complete with courtyards, stairways, and balconies — hidden between buildings. Some of them were created intentionally as shortcuts and others were created as a by-product of construction. They turned out to be very important over the centuries for the safety of the locals during times of conflict and war. Townspeople saved many church treasures during the religious wars by hiding them there, and the Resistance used them for hiding during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Now, they serve as both tourist curiosities and as entrances to private residences.
And after that, it was time for our first traditional 3-course lunch. The stripes on our faces are to show that we are rooting for France in the World Cup. Neither of us actually cares about soccer, but the game was a big deal here. Later that afternoon, when we were back atop Fourviere, we could hear a collective cheer rise from the city when France won the match.
This week I have been finishing my final class projects/assignments and continuing to explore Chiang Mai before I jet off to some other Thai cities this weekend. My class visited the Warorot market this week, which is a local market that sells food, fresh flowers, clothing, fresh meat/fish (made my stomach churn), shoes, etc. It was less of a touristy market and it was cool to see how the local Thai people do their shopping every day.
While we were in the Warorot market area, we visited some Chinese temples (not Buddhist)! They had so many beautiful colors and it was fun to see a different culture represented in Chiang Mai, too.
I had the opportunity to have lunch with the Resident Director of the Chiang Mai USAC program, Jum, yesterday! We went to a local Japanese restaurant and it was delicious! I have never had true Japanese food and it did not disappoint. My chopstick skills could definitely use some improvement, though :)
After class, my friends and I have been taking the taxis (only cost $1!!) to the Old City area and have been walking around to visit new temples, get dinner and enjoy massages. Yesterday, we visited some of my favorite temples so far!
One of the most unique experiences I’ve had in Chiang Mai is when we are in the Old City area, the national anthem is played twice a day and you must stop immediately when it is played on loud speakers across the city. You could be walking through the market (often where I am when I hear it) and the Thai people, tourists, etc. all stand with their hands at their side until the anthem is over. It always catches me off guard, but is a fun part of Thai culture that I appreciate. :)
We have 1 more day of class before I’m done with my session! I’m excited to visit Chiang Rai, Krabi, and Mae Kampong during my final week in Thailand! Time has flown!!
This was my first (and last) free weekend in Chiang Mai, so I wanted to take advantage of as much as possible! I didn’t have my Thai Society and Culture class on Friday, so several of my friends and I temple-hopped through the Old City. We ended up visiting 4 different temples and I really enjoyed exploring some of the less popular/less touristy temples in the city. They were each beautiful in their own way and it was fun checking off a few more from the list of 300 temples in Chiang Mai!
Friday evening I had my last cooking class and we had probably my favorite meal of the week: larb e-sarn and khai jiew. This is a spicy meat salad (still not sure what makes it a salad) with a Thai-style omelette and rice. It was a wonderful pairing and I’m already craving that omelette again! For dessert we had my favorite Thai dessert, mango sticky rice with coconut cream! It was soooo good. I am excited to try to make some of the Thai dishes I made last week when I return to Boise! :)
On Saturday, several of the USAC students and staff members volunteered at Nikki’s Place Agape Home. The home is an orphanage for about 70+ children living with HIV/AIDS. We spent a couple of hours with the kids playing games and soccer that morning. It was such a fun morning, but also heartbreaking to leave those kids. They have a good life at Agape, but I just couldn’t help but want to bring all of them home with me. :(
Quite a few of the USAC students are taking either Buddhism in Thailand or a Global Health course this semester, so they have been introduced to some unique healing and meditation practices by their professor. Some of the students decided to visit the Lanna Yoga center, which is run by Guy Harriman. Guy has worked in a variety of fields, but most notably he worked with Steve Jobs at Apple to create the chip in your iPhone! He now lives in Chiang Mai and runs this healing and yoga center. He created the ajna light, which is used for both meditation and as treatment for addiction, stress, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. It is a 10 minute light where you lay down, listen to music and gamma waves are sent into your brain to help reverse the frequencies in your brain. The light helps you tune to the natural frequency of the earth to get your rhythm back to a normal frequency. It’s been tested at Yale, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins and has proven to make a difference for some patients! I felt so relaxed and calm after doing the ajna light therapy. It was a very unique experience that makes me want to try other meditation techniques in the future!
Sunday was spent visiting various markets in Chiang Mai! I went to the Baan Kang Wat artist village and it was the most tropical and green area I think I have seen in my life! I enjoyed looking at the art there and enjoyed some lunch before popping around town to some other local markets. I finished the night with some friends at the Sunday night bazaar! It was an awesome weekend and I can’t believe I’m starting my final week of classes today!
A week from today I will arrive in Lyon to spend 4 weeks studying at the Universitie and enjoying the region. I’ve been so busy with summer classes and other plans that this trip has hardly seemed real. But I looked at my empty suitcase this morning and thought I’d better get on it!
People assume I’m worried about the unfamiliar: the language barrier, a foreign city. I’m not the least worried about that. I expect it to be discombobulating, and I’m fine with that. I’m worried about the familiar — the pains and weaknesses in my body that I know all too well and that are common to middle-aged academics: bad cervical spines, tired eyes, anxiety.
I’ve been working on my spoken French and am pleased to report that I can easily ask for wine and pay the proper amount. In fact, I hope that’s one of the very first conversations I get to have.
People ask what I’m looking forward to doing.
I want to become a regular at some cafe or bistro in my neighborhood. I want to become comfortable navigating on foot or bike. I want to hang out in the Old Town, attend the Jazz Festival at the old Roman theater and mingle among the people and the vendors. I want to go to the art museum and the museum commemorating the French Resistance, and I want to sink into a couple of those famous 3-hour French dinners. Mostly, I want to be open to the opportunities that will come with each day.
This week has been a busy one with classes. I have been learning a ton in my Thai Society and Culture course about Thai traditions, culture, and how to interact. One of the most interesting components to Thai society is the wai. The wai is how Thai people greet one another, say goodbye, thank, and pay respect to their elders. There are several levels of the wai depending on who you are waiing: level one (monk), level two (elder), and level three (equal). There are many rules to the wai, but it has become one of my favorite parts of the Thai culture to participate in.
This week, I have had my cooking class three times so far and it has been a blast! My professor and the cooking assistants teach us a lot about the food we will be cooking/eating and then we have to watch them prepare the meal and write the recipe down by watching them. After we cook the meal, they judge us with scores, which is a little intimidating! I feel like we are on Top Chef! We have made pad thai goong (thai stir fried noodles with shrimp), nam phrig ong (spicy dip with minced pork, chilies, and tomatoes), and gaeng khiew wahn gai (green curry with chicken). These meals have definitely been pushing my limit with spicy foods, but they have all been delicious. We also have been able to eat different snacks, fruit, and drinks that are native to Thailand. Some of my favorites we have tried include khao dtan (rice cakes), lychee, rambutan (fruit), as well as a butterfly pea drink (a beautiful blue color) and lemongrass juice. We have two more classes, so I’m excited to see what’s up next in the kitchen!
My Thai Society and Culture course took a field trip this morning to participate in tak bat. Tak bat is when the people give alms by providing the monks with food for the day. Monks cannot eat after noon each day, so they collect their food from anyone who chooses to offer it each morning between 6:00-7:00am. My professor is a Buddhist, so he wanted to take us to show the offering and allowed us to participate. We gave the monks food for about 10 minutes and received blessings in return after we put the food in their bowl. It was a wonderful experience to see this side of the Buddhist and Thai culture.
Following tak bat, we went to breakfast as a class and then visited another temple, Wat Umong. Wat Umong is a temple that was created about 600+ years ago and is a temple in a tunnel. You cross through the tunnel temple to reach the chedi. It was incredibly beautiful and so peaceful!
It has been another wonderful few days in Chiang Mai exploring the university a bit and learning more and more about Thailand. Some friends and I visited two night markets this week and enjoyed another Thai massage! I am really loving my time in this city. :)
This weekend I had the opportunity to opt into a 3-day, 25 mile trekking tour through the Northern Thailand mountains. It was truly one of the most incredible experiences of my life! The USAC program offers this trekking trip during every semester/session, so it has become a popular tradition for the USAC students to take advantage of here in Thailand.
We started the trip by leaving at 7:00am on Friday morning and we drove about 1 hour into the mountains (Sanpatong). We met our guides for the weekend and visited a local market before doing some bamboo rafting! We rafted on the Wang River for about 45 minutes and it was a lot of fun!
Following the rafting, we grabbed our backpacks and began our trek. Our first stop was a waterfall about 20 minutes into the hike and we stopped to have some lunch (fried rice and fresh fruit). The fruit here is incredible! I cannot get over the mangos, lychee, passion fruit, pineapples, watermelons, etc. I am going to miss the fruit so much when I’m back home!
We continued our trek to the first Karen (hilltribe) village where we stayed overnight. The trek was about 2.5 hours through the mountains and rice fields. It was a muddy trek that required a lot of balancing (not my strong suit), but we made it! We had a wonderful host family for the night and were able to take a shower before dinner, which was much needed! The Karen hilltribe speaks a different language, so it was fun practicing both our Thai language and the Karen language on the trek. We learned about the traditional dress of the Karen people and the young, unmarried girls wear white dresses until they are married. We had a delicious dinner with the host family and went to sleep in our mosquito nets for the night. The next morning we had another wonderful meal and headed out on day 2 of our trek.
It is currently the rainy season in Thailand, so we dealt with some rain as we trekked through the jungle on this day, but it was really refreshing since we all were so hot and sweaty from the hiking. After hiking for about 4 hours, we made it to a Royal Project site where we learned how the Thailand royal family implemented some farming/harvesting initiatives a few years ago in Northern Thailand. Many of the hilltribes were growing opium and selling it to make a profit, but the King created the Royal Project initiatives to provide the hilltribes with new crops (bok choy, rice, flowers, etc.) to grow and sell in place of the opium. They now prepare these crops and ship them to markets in Bangkok and Singapore.
We trekked another 30 minutes to the second Karen village where we would stay for the night and we were greeted with the most amazing view! We had another great meal and then we participated in a ritualistic ceremony where a shaman prayed over us and thanked us for visiting. We were exhausted again so we went to sleep pretty early, but we were woken up with the most beautiful sunrise view!
While Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, many of the hilltribes are Christian since missionaries visited them years ago. We visited their church for a bit on Sunday morning before beginning our final trek for the day. We stopped at another waterfall for lunch and continued on for another 2 hours before completing our hike. We had one more stop, though, before we were officially done with our trip. THE ELEPHANTS!
We visited an elephant sanctuary and were able to spend time with them. It was incredible learning more about these animals and how we can better protect them. Many elephant companies/”sanctuaries” in Thailand use the elephants for tourism, riding, shows, etc., but this is not ethical treatment of the elephants. I encourage you to do your research about how to visit elephant sanctuaries/rescues that truly keep the elephants happy and do not just use them for our entertainment.
After such an incredible weekend, I was exhausted, but we kick off another week of classes today and tonight I have my first Thai cooking class! :)
I’ve officially completed my first week in the classroom as a Chiang Mai University student. I haven’t been in the classroom for over three years now since completing my M.Ed, so it has been fun to be a student again. I am taking two classes while I’m here including Thai Society and Culture, and Thai Cooking. This week, we only had the Thai Society and Culture class. The cooking class begins next Monday!
Monday morning, I was excited and a little nervous to go back to school, but I put on my uniform and headed into my first class. :)
There are only three students in my class! I have never had a class that small, so it feels more like a small group discussion. We have already learned so much about Thai culture from our Ajarn (Professor) Keatisak. We have learned a bit about Thai history, the royal family, Buddhist culture/traditions, and the Lanna culture in Northern Thailand. We had a field trip today to the Chiang Mai Arts and Cultural Center, which was an informative way to learn more about the Lanna history and culture.
I have class from 9am – 12pm each day, but we had a holiday on Tuesday to celebrate Visaka Bucha Day. This holiday is a national Buddhist holiday in Thailand and is the day they celebrate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death. It was wonderful to visit the temples in the evening and see so many Thai people participating in their holiday rituals. The Buddhist culture is very welcoming and even non-Buddhists can participate in rituals, visit the temples, and take photos throughout. As long as we respect the temple dress code, do not touch the monks (specifically for women), and respect the Buddha (never point our feet at the Buddha), we are welcome to join in.
Outside of class, I have been exploring the city with friends in the evening. I finally enjoyed my first mango sticky rice this week and had my first Thai massage last night! It was a 1 hour full body massage for equivalent of $6 USD. It was incredible!! I will certainly be taking advantage of this while I’m here. :)
Tomorrow, I am off on a USAC trekking tour into the mountains where we will be bamboo rafting, staying with the hill tribe people, harvesting crops with them, and spending time with elephants! I am so excited! :)
I can’t believe I’ve only been in Chiang Mai for less than a week! It feels like I have been able to see so much already thanks to the USAC program. We have explored multiple temples, night markets, museums, etc. It has been a great way to get to know the other students in the program and learn more about the city together.
Friday: We visited Bhubing Palace and Wat Phra That (Doi Suthep Temple) in the morning. When you visit temples in Thailand, you must have your shoulders covered and you cannot wear any skirts/dresses/shorts shorter than knee length. Many of the guards at the temples will check your outfit before you are permitted to enter the temple area. This strict dress code is required out of respect to the monks and the Buddhist faith. Bhubing Palace has gorgeous gardens and several homes on the property. It is the winter residence for the Thai royal family.
Wat Phra That has been a Buddhist monastery since 1383 and is still a working monastery today. You walk up the 300+ step Naga Serpent Staircase to get to the temple on the top of the mountain. The views are incredible and you can see the entire city of Chiang Mai below. The golden spire (chedi) is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen!
On Friday night, we had an official welcome reception and dinner at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. We had a Khantoke dinner, which is a pedestal tray used as a small dining table (you sit on the floor) used by the Lanna people of Northern Thailand. The food and atmosphere was incredible! We enjoyed watching traditional Thai dances during our dinner, as well, and we were even able to join in some dancing at the end of the night.
On Saturday, I opted to join in on the USAC Craft and Cultural tour, which was a trip to Chiang Mai Celadon. Celadon is a pottery/stoneware that has been glazed with wood ashes combined with the surface soil collected from rice patties. Once baked, the product becomes a beautiful green color that is distinctive of the Celadon style of ceramics found in Chiang Mai. We were able to get a tour of the facility and see Thai people making the pottery from scratch. We were able to also make some delicious banana sticky rice patties, wear traditional Thai skirts, and enjoy an authentic Thai lunch. After lunch, we were able to carve our own mugs, take a turn making a bowl (mine might be more like a vase…), and painted little elephants. I also bought some blue elephant plates as a souvenir to bring home! I may not be a talented artist, but this was a really fun experience. :)
The night markets are huge here! Imagine the Boise Saturday market, but 20 times the size and held at night. It’s incredible and the prices can’t be beat! I’m having to try to be very selective with what I buy since I want to make sure I can fit everything in my suitcase on my way back home next month. :)
On Sunday, we had another trip to the Old City and were able to explore the Lanna Architecture Center, Wat Phan Tao, Wat Phra Sing, and Wat Chedi Luang. I can’t get over how beautiful these temples are! :)
After a weekend of exploring, we the visited the notorious Sunday night market, which is even larger than the Saturday night market! We enjoyed dinner at a great restaurant and were able to listen to some Thai jazz music from a live band while we ate! We had a wonderful weekend getting to know our new city and now it’s time to get ready for classes to begin! :)
Hello from Chiang Mai! I am all settled in my apartment now and have met my classmates! I arrived in Chiang Mai Wednesday afternoon and the USAC staff picked me up at the airport and brought me to my apartment, which is a 15 minute walk from classes and a 5 minute walk from the student apartments where the other USAC students are living. My apartment is wonderful, so close to the market for buying food and it has a great view of Doi Suthep (the mountain in Chiang Mai), which I love!
I grabbed some pad thai on the street on Wednesday night and it was cooked right in front of me and only cost 30 baht (equivalent of $1.00!). Thailand is going to spoil me when it comes to the cost of things! Everything here is so much more reasonable than back in the U.S. We have been taking red trucks (taxis) around town as a group and it costs 30 baht to go pretty much anywhere in the city! With the weather being so warm (90 degrees + 100% humidity), these taxis are coming in handy when getting around the city.
On Thursday, we had orientation and I met up with Dr. Isaac Castellano (a visiting professor from Boise State), who is also living in my apartment building with his family! After going on a campus tour in a shuttle bus with a recorded script that we listened to (a little different than our campus tours at Boise State:)), we got to know the other USAC students and heard from the USAC staff for a few hours. We learned about Thai culture, culture shock, temple dress codes, etc. It was an informative morning at Chiang Mai University! We then went to the mall to do some shopping and get some clothes, SIM cards (only $15 for unlimited data and calls while in Thailand), and we picked up our uniforms. Yep, I have to wear a uniform every day to class! Every student in Thailand from pre-school through college has to wear a uniform, so at least it will make getting ready in the morning very easy. :)
We have a fun weekend planned with trips to the temple on Doi Suthep and Bhubing Palace, as well as exploring the Old City! Stay tuned for more adventures in Chiang Mai :)