How lucky am I to have a mother that traveled halfway around the world to come visit during my recess week? Meet my mother, Patty. After giving her a tour of Singapore we made our way to the city of Chiang Mai, located in Northern Ireland.
How lucky am I to have a mother that traveled halfway around the world to come visit during my recess week? Meet my mother, Patty. After giving her a tour of Singapore we made our way to the city of Chiang Mai, located in Northern Ireland.
Thailand is full of random adventures, and I myself have had many since my arrival, but I thought this week I would clue you all in a little more on the reason for my being in Thailand—my studies in Khon Kaen.
My program through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) has a catchy name, Development and Globalization (DG), but you may wonder what actually falls under this umbrella term? My answer? I’m still figuring it out. In the information packet I received, I understood this program as one that allows me the opportunity to “study complex environmental, development, and globalization issues.” It has done that, and so much more.
Unlike our sister program, Public Health, the DG program is not associated with Khon Kaen University near our CIEE school headquarters. It is an entirely separate program that has its own educational model that is much different from most classroom learning models. This program focuses on learning from a ‘human perspective’ by speaking with villagers, NGOs, and government officials among other individuals in the Northeastern Isaan region of Thailand.
This semester, our program focused on the development and globalization issues of organic agriculture, water management, land rights, mining, and also did a Laos agricultural comparative unit. These five units are primarily student-led and are divided into two-week segments. The first week is comprised of reading…reading…and more reading. In this mix, we also have a few guest lectures, Thai language courses and Thai peer tutor sessions focused on our unit topic as well as two discussion and information-based meetings led by the two student unit facilitators. These “UFac” individuals are responsible for not only planning this week, but also providing the link between the Thai ‘ajaan’ professor’s as well as preparing for the following week of exchanges.
In the second half of the unit, our 10-person DG group, two ajaans, and our beloved ‘wan’ driver make the trek to the local village affected by the development issue we are studying. Throughout our five-day stay, we speak with villagers about their situations and struggles to gain an overview of the issues facing the area. In order to view the situation from the other side, we also meet with government officials who offer the political context. Additionally, we interview local Non-government organizations and NGO persons who are knowledgeable on the subject not only in our current focus area, but also in other areas throughout Thailand.
Something especially unique about this program is that, during this week of unit exchanges, we actually live with villagers. Two DG students are assigned to one family and homestay, and we reside with them all week. Being able to follow them through their daily routines, learn to cook traditional foods from them, take showers with a bucket of water and a bowl, help them in their garden, round up the qwai (water buffalo), and communicate with them as well as we are able has really made this semester something special for me. In such a short time, we seem to become a member of the ‘krop kruwah’ (family). I have been “a daughter to them” and have even cried when I left some of my homestays. These families have not only taught me so much about Thai language and the social justice issues they face, but they have taught me the true meaning of kindness and making someone ‘feel at home.’
Upon arrival in Khon Kaen, our group is tasked with making a unit ‘output.’This final project is supposed to be a reflection of what we learned over the past two weeks, and often incorporates aspects that would benefit the affected community in some way. After brainstorming as a group, we work vigorously to finish our project and plan a two-hour “workshop” where we present our findings to our ajaan professors and student interns. Some unit outputs have included a lesson plan on organic agriculture, a 25 page report on organic farming barriers, info-graphics concerning land rights issues, paintings reflecting Laotian agency and dependency, and an information packet provided to the European Union before a visit to a mining affected community.
Following this workshop is the ever so popular “plus, minus, delta” evaluation where we evaluate as a group what we did great and what could have been done better. Additionally, we have a “sadthi” quaker-style meeting to allow personal reflection and expression of our current feelings after an educationally and emotionally exhausting week. Finally, it is time for a good night’s sleep before the repeat.
I have to be honest with all of you. In the beginning of the program, I thought I was in over my head. I saw the little black program planner book as daunting with so many scheduled classes and outside exchanges. I questioned how much time I would have to myself. Yes, I am fully aware that I signed up to ‘study abroad’ but I questioned how much studying was too much abroad. This program is far from what might seem like traditional abroad expectations. I may have not hopped from country to country every other weekend and I may not have shared experiences with many other Richmond students, but I was able to really see Thailand for all its beautiful wonders and civil flaws. I was able to see big city lights and little village dirt roads, I became a ‘regular’ at the local coffee shop, I befriended the coconut ice cream stand lady who knows my order by heart, and I was able to reflect on all these things and more as time passed me by. Although I am sad to be leaving here in a few short weeks, I know that this place, those Thai villagers, and my program friends was, and always will be, a home and family to me.
Please excuse me if I may sound like a broken record, but after my fall break this past week, I still believe “a lack of formal plans or expectations makes for the best adventures.” Little did I know, a lack of a valid Vietnamese Visa does too. And so the adventure begins…
One week before fall break, the scramble began. I entered my program’s student activity room to find my like-minded friends crowded around computers.
Pictures of random places were pulled up on the screens and the air was filled with frantic questions. “Where are you going?” “That looks cool” “Well, maybe we can go there too.” Simultaneously, tabs with destination information all the way from Korea to Singapore with every country in between were pulled up on my computer screen. For the next nine days, Southeast Asia was my oyster, and I had no idea where I was going.
Eventually, after much debate with myself, I decided I would not try to squeeze in the wonder of Angkor Wat or Bali’s beaches, but rather experience as much of one country as I could. Vietnam seemed to have it all, from cascading mountains and quiet beaches to busy city streets.
My only travel transaction was a round trip ticket from Bangkok to Hanoi for most of the week until the rest of the plans eventually fell into place. Before break began, my friend Billy and I inquired about a Vietnam visa from several different sources, including the Thai embassy. We were told that it was possible to get a tourist Visa upon arrival in Hanoi. Little did we know…
We took the overnight bus to Bangkok with several of our friends and arrived at the Don Muang Airport before 4 am—plenty of time to spare before our 7:15 flight. I found out in the check-in line, however, that a pre-entry form was required to enter Vietnam, and that we would not be making our flight. We applied for the rush visa application service that claimed processing took “3 hours at the most.” That Saturday, however, was a holiday. Rather than pay the $200 to get the other available last-minute entry form, we returned to the drawing board. Within four hours, we were on a flight to a southern Thai island, Krabi, and would not return to Bangkok until Monday evening. On Tuesday afternoon, we flew to Hanoi and spent the night there. The next morning, we traveled to Ha Long Bay in Northeastern Vietnam and I eventually met up with four friends to adventure to Sapa in Northwestern Vietnam. Throughout my traveling within Thailand and beyond its borders, I have learned some things and I thought that I would share them with you.
Since being in Khon Kaen, the occasional cabin fever feeling has fueled many of my last minute travels. My first trip was actually outside of Thailand. On a Wednesday I booked a ticket for Singapore and on Friday I arrived, much to the shock of both Colleen and I. Colleen, a fellow UR blogger, was one of the first friends I made at Richmond. She was my freshman hall neighbor in Laura Robins and we lived through the always awkward and transitional first year together. She is one of those people that can make me question how I went eighteen years of my life not knowing her, so when I found out we would still be living in the same hemisphere this semester, I could not have been happier.
My reunion travel began late Thursday night with an over-night bus adventure to Bangkok, taxi drive to the airport, and plane ride. At two in the afternoon Friday, I finally arrived on the island city-state. Standing in the Singapore airport that prides itself on being “an experience in itself” with a broken phone, I questioned if I would ever find Colleen. By pure luck, I bumped into her twenty minutes after landing and our adventurous weekend began.
After the exchanges of “oh my goodness I’ve missed you” hugs, “how is life” responses, and “look what happened” pictures, we ate dinner in one of the well-known ‘hawker centres’ filled with superb street fare (and Indian food I had been craving so much). We wandered about the city streets, perched on an apartment rooftop, and eventually made our way to the CÉ LA VI bar and observation deck atop the Marina Bay Sands Resort The dancing lasting until four in the morning and the amazing view of the modern city made for a pretty surreal night.
The next day, we walked…a lot. We were able to pack in an extensive tour of the city and even found time for yoga and a catnap atop a magical rooftop garden. We spent the rest of the night strolling through the Gardens by the Bay and laying in the grass marveling at the twinkling lights and harmonious music. This was when a “oh my goodness I can’t believe I’m here” moment kicked in and I left the gardens with such a love for this city. Of course, we could not have finished the night more perfectly than with the ice cream and chick flick we mindlessly consumed. This weekend getaway ended too soon as weekends always do, but it was so nice to spend time in such a wonderful city with an even more wonderful friend!
Continuing the last minute planning trend, my next trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand was very unexpected. Two girls on my program, Leah and Julia, and I mentioned doing a weekend trip on Monday. It was not until Friday that the subject came about again and one hour later, we were in a taxi on our way to the Khon Kaen bus station. A ten-hour bus ride to Chiang Mai was the only thing we knew we had booked for our weekend trip. We did not have hostel reservations, day tours, or tickets back to Khon Kaen, but we were not concerned.
I still stand by the idea that a lack of formal plans or expectations makes for the best adventures. Somehow for me, everything always seems to work out, even if I least expect it to. The three of us managed to check into a hostel at 8:25 a.m., and by 8:35 we were running to catch a songtow (a ‘taxi’ like mode of transportation that is essentially two-rows of seats in the back of a truckbed) with our half-cooked pancakes in hand for a day trip trek. What makes Chiang Mai one of the most popular destinations in Thailand is because of its combination of lively night markets, ancient wall ruins, and magnificent mountains, all of which we were able to take advantage of.
We began our day visiting an elephant recovery center. We fed the elephants bananas and bamboo, and even bathed them in the river. The elephant I was giving a bath, Di Jai, however, decided she did not want to take a bath anymore and walked out of the river. Meanwhile, I was still on her back left wondering how in the world I was going to get down.
After we visited with the elephants, we trekked our way up to a waterfall near where the Hill Tribes reside. We swam and splashed in the water until it was time to go rafting. Julia, Leah, and I were assigned to a canoe with another couple and our rafting instructor. He led his unexperienced team through some pretty incredible rapids and showed us the best views of vast mountains and lush rice fields. We ended the day with the largest night market in Chiang Mai filled with silks, Thai pants, and even live animals, and eventually made our way home to Khon Kaen the following day. Chiang Mai is an incredible city that is too big to see in a day and a half, so I hope to return there someday soon.
My next travel destination, Nong Khai, is a small treasure nestled beside the Mekong River just two hours from Khon Kaen. The capital of Laos, Vientiane, is situated just on the other side of the Friendship Bridge, an Australian infrastructure connecting the country with Thailand and aiding Laos development. From my guesthouse situated beside the calm running water, I felt like I could almost touch Laos.
The city of Nong Khai is quite tranquil and charming. Upon arrival, the locals welcomed me and four other ‘farang’ friends as if were family, offering their best English ‘hello, how are you’-s and calling us beautiful (“suwai”) as we passed the open shops. We stumbled upon the small downtown area early on our trip that was bustling with both indoor and outdoor markets. These stores had some of the most magnificent Thai silks and woodcarvings, along with some of the most unusual kanomes (snacks) I had ever seen, including buffalo hide and dried bat.
Nong Khai reminded me just how affordable Thailand is. For just 50 baht ($1.40), my friends and I were able to rent bikes for the full day which really enabled us to see the city’s nooks and crannies (and feel like young kids again). By simply looking at the skyline, we saw the top of an intriguing statue. We followed the figure like it was the North Star. After several close encounters with angry dogs and potholes the size of black holes, we were left amazed. We found the Sala Kaew Ku Park. This sculpture garden, constructed over a 20-year span, contains Luang Pu Boun Leua Sourirat’s Hindu-Buddhist inspired visions with some even towering at over 82 feet tall. I cannot describe how I felt at that time, standing so small beneath what I still think is the closest thing I’ve come to a Wonder of the World.
Following this portion of our day’s exploration was a race to get back to our guesthouse. At 5:30, a ‘sunset boat’ would leave the small port for an hour ride on the river if enough people were interested. Upon arrival, we were the only ones waiting in line for the ride. This actually worked well, because for just $30, the five of us together rented our own personal houseboat restaurant that sailed the Mekong for an hour under the cotton candy sunset sky. Laos was even closer now, and so were the Laotian dragon boat racers we once saw from a distance on the Thai riverfront. The night commenced with a margarita at the only cocktail bar in town and a wonderful four-hour night/early morning bike ride to the Friendship Bridge and through the market square. Nong Khai remains one of my favorite destinations in all of Thailand.
Sawadika! Chan chob jang wat Khon Kaen ka!
As you can probably tell, I have arrived safely in Thailand and am now acquainting myself with the language! What a trip it has been so far. I arrived on the 16th after 33 hours of travel that included two flight delays. I do not think I have ever been so exhausted in my life. My sightseeing that first day totaled the 15 minutes viewed from my cab window and the walk to my third story hotel room. I barely showered and unpacked before I fell asleep for a short ‘nap’ at three in the afternoon that ended up lasting 16 hours. Luckily, sleeping through my seven alarms actually put me right on track for the 11 hour jet lag I would have experienced.
Growing up, I have always heard the phrase “what a small world.” I never considered the world a ‘small’ place until arriving in Bangkok. After I posted a photo online about my travels, a boy from my hometown commented that he was also in Bangkok. Even though it was the last day of his six week stay, Derek invited me to join him and his Thai friend on their final adventure. We made our way through the horrendous traffic, after stopping for my first Thai iced tea, and ended up riding elephants. Being surrounded by animals so ginormous and normally seen at a distance behind bars was so surreal. I have to say I love bear hugs, but I now like elephant hugs more.
After my ride, I visited my first temple that hosts the second largest Buddha in Bangkok. I learned proper temple etiquette, including fully covering one’s ankles and elbows, stepping over door entrances, and ensuring all toes are pointed away from Buddha while bowing three times to him. The temple was unlike any architectural structure I had ever seen before and I look forward to admiring many more throughout this semester!
Derek raved about an amazing celebrity bakery and downtown Bangkok Blue Sky rooftop bar and restaurant all day. After a long day of long walking and sitting in heavy traffic, I could not wait to delve into a traditional Thai delight. On our drive there, Derek decided to stop at home to change clothes. When we were ten minutes outside of the city, we received notice that two bombs went off in the downtown area. Both attacks were directly below the places we were headed.
I guess I should provide you with some context of the bad luck spells I have had while traveling in the past before I continue. The day of my first ever plane ride, the Malaysia plane went missing. While in London, the Charlie Hebdo attack occurred. During my time on Crete, the Greek financial crisis further erupted. Derek and his friends were aware of this misfortune and, when we received the news, they turned to me in the back seat of the car with disbelief. Was I the bad luck charm?
Looking back on that day one short week ago, I remain shocked. That was such an unfortunate event that this city has not seen in years, yet how was I so fortunate?
Although I cannot be certain where I would have been exactly during that time, it is very likely that I could have been on the street or watching the following events unfold from the rooftop.
In the downtown area for some time afterwards, you would not have expected that an attack occurred moments ago. It was not until hours later that a city lockdown went into place. During that time, I felt a whirlwind of emotions as I sat frigid in the standstill traffic. As I contacted family concerned about my safety, Thai people continued to shop, eat, and walk about the surrounding streets.
After what seemed like hours, I arrived at my hotel. I was highly concerned when I found out that two girls from my program I met for the first time earlier that day were missing. The girls’ families and hotel staff had not heard from or seen them all night and both of their phones were turned off. After over an hour, I was beyond relieved when both girls pulled into the hotel parking lot. I was also amazed to hear that they were ten minutes from the attacks but were unaware of the situation for over four hours.
I cannot express how grateful I am for the support I received from my family, friends, and school that day. After posting a general message online for concerned family and friends, I received notice from both people close to me and others I have not spoken to in years who were sending love and prayers my way. My email inbox was filled with messages from UR and CIEE staff concerned about my well-being and providing me with updates and information. Even though I was alone, I felt so connected to everything I know and all those I love who were a ‘small’ world away. Someone was watching over me that night, and they taught me what it really is to know there is no place like home, and no one like those people that make it home for me.
Someone pinch me. T-Minus 24 hours until take-off! Wow…what an unusual feeling. After months of people inquiring about where I will study abroad, it is funny to actually be arriving in this far off place soon. I will be 10,000 miles and twelve time zones away on the other side of the world. In other words, while you all are asleep, I will be wide awake. This still doesn’t seem real.
Currently, I am a ball of stress, excitement, nerves and every other feeling imaginable. It feels as if I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off the past few days, but it is a good kind of feeling. After arriving home just three short weeks ago from Chania, Greece after almost two months of work with my Bonner abroad site (ARCHELON, The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece), I was concerned I was not going to have everything ready in time. Although I still feel like I just adjusted to this time zone, I am looking forward to the next twelve I will cross with every passport copy printed and ‘polite’ clothing item packed.
In my last weeks, I have been struggling to cross off everything on my yearly summer bucket list, but somehow I managed! From bike rides through my favorite places, hikes through local parks, country concerts at a nearby pavilion, sunsets at the beach, and coffee at the quaint shops, I was fortunate enough to squeeze in some quality time with my family and friends. I cannot believe that tomorrow will begin my next adventure. I will be flying into Boston on Friday night, arrive in Dubai late Saturday, and finally arrive in Bangkok Sunday morning. This 10,276 mile ride will definitely be one for the books!
Hello everybody! My name is Lindsay and I am a junior at the University of Richmond majoring in Leadership Studies and minoring in Education and Society. I am from a small town outside of Cleveland, Ohio and growing up, I pretty much knew just that. My family did countless road trips (even one all the way to California) that got me pretty used to long hours of travel, but I had never been on a plane until after stepping foot onto Richmond’s campus.
I have to say that the Bonner Scholars Program originally infected me with the travel bug. On accepted students day, I spoke with a then-BSP senior and now the coordinator, Blake Stack, about the amazing volunteer opportunities within Richmond and abroad. It was then that the world started to open before me. Fellow Bonners introduced me to the multi-faith discussion group and I was fortunate enough to participate in the Pilgrimage: Poland program that studies Polish and Jewish history both on campus and throughout Poland. After that exposure to a tight-knit familial atmosphere on a college campus, where it was encouraged to question yourself and the world around you, I applied to the Living-Learning Community ‘Stories of Work, Life, and Fulfillment.’ As cheesy as it is, this course was such a blessing as it helped me learn a great deal about myself and what I want (and love) to do with my time. It also took me across the pond to London to in January to meet UR alumni which was absolutely incredible.
So, I guess I really haven’t answered what drew me to consider spending a semester in Thailand! Well, ya see, I was originally drawn to that more familiar, European culture where I would have a shared experience. However, after many, many hours of thinking and long debates with my roommates (and myself), I decided I wanted to be forced out of my comfort zone and dropped into a completely new culture.
It is not simply the pad Thai noodles and Thai pants that drew me to Thailand, but the possibility of building greater relationships with communities in need and learning about what it takes to lead social change. My program in Khon Kaen, Development and Globalization, will work directly with community organizers, NGOs, and villagers to examine social justice and developmental issues on a grassroots level. Although I myself am not totally certain of what to expect from this semester, you can anticipate some community-stay reflections, Thai roommate adventures, and hopefully some hiking and biking adventures along the way! Also, I apologize for all the foodie pictures in advance!