06.03.16 First week of classes at Chiang Mai University

My first week of classes at Chiang Mai University has officially been completed!!! To refresh, I am studying Thai Language and Buddhist Philosophy while I am here. I have classes every weekday from 9:30-12 and then from 1 to 4 or 3:30 depending on the day. So far, it has been a bit of a challenge but great!

IMG_3891On Wednesday we were picked up from our hotel around 9:30/10 to head to the University for our orientation and campus tour. The campus is huge, but the language institute (the part of campus we are studying in) is super interesting and the staff is amazing! After needing a tramcar to give us the campus I decided that 1. I couldn’t imagine going to a school full-time this big and 2. I won’t be venturing on campus much further than the building next door where the cafeteria is because I will definitely get lost and can’t afford to miss class here.

After our tour, we were treated to a welcome lunch at a buffet near by. It was quite interesting going to a buffet instead of a traditional restaurant; however, the food was still pretty good! The only problem was that there were very few options that didn’t have meat in them. I have to say, before I came here I thought being a vegetarian was going to be more convenient for me, but it has only been the opposite this far.

Once we finished eating, we were driven back to campus to wear the uniform store was. After the lady sized me and I tried on the uniform that best fit, I was a little shocked to see I was wearing a 2XL. It’s a little bit crazy to think what would be about a medium in the United States was a 2XL here. As well, I was a little shocked to realize I had to spend 800 baht on only 2 uniforms; however, there was no way around that.

We then walked back to the language institute where we had our first lesson in Thai. The first thing we learned in Thai was how there are 5 different tones a word can have. So, the same word can potentially have 5 very different meanings if said with different inflection. At first I found this a bit difficult, but caught on sort of quickly. The hardest part about today was that you may learn a whole list of words and feel pretty good about yourself because you can pronounce them right; but if you don’t say them with the right tone it means nothing at all.

IMG_3907Once class was over we went back to our hotel where we had about an hour to put something a little bit nicer on for another complimentary meal. We were brought to this restaurant where they also did a traditional Thai music and dance show. The food was served family style and refilled on the table as soon as something was finished. Because I was the only vegetarian, I was lucky enough to have about a whole 7 dishes to myself to nibble on throughout the night.

During the very last performance by the dancers, the invited anyone from the audience who wanted to join on stage to take part in a very simple dance where you basically walk in a circle and move your hands into different positions. A couple of girls from our group, including me, got on stage to partake in the dance which ended up being super fun.

On the way back, our red truck van dropped us off near the temple Wat Chedi Laung, where there was a festival occurring. The only problem was during the ride over it begun raining and by the time the car arrived it was full on down pouring. Two other girls and I still decided to get out and go because we weren’t ready to be done exploring for the night. After getting out of the car, we quickly got onto the sidewalk where there was a tiny covering to figure out our action plan.

IMG_3911The ground had a decent covering of water, and on top of that there were large puddles everywhere so my suede material shoes were going to get ruined. Me being me, chose to take my shoes off and put them in my purse which I wrapped in a plastic bag so the wouldn’t get messed up. So yes, for the rest of the night I walked around Chiang Mai barefoot and it caused me no problems.

We decided our game plan was to run across the street to where there was a small restaurant and wait there until the rain cleared which was bound to be soon. In the time it took to cross the street I was completely soaked. Fortunately though during this time of the year in Thailand, even when you are soaking wet after the rain, even during the nighttime, you don’t get cold. As well, after about 30 minutes in the restaurant, the rain cleared.

It was also nice that we stayed because our two friends who are in the internship program were also able to meet up with us for part of the festival. We walked about two storefronts down to where the temple was.

The rain came almost as a blessing in disguise because all the lights and candles were reflecting into the newly formed puddles on the ground, which was super beautiful. The temples are beautiful at day time; however, there was something even more intriguing about being there while it was dark.

IMG_3922As well, because it was a festival, around the perimeter of the grounds there were various food vendors and a stage where traditional Thai dancing was happening. After we had our fix, we went separate ways and went back to our hotel for a good night of sleep before our first full day of classes. Even though I was completely soaked, I wouldn’t have had it any other way… the day was excellent and I had so much joy in my heart.

Thai language class this morning did nothing but frustrate me. Yes, it was very interesting to learn and I enjoyed doing it, but I could feel my brain aching at 12 when class was over. I had to seriously focus the whole time otherwise I would miss something important. The problem with that is I already struggle to focus all my attention into one thing for even a short period of time, so having to sit there for 2.5 hours using 120% of my focus was challenging. I can easily admit that this is by far the hardest class I have taken yet.

To make matters worse, all I was looking forward to after class was eating. The problem was after we were showed the big cafeteria and expected to eat there, we slowly found out that the menus were only in Thai. There was no place where I could understand anything the restaurant was serving so I didn’t even know what to try to ask for. Even after we were told what each place sort of had, none of the food workers spoke English so I was left telling the lady who showed us around to just order me whatever as long as it was vegetarian. The problem with this is that because I didn’t know what had been ordered for me, I didn’t know which meal was mine once it was ready until the lady pointed to the food and then pointed to me. I ended up eating white rice with sautéed mixed vegetables, which was pretty good.

IMG_3926The best part of lunch and my day so far was when I was able to finally try Thai Tea because it is so tasty. It comes out this orange color it is kind of milky, but also has a flavor I don’t really know how to describe. I ended up walking with this back to where the classroom where my first Buddhist Philosophy class was.

I was pretty excited for this because I had always wanted to take a class of this subject matter. It was an even bigger sigh of relief to find out my professor was American so he spoke perfect English. He is super knowledgeable about the subject because he just so happened to be a Buddhist monk for ten years. I was excited when I found out he wanted to take us around to various temples so we could have more hands on learning. I was even more excited when he told us our first little field trip was tomorrow. I absolutely love this because I will probably end up learning much more than I would in the classroom.

Once classes were over we went back to our hotel, changed out of our hot uniforms and then went to actually explore the area by the Thae Pae Gate and hopefully find dinner. Eventually we found ourselves near the German Beer Garden we ate at the first day, but instead at a little restaurant called the wall, which served some super tasty Thai food. Because by this point I was so hungry, after I devoured my meal I found myself still not completely full yet.

On the way back once we passed through the market at the Chiang Mai Gate, I stopped at the famous Pa’s smoothie shop and got a custom smoothie for 20 baht. I wasn’t sure what fruits to mix so I simply asked for something with banana. The cute old lady ended up throwing together banana, pineapple, and plum with some ice and a little bit of water to help the blender run. Once again I was baffled by the fact that for less that a dollar I had a delicious smoothie that was only made of fruit.

I was able to enjoy this for the rest of the walk until we got into the hotel. I spent the rest of the night editing my pictures (which I will finally be able to add to the posts) and writing and then went to bed.

This morning (Friday) I had a larger breakfast so I would stay full longer throughout the day, just in case lunch was going to be a struggle again. I also took two bananas from the buffet in as an emergency snack.

Fortunately though, Thai class was a little bit easier and hopefully as I catch on more it will keep becoming easier. During our break halfway through class, I treated myself to a Cappuccino to get a chance of scenery and perk me up a bit.

For lunch today, we stayed in the Language institute area where there are only about 4 stands to get something and just about all of them have some English. I found myself ordering Pad Thai again and the workers thought it was weird I didn’t want any meat cooked into it. By now you can probably guess what I am about to say next, but just in case you can’t, it was delicious! It is exciting to know that when I get home I will be able to make this for myself because I am definitely going to miss it.IMG_3122
I was excited to finish lunch because that meant it was time for Buddhist Philosophy and we would be taking a trip to a temple. The temple we visited today was about halfway up the mountain and called Wat Palad located right in the jungle. You wouldn’t really know about this one unless you were Thai or had a Thai guide because it is not visible from the street.

Before getting there, our teacher stopped for us at a lookout point on Doi Suthep because it was a super clear day outside and you could see the whole city. The view was absolutely incredibleIMG_3148

When we got to the temple area we had to drive down a tiny little dirt road to actually get there. I am so happy I decided to take this class because this was the most beautiful temple I saw so far! It is nudged right into the jungle on the mountain so not only is the architecture incredible, but the scenery is as well. The whole environment was so peaceful, yet so breathtaking.

IMG_3200After our professor gave us a tour he gave us a quick lesson and I actually feel as though I learned so much more than I would have if we sat in our closet of a classroom. After seeing our excitement, I think our professor was even more willing to take us around to show us even more of these lesser know, yet beautiful temples we wouldn’t see otherwise.

Once we finished up for the day, we were lucky enough to be given a ride back to our hotel area where we were able to finally catch some time in the sun trying to get a bit more of a tan. It is just about 6pm now and I am happy to say I have had the most wonderful first week here in Thailand!!! The country is beautiful in all aspects from the food, the people, the language, the ideals, and the culture. I cannot wait to see what the next three weeks have in store for me!

I may be changing the structure of my blog posts so it’s less of a diary entry but we shall see what actually happens. As well, I will be trying to make at least one video from my GoPro footage a week and then probably another from my weekend excursions. As well, I hope to get on a better schedule with editing my pictures so that you can actually see what I am talking about in these posts.

For most of the people reading this, Good morning and have a wonderful Friday!!! For anyone else, have a great night!!



05.26.16 First three days in Chiang Mai

IMG_3667IMG_3668After picking up my bags and meeting with a program leader in Chiang Mai, I met up with three girls from the group and we headed to our hotel. Initially when we were outside, I saw a couple vans, smaller taxis, and then these red trucks that had the back mostly open. To my surprise, we got into one of these with our suitcases. If we hit a strange bump or weren’t paying attention to our luggage they definitely would have fallen out, but honestly, the breeze from the open windows and back was nice and I would soon find out that this was one of the main ways I would be getting around the city.

When we arrived at the hotel it was so cute! It was a very good sized and the way the hotel was decorated and furnished was sort of different from what I was used to, but I love it!

Our hotel room is very good sized, as well as the bathroom. The shower pressure is actually incredible and probably better than my shower at home and there is plenty of hot water. The only downfall about the hotel is that the wifi only really works in the lobby.

One of the girls that was picked up with me had to leave because she was actually a part of a slightly different program so for about the next hour and a half the other two girls and I spent a bit of time talking and getting to know each other and debating whether or not we wanted to nap.

IMG_2609After enough chit chat about things we were excited to do, we ended up waking ourselves back up, in my case from pure excitement, so we decided to attempt to venture out into the city to try to grab a meal.

While we were walking, we kept passing place after place but simply couldn’t decide. We got to a main road where a small pond/creek separated two roads acting as a boulevard was, which I later found out was the moat around the old city area. While we were there trying to find a place to eat, we got our first taste of Chiang Mai traffic. After waiting a good amount of time to cross the busy street, it was our turn to walk. The crosswalk gave us only about 10 fast seconds to cross; meanwhile, some motorbikes didn’t stop immediately, and after you were done crossing the cars went anyways, regardless whether or not it was their time to go.

So after wandering up and down about a block of this boulevard, we came to terms with the fact that we had no idea where we were going or if we were even in the area where the old city was, so we started on our way back and decided maybe the first day we would just eat at the hotel.

IMG_2658.JPGOnce we got back, I asked for a map because I was eager and curious to figure out where we needed to go to get into the city. After looking at the map as a group, we agreed on the fact that we were right on the edge of the old city and just needed to cross through the “wall”. So, we ventured back out and this time, continued around the perimeter of the square.

We ended up seeing our first temple, which was breathtaking! The contrast of the white building with the red and gold was stunning! We didn’t actually go in to the temple: we were simply in the little enclosed region where it was. But, we continued a bit until there was a cute alleyway, which looked like it had some shops and restaurants. So we decided to go down there with hopes of finding a meal. Eventually we walked down this road far enough until it met back up with the road we were walking on, just a little further down. So we backtracked and chose one of the restaurants we had passed.

It’s kind of ironic and embarrassing to say, but the one we chose was called “German Beer Garden” but we did not go for the western food, we got Thai Food and it was amazing. I was kind of surprised at how many restaurants we passed that had “best French food” or “best Italian food”… all we wanted was to find Thai food!

For my meal I ordered a vegetarian yellow curry. If I know one thing to be true from this trip so far is that if you told me I would have to eat this way everyday for the rest of my life I would shake your hand and thank you. When people say the food is excellent they are not joking—it is out of this world!

After eating we went back the way we came and went to the hotel. After a tasty meal, being out in the heat, and exhaustion kicking in from two days of travel, I found myself in bed at 6pm and passed out after rolling over a few times.

Throughout the night once it got to about 3 in the morning I found myself waking up every thirty minutes to an hour. By the time it reached 6, I laid in bed until about 6:30 and then got up and got ready for the day. We were meeting the program coordinator at 10 today, so I had plenty of time in the morning to do whatever. I went down to the lobby to use the Internet and ended up sitting there waiting, trying to figure out how I was supposed to get a voucher for breakfast.

Eventually I just asked the front desk people and learned that all I had to do was give my room number in order to receive complementary breakfast. I was laughing at the fact that I had waited about an hour and a half thinking about how it was weird they never gave us a meal voucher or wandering when we would actually receive them… Nope it was my fault for not trying.

By the time we finished eating, it was time to meet with the program coordinator (David), the in-country assistant (Pat), and the rest of the group where we met to talk about Thai cultural values, talk about getting around the are and different thins we would be doing.

There I was surprised to learn that apparently the government gives everyone the salary of 300 baht… per day. This had me in shock and awe because the day before I paid 110 baht for my meal, which was about 3.50 USD. This means that people make about 8 USD a day, which I found baffling. It is crazy how that is, hopefully, a livable wage.

Here the red truck vans were also explained to us and we were told that this was the best method of transportation for us when we didn’t want to walk around the city. David and Pat explained that we shouldn’t pay for that 20Baht if the decide to give us a ride.

IMG_2666After finishing up our first lesson, we got into a van and drove over to Tha Phae gate and then walked just down the block to a restaurant where we had some super delicious curry.

When we came back, we had our second little lesson/ briefing for the day where we learned out Thai values versus US values. I basically fell in love when I heard about the things Thai people find important. There is a very strong emphasis on wanting to maintain harmony so everyone just strives to make everyone happy. As well, everyone smiles all the time. David explains how even if a Thai person is sad or angry you can still catch them smiling or even laughing. He also discussed how Thai people are very present focused versus thinking about the next thing the are going to be doing, as we would in the US. This also explains why Thais are always smiling: there is no time to be angry, you can just simply get over it, move on, and keep enjoying your life.

I loved these ideas and found myself smiling the whole time. I like to think that this is the way my mind sort of thinks so it was cool to find out that there is a whole culture of people who think similar.

IMG_2710After this was over, we were done for the day so we had time to go out and explore on our own. Our whole group decided to try to venture out to the gate we were at earlier and then look around from there. While we were walking, we got sidetracked by someone seeing on their phone the best smoothie place in Chiang Mai. After Google mapping it we realized we were close so decided to go there. Little did we know, it was in the Chiang Mai Gate market area (where we had started). After being out in the hot sun walking around, about half the group was tired and wanted to go cool off in our hotel’s pool. Two of the people in the group were staying at a different hotel in the old city, because they were in a different program, so as they were walking back, two other girls and I decided we would just walk with them so we could see more of the city and get a better idea of where everything was.

I was happy to be with people who were excited to keep exploring because I was still jittery. Their hotel was pretty centrally located inside the square so as we walked through, we got to see the tops of some temples, as well as plenty of shops and places to eat. We ended up deciding to go swimming and escape the heat for a little bit so we ended up catching a red truck back to Chiang Mai gate and walking from there. Once we got out, all we had been told was if you take a red truck van don’t pay more than 20. So, we were basically convinced that the guy was trying to rip us off when really it was us because we didn’t know it was 20 per person. It’s crazy how we often assume the other person is the bad guy versus the fact that we are just wrong.IMG_2725

After quickly changing at the hotel, walked down to the pool and after being in for only about 20 minutes it started to get cloudy, so we got out, dried off, changed, and then walked over to the market for dinner. After wandering around all the delicious looking stands, we chose to try real pad Thai. I ordered a vegetarian pad Thai, which was made with tofu. After handing over my 35 baht, my pad Thai was cooked from scratch and a heaping portion was served on a plate and handed to me. Since I was the first person to get their food, I chose a table nearby and started to eat. By the time everyone else got there, I had basically inhaled half of mine. The funnier part was that once everyone actually began eating, it started to rain that eventually turned into a full on down pour. As we looked around to find an umbrella to sit under we realized there were none left, so there were, the only people eating their food in the pouring rain. After we were done, it was raining so hard we didn’t want to walk back yet, so we sat under a tent and ordered smoothies so the lady wouldn’t kick us out.

I ordered a green tea milk smoothie and it was awesome! Also while I was looking around, my eye caught on these beautiful hand painted bracelets an older women was selling. I had to go over there to take a closer look where the lady made me try them on. I was laughing because she had to pull out the extra large sized ones she made so she could fit it over my fat hand. However, I ended up bargaining and buying 2. The best part was how happy the women looked after I made my purchase.

Shortly after, the rain cleared up to a light drizzle—our queue to leave. We had a pleasant, short walk back to the hotel and then we all decided to go to bed since we were tired.

The next morning I was up again around 7 and after I got ready, 4 of us decided we wanted to take a walk into the market to try to find someone selling fresh juice. Although I was aware of some of the things I would encounter, I was still a little shocked when I saw dead chickens piled up for purchase. That being said, I still found myself taking a picture.

The coolest thing about the morning market is watching local people purchase the food they will be eating fresh for the day—I love that concept. After venturing though the market we had not yet found someone selling fresh juice or smoothies, so we continued about a block into the square, versus just on the perimeter and found a café that sold smoothies. We decided to sit down here and order our drinks. I chose a watermelon smoothie and after it came out, you could quite literally tell that they had through chucks of watermelon and ice into it. The smoothie was so refreshing and it was crazy to think that in the US when you get a fruit smoothie it can be close to five dollars, when you actually want it made with real fruit you pay a little extra cost. Here, I paid a little over a dollar for something completely natural…. Incredible!

We walked back to the hotel, got our actual breakfast and then waited to be picked up to walk around the city again and explore temples.

IMG_2760For the temples, you have to have you shoulders and knees covered up so I was dressed in a way where I had to come to terms with the fact that I was going to be covered in sweat, but it was all worth it.

IMG_2771IMG_2736The first temple we saw was Wat Chedi Luang and at first all we saw was this beautiful white building with a golden interior and roof, which I was completely blown away by. After entering, I was in awe by the golden Buddha statue that spanned from the floor all the way to the ceiling, once again, incredible! Then once we exited the temple we went around the corner to where there was a whole bunch of other temples, as well as in the middle this temple, sort of ruin structure you could not go into. As I was walking around I was simply blown away by everything and lost for words. Everything was so beautiful and the attention to detail in the architecture was amazing. Around the perimeter of the middle structure (the one that looked like a ruin) there were different statues representing the animals of the Chinese calendar. I made a donation to the box for the rat (my symbol) in hopes of good karma—because I need all the good karma I can get.IMG_2821

After we continued to the temple next door, the Wat Phan Tao. This one was beautiful because there were hundreds of these sunflower yellow flags with a wheel symbol in the middle surrounding the area. Later I learned that this was a Buddhist flag.

IMG_2812After our afternoon visiting the temples, we went to a place for lunch where we were able to sample a variety of local dished. I tried some of this cold salad, sautéed vegetables, and these super delicious sautéed greens that were my favorite.

We then took a red truck back to the hotel to quickly grab our passports and then head to the mall where we would get our local phones.

For the mall, I can’t say I was expecting much; however, once again I was wrong. It was honestly nicer than just about every mall I have ever been to before. It had traditional mall shops as well as a level that was just like a market. When we had a chance to roam around and shop a bit, I looked the wrong way and jumped a bit when I saw a huge aquarium on the bottom floor.

Once we had our fix of the mall, we went back to the hotel and were set free for the rest of the day. We decided to go to the pool for a bit and then head to the Sunday market. There were two main roads blocked off in the middle of the old city square for the ven
dors to sell their stuff. Just about anything you wanted, you could buy here for some amazing deals. I found myself trying to bargain but then honestly stopped after coming to terms with the fact that I was paying so little for such amazing things! Plus after learning how little people make on a daily basis, I was happy to give them the money. After exploring for a bit, I found myself hungry, since I hadn’t eaten since lunch, so I found a place selling spring rolls for 10 baht each. I ordered three vegetables ones, two fried and one fresh. Simply put, these were the best spring rolls I have ever had.

IMG_2858Eventually we reached the end of the market, so it was time to head back to the hotel. At first, we thought we knew where we were going but after continuing down the road long enough we realized it was actually unfamiliar. We decided to keep walking down until we reached the end of the road.

Fortunately we were at the moat so we knew we either needed to make a left of a right to get back to the hotel. Lucky for us we chose to make a left, which brought us nicely back to the Chiang Mai gate, just from the way we had not yet explored. If we had made a right we would have ended up basically walking the entire perimeter of the square which who knows how long would have taken us. Because the two other girls I was with did not eat yet, we stopped in the market and grabbed a quick bite, and I had another delicious watermelon smoothie. The chose to grab pad Thai and it just so happened that as soon as they started to eat, it began to rain again. How ironic.

Fortunately for us, this time we were able to go under an umbrella; however, because there was a little bit of rain we still got wet. After the finished their meal we walked back to our hotel and went to bed. It was satisfying to lay in bed at the end of the day tired with sore feel because then I knew I had actually made the most out of my day.

Sorry my blogs have been late, I have been a tad busy and been forgetting to sit down and write. I hope to post about my Monday and Tuesday later tonight and then hopefully get into much more regular posts… and if you have actually made it this far in the post  commend you, this one was a little long and I hope to make them a bit shorter in the future. Today (Wednesday) I begin taking classes so I am excited to learn how to say more than how much, thank you, and hello and learn more about the culture!

Have a wonderful day!!!