Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chiang Mai and Nong Khai, Thailand, *Arielle Gout*

My study Abroad Trip in Thailand –Chiang Mai and Nong Khai

I always knew that I wanted to travel abroad in college. Having moved around my whole life, I am a huge supporter and a huge promoter of traveling to as many countries and to as many places as possible. Every country has such a distinct culture. Traveling opens your mind and enables you to learn from others. And as you learn from others, you are also able to take on and to understand different perspectives. If everyone in this world was well traveled, there probably would be greater understanding and fewer conflicts.
Being able to understand different perspectives is probably one of the most important characteristic a person should have—a person must WANT to have. Or else, who are you kidding—you are not fully appreciating some of the best stuff this earth has to offer: diversity at its core.

Originally I thought that for my junior year study abroad, I would to move to Paris for a year. However, then I remembered that although I have moved many times, I am terrible at adapting to new places. Therefore I decided that leaving for a quarter would be sufficient. Also, I decided against Paris, because as I am French and lived in France, I felt a sense of “been there, done that”. I wanted to go live somewhere REALLY different. Then I found out about a study abroad program going to Thailand through Cal Poly. Perfect. The classes would transfer easily, the program is very, very affordable, and I would be going to Thailand—a place that I would have never even considered had it not been for this program—with a bunch of Cal Poly students—that I would actually be able to see and hangout with back in San Luis Obispo. Also I knew that a couple of my friends were considering the study abroad program too. We went in and talked to the program adviser and were immediately sold on the idea.

I left for Thailand at the end of March 2010. I stayed for 9 weeks. The program itself was only 8 weeks long. To be honest, I should have stayed longer.
I traveled to Thailand with a group of four. We packed lightly. Luggage-wise, a couple of weeks prior to our departure, I bought a huge Northface duffel bag with straps I could use as a gigantic backpack. The great thing about traveling to a tropical country is that you don’t have to worry about bringing winter clothes! I filled my bag with shorts and tank tops and swimming suits…and that is pretty much all I needed.

The flight took forever—especially since we have to change planes in Taiwan. Eventually we arrived to the Bangkok International Airport, found the shuffle to the hotel we had booked prior to leaving, and before we knew it, we were riding in the back of shuttle through the streets of Bangkok. I never felt more excited. We left for Thailand a week prior to the program actually beginning. We decided that we would travel around Bangkok before figuring out a way to the Uniserf in Chiang Mai—where our program would begin.
I will always remember our first hotel. It had green walls. There was no internet. It had a pool that looked over Bangkok. And the breakfast consisted of one egg and one piece of white bread. AND everyone spoke Thai. The next morning, as we floated in the pool and read through our handy travel guide (Lonely Planet) we decided to make the most of the week we had, and impulsively decided to go another town several hours away and hike a seven pier waterfall. Our adventure began that day.

We made it to Kanchanaburi (after several taxi and bus rides), and hung out in one of the least touristy places of Thailand. We were literally one of the only white people there. I will never forget when we got caught up in the initiation of a monk, and started dancing in the middle of the parade. Or when one woman insisted on us (me and another girl with our huge bags) getting into her Tuk Tuk, and she biked us to our hotel 20 minutes away in the scorching sun—so she could make the equivalent of $5. These experiences are unforgettable.

I could go on and go with my Thailand stories. I cannot stress enough how amazing it was. Once the program began, we spent 5 weeks taking classes in Chiang Mai. We then spent 3 weeks in Nong Khai (north of Thailand right by Laos). We had to opportunity to do lots of traveling during our study abroad.. We saw the ocean, we saw national parks, we saw Laos, we saw Cambodia… We were there during the Songkram festival (when everyone celebrates water by literally having a huge water fight in the entire city of Chiang Mai), we were there during the riots in Bangkok (red shirt/yellow shirt fiasco), we ran by the Mekong river, we saw monkeys on a regular basis, we were attacked by mosquitoes, we got used to eating rice for breakfast and mango smoothies for lunch…

Of course, I did get home sick. I missed my boyfriend and my friends a lot. I hated skype because it would never work. It was very, very humid and I got sick of literally going outside for 5 seconds and being drenched with sweat, or waking up in the morning being drenched with sweat. I hated the cockroaches and the mosquitoes. And I definitely did not like being stuck in Chiang Mai for 5 weeks because of a couple of insanely easy classes, instead of having the freedom to travel around non-stop. And I missed being able to eat sandwiches. And peanut butter.

The Thais were very good to us. However, you must know how to haggle, that is for sure. It is very easy to be ripped off, ESPECIALLY in the towns or cities where the inhabitants are used to travelers. In fact, I would suggest avoiding the highly touristy places. I whole-heatedly believe that in order to get an authentic experience, you have to travel to the obscure, remote places. Places with hardly any whites. Also, it was fairly easy going around speaking English. I hardly spoke Thai and managed quite well.
Of course, as whites, we would stick out as sore thumbs. And people do steal (one of my friends on the trip got her mac computer stolen out of her own hotel room in one of the bigger island in south Thailand). Also, another group of my friends were sold fake visas when they wanted to cross the border into Cambodia. In fact, the Cambodians at the border were much more aggressive than the Thais and, in my experience, did not seem to like English speaking tourists very much.

I want to go back to Thailand. In fact, I am planning to do so next year. The best part about traveling to Thailand is that is it so close to so many other countries! I would recommend going to Vietnam (or so I have heard—one of the places I want to visit), to Vang Vieng in Laos, and DEFINITELY to Anchor Wat in Cambodia which has to be one of my favorite places ON THIS EARTH.

Studying in Thailand taught me to appreciate everything I have here in the United States. It taught me how to adapt. It taught me how to be resistant. And the beauty…is unbelievable. Pictures do not do justice the view I had of the pink bungalow nesting in the green, green jungle right by the blue ocean. Also, I learned how to drive a scoot!

If you get a chance, please go to Thailand. But be respectful of their culture. Do not be an obnoxious, loud tourist. Also, apart from the touristy areas, Thailand is does not have a night life. Be warned. The Thais work hard to make their country beautiful. Thailand is the “country of smiles”. I can confirm this saying: it is true.

I am not going to lie, after writing this, I feel especially nostalgic.


  1. Chiang Mai is my favorite place for vacation in Thailand, and I go here every year. And its never get boring for me, cause every year I found out new entertainment. For example last year I drive bike in the mountains that I rented here and it was one of the best moments of all my life.


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