UPDATE: I have decided to stop neglecting my blog

WordPress has informed me that I have been neglecting my blog…which I was content with until I realized that I was neglecting my loyal followers!!! Luckily my followers are behind on reading my blog posts so it all has worked out!  This is a post so I can inform everyone about the really cool trips I have been taking. Additionally so the people my grandparents coerce into reading this have something current browse!  In case this quick overview of six-ish weeks is too long for you, I have putwhat I feel is most important in bold print.

The Sticky Waterfall

There is a waterfall that is sticky!  I climbed it and had some fun in the sun.

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Chiang Dao

We went on an IPSL trip to Chiang Dao!  City of the stars!  It was the longest hour and a half bus ride of my life. Never have I ever had to pee so badly!!! Once that was resolved we stayed in a beautiful hotel called The Nest, at an awesome western dinner, went to a music festival, saw to a cave temple AND wore robes!

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Ayutthaya

On Valentines Day we had a long weekend and Ally took me to Ayutthaya (The former capital of Thailand) for a 3 day stay!  It was a belated birthday present, and the sights were unreal…the town not so impressive. Regardless I can say it was an unforgettable Valentines Day weekend that got funnier and funnier. It will give me laughs for many V-Days to come. I would suggest a day trip if you are in Bangkok and want to escape to see some history for ONE day! I gained some great traveling experience riding the overnight bus and train!  This Buddha in the tree is the most famous attraction in the ancient city.

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PAI

Pai, pronounced Bye is this really small backpacker town in the north. People fall in love with it and spend weeks of their time traveling there.  A massive group of us went and stayed in a 30 person dormer with bunk beds and lofts.. it was like summer camp!!! The first night there, on the one main street in this small town I ran into someone I went to high school with!  What are the chances right?? 

My hostel was having a BBQ, so being the polite, warm, and genuine person I am I invited him to come.  Great guy nothing but friendly and it was nice to see someone from home, but… he proceeded to get really drunk, talk my ear off about his travels and later in town trip over a dog.  Let’s Go Foxes.

For the sake of his dignity I will keep his name to myself…and everyone I have told in conversation and private social media groups. If that person happens to be reading this:

1. PLEASE continue to follow my blog—need the readership!

2. I have told this story to countless backpackers in the kindest and most comical way, I have gotten many laughs and it is a traveling story I will continue to share for years to come. 

3. You also almost got hit by a car, but I leave that part out!

4. THX 4 THE MEMS!

I also went on a bike ride with a few friends outside of the town.  There was a reason the bikes were under a dollar.  Thank goodness there was no one on the road!  There were no gears and bad brakes sounded like a raccoon dying, a swarm of crows, a train screeching to a halt, and a stadium of screaming 12-year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert all at once.  It was a fun day in the sun. The next day I went for a hike in search of a waterfall!!!

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Chiang Mai Modeling Agency

My big break! I did a short modeling stint for a Thai girl that approached me.  My new friends name is Typhoon and she needed help with her Senior Art Thesis.  Being tall and blonde here gets me so much positive attention!  Look how funny my eyebrows look!

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Typhoon and her friends are so funny, we went to a grill dinner and I introduced them to coke floats (apparently Thai’s don’t like root beer, but they love sugary drinks!). They were nervous to try it, but they LOVED it! Note the use of chopsticks.

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Buffalo Training Camp

I jumped on a buffalo, pushed a plow in a circle, ruined my 4th field of rice in Thailand, fanned rice..I think it was separating it?, and while crushing rice I was told I would make an excellent rice farmers wife (due to my crushing technique). It was a fun activity.  Mostly I just think this picture of me on a buffalo makes me look fun, adventurous, and cool.

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Koh Samet

Had a weekend getaway on an island that Bangkokians like to vacation on! I went with a group of girls and we had a blast! I hung out on the beach, worried about the sun, got thrown in the water by a group of teenage Thai boys while fully clothed, our group set of a lantern on the beach (with some guy that would be a great candidate to eliminate first on the next Bachelorette—you would love to hate him!), and I picked up a new hobby: taking pictures of people taking pictures on the beach. This hobby has blossomed into a focus on tourism in general. We had a bit of a stressful journey..the driver dropped us at the train station not the bus station.  We then took a taxi and felt like we were racing the streets of Bangkok.  Look for us in Bangkok Drift.  Below is a glamorous picture of the crew looking sun kissed and thrilled to finally be at the bus station!

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A concluding note

I love traveling and seeing everything that Thailand has to offer, but I am always excited to come “home” to Chiang Mai. I value my weeks and weekends spent here just as much as my opportunity to travel. From roaming the Old City, to being a regular a my favorite restaurants Penny’s and Wan Waan, knowing my way around town, and socializing with my Thai friends these are my experiences that do not all have stories. It is my life right now and I love that I get to be a “local.” I have immersed myself in the culture and the happenings of Chiang Mai and its so cool!!!

 

 

Putting full faith Sang Taos

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This is a sang tao.  Sometimes my best friend, sometimes my worst enemy.  Sang taos are the main form of transportation in and around Chiang Mai.  I can get most places for about 20 baht!  Which is awesome.  Except because I am a farang  (foreigner) they tend to try to rip me off.  Luckily I now know a few key terms and numbers in Thai to get me where I want to go! Most of the time.

This brings me to the first time I had to find transportation alone.  The program that I am apart of is called IPSL, my classmates and I all have a service placement which we attend 5-10 hours a week. I am now working for and organization called Grandma Cares.  It’s a really cool organization that sponsors under privileged families so their children can receive an education (check it out here if you are interested in learning more).  Every Monday and Wednesday I spend my days teaching first to sixth graders English at the Mae Yong School. Never in my life, not even once have I thought I would like to be a teacher. The majority of my students come from Burma, and do not understand anything I am saying.  Which is cool, I literally could teach them ANYTHING and they would have to believe me.  However I understand with power over 50 young minds comes great responsibility, so we play a lot of games.  The goal is simply conversational English.  Which is lucky for me because I never have, and never will understand grammar.  I still can say teaching will not be my journey in life, but I get to be the center of attention for 2 hours, the students clap for me, and I teach them PG rated college games.  I also will be doing administrative work for Grandma Cares so stay tuned to see the newsletter I am designing!

 Now let us return to my struggle with foreign transportation.  It’s my first day on the job.  I hail down a Song Tao driver.  He tells me its too far.  My directions are go to the Warrorot Market then I have to change taxis and get another to “The Big C Extra” (Extra is a key word here).  After hailing down 5 or 6 I finally found someone to take me to the market.  And only for 20 baht! After being in the truck for while, I get to the old city and panic that he is taking me the wrong place.  In reality I have no clue where I am going.

 I had been anxious about making this journey on my own for a few days.  I was sitting there just psyching myself out.  It had been 7 minutes.  He was absolutely taking me to the wrong place.  I miss pronounced my Thai tones and I was going to end up in Bangkok.  I had to get out.  So I bailed. I jumped out of the moving vehicle.  I launched myself from the back ledge and landed in the moat. Then I wandered aimlessly around Chiang Mai, soaking wet with gashes from my dramatic exit.

 OK more like I pressed the buzzer, paid him and thanked him.  I knew I was wrong the second he gave me a sly smile and drove away.  I wandered around, and whipped out my iPad which held detailed directions.  It definitely did not make me look like a local.  As if my fair skin, blonde hair and towering height is not a dead give away.  It completely zeroed my cool level and upped the price of my taxi.  That’s when I realized why Ally has been making fun of me.  Don’t get me wrong, having an iPad is SO cool.  Walking around aimlessly in the most touristy area of Chiang Mai (or anywhere in public) with your iPad is not cool. Lesson learned.  I eventually found another red truck and I was happy to get to Grandma Cares on time to eat my lunch then go meet my third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders.  That’s when I made the decision to always trust the drivers.  They know the city better than I do.

 I went into Wednesday so much more confident with my newfound trust in sang tao drivers. I flagged a driver down, he took me to the market and I felt great!  I picked up some fresh fruit for my lunch and went on my merry way to find a driver.  When you say something that is a little further away they just laugh at you.  So that happened a few times then someone finally agreed to take me to the “Big C EXTRA.”  And I talked him down to a more reasonable price in Thai!

 When I got out of the sang tao I thought this looks different, but it must be right.  WRONG!  I was at the Big C. NO EXTRA.  This is when I realized I should probably not put full trust in them. The reality is it was not that far off but enough that I was taken to the wrong place after saying EXTRA!!!!  Luckily, Miss Hope, who runs the program and is SO sweet, and she came to pick me up.  The rest of the day went swimmingly and I taught my Wednesday class of adorable first and second graders greetings (They think shaking hands is the funniest concept in the world!)

 Hopefully tomorrow will go much better!!!!  I am highly confident that I will get there tomorrow for a decent price, and with no problems!  (I am saying this because I have arranged a driver to get me there in one piece, on time and for a good price!!!!)

Winter in the Village

In the months leading to my departure I had this feeling..I would go as far to call it a fear… that Thailand would be experiencing the coldest spring semester since before this great nation was called Siam.  Some told me this was an irrational fear.  I was told “Pegeen, it will be unbearably hot!” and “You will never stop sweating.”

Well people let ME tell YOU this fear has become my reality.  The Thai’s are wearing down coats. Even Alessio, the 17 yr old Italian on my program said it was true.  He is wise beyond his years and has already been here a semester!!!! So I believe him.  I wake up in the morning and it is between forty and sixty degrees fahrenheit (have to clarify that here)…sure it will peak in the high eighties possibly nineties during the day..enough time to get some quality sun… but it cools right back off at night!!!!  I get that the US is experiencing the coldest temperatures in years.  I get that it is -15 degrees in Canton, NY…but it is always -15 degrees in Canton!!!!!  People I will be slightly chilled in the evenings for at least another two weeks!  All I am saying is the cold is more shocking when you do not expect it!!!!

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Look how beautiful, spiritual, and COLD Olivia looks while we were at the Buddhist rice offering!!!!!

What’s even more shocking than these artic-tropical tempatures is finding yourself in a rural rice farming village in Northern Thailand during the third week of January.  Which is exactly where I found myself last week. My program took us to the scenic Baan Ton Chok for a five-day rural homestay.  It was so beautiful.  Look at these pictures.

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I have made the assumption that this is the “Welcome to Baan Ton Chok” sign… but who knows…

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There were mountains everywhere I looked!

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Nobody in the village spoke a word of English, and I still speak virtually no Thai (I just had my first class today though!!!! Learning LOTS!!!).  So again I had to resort to my stellar non-verbal communication skills, and my Thai friend Nong who was in my homestay and was the superstar translator for the week!

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There she is.  What a gem!

 Helpful tips to any non-Thai speakers planning a trip to a Northern Thai Village (I know a lot of you out there are!!!!)

 1.     Small Children: They are easily amused by you.  They only laugh a little when you cannot pronounce something.  A three year old, like my pal Guitar is a gr8 teacher!!!!  And if you occupy their time the host family likes you even more.  Out of the three girls at my house I secured the second favorite spot by playing with Guitar (girl not instrument).  Would have won if it weren’t for a native Thai speaker.

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Guitar, my Thai language superior

2.     Food: If you do not like sticky rice.  Eat it and weep.  Eat everything, no matter how much weird fish there is because it is polite and the majority of the time is so good!!!  I learned to ask what things are, most of the time I did not remember..but I pointed and they told me the name, had me repeat it and then I just would smile!  Such an easy, not confusing conversation!!!  I learned how to say I am full, and thank you this is delicious.  You can get by without anything else, and you will need to tell them you cannot fathom another bite of rice.  That is, until the next meal.

3.     Laughter: I laughed at myself, a lot.  Mostly because they were laughing at me..in the sweetest way possible!  I too would think it was funny if 30 foreign students came into my village and could only say hello (incorrectly) and walked around bowing at everyone.  We might have been overly culturally conscious…Everyday I found myself wondering what they did other than plant rice and eat.  My answer came to me during another chat with the wise 17 year old.  They laugh.  They laugh at each other, laugh together, and they laugh at sticky rice.  One night when we were hanging around a bonfire watching the sticky rice cook (a rice villages version of s’mores) my host dad brought me some bamboo sticky rice.  When he opened it up the entire thing was black.  SO BURNT!  We both started to laugh.  He just about fell over laughing, which made me laugh even more.  I think that was the only time we were completely on the same page.  Laughter allowed us to cross multiple cultural barriers.  I realized they are simple people who love to laugh, and really love rice.

 Here is a list of everything I did/ happened to me during my 5 day stay in the Village:

 Planted Rice

Looked confused a lot

Tried to teach a group of 7th and 8th graders English

Then we posed for a photo opp

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 Learned how to make organic fertilizer

Ate rice for 3 square meals a day (with other things but a lot of rice)

Ate sticky rice from a bamboo shaft and dipped it in condensed milk for desert

Ate sticky rice with banana in a banana leaf (white and dark rice #variety)

Cooked sticky rice over a bonfire

Spent a lot of time trying to figure out the family dynamics (Still very unsure-except Host Mom and Dad)

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Stood under a cold waterfall

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Learned to value central plumbing

Swam in a hot spring

Boiled eggs in the same hot spring

Jumped rope 67 times in a row

Rode around in the back of pick-up trucks

Went to a Rice Offering at the Temple

Sang karaoke at the school with Olivia- beautiful rendition of September.

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Became BFFs with an elderly woman at Temple (what can I say old people love me)

Looked at the mountains a lot.  So pretty

I ate a cricket with Olivia

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Found a delicious Thai cookie

Took really cold showers

Watched chickens walk in and out of the house

Played with a puppy

Watched a Thai dance performance

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 Laughed

Took a lot of naps

Sent off lanterns with our host families

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Me showing my mad hops in the middle of a rice field (while wearing a fleece)

It was a great week, and now time to get into the swing of classes!

New stuff 4 my resume

Today, while I was bathing an elephant, a Burmese man told me to stand up and jump on the stomach of the elephant “like a trampoline.”  I did it, and it was like jumping on an elephant shaped trampoline.  Then I fell into the water.  Then I did it again.  I love elephants.

Skills acquired: Non-verbal communication (Elephant and Burmese man), can properly bathe an elephant (learned quickly), found new hobby (interested in trying new things) & cooperated well with supervisor (Burmese elephant trainer).

Hit me up if you are looking for an intern this summer with these skills!  They transfer well into all fields of work!!!!

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I am in THAILAND

37 hours of travel can really wear a girl out!  From San Francisco to Seoul to Singapore to the final destination of Chiang Mai all I could think was “WOW I love Singapore Airlines!” I took a great amount of pleasure while sipping on a FREE glass of wine, knowing that it was the last time I would ever have an illegal drink!!! Take that society.  Also I might have been pondering the fact that I had no clue what I was doing, where I was living, and mostly how I had not exactly mastered the Thai language…(Don’t worry, I now know 2 phrases! “Hello” and “Thank You”).  But really I thought a lot about how lovely Singapore Airlines was…Grandma as per usual you were right, it is an experience! The flight attendants were very attentive, poised and beautiful!

When I arrived to the Chiang Mai airport my Thai roommate Jenny was there to greet me.  We took a taxi to our dorm, which has two rooms, a bathroom, a shower, and a balcony!!! Then after I settled in a bit we went on an adventure through Chiang Mai first to a meal with her friends then to the Thai version of Walmart.  After finding some bedding she took me to the snack section, if I could read Thai numbers I would tell you, but I know it was an isle with a lot of nuts where it hit me. Culture shock.

Those stupid study abroad charts said it would happen, but I really did not think it would.  I wandered aimlessly trying to find something that looked familiar feeling very anxious.  I could not find anything, and then told my roommate I did not want anything (granted I do that a lot in American Walmart too, decisions overwhelm me).  The she said I really should buy something.  So I wandered more.  It was a weird experience, I was in the minority, I don’t speak the language, I am in a very foreign place, and I did not understand the baht conversion! (Now I do though, 30 baht = $1…really cool. Each meal I have had has been under 45 baht. That’s what a college student abroad likes to hear..more money to travel with!) Back to the Thai Walmart like place.  After almost crying at the comforting site of M&Ms, I left with 2 snack size pistachio packs and 2 oranges.  Jenny helped my get a cell phone and then we made our way back to campus.  When I got back to my room I saw some very well adjusted foreign students, which was very comforting knowing that soon it will be me!

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(Not a gr8 photo, but the view from outside my dorm! There is a Wat up there!)

It’s the first morning here and I have already explored, ordered my own breakfast, and now understand baht. Things are looking up!  Not to mention how incredibly beautiful this place is.  Chiang Mai is considered the cultural capital of Thailand, surrounded by mountains and a lot of wats!  I cannot wait to explore more!

So I know you all have been thinking this whole time “Amazing. Pegeen is so independent and cool, traveling to an unknown land all by herself.”  And that would be really cool.  After a confusing taxi ride and my very overwhelming, culture shock of a trip to the Thai Walmart, and my inability to order food on my own, I am thrilled that I have 2 travel companions (Pictured below).  Enter Ally and Olivia.  Ally, my trusty travel companion and best friend, and I flew all the way from Seattle to Chiang Mai where we met up with the super cool and fun Olivia who arrived that night.  The three of us are pals back at St. Lawrence and have already dropped the “I wish Chloe was here” bomb about fifty times.  Chloe is our really cool friend who brought us all together and will be studying in D.C. for the semester.

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(Ally and Olivia at our first breakfast!)

I will be here for the next 4 months.  Chiang Mai will be my home as I study at Chiang Mai University and travel everywhere I possibly can in Southeast Asia. I will do my best to take pictures and keep everyone up to date about all the adventures I am going on! Also to all those worriers out there, cough cough Grandma and Aunt Marie and Alex Spencer… this seems like a very safe city, minus the motorbikes which are EVERYWHERE.  Love from the opposite side of the world!