I went to Chiang Rai… and all I got was an eye patch

This weekend’s adventure was to Chiang Rai, located in northern Thailand. I left Thursday night after class and took a 10-hour overnight bus ride. The ticket indicated that the ride would be much longer, so it was exciting when the bus arrived in Chiang Rai at 8 a.m. instead of later. I slept surprisingly well, thanks to my eye mask and neck pillow! After the bus ride, we headed to our house where we would be spending the weekend. We stayed at Ban Ban Homestay (and could not stop making jokes about the name).

Once our bags were dropped off at the house, we were ready to go exploring—but we stopped first to play with the owner’s adorable cat, Kepmoo. Kepmoo loved us and followed us around meowing and begging for pets the rest of our stay. Once out of the house, we stumbled upon a cute used book store, then incredible temples, and a wonderful café that made pancakes. We were all really excited about the pancakes! In the afternoon, we went to Wat Huay Plakang, a beautiful nine-story temple. We climbed to the top for a beautiful view of Chiang Rai, the mountains, and a gigantic white Buddha statue. (Since I love Buddha statues so much, I was very excited to see it!)

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On Saturday morning, we had planned to take a biking tour to the White Temple. Unfortunately, I woke up with my eye swollen shut, so ended up going to the hospital instead. I was sent from room to room, struggling to communicate what was going on to non-English speaking nurses. Finally, they put me on a hospital bed, held my head down, rinsed my eye (which was extremely uncomfortable), and administered some pain killers. I was then honored to wear a sexy eye patch, with my glasses over the bulky eye patch. (HOT! – not!) I still have no idea what was wrong with my eye, but at least after I eventually removed the eye patch, I could see (somewhat), and, thankfully, the hospital visit didn’t take up too much of the day.

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Even after the hospital and wearing an attention-drawing eye patch, I was not going to miss out on the trip. We proceeded to the White Temple and the Black House museum. The White Temple was magnificent and intricately decorated (at least from what I could tell with one eye)!

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Here we are visiting the White Temple. (Luckily, my sunglasses hid most of the eye patch!)

The Black House museum was the weirdest collection of animal bones and trippy art. At this point of the day, my pain killers made me feel completely out of it. I fell asleep in the back of the songtaew, and my friends forced me to go take a nap (which I apparently fought them on saying that I was fine and not actually tired). Later, we went to the night bazaar, which had tons of different things to buy. My depth perception was a little off, which meant I was constantly running into people, the booths, and stumbling over the uneven pavement.

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One of the 40 houses of the Black House museum. Each house was decorated in a unique way with animal skins, bones, rocks, and different pieces of art.

On Sunday morning, we flew back to Bangkok and when the flight landed, I startled awake from my position against some lady’s shoulder (OOOPS!). My nap felt great, so I didn’t mind that much—I’m sure she did though! This weekend in Chiang Rai was terrific, despite the eye patch and the hospital visit. Chiang Rai was a beautiful, quaint town, but still offered an abundance of things to do to keep busy all weekend. We wish we would have had more time to hike in the mountains, but it was great to be where it was cool and where we weren’t sweating all day (77 degrees is now apparently cold to me—I wore a sweater during the day and a sweatshirt at night).

My Chiang Rai weekend will be one that will be hard to forget!

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Wat Rong Khun, perhaps better known to foreigners as the White Temple, is a contemporary, unconventional, privately owned, art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand.

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Buddha statues –as well as memorials to the late king—are in every temple

Toes in the Water

Classes Begin

Week of January 9 – The week started off with the usual first day of school jitters as I started my semester at Mahidol University International College. Monday morning was hectic as I tried to tame my wild frizzy mess of hair (oh, the humidity here!) and iron my wrinkly uniform shirt that I’d finally pulled out of my suitcase!

The school offers a van service that picks students up from the house where we are in staying and takes us to school. I really appreciate the ride; unfortunately, on the days when I have an 8 a.m. class, this means having to be ready by 7:15 a.m.! My classes are interesting, and the amount of new people I am meeting is incredible. I met students from Germany, Australia, Kansas—and even Wisconsin!

My classes are Thai Society and Culture, Drug Use and Behavior, Literature into Film, and Economics. Each class seems like it will be fun to study—which is quite the change from the dread of studying Anatomy and Organic Chemistry last semester! I was surprised that I do not have a single Thai teacher. Instead, I have three American teachers and one from India. It is nice that I can clearly understand them, but in classes where I’m the only exchange student, I get called on often (which I’m not fond of).

Trying to find classes on Mahidol campus has proved to be difficult. The campus is the size of about four Marquette campuses combined! Campus is so large that it has trams and golf carts to take you to class—and even a large market that is held every Friday!

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Off to our first day of school at Mahidol University.

Beach Weekend

January 13-15 – Since it was only the first week of school and homework was limited, my friends and I decided that we would go to the beach. We agreed to go to Koh Larn because it was not that far away and people had said great things about it. When we were initially planning the trip, six of us were going. That number grew to 18, then shrunk to about 10, and we finally ended up having 13 people join the beach weekend. While having 13 people travel together seemed like a lot of fun, it was actually a challenge because everyone had unique opinions on what they wanted to do, where to stay, and when to leave. Hotel reservations were the most difficult to plan! In the end, we all made it work and had a great time.

We left Friday evening and took a van for about three hours to Pattaya. We spent the night in a hotel—where we had reserved three rooms, but when we got there, they only had two available! This meant having six people in one room and seven in the other. We pulled two twin beds together to accommodate three people per bed in our room. It was quite an adventure—especially since there were only four pillows in the room and no extras in the entire hotel (thank goodness my beach towel is very soft). For what we were paying ($8 total for both nights), the hotel was comfortable—and we could look past sharing beds—and dealing with a lizard that would NOT leave the room!

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Koh Larn here we come! It is a good thing we got a private van because we all are pretty loud!

In the morning, we took a ferry ride to Koh Larn. I was shocked to see hundreds of boats on the water in front of the beach. We ended up taking a bus to a different part of the island. We were greeted by sparkly blue water, the quiet lap of the waves, soft white sand, and not a lot of people. Perfect!

We swam in the water that was so clear you could see the bottom, even after you could no longer touch! The beach even had piña coladas served in real coconuts—so of course we ended up getting them (it was so worth it)!

After a full day and a sun burnt back we headed back to Pattaya.

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$2 piña coladas… I think yes!

In the evening, we went to a ladyboy cabaret because Thailand is known for them. Pattaya is known for having a large gay scene and their cabarets are raved about—so we had to see one! It was a fabulous show that included four ladyboys and an abundance of back up dancers singing and dancing for two hours. The show was free, and absolutely worth the hour of being lost while trying to find it.

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Nothing says fun night quite like watching “Tina Turner” and “Liza Minnelli,” right?

Even with a sunburnt back and nose (I look like Rudolph), it was a wonderful weekend spent with amazing friends! Pattaya certainly was very different from Salaya and Bangkok, but it was still very beautiful. It was weird that in Pattaya, you could not find a cab anywhere—and if you did, they would try to get you to pay 500 baht, when it should actually cost (if they used the meter) less than 100 baht. We were also followed around in stores when we were looking to buy things. Definitely much more touristy than Salaya, which is a wonderful place with friendly people that love it when you practice your Thai with them. Pattaya was not like that—but it was quite the experience and I’m glad I went!

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Greetings from Pattaya—a fun place to visit, but we love Salaya more!

Lessons from the Cab

Being in Thailand for only four days, everything seems exotic and strange to me. I’m running on brief periods of restless sleep on a mattress that feels like laying on a giant rock, but that’s completely okay with me because I’m so full of excitement for what’s ahead!

Every day has brought an adventure, a new skill, a new Thai word, a new challenge, and a new friend. I’m excited to speak my limited Thai to restaurant and shop workers—even if it is only hello or thank you. I also love that Thailand, the Land of Smiles, is really living up to its name. It is fun to walk down the street and have people smiling at you or if you smile at them, they smile back so genuinely.

I’ve been exploring Bangkok with my new friends—and have learned a lot from our cab rides. One lesson I’ve learned is to always ask (before even getting into a cab) if they will take you to your destination and if they will use the meter. Using the meter is extremely important or else they will try to rip you off. I have also learned that it is possible to fit five people in the back of a cab that is meant for three people! I have also, thanks to cab rides, perfected the saying of where my house is located, Putthamonton sai si, as well as left, right, and stop. Never traveling by cab before arriving here, I have become a (somewhat) natural with it.

So many people in one cab means only having to pay about 20 baht (less than one dollar) a ride!

After just a few days here, I already know that shopping will ruin me for when I have to return home. I’m able to buy adorable, quality pants for 100 baht ($2.80) and a whole meal for about 60 baht ($1.68). I already feel myself pulling back when I see something is 300-400 baht because I think that it is too expensive. With everything I have purchased—including eating out for every meal, some clothes, and other necessities, I have spent only $30! It really is a shopper’s paradise (and my friends know how much I LOVE to shop!) with enormous markets, cheap prices, and a variety of options.

So far, I have been to the Friday market at Mahidol University, the market by Central Salaya, and JJ Market. JJ Market features 8,000 different stores and is divided up into 27 different sections! There was so much to look at—and in the end, I bought several cute things. My number one purchase has been pants (which seems beyond crazy since it is incredibly hot and all I do is sweat), but looking at my mosquito bitten legs, it has become a necessity. I have the feeling that my near-the-weight-limit luggage will definitely be over the limit coming home! Hopefully, I will be able to pick it up and transport it to the airport when the time comes—but luckily, I have a long time before I need to worry about that!

Since everything has been so cheap and my friends and I are still tired from travelling and adjusting to the time difference, we decided we needed some pampering and went into Bangkok on Sunday to get massages and our nails done. We learned though that nothing is more difficult than trying to find the exact store that we all decided to go. Google Maps would say one thing and another app would say something else. We were useless to the cab driver as we travelled the busy streets of Bangkok trying to get to the destination. However, when we finally arrived, we were treated like princesses. My feet have never looked better or felt softer. A spa day was relaxing, and none of us wanted to leave because we were all enjoying being pampered. The ladies who did our nails were the nicest people and kept recommending places we need to visit around Thailand before we leave. So not only did we leave with perfectly painted nails, we also left with new weekend plans and trips to book. We are always looking for the next adventure!

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Do I Really Need to Pack the Second Jar of Peanut Butter?

I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked home after my final exam. Finally, I had time to relax, and it hit me that I was leaving for Thailand in few days. I must finish my packing! As I trudged through the nearly deserted Marquette campus, I pulled my parka closer to warm myself from the falling snow and sharp wind of the season’s first winter storm. Thankfully, my winter parka would not be accompanying me to Thailand. Goodbye winter clothes… hello shorts and sandals. In my dorm room, my belongings were packed and ready to go home. Finals were over! Now it was time to face the daunting task of packing for my trip abroad.

I’d actually been preparing lists, buying necessities, and planning what to pack for several weeks. Back at home, I pulled out two suitcases and began filling them with summer clothes and the required school uniform for Mahidol International University. Shoes, make-up, hair products, rain gear, camera, peanut butter, Starbursts and Skittles, granola bars, another jar of peanut butter – the suitcases filled up so quickly! Finals seemed easy compared to packing everything I wanted into two measly suitcases.

Since I would be wearing a uniform to school, I didn’t have to pack quite as many clothes. But packing the clothes for my anticipated weekend adventures was still difficult (who knows, I might need my sparkly blue dress!). If I’m there for 14 weeks, that’s 98 days, of which I’ll be in classes (i.e. wearing said uniform) 56 days, leaving 42 free days to explore. Ten to 15 extra outfits should be enough, right? And for lazy days, I need my hammock (hey, it folds up really small!). Yes, it all fits! My final consideration was to make sure I had enough space to bring home souvenirs. Do I really need two jars of peanut butter? Well, I’ll eat them both which will free up space in my suitcases for the trip home. My plan should work.

Despite making numerous lists and unpacking and repacking everything three times, I still feel that I may be forgetting something. I fear that I’ll forget something important and I won’t be able to find it in Thailand. And if that happens, will my mom ship it to me or will I have to do without it? Hopefully, this feeling is just nerves about flying across the world.

I’m excited that my adventure in Thailand begins shortly! Being home for Christmas has been a nice break, but I’m sick of the cold and snow. I’m willing to trade the cold for the Thailand heat, even if it means my curly hair will frizz and my makeup will melt. I’m ready for a change. I’m ready to experience a new country and make new friends! And I’m ready to ditch my heavy parka until next winter!

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Everything fits in two suitcases – too bad there isn’t enough room for my cat!