Chiang Mai. The place I am blessed to call home.
This city is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on this planet. Never-ending green mountains, smiling people, and a rich cultural history of Buddhist temples and spirit houses.
I’ve been in Chiang Mai for about 26 days. It has taken me that long to process all the new thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc. I have had so far. I get nervous when I sit down to write about this majestic place because I can only hope to do it justice! The English language can only go so far, and pictures will have to make up for the rest :)
The last leg of the trip on the train was beautiful. The whole window was filled with an overwhelming vivid green from the lush vegetation. I was still a little tired, but couldn’t stop watching this majestic scene. We finally arrived at the station, well rested and filled with excitement to be settled down and beginning our real adventure. Within minutes we were in a red truck, hauling our luggage to our hotel, and what would turn out to be our apartment.
After that night on the island and another night on the train, we were ready for something clean, with fresh air and a tad bit of normalcy. The V-Residence was more than we could have asked for. We spent the day walking up Huay Kaew road, finding out where everything was. We discovered that campus wasn’t that far of a walk, and that there were plenty of places to eat and shop on this side of town. The second day we did major damage, walking for about five hours all around the streets that surround the university, scouring each apartment building for a good deal. So many places had no vacancy, and the nicer ones were much too expensive. Considering the walk to campus, Suthep Road seemed a little too far away. Suthep Road is completely filled with street vendors, which we liked, but the neighborhoods were kind of sketchy. [We’ll probably go eat there some nights, but we haven’t yet haha]. We walked all the way over to Nimmanhaemin, passed the Uniserv Hostel, and found nothing but “High-So” (High-Socitey, a “slang” term in Thai) places. After a red taxi ride back (our feet were dead), and consideration of our options, we settled on staying at the V-Residence. It was the second USAC option, after all, and met all our standards (not that we had many). The following day we packed up, ate lunch, and waited for our contracts to be ready. After signing them nervously, considering everything was in Thai and we couldn’t exactly read it, we were handed our keys! We moved all of our stuff two stories up and checked out of our old rooms. We officially had an apartment!
Since the apartment was just a bare room, we had to go on an adventure to find bedsheets, towels, etc. We took a red truck to Big C supermarket and shopped all day in “Home Pro”. After buying a bed set, towels, hangers, a rug (that Fou is really proud of), clothes pins, laundry detergent, and cleaning supplies, we actually hadn’t spent all that much! (Although it seemed like a lot at the time). We ate, and came back to unpack and set up the room. Decisions were hard, since everything is in Thai, and calculating the exchange rate gets exhausting. I already take a long time to decide in the States, where there are just too many options, but then adding the fact that I couldn’t read the options made it that much harder! We had to be careful not to buy any toiletry products with a whitening agent, since that is extremely popular here. [A note on the whitening – some Thai people are so worried about getting dark skin that they will wear hoodies and sweaters in the heat, just so that their skin doesn’t see the sun!] Finally being able to unpack was such a relief!
There were three days until USAC Orientation, so we explored “our” side of the city. Just down the road is an outdoor shopping market called Malin Plaza. Since it is near CMU, all the products are aimed at college age students. The clothes are hip and stylish, as well as the shoes, belts, sunglasses, etc. A little past the plaza, right across the street from the Northgate of campus, are uniform shops. We bought a few sets of uniforms for the upcoming week, facing our embarrassment as we tried on larger and larger sizes. The shop owners laughed at our expense, but mainly at the boys. Even though we’re all average size people, I guess it’s true that Americans are just simply bigger. Haha!
On Saturday, the boys went on a fishing trip, so us girls had a day to ourselves. We started it off right with a traditional Thai massage – around only $6 for a full hour! It was a great way to relax. The ladies really work your muscles, using their elbows, knees, and feet to dig deep! It was a little painful, but my body felt amazing afterward! I could really feel the release of the knots I always get in my shoulders – I plan to return again soon ;) We ended up having lunch afterward, and sitting and talking for a couple hours. After that, we took a walk through campus to find the “CMU Shop” where we wanted to buy belt buckles and whatnot. A guy approached us outside the shop asking where we came from. He was a Korean student, traveling before attending his next semester at UC Davis! Such a funny coincidence. The shop closed, so we headed back through and noticed tons and tons of students on campus. Since it was a Saturday, we were curious what was going on. After talking to a few Thai students (this took a lot of courage considering we hadn’t met anyone yet), we discovered that this was their sort of orientation between students of the same major. The seniors bought food to share with the “freshies” and they all met each other – such a great feeling of community within a large university! We attempted talking to some more people before eventually just heading back home.
Monday rolled around and there we were, in our uniforms and on campus, meeting everyone else for the first time. Everyone was happy and excited, and the presentations were interesting. We learned a few things about Thai culture, about the surrounding areas, and simple tips & tricks to live here. I noticed my Wanderlust returning as they talked about historic ruins in Sukhothai and about the recent reopening of Burma. I became enthusiastic about volunteering opportunities, and plan to take part in a lot. Everything that I was dreaming of before I left California would be coming to reality soon, and I was ready to get started!
After two days of classes, we were excited for our reception dinner. It was “Kantoke” style, in which dinner is served first and followed by traditional performances. USAC paid for our dinner, which was really tasty! We had sticky rice with fried bananas, as well as steamed rice with a table full of different meats, curries, soups, and peppers – and we could ask for more of whatever dish we wanted! The performances to follow told the history of Thailand, including the representation of the hill tribes. The music was played by the performers as well, and at the end, they invited us up to attempt Thai dancing. Ka and I were really nervous, but joined the huge group of USAC students on stage. We danced around the circle, moving our hands in the traditional movements. It was fun, even though I wasn’t very good at it, haha.
We were extremely excited for the field trip on the upcoming Saturday, where we would visit the elephants, the tigers, and the temple on top of the mountain, Doi Suthep. But, until then, we had two more days of classes to attend!