First, I’d like to apologize for not blogging until now! I’m sure you all have been looking forward to hearing about my adventures, so I hope I can do them justice with my writing! It has taken a while to get everything settled down with the internet and class timing and all, so I’m excited to finally have this time to blog. I have been in Thailand for 20 days, and have experienced so much! I’ll start from the beginning and work my way chronologically up!
(Sorry, these first few posts will be long, so try to stick through them with me – I’d appreciate it!)
Just a little introduction about myself – I am a junior at Chico State University in Northern California. I am studying abroad with the USAC program in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the academic year of 2012-2013, so I will be living here until May 2013. I am here with many other American students, as well as one from Sweden, and one from Colombia. I already knew five of the students, so we traveled together in Thailand for a week before our program started. One of them is my boyfriend, Fou Linh. He is Mien (from the Yao Tribe in Northern Thailand) and a senior at Chico State. The other four attend Chico State as well.
I departed from San Francisco, California on August 16. Saying goodbye to my family was hard, but I was so excited to begin this journey. After about ten hours in the air, watching movies and having dinner (no sleeping because the flight was at 2:30 pm and I wasn’t tired until the end) we landed in Seoul, South Korea. I landed here last time we visited Thailand, so the airport was sort of familiar, but we weren’t there for long. We went through customs and found our terminal, bought a water bottle and were boarding the plane again. This time, it was only about five hours to Singapore. I slept the entire time. When we landed in Singapore, it was around midnight, local time. We checked our boarding pass for Bangkok only to discover the flight wasn’t until 3pm! How we didn’t notice this when booking the flight, I have no idea, but some fun was in store for the next fifteen hours!
Of course, considering the time, we had to be stuck in the airport for the whole layover. If we had been brave and ventured out, most everything would have been closed. It was sad, but we embraced one of the many study abroad mottos: just go with it. Our first mission off the plane was to eat. We had some noodles and paid with US Dollars, but the change was given in Singapore Dollars – we confused the waiters, and the money confused us. But I think we walked away unscathed ;) we then explored the airport – this place was huge. We had to take a skytrain to our terminal, so we did that and found some lounges to hang out and use the internet. Our internal clocks were pretty confused at this point, so we tried to find the sleeping lounge (yes, they had those). Sam asked a man riding a Segway, and he acted like he understood her. She rode with him while the rest of our group followed behind. Every lounge he showed us was full, yet he still asked for a tip. That was strange to us, considering he worked at the airport. We ended up finding different places throughout the airport to sit/sleep. Including the ground for a long time (I don’t know why – we could have easily found somewhere to sit I’m sure, but that’s what happens when you’re delirious on a layover). Eventually, we slept in these super comfortable chairs (they weren’t that great, but when you’re exhausted, they’re wonderful), killing a lot of our time. After eating once more, we were ready to go through customs again and board the plane to Bangkok!
A very short flight to Bangkok was over before we knew it. We even had a meal on this quick ride! But finally we landed, around 6pm local time. Stepping off of the plane, we were greeted by a wall of humidity. That’s when I knew I was in Thailand ;) We got our passports checked and stamped, grabbed our luggage, and met Ka’s cousins, who graciously helped us find a taxi. Eight people and eleven pieces of luggage fit into two Toyota Corolla taxis, and we were finally on our way to stable ground for a long time.
Bangkok is a bustling, busy, crowded, culturally confused city. The temples are mixed in with modern skyscrapers and malls. Hut-like houses are right across the street from high-rise apartments with million dollar penthouses. It is extremely Westernized, yet maintains rich Buddhist history. It is a city that amazes me, pushes me away with confusion and lures me back with excitement. Although I didn’t get to do everything I wanted within our short time in Bangkok (like visit the Grand Palace) I feel like I got a good enough overview of the city. We took a boat down the canal for only ten Baht to then walk to MBK (the HUGE, eight story shopping mall). Of course, the walk was much longer than expected. The manager of the hotel told us about ten minutes, but, as Thai people are very polite and don’t want to offend you in any way, a “Thai ten minutes” is definitely much longer!
After two nights in Bangkok we ventured out to a nearby island, Koh Samet. We stored our luggage at the hotel in Bangkok and only took backpacks, since we were only staying one night. The bus ride there took forever, picking people up off the side of the road and dropping them off in the most random places. Upon arrival to the “pier” we bought speedboat tickets to take us to Koh Samet in only about 10-15 minutes (much better than an hour on the ferry). Soon enough our feet were in the sand and we were on the hunt for our hotel. After taking a truck taxi there, we discovered it was not exactly what we had imagined for a brand new building.
Down a long, narrow dirt road with a multitude of shacks and old buildings was our brand new hotel. It stuck out like a sore thumb in appearance, sure, but what we experienced inside could be expected from the surroundings. Luckily, we were just staying one night and it was cheap! Only $16 (USD) for a room with a fan (no air-con). We planned to only be in the room when we slept, so it didn’t seem to be a problem. We stayed on the beach all day, eating, and swimming in the warm, salty water. At night we ate some more and watched fire shows, as well as released our own paper lanterns to float away somewhere in the sky. Unfortunately, that night when we went home to shower, we were welcomed by smelly, murky water in the toilet and the sink. The shower seemed okay, so we quickly washed, just enough to feel clean. The fan wasn’t enough to keep us cool, so we woke up sticky and our room smelled like the gross water. We left early that morning, ate some breakfast, and were back on our way to Bangkok – only two hours in the van this time, and we slept the whole way.
We took the Skytrain back to the station near our hotel and got a taxi back. We arranged for the driver to take us to the train station as well, and he agreed to even pack in all of our luggage (which was A LOT). Eventually, six people and eleven pieces of luggage were on their way to the station! We were one step closer to Chiang Mai – and the driver even helped us buy our tickets. We went to a travel agency because you’re supposed to buy the tickets in advance. Since we hadn’t, they had to find cancellations for us and charge a small fee. We didn’t mind though because it was only a few dollars and we had to get to Chiang Mai soon! We bought our tickets for the sleeper train, only about $30 (USD) each, then waited for our call time. We stopped by 7-11 (which are around every corner, literally) and got some snacks for the long ride ahead of us. Chiang Mai was so close!
We started the trip by hanging out in one of the bunk’s rooms, so we could all talk together. We told stories and reflected on what we had seen and experienced so far. It’s neat to hear other people’s views on something you also experienced yourself. Finally, we slept, and awoke to windows full of lush, bright greenery. It was a beautiful sight to welcome us into Chiang Mai. We arrived on August 22, and were ready to settle down for a while!