Thailand: Thoughts and Tips

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I just returned from—dare I say it again—one of the best trips of my life. Brian, Sierra and I ventured around Thailand for seven days to do so many incredible things, from bathing rescued elephants to grabbing sushi from a local market. I have to say the best thing from the trip was seeing my plans turn into reality as well as my confidence in navigating one of the most culturally and linguistically different places I have ever been all by myself. I feel nothing but proud of myself for handling the whole trip, with little input but large encouragement from my friends, and gratitude that I was able to explore a small part of Asia. If I never left America again, I would not be able to complain.

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Outside of the Grand Palace

 

Since I won’t be posting about day-to-day activities of the trip for a while, I laid out some of the things I noticed during my Thai explorations.

1. Bangkok is not pedestrian friendly

Unlike many European cities where you can walk between famous spots fairly easily, there is no walking from humongous and ornately decorated Buddhist temple to the next in Bangkok, unless you’re prepared to do a very large amount of walking.

Also, people warned me that the only way to cross the street in Bangkok is to walk into the traffic, and the cars will simply swerve around me. I pictured the scene from Mulan when the grandmother walks across the bustling street with one hand over her eyes and the other holding a lucky cricket. However, I do not believe running in front of the traffic is completely necessary, most of the time.

2. Bangkok is not automobile friendly

I have never seen so much bumper to bumper traffic in my life. If you want to drive in Bangkok, you better have exceptionally high patience and no where to be, because just getting from one side of the city to the other will take over an hour. Your best bet is to hop on a motorbike or the BTS (sky train).

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3. BTS is the best

The sky train (basically the subway, but above ground) is reliable, cheap and easy to figure out. It is also clean and seems to run almost all the time with very little issues with service. Why does every major city have better public transport than NYC?

4. English is not popular

I was shocked by the amount of people who did not understand English. However, this is Asia, not western Europe. The people who did know enough English to communicate with me, though, were usually willing to help.

Tip: Have the address you need to get to in the Thai language or the taxi driver will most likely not be able to read the address you show them.

5. I felt safe

My grandparents will like this one. We originally planned to holiday in Bali, but we know several people who got mugged there and had unpleasant experiences. I expected Thailand to be slightly sketchy, but not as bad. To my surprise, I was completely wrong. I was never out at late hours of the night, but I always felt safe in Thailand, even when the sun went down.

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In the jungle

6. There is more to Thailand than Bangkok

I knew Thailand has beautiful beaches and waters, but I still always pictured Bangkok as the country’s main attraction. However, a good tour and a single day in Bangkok is all one needs. There is so much wilderness in Thailand to explore; just going to Bangkok gives the country no justice.

I could go on and on about my scratch-of-the-surface observations about Thailand, but that will have to wait for my later posts. Khob Khun Kaa (thank you) Thailand, for welcoming me with your beautiful sights, mouth-watering food and friendly people.

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Oz: Game Time

I believe I just encountered the most relaxed weekend of my semester here so far. My weekend consisted of a mix of homework and night adventures in Northbridge for some time away from my piles of work.

However, Sunday ended up being a great day to experience some Australian culture: I attended an Australian Football League game. Australian football/Aussie rules/footy is played on an oval field with a whopping 18 members per team trying to kick the oval-shaped ball between two tall goal posts. Players can kick, throw and run with the ball. My best way to describe it is a mix between American soccer and football.

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Apparently AFL is hugely popular in Western Australia specifically. It is usually more difficult to enjoy a sport while unaware of the rules, but I had a fantastic time spectating and rooting for the Fremantle Dockers, despite the rain that fell most of the time. On the bright side, we won! For some reason, I only had a slight idea of attending an Australian sporting event while here, and I am not sure why I did not make it more of a priority. I am so thankful that Murdoch University Village snatched some student-priced tickets!

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To end the night (and put off homework), my roommate and I enjoyed some churros and hot chocolate for dinner at San Churro, which is where I ate for my birthday. I was not planning on going out, but I knew that the next 10 school days would be a scramble trying to complete two projects and two papers before my next scheduled trip, so I thought I would treat myself. Can you guess where I am going next?

Thoughts on Turning 21: Continued

If you told me I would be celebrating my 21st birthday in Australia, I would have deemed you crazy. While I was in Italy last summer, another person on the trip celebrated his 21st birthday at the Amalfi Coast, and I thought about how grand it must be to celebrate your birthday in such a fantastic place. Little did I know that I would get to feel exactly what it is like a year later (it feels awesome).

I already gushed about how incredible the past year has been in a previous post, and touched on the fact that I felt so lucky this birthday, but I really just need to explain how fortunate I truly feel. I have never felt rich as many times as I have in the last few months in my entire life. This is not rich with money, of course, but rich with friends and happiness.

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Birthday dinner

When I planned my trip toAustralia, I did not intend to do anything for my birthday. I thought everyone can already drink and I will be with people I just met, so why would it matter? Well, my friends showed me it mattered.

First, I am one of the luckiest people ever because I get to celebrate such an important day in such an incredible place. I’m in Australia, baby!

Second, my friends made it clear that I would not be doing nothing for my birthday. As soon as I met them in Fiji and I told them when my birthday was, they were down to go out. I told them I did not want to do anything, and they thought I was crazy.

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Out with my girls on my birthday

Third, my friends went out of their way to make sure I had a fantastic birthday. Nicole said we could do whatever I wanted, and when we were talking about my party, she decided to create a Facebook page for it, complete with a picture of Justin Bieber as the cover. I got a Facebook event for my birthday. Can you imagine?! Stivia, Hannah and Courtney’s housemate, Brent, really helped me out with deciding where to go. He put time aside during his busy week to email and call prospective places and would give me the low down afterwards. I am not even super close with him, and he cared about the night as if it were for him.

Before we went out to dinner on my birthday, Nicole was in my room ready to surprise me with chocolate cupcakes in pink wrappers and two chocolate bars. She even had a bunch of candles and sang “Happy Birthday” to me with Sierra. There I was, 21 years old, getting sung to by people I had just met, but might as well have always been inIMG_1430 my life. Unbelievable!

Before my birthday party, I went over to Jordan’s where she was kind enough to do my makeup. When I walked in, she had a present for me from her, Nicole and Sierra wrapped in, of course, a pink and black bag. Another surprise!

When I got to my party, there were pink and black balloons that Jordan and Nicole were kind enough to blow up for me to make the place festive. People showed up throughout the night and I felt like a million dollars.

The night out was incredible. Sierra stayed by me the whole night to make sure everything went smoothly. I felt like she was my assistant attached to me ready to fight off anyone who came too close. I am sure we just looked like a bunch of featherless peacocks trying to show off our feathers, but I felt pretty good.

I could just go on and on about how special my night was. It would not have been so extraordinary without my incredible friends, though. They truly made me feel so special and I cannot thank them enough. It is easy to celebrate one day, but with these people by my side, it is easy to celebrate every day.

Fiji: A Reflection

One week in Fiji is done and gone, and I am now on the plane for something I hope is fun. Australia: here I come!

As I reflect back on what I just experienced—a week of traveling, classes and living with people I have known as long as I have been in Fiji—I think about all the wonderful memories I have accumulated that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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I don’t think two of us had the same experience, as we all have different mindsets and ways of going about new things. Here are a few things I took note of along the way:

  • First and foremost, have an open mind about EVERYTHING. This is something that comes easily for me, but I have seen others struggle with change and it can really dampen the mood. This goes hand in hand with culture shock, which occurs when one is thrust into a new environment. The best way to deal with culture shock, in my opinion, is to try to be as relaxed and understanding as possible when it comes to new things, which can be anything from foreign food to lack of Internet connection.
  • AIFS, the program through which I am studying abroad, could have been a bit more organized. Even our homestay parents mentioned that they usually get an itinerary so they know what we are doing and when we are free or occupied. We were not even certain where or when our first day of class was, which was definitely concerning. Another bummer was the lack of planned events. The first day, we were supposed to go to a temple and did not due to the rain. We only had three short excursions planned (besides the island trip), which is far less than prior trips. I am fortunate that Walter took us to his village. If he didn’t, I would have really felt like I missed out.
  • With the above concerns in mind, I also always think it is important to make the best of what one is given. This is useful not just for traveling, but for every day life. Nothing is ever going to go perfectly, but if one just rolls with what she gets and takes advantage of what she can, thing usually work out pretty well.

I’ll admit it, Fiji was not what I expected. However, in the end, I learned so much culturally by living with a family and I did fully enjoy anything I got to do, and I am simply gratified that I was able to experience the country.