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: Classes are over, now I Holiday

My crunch time has officially been crunched. After diligently working on projects, presentations and papers, my two weeks of jamming assignments in is over and I am about to leave for a final holiday. I never expected to say this, but I am heading for Thailand!

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Planning this trip was not easy, as I ran into many road blocks trying to please my friends while scavenging for budget-friendly activities that had enough availability. After dealing with indecisive and fickle people, multiple trips and emails to a lovely STA agent and numerous rant sessions, I have planned a trip for Brian, Sierra and I in Bangkok and its surrounding area. This is the first time I have ever been in charge of and fully planned a trip to a country that does not speak English, and nervous does not begin to explain how I feel. However, as I have been reminding myself, everything happens for a reason and it will all somehow work out.

The next time I post, I will be back from Thailand, hopefully with a positive review. Cheers!

Oz: Halfway There

I leave Australia and return to “normal” life in exactly two months from now. How?! I have been here for just over two months and I really do not know where the time went.

I often think about what life will be like when I go home. I wonder where I will end up working this summer. I worry about my school schedule for next semester. I freak out because I only have one year of undergraduate university left. I remind myself I need to make this summer count. I feel like everything in Australia will become just a distant memory. Will I talk to any of the people I met here again? Will I ever see my Australian “little brother again?” The questions and concerns go on and on.

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And then I think about all the incredible experiences I’ve had while here. I have met so many fascinating people. I have gone to the outback and gotten stuck in a cyclone. I’ve spent my day at the beach countless times. I’ve watched the sun set behind the Perth skyline. The list goes on and on.

I noted that I never got the “Wow, I’m in Australia” feeling. But every day I wake up and say to myself, “Wow, I’m in Australia,” and I feel like the luckiest person ever. I saw myself switch from a nervous student who had no idea what was going on to someone who could be a tour guide of Perth. I have really thought about life, and although I still have no idea where I will end up, I am more confident than ever in my journey to find out. It really is difficult to put into words how thankful I am for this adventure.

Australia has been an experience of a lifetime. I am so thankful for all the memories I have gained and friends I have made. I also am thankful for the fact that I feel just as close with my friends at home, despite the distance of space and time. I am not excited to go home, but I am excited to be able to carry all these amazing experiences with me going forward.

I still have two months left, and although May is going to be a month full of tests, papers and projects, I am determined to make the most out of any free time I have. Here’s to the second half of my journey!

Oz: Third Week of Classes

This week was a big one: March 14 marked me being in Australia for a whole month! Time really is flying by and I feel like I am leaving tomorrow, even though I know I have three months left and so many plans. Another exciting thing that March 14 marked is the day I fly out to meet my Pop Pop in Sydney. I cannot believe that my Pop Pop and I spoke about Australia for so long, and now our new chapter of travels starts so soon. I am pumped!

I have really adjusted to my life down under, from cooking healthy meals and exercising almost every day, to the unfamiliar class set-up and balancing my social life. At first, I was not as excited as I could have been to be in Straya, most likely because I felt like I was running around without a head a good portion of the time. However, I am so happy with my life here. I wish I could do nothing but travel; however, I am here for a reason: to “study.” I do take my schoolwork seriously, of course, as I always have. Nevertheless, I am in no way turning down a great opportunity such as a trip due to homework.

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Campus views

My third week of classes definitely treated me well. I am accustomed to my schedule, and I am still able to fit in an abundance of fun time between my classes. For example, I stayed up late in the library Monday to catch up with the work I neglected during the weekend (because I was too busy having fun). Tuesday, I was lucky enough to catch a few waves thanks to my new Aussie friend, Mitch. The weather was not very nice and the water was rough, but I was still able to get out there for a bit.

I signed up for a village-run trip to the Fremantle Prison for a torchlight tour Wednesday night. It was really interesting learning about the brutal history of the prison, seeing inmate cells and getting a bit startled by some “prisoners” who jumped out at us. Did I mention Nicole and I were forced into the “most haunted” cell in the prison?

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Entrance to Fremantle Prison

After that, Sierra and I decided it was a good idea to go out to the Newport Hotel, since we were already in Freo. We got there a bit early due to the tour ending at 8:30 p.m., but we eventually found our friends and had a fine time.

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Out in Freo

That leaves me with the last day of my school week: Thursday. Thursday consisted of classes, homework, general organization, blogging, laundry and packing. That’s right—packing! The first break of the semester is already here and I am embarking on a 10-day outback trip with other study abroad and exchange students Friday morning. I will have no service, no worries and hopefully nothing but enjoyment.

I do really feel so thankful that I am taking to my new life so well. To be honest, I already get teary-eyed when I think of leaving. It has been a good month, and I look forward to the excitement that the next month has in store.

Australia: Perth City Lights

Friday did not end after my awesome animal-filled trip to Caversham. I signed up for a few events weeks ago, and Friday night was one of them: a Perth city night outing. I thought this would be an actual tour of the city, but it was composed of a few stops throughout the night.

The first stop was King’s Park to overlook the the city while day transitioned to night. It was basically a photo shoot of 40 people trying to get the perfect shot. The sun did not cast much color on the city, but it was nice seeing the city lights slowly light up the darkening sky.

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The next place we stopped was the Perth Twilight Hawkers Market. This is a gathering of food vendors of all sorts right in the Central Business District. Occurring every Friday night, people congregate to try foods of all types, from burritos, fish and chips and barbeque to sweets and so much more. The summery, relaxed vibe was set with a live band. I had a fantastic time browsing the area with my friends and trying refreshing mint iced tea.

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I thought this food truck was sweet

Our final stop for the night was Crown Casino. This is the first time I had ever been in a casino and it was enormous between the vast amount of games offered and multiple bars throughout the venue. I waited for my friends to purchase drinks before heading to the nightclub upstairs to dance for about an hour.

The night was an overall success. I loved being in the city at night and the festival, as it reminded me of summer nights at home.

Australia: My New Home City

Study abroad and exchange students only had a few days of orientation at Murdoch, while full-on students continued sessions into the second week. Therefore, the week before classes was virtually open to us. Tuesday’s adventure? Perth.

Murdoch University is south of the Swan River about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the city of Perth. Luckily, it is an easy bus and train ride to get to the city center, so we figured it out with ease. The city center is composed of a few strips of shops and restaurants set on a gray paver walkway with trees throughout. I loved the city already, and just like London, its young, clean vibe reminded me of Philly and Boston. After shopping some more (even after I told myself I would not shop anymore, which I mean this time), we settled at a small café for some lunch.

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After lunch, we strolled to Elizabeth’s Quay. To my surprise, the vibrant, waterfront area is set on an artificial inlet and was developed to attract tourism. It is home to the Swan Bells, which is a set of 18 bells suspended in an extremely modern, needle-like glass and copper building. The area is beautiful.

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The trip to Perth was super fun, and I am looking forward to visiting the city again and exploring more of it. I hope to visit some popular and/or historical sites, such as the mint.

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I love the mixed architecture in Perth.

That night, the resident assistants set up a pizza and trivia party. It was actually quite a popular event, mostly due to the free pizza. My group of friends made a team for trivia, which consisted of multiple rounds of really random questions to which we needed to write the answers. We tied two teams at the end, but after a bonus question, my team won. It was a great surprise to end an enjoyable day, and it was nice to walk away with a movie ticket each!

The South Pacific Awaits

As I sit here ad type, I cannot believe that I am on a plane to my next journey: a semester studying abroad at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, with an additional week-long course in Suva, Fiji to start off my adventure.

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People often ask me, “Why Australia?” I honestly could not see myself studying anywhere besides Australia. I have always wanted to visit the land down under, and I cannot foresee myself easily flying there for a vacation anytime soon. So, I figured studying there was my best bet to visit Aussie land for a long period of time. Plus, I have always said I want to escape to and island, and that is exactly what I am doing!

Many people also do not know that I am going to Fiji to start the trip. There is no rhyme or reason as to why I am studying there first. Quite simply, there was an option to take a week long course at the University of the South Pacific, so of course I took it. Seeing more of the world? Sign me up! I am excited to visit, as I know I will be immersing myself in Fijian culture by staying with a family as well as small excursions AIFS has planned for the handful of students partaking in this extra outing.

People also ask me if I know anyone going on the trip. I know absolutely no one. This is an independent American company that connects students to universities abroad, so any college student can apply. Luckily, I have been connected with people in my program through a Facebook group, and a girl took the time to add all of us to a GroupMe, so we have been able to group message each other leading up to the trip. The wonders of technology!

I am definitely nervous for what the future holds, mostly because I have no idea what to expect in Fiji and I am still working on class registration for Murdoch University. But hey, I have my Visa, Nadi and Perth are expecting me, and I have a smile on my face and an eagerness to see what the next few months have in store.