Posts Tagged With: SE Asia

Into the Homestretch!

I’m officially into my last full week here in Chiang Mai. I’m still not sure where the time went, but it’s been a great four months. I’m definitely sad to be leaving, but there are a few comforts of home that I’m starting to miss and looking forward to enjoying in about a week and a half. These include:

-Greek yogurt. You can find most foods here in Chiang Mai, but Greek yogurt is one of the few things that you can’t. And I miss it sorely. Chobani, here I come!!

-Cooking. Man do I miss waking up, walking downstairs, and actually having a choice of foods IN MY OWN HOME that I can enjoy while still in my pajamas. My kitchen appliances here consist of one half-functional refrigerator. And a hot water heater that I purchased only a few weeks ago.  My fridge is half functional in that the fridge part doesn’t work and the freezer keeps foods that should be refrigerated slightly too cold. I can’t wait to be able to cook again with my own recipes and ingredients. It will be a glorious feeling to have a stocked and functional kitchen again.

-AIR CONDITIONING. Okay, now I know I was warned that Thailand would be hot. Duh. What I was not prepared for is just how hot, for how long it would be and how low my tolerance is for living without airconditioning. I don’t mean to whine, but heat makes me cranky. When I fall asleep and wake up daily in a pool of sweat, I start to get really cranky. I will not miss this feeling. I cannot wait for that first wonderful night sleeping back in my own bed in my airconditioned room. Sigh.

-My car. Don’t get me wrong, a love a good fresh (?) air motorbike ride, but there is something about cruising on the highway (aircon pumping) in my car and singing along to favorite tunes that can’t be beat. I’m sure once I’m back I’ll miss the feeling of the fresh (?) air blowing through my hair, but right now Coche (as I’ve fondly named my car back in CT) sounds pretty nice.

-Reasonably clean bodies of water in which I can swim. For those of you who may be geographically challenged, Chiang Mai is nowhere near the ocean. Despite the abundance of islands and beaches in Thailand, I am nowhere near those and have sadly not been able to enjoy them on this trip. I’m looking forward to all the summery things New England has, like beaches, lakes and pools within an hour or two’s drive from my house. Especially if a job that I applied for works out (it would start in mid-August), I can’t wait for all the water time I’ll have this summer. Fingers crossed things fall into place, but I may have a job lined up for the end of the summer, allowing me to frolick and play for a couple of months before having to get my ducks in a row again. Please life, please work out!

Hm, I’m sure there are other things that I’m missing, but those are the big ones. Air conditioning. And some other stuff, yeah. Obviously I can’t wait to see friends and family, but that’s a given 🙂 I have a couple of very exciting weekends to look forward to back in Boston as well that makes the transition back home slightly less depressing.

Here’s to a solid last… 10.5 days in Thailand!!



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Time to Get Tatted in Thailand

Those of you who know me have probably heard the story behind the dolphin tattoo on my ankle. Or at least you know that I have a tattoo of a dolphin on my ankle. Or maybe you don’t. Either way, I do indeed have a tattoo of a dolphin on my right ankle that I got while in the Cook Islands. I won’t go into the details of that tattoo here, but suffice it to say that the patterns inside it all hold special meaning for my seven months abroad, both in New Zealand and Rarotonga. Ever since then, it’s been a matter not of “if”, but “when” I would get another one.

I’m happy to announce that day has come….!


My brand new tattoo!

Now before I hear shouts of “you got a tattoo in THAILAND? Aren’t you going to get diseases and DIE?!” let me reassure you that the artist who did the work was extremely professional and hygienic. This is not the type of activity where I would pull up to any old stall on the side of the road and ask for them to stick me with inked needles for half an hour. Noooo sir. I went to a guy named Tawan recommended by my friend Stu who has previously had work done here. His came out looking good and infection free, so I figured I’d take my chances with Tawan.

After meeting my entourage (Stu, Bex and Josh) in the center of town, we headed over to the studio and got down to business. After a stressful ten minutes of frantically flipping through google images of compasses, Tawan drew up a design that I liked. Up until earlier that day, I had planned on only getting the words done. The compass was a bit of a last minute addition and one that I’m very glad I thought of in time.

After I approved the compass design, he started on the script of the phrase I wanted: “bye tinai?” which is Thai for “where are you going?” With both of the pieces sketched out, it was time to transfer them onto blue drafting ink paper (for lack of a more precise term) which would later be transfered to my wrist. Once the blue ink was stamped on my arm, the fun began!


Tawan turning a blue stamped compass into a permanent black ink compass

Now I’ve only had two tattoos done, and the other one was about three years ago, but I’m pretty sure this one hurt more. I was bracing for the pain and while it did feel like 10,000 yellow jackets stinging my wrist, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. At first. It’s amazing how much sensitivity can vary within a very small space. Luckily, the tattoo isn’t too big, so I only had to endure the slicing and stinging sensations for about a half hour. Even better, I had a friend to tell me stories and keep me distracted throughout the whole process (thanks, Katherine!)

Thirty minutes later, I was done!


Great success! We won’t talk about how sweaty I was…

With my arm all wrapped up and basic instructions on how to avoid screwing it up/getting it infected, I gave my artist a kop kun mak ka (thank you very much) and headed off for some pizza! (This is only the second time I’ve had pizza since leaving the states in January, so this was a big deal.) All in all, a successful night! The whole ordeal including planning, waiting for him to sketch and then finalize the design, transferring the design and inking it on me took a little over two hours. And it only cost me 1500 baht, or about $45. Not a bad deal, IMO.

I’m very happy with how the design came out and what it symbolizes to me. Like Dolph, I enjoy the layers of meaning within it. I’ve wanted something on my left wrist for awhile, and I’ve been thinking about this particular quote for about a month, so I’m quite happy to have it done!

With two weeks to go, that’s one more thing checked off my Thailand trip bucket list. Next up? 1-day Thai cooking school (only slightly less tame!)



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A long-overdue update!

Well hidey-o. It’s been awhile and I apologize for falling off the blogging wagon, so to speak. The problem with blogging, and journaling for that matter, is what happens after you miss a few days. As soon as you go from writing regularly to realizing that a week has passed since last updating, the thought of recapping everything that has happened since the last entry becomes overwhelming. Suddenly, a week turns to two and catching up seems even more daunting. At some point, you just need to bite the bullet and get back in the game. So that’s what I’m doing. Now!

I have just over two weeks left before my trip comes to an end and I head back to the good ol’ US of A. I’m not sure where the time went, but my pictures tell me that I did a lot. I realize that I never fully blogged about Cambodia and Vietnam as I intended. So much happened in such a short period of time that things got lost in the shuffle. Someday soon I hope to go back and write more about that trip because it was amazing and deserves more attention!

But starting with the present… last weekend I spent three days out in another district, Wiang Haeng, up by the Burmese border. ATMA SEVA was helping run an English camp for about 40 novice monks. We spent three nights at a foundation center run by this amazing monk up there who has dedicated his life to helping educate boys who otherwise would probably have no access to a school. Over 60% of the novices living at the center are from Burma, many of whom are also orphaned. The novices were absolutely adorable and a pleasure to teach, even if only for a few days. They loved all the songs that we taught them (mostly classic children’s songs with the words altered to focus on the camp’s theme, community helpers) and the kids enjoyed cooking western food.


Novices making and enjoying some waffles 🙂

Over the course of three days we made waffles, scrambled eggs, pork burgers, french fries, fried chicken and spaghetti. I’m not sure who was more excited about this, me or them. 

The town of Wiang Haeng is quite small- it does have a 7-11 and a few mom and pop shops, but not much else. It’s only about a 20 minute drive from the Burmese border, although the road here is not an official border crossing. Government traffic and other important people can cross, but from what I gather, that’s about it.  There is also a refugee camp set up not far from here that houses Burmese Shan state refugees.  I left before we had a chance to visit, but I would have liked to see more of the border area.



Another highlight of the trip was the scenery. The center where we stayed was back off the main road, nestled between a ring of hills in the distance. There was a lovely manmade pond on the grounds and plenty of green space. Adding to the scene, there was a whole litter of puppies running all over the place, which was absolutely ADORABLE. Downside? I’m pretty sure one of them ate my flip flop. I left my room around 7am on day two, bleary eyed and in need of some coffee, to find only one flip flop remaining where I’m sure I had deposited two the previous evening. After a few minutes of searching (as I said, I was only half awake) I concluded that flip flop #2 was indeed gone. RIP flip flops.


And then the sky turned black.

Anyways, I digress. The point is that the center was set in a beautiful landscape, highlighted by a late afternoon thunderstorm that came through on our first day of camp. The sky took on the eeriest half-blackened look over the hills. The winds picked up, the clouds rolled in until they hovered directly above us, and then it poured. As a total weather freak, it was one of the most visually stunning thunderstorms I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing. The pictures I took don’t quite do it justice, but I tried.

I got back to Chiang Mai on Monday afternoon and I’ve had some much needed break time back in the city: a couple casual nights out on the town, Jazz co-op Tuesday jam night, yoga, several super long walks around the city (some intentional, some accidental when I failed to locate the coffee shop I was looking for… damn you, Bird’s Nest!) and catching up on sleep have all been wonderful. Today’s big plans? A little work, a little massage and a new tattoo! Stay tuned 😉

I promise to try and write more before I return to the boring land of Connecticut two weeks from tomorrow and my life becomes significantly less interesting!



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In case you’re unfamiliar with THE BEST HOLIDAY EVER, let me fill you in.  Every April, Thailand basically shuts down for three days (in some less urban areas, it’s only celebrated for one day, but the cities go hard for three whole days.)  This beautiful holiday, Songkran, celebrates the Thai new year.  Coincidentally, this occurs in mid-April during the height of the hot season. This is key because the holiday is essentially the world’s biggest water fight.  When temperatures are soaring right around 100 for days on end, and when your apartment lacks a/c, any way to cool off is a welcome change.  Especially one that involves water guns.

I’m lucky that my four months here in Chiang Mai coincided with Songkran.  Last weekend, I spent three days throwing water on friends, neighbors, strangers, police men, little kids, and little old ladies.  It was the best thing ever.  Home base was a Thai friend’s house, right in the heart of a busy little neighborhood. We ventured out to the main roads and down around the moat, but the highlight of the weekend for me was seeing how Thai people celebrated just as much as falang. We went down to Thae Pae gate, basically backpacker central, to see the festivities, which were NUTS. There was a foam machine (a la HMC), multiple dance stages, six inches worth of water flooding the streets, and countless people dancing amid the chaos. It was a sight to see, but personally I preferred the time at the house where fresh cooked french fries and endless buckets of water were available. We had quite the battle going with the Thai family who owns the restaurant across the street. Unfortunately, they were more consistent than we were with the purchase of ice blocks to chill their water… Brr.

Anyways, I must say… Songkran is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Young, old, Thai, falang… everyone celebrates together and it is a BLAST! I mean, when else is it socially acceptable to shoot a police officer in the head with a water gun?? Come onnnn.

I’ll leave you with a few favorite photos, courtesy of Katherine’s waterproof camera…


Me, Katherine and Lindsay playing down on Huay Kaew!


Along the north side of the moat around the old city of Chiang Mai. NOT my favorite water to be splashed with, but “no” really isn’t an acceptable option.


Nid’s costume shop located in Santitam, our Home Base. We’re so ready!

Needless to say, it was a little hard to get back into the swing of work after a 3.5 day celebration like this. After a day of recovery, we’ve managed to have a pretty productive week with a lot of good things on the horizon for ATMA SEVA.  We’ll be heading back to the Lawa Village this weekend to pick up a volunteer who has been teaching there for the past few weeks, and then next week we head off to another district for a three day English camp! I can’t believe I only have five weeks left… man time flies.

Until next time,


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Some Reflections on SE Asia

When I arrived in Chiang Mai back in January, I had never set foot onto Asian soil.  This city was my first exposure to Asian life and culture.  I’ll never forget my first experience riding down Huay Kaew road on the back of Dave’s motorcycle: I thought I was going to die.  Everything seemed so frenzied, with cars, tuk tuks, motorbikes and pedestrians darting everywhere.  The sights, sounds and smells of the city were a full on assault on my senses.  Despite the initial chaos, I quickly adjusted to this foreign place and Chiang Mai became a kind of home, my baseline Asian city.


Home sweet home! And our new ATMA SEVA office!

It wasn’t until I left the familiar comforts of my apartment in Chiang Mai to venture south to Bangkok that I realized just how good I have it here.  From the moment I arrived in the Bangkok train station to the great pleasure of the dozens of taxi and tuk tuk drivers vying for my baht, I realized that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, as the saying goes.  From there things only got more aggressive, heading into Cambodia where the poverty is much more prevalent and in your face.  Walking around Angkor Wat, you can’t go twenty feet without ten cries of “Lady! Fresh pineapple for you! Very cheap!” or a dozen little girls following you along the road trying to sell you postcards and other small trinkets.  At first it’s easy enough to smile and say no politely.  At 2pm when you’ve been climbing around temples since 5am in 100 degree plus heat and approximately 147% humidity, it’s much harder to put on your happy face to turn down vendor #493.  I can sympathize with their position, but at some point, it’s just exhausting to constantly have to say “no” ten times before someone hears it.


The streets of Saigon. One of the many vendors who will approach you on the street, peddling his wares. As he repeatedly told us, he didn’t JUST sell sunglasses, but he had an impressive collection of lighters too! Unfortunately, we were not in the market for either.

It’s the same with tuk tuk and pedicab drivers.  The only time you’re safe is when you are physically in another tuk tuk.  Until then, you are fair game and you will be hassled.  I remember one afternoon we were in Hue, Vietnam trying to walk around the old Imperial Citadel.  This is a large complex of restored buildings, old gates, crumbling walls, and other sites.  After spending 75% of the previous day in a car, we were ready to explore on foot.  A helpful pedicab driver pointed us in the right direction to the Citadel.  Starting to understand how the game works, I knew we hadn’t seen the last of him.  After waving and thanking him, he continued to follow us all the way to the Citadel, repeatedly offering us a ride in his pedicab for lower and lower prices.  I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t the price- we just didn’t want a pedicab ride- to which he replied, “you never try, you never know!” Clever, sir.  Unfortunately all we wanted to do was walk around and he did not seem to be getting the message.  It took us a solid ten minutes to lose him, at which point I’m pretty sure Anna, my traveling companion, was on the verge of snapping his head off.

Similar scenarios occurred in every city we visited in Cambodia and Vietnam, although this particular experience in Hue was the worst.  It really opened my eyes to comfortable my life in Chiang Mai is.  Everyone always says that Thai people are extremely friendly and welcoming and I can personally attest this to be true.  In Chiang Mai, when somebody says hello to you on the street, 99% of the time they are just being friendly and have no agenda.  When a tuk tuk driver pulls over to offer you a ride, if you say no, they nod and drive off.  I was absolutely astounded by how different the culture in Chiang Mai is to the rest of the parts of SE Asia that I visited.  Granted, I went to mostly tourist hot spots and didn’t even make it to Laos, but overall, I was amazed at how artificial the friendliness felt everywhere we went.  Sure, that lady with the basket of donuts is all smiles and cheer until you say “no, I don’t want donuts” for the fifth time, at which point her face drops and she stomps off to her next target.


Classic Hanoi. You can find everything on the sidewalk except for pedestrians!

There are plenty of things that I loved about Cambodia and Vietnam, which I’ll be writing about soon, but this feeling of fake friendliness is one of the biggest things that stuck out to me throughout our trip.  Had I started in Hanoi, I would have had a very different understanding of SE Asia.  It just goes to show how relative our impressions are.  Also, although the cultures do share a lot of similarities, this trip highlighted how different these three countries and the cities within them are. It makes me very grateful to have found such a warm, welcoming temporary home in Chiang Mai!

Cheers, J

p.s. For more thoughts, check out my latest blog entry for the ATMA SEVA organization blog, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Schedule. Another entry with pictures coming soon!

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