Kanchanaburi and Erawan Waterfalls

This last weekend, I was able to visit Kanchanaburi with 11 other international students. Our main drive for wanting to visit was sparked from the beautiful national park containing 7 spectacular waterfalls just an hour north of the city. After almost a full month in Bangkok, being closer to nature and getting some fresh bumped itself to the top of my priority list. We stayed in Sam's House hostel for Friday night and planned on waking up early to hike the falls in the morning.

When we arrived at the Kanchanaburi bus terminal, we were immediately bombarded by taxi drivers. We've all been in Thailand long enough to know what is and is not a fair price, and the taxi drivers were trying to charge us between ฿100-150 to go about a mile down the road. Ummmm, no. Since none of them would lower their price for us, we decided to take the heel-toe express instead. After a three hour bus ride and a 1.5 mile walk all the way to Sam's House, we were quite hungry. Luckily, Thailand has yet to disappoint in the food department. We had a surplus of delicious options to choose from in Kanchanaburi, and enjoyed very reasonable prices for dinner. On the road to our hostel, there were not only several options for dinner, but also plenty of bars to choose from. After our meal, we were enticed by a sign that said, "Get drunk for ฿10." ฿10 was frighteningly cheap, so ended up at the bar across the street called Drink! Drunk! Dance! What a name. That turned out to be exactly what we did. The bar was small but very open, mostly filled with other travelers, of course, and had fantastically motivating phrases on their wall. We all enjoyed ฿200 buckets (approx. 1L of mixed drink goodness) and even found a wrecking ball to swing from (not a real wrecking ball, obviously). My friend, Emilia, noticed that one of the bar's decorations had distinct potential to be a mock-wrecking ball. They even played the song for us while we were swinging--that's how little they cared that we had just used their bar decoration as a Miley Cyrus song prop.

The next morning, I woke up at 6:10am. My alarm hadn't even gotten a chance to go off yet. I woke up the other lovely ladies staying in our little hostel room. At only ฿250/person a night, Sam's House was a pretty swanky hostel. The bathrooms even came stocked with toilet paper, which is a luxury, I assure you. We walked down the road to a breakfast place that was served Western breakfast (eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee/tea all for ฿70). The management even got us a taxi-truck who drove all 12 of us up to Erawan falls and drive us back. For ฿120/person roundtrip, this offer was pretty much unbeatable. We sleepily got into the back of the taxi-truck, and eventually made it to the base of the hiking trail for the falls. The Thai's take very good care of this national park. You even have to register any water bottles you take in and leave a ฿40 deposit, that they keep if you do not bring your water bottle back down with you. Unfortunately, I still did see the occasional forgotten water bottle on the trail. For the most part, the trail was very well maintained and extremely easy. I reached the 7th water fall in no time, even with dawdling around to taking pictures. The water at some of the falls' was shockingly blue, and the surrounding scenery was remarkably beautiful. I've updated my photo album, so you can check out pictures in the January section. My favorite part was when we finally reached the 7th falls. I was sitting at the base of the falls with my feet in a lower pool, and began to feel fish tickling my feet. They weren't cute little guppies either, some of the fish in the pool were easily 8-10 inches long, though only the smaller 4-5 inch ones seemed to want to feed on sweaty hikers' feet. On Khao San Rd. (a popular destination for partiers and backpackers in Bangkok), people pay to have their feet cleaned by little fishes. Here I was sitting at the base of a breathtaking waterfall in the middle of an outstanding national park getting it done for free. I was not the only person with my feet in this pool, but for whatever reason, the fish seemed to love the taste of my dead skin cells over others. At one point, I had 9 of these unknown fish species nibbling at my toes and the back of my heels. My second favorite part of the trip was playing with my camera's shutter functions. I finally had a purpose for using the 1/4000 shutter speed function! I was able to capture water droplets as they exploded off rocks after reaching the bottom of the falls, along with fun action shots of some of the international students jumping off one of the smaller falls.

Ban Phe and Koh Samet

This weekend, 30+ of us international students stayed in Ban Phe to beach and party. Our trip began with a 4 hour bus ride from Bangkok to Ban Phe, on which I practiced my mosquito slaying for almost the entire trip. We eventually made it into Ban Phe at around 6pm, just in time for a gorgeous sunset. The houses our group stayed in were right next to the beach, giving all of us a drunken-fool-proof route directly to the ocean at anytime. Unlike Bangkok, Ban Phe was not covered in a thick layer of smog--finally some fresh air! Around 10am on Saturday, we jumped on the local taxis and made our way to the ferry station to head over to Koh Samet, an island not too far off of the coast. Koh Samet ended up costing a more than all of us expected, but we are also very adjusted to the baht now. Between the 120฿ roundtrip ferry ride, the 20฿ entry on to the island, the 30฿ taxi ride to get to the beach, the 40฿ entry into the beach section of the island, and 40฿ rental beach chairs, we all felt like we shelled out a lot of cash just to sit on a beach. In reality, the whole day cost around $8. But like I said, we are so well acclimated to our new currency that we've become quite frugal.

One thing that I will never get used to, but that is all too common every where you go in Thailand, is the trash. Trash. Trash. Trash. Everywhere. I remarked to some of my friends that I bet this island would have been stunning 100 years ago. While it was definitely not the dirtiest beach in Thailand, the sand was still littered with cigarette butts, plastic bottles, and all sorts of forgotten items. I began to think about one study that my dad told me about that estimated that every handful of sand is now 20% or more plastic. But other than that, we all had a fantastic time. We waded in the water (which was quite warm compared to California, and it could have been a jacuzzi compared to the Oregon Coast), built a sand castle, and tanned. The sun absolutely zapped us of energy by the end of the day, so we were very ready to go home by 7pm.

Unfortunately, we did not get our deposit back on the house. But we had a blast. And that's all that mattered. Here's to many more adventures with these lovely folks.


Right now, my schedule looks like this:

Monday - Social and Economic Development of Thailand from 9:00-12:00
This class focuses on Thailand as a whole, which is very interesting since as of now, I have only been exposed to Bangkok. Bangkok does not represent what most of Thailand is like socially or economically according to my ajaan (also spelled ajarn, ajahn and a few other ways, but it means professor at a University). At some point in the semester, we will be taking a field trip to a neighboring province in Thailand to get to know more about Thai rural life.

Tuesday - Thailand in the International Arena from 9:00-12:00, Thai Cuisine from 13:00-16:00
Thailand in the International Arena is exactly how it sounds. We are going to cover Thai foreign policy and Thai relations with major powers, including the US, China, and Japan. We have a group term paper and presentation that must be over 20pgs. Good thing it will be a group effort.
Thai Cuisine is officially my favorite class. I appreciate enormously how much pride the Thai people put into preparing their dishes. My ajaan explained how Thai food is made to look, smell, and taste amazing, which it always does. Today, we learned how to prepare sticky rice and properly cut a mango. As my sister remarked, these are invaluable lessons that I am so happy I will be taking back with me to the States.

Wednesday/Friday - Beginning Thai from 9:30-12:00
Beginning Thai is, by far, my most challenging class. Not homework-wise, or class-wise. It's hardest effort-wise. The Thai language has 20 vowels compared to our 5, and also uses 5 tones similar to other Asian languages, like Chinese. Luckily, my ajaan is extremely helpful and very understanding to our underdeveloped Western tongues. By the end of the class, we are supposed to be able to speak in basic conversations. I'm thinking I will be lucky if I can nail down how to identify the difference between khaa (mid-tone), khaa (low tone), khaa (falling tone), khaa (high tone), and khaa (rising tone). By the way. All of those words have different meanings, including to kill someone. Needless to say, I have been very careful while attempting to speak Thai.

First Week Review

My first week in Bangkok has been unbelievable. I couldn't be happier that I chose Thailand to study abroad. Here are some highlights:

Happy birthday, Papa!
First and foremost, a special shoutout to my amazing father. His birthday was this week, and with the time change and my hectic schedule, I forgot to give him a call. I know he knows I was busy getting settled in, but I still want to make sure he knows that I am thinking about him always. This picture was taken last summer when Nicolay, my parents, and I went on a breathtaking hike way above the timberline on Mt. Hood. Throughout my whole life, my father has taught and inspired me to live up to my fullest potential. But, more importantly, he has been the best example of what a good man looks like. The way my father cares for and supports me, my sister and, of course, my mother has shown me what kind of respect I deserve and should impart onto my loved ones. Happy birthday to the best dad a girl could ever have.

I had my first two days of orientation on Thursday and Friday. During these two days, we covered all of the do's and do not's of Thammasat, Bangkok and Thailand in general. The catering was incredibly delicious. The staff has all given us the same advice: Study, but not so hard that you don't enjoy your time here. Explore, but not so far that you do things that are dangerous to your person. And have fun, but not so much fun that you lose your head. I've learned something new every day whether it has been about Bangkok, the Thai people, or myself. I can already begin to see how this trip is shaping up to be one of the best experiences of my life.

Meeting the Other Int'l students
I have talked with other international students, and there seems to be a consensus on one thing: It takes a special type of person to want to come study in Bangkok. Everyone here has a taste for adventure and spontaneity, which is why we seem to have all hit it off so well in the first few days. I'm excited to get to know these all of these beautiful people better over the course of the next five months.

Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha
On Friday afternoon, we visited the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Go to my photo album if you want to see pictures! I have never seen so much gold in my life. The palace used to be where the king lived, and it was incredible extravagant. Because we were Thammasat students, we actually were able to tour the palace itself, which most Thai's even have never seen. We were not allowed to take pictures, but the inside was filled with priceless pieces of art. The walls around the whole grounds were hand painted or hand crafted (meaning someone set every piece of gold or jewel that you see in the pictures) with immaculate attention to detail. The Emerald Buddha was also something that was off limits to cameras, and was just as outstanding. There is nothing like this in the United States, so I got separated from the tour for much of the time. I was in my own world taking pictures, trying my best to capture the beauty of the entire grounds.

Learning Thai
Learning Thai to the best of my ability has definitely been one of the most challenging aspects of being here. In an earlier post, I mentioned that less people than I expected are able to communicate in English. Because of this, the most challenging thing that I usually do every day is try to tell the ticket collector on the bus or the taxi driver where I am trying to go. Luckily, I have an excellent mental map, which I'm sure I have inherited from my father, so I have always been able to find the place that I am looking for without much trouble. One thing that has made me so thankful is that the Thai people in general are extremely kind and willing to work with you. Yesterday, Krissy, Haley and I were on the wrong bus trying to get to a mall downtown. The ticket woman was trying to explain to us where to go, but did not speak much English. A young guy jumped in to translate for us. But that wasn't where his help stopped. He ended up getting on to the same bus that we needed to be on, paid for all of our bus tickets, and then proceeded to draw a map for us so that we would know where to go when we got off the bus. There is a perception of Thailand as being unsafe, but my experience has been that it is not any less safe than other big cities in the world. There are bad eggs for sure, but there are bad eggs everywhere. As long as you use common sense and are polite to people, the Thais are very willing to help you out.

Oh my clubbing, the bars are so fun in Bangkok. One thing I have noticed is that people don't really dance as freely here, but no matter, because the group that I have been clubbing with seems to love to dance. We have gone in large enough groups that anywhere we go is a party. The club we went to last night was on the rooftop of a building in the middle of the touristy area of Bangkok. The cityscape of Bangkok is just phenomenal. It is a perfect blend of old meets new with old temples and new high-rises intermingled around the whole city.

Transportation in Bangkok

Yesterday was my first day exploring Bangkok. And overall, it was amazing!!! I learned a lot about how to travel around, and thanks to an app called Maps.me (which does routing even when your phone is offline, like mine often is), I always knew where I was in the city.

I decided ahead of time to take the bus to the city, and planned out all of the bus routes on Google Maps before I ever left my apartment. The bus system in Bangkok is really inexpensive and quite extensive. You can reach every corner of Bangkok through the bus system as long as you know which buses you need and where to get off (all of the bus stop are in Thai of course, so that is where maps.me really came in handy). I left around 10am, and stood at the bus stop for about 5 mins before the bus with the number I was looking for arrived. The man giving out the tickets asked me a question in Thai. I had no idea what he said, and asked him, "How much?" He asked the same question in Thai again, maybe with some hope that in the last few seconds I had started to understand, but I just smiled and told him, "I'm sorry, but I don't speak Thai." He looked around hastily, as there were plenty of other locals who had just gotten on the bus that also needed to pay, and nudged a girl about my age that was sitting right next to us. I stood there, looking very sheepish I'm sure, and waited while he asked the girl to translate. She told me he needed to know where I was going and then he would tell me how much to pay. I stammered out, "CentralWorld," and asked again how much for the ticket. He told me the ticket would be 55฿, so I shelled out the cash unthinkingly. I was stumbling around in the center aisle as the bus lurched forward and stopped abruptly on its way central Bangkok. All the while, I tried to get money out of my wallet to pay for the ticket. He gave me change for the 100฿ I handed him, and I tried to maintain my balance as I put away the cash and coins he handed back to me. The ticket man walked behind me, and told someone to get out of their seat and gestured for me to sit down. I shook my head and told him I was fine standing, but he insisted. That was probably for the better since I likely would have fallen into someone's lap otherwise from all of the jostling. As I sat down, the man next to me offered me a little Tamarin filled candy, and then popped one into his own mouth. I smiled and thanked him, but I popped the candy into my purse instead.

The bus ride was about 30 mins. and as I sat there, I started watching the ticket man as he collected money from the other passengers. Quickly, I realized I had been overcharged. ON A CITY BUS! The other passengers all handed him coins (coins are come in .25, 1, 5฿ pieces), and they never seemed to exchange details about where they were going. Never once did I see a single passenger hand the man a bill of any kind. Naïve little me never thought that a city bus would ask for more than how much the bus ride was worth. Furthermore, I noticed that my large bill went into the man's pocket and not the collection tube. I took the bus ticket out of my wallet, and studied it carefully. It was all in Thai; the only thing I could read was the number "13 บาท," which means 13 baht. (When I got home I looked up how much the buses should cost, and found out that the older non-air conditioned buses ranged from about 8-13฿ and about 15-20฿ for the newer air conditioned ones).

I got off the bus once I had decided that it had gotten as close to where maps.me was directing me to go as possible. Bam! I was in the center of Downtown Bangkok. What a city. For being 10:30 in the morning, there were people everywhere, presumably headed to work unlike me. I opened maps.me and head to CentralWorld. I hardly needed a map, though, since CentralWorld boasts seven stories and takes up 830,000 square metres. It is located next three other shopping epicenters, all around the same size. There were so many stores, I hardly knew where to begin. Around 1pm, I finally concluded my shopping. I hadn't bought too many things despite the prices being so appealing. I wanted to save my money, and spend it at local markets instead. Then, I headed across the street to do my grocery shopping at the local supermarket, Big C. I wandered around the three story supermarket successfully checking off all of the things on my list. And by 4pm, I was ready to head home. At this point, I was absolutley overloaded with shopping bags, so the bus was not an option. While I was in Big C, I noticed that people were putting their plastic grocery bags into a larger duffle bag to make it easier to carry all of them at once. Smart idea. However, I had not brought a duffle bag so I was stuck loading up each of my fingers with plastic bag handles as I left my cart behind in the store.

I barely made it out of the supermarket before I was bombarded by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers trying to get me to come to their vehicles. I politely turned the tuk-tuk drivers down, and asked the two men with taxis if they would take me to my apartment. I had read up on taxis, and everywhere I read said to insist that the taxi driver turn on the meter, or at least negotiate a fair price. Neither of the men were willing to turn on their taxi meters since the traffic was so bad. I bet taxi drivers in New York would love this logic. I was desperate to set all of my groceries down, so I went for the second option of negotiation. (To give you some reference: the taxis from the airport are required to turn on the meters, and that taxi ride was 377฿ to go about 35 km or about 22 miles. I was only 8 km, or about 5 miles, away from my apartment.) I told them I needed to go to 3J Court, my apartment building, but neither of them knew where that was. I explained it was right next to Thammasat University, and then they began offering me prices. The first taxi driver asked 600฿. I said absolutely not. The second driver said 400฿. I knew it was overpriced, but, like I said, I was desperate to put my groceries down because the plastic bags were starting to cut into my fingers. I told him I didn't have 400฿, but that I'd give him 300฿. He countered with 350฿. I agreed, and then he helped me put all of the groceries into his taxi. 350฿ is about $10, and for a taxi from the center of Bangkok during the middle of rush hour, it seemed like I was getting a good deal. As we were driving away, I explained to him that my apartment was actually across the river from Thammasat. This was not good news for him. He told me that to cross the river he would need 400฿. I really didn't have 400฿, so I told him I'd give him 370฿ to take me there. He agreed, but said that he would have his father (also a taxi driver) take me instead, and that I would only have to pay his father. He explained that he had just started his shift, and didn't want to come back across the river since it would take him too long to get back to the center of the city. To his credit, the traffic really was that bad. What was a 30 min. bus ride at 10am, ended up being an hour taxi ride at 4:30pm. We met up with his father, they transferred all of my bags for me, and then we headed to my apartment. All the while, motorcyclists were zooming between cars, cars were actually maneuvering perpendicular to the road, and here I was in my taxi, very happy that I was smart enough to not agree to take a tuk-tuk. We arrived near my apartment, and the taxi driver asked if this was where I wanted to be dropped off. I told him that my apartment was actually another block down, but that I could walk. He did not stop there, and instead squeezed the taxi through an alleyway, dropping me off right at the door of my apartment building. He turned back to me and told me to wait in the cab, as he got out and started talking to the 3J Court staff. Soon, two men in bright green 3J Court shirts arrived with a shopping cart, and loaded all of my bags for me. The taxi driver opened the door for me, and I thanked him for all of his help, handing him the 370฿. When I got back up to my apartment on the fourth floor, I gave both of the young men 10฿ for helping me.

As I relayed this story to Nicolay this morning, he laughed, and offered me some great advice.

Lesson of the Day: Never take the first price, even if it's from a city bus driver. Always counter with an extremely low price and begin your negotiating from there.

I haven't gone to a local market yet, so this experience with transportation has really taught me how to reach a fair price.

Leaving LAX

In 2012, I decided I was going to pack my bags and drive 1,000 miles south with my dad to Orange County, California. I was eighteen years old, and frankly, I was more afraid of what would become of me if I stayed than I ever was of leaving. Though I would tell people I simply wanted to live somewhere with sun, I was really on the hunt for somewhere completely and utterly new. At the close of my senior year, I was desperately in need of a place where no one could claim to know who I was or have any expectations of who I should be. University offered me a chance to go anywhere I wanted, to be anything I wanted. Thankfully, I was born into a family that has always supported, and even pushed, me to do things outside of my comfort zone. Moving to Orange County, and jumping feet first into a new social and physical environment all on my own, forced me to address some of my biggest fears, flaws and daily functions that were causing me to be unhappy. I attribute much of my recent personal progress to the irreplaceable group of friends I have made, and the Lameijer family, who have been most welcoming to me. I could never have anticipated the amount of love I have generated for these would-be strangers in the last three years. They have become my home away from home, and continue to be something I look forward to coming back to at the beginning of each school year. If life is but a sum of memories, then the people with whom you choose to share those memories can hardly be treated with irrelevance.

Today, I am off to Bangkok, Thailand, to live and study and party for the spring semester. Comparatively to my journey down to SoCal, my trip to Thailand is coming at a time that seems to interrupt the comfortable life with which I have become so familiar. I am not leaving because I am desperate for something new or because I am unhappy in my current situation; rather, this time, I am leaving on somewhat of a whim, with only the hope that I will be able to further discover and test what kind of person I want to be. Of course, I also hope to sunbathe on stunning beaches and eat delicious Thai food.

I once read that you cannot truly love another until you love yourself, yet my experience has come to support just the opposite. Whether you love yourself or not, you may find that your capacity to generate love for others is almost effortlessly multiplied and surprisingly unfettered. Furthermore, it seems to me that the more time I spent developing these friendships, the better I felt about myself. I am excited, nervous, and a little afraid to go to Thailand by myself, but I will be back soon enough, and most likely, sooner than I will come to wish. I hope to address some of my fears, flaws and daily functions once again, and see what happens when I put to test my own self-reliance and self-confidence while abroad.


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