Hello from Chang Mai!

9:26 AM at 9:26 AM

(Forword, sorry this was late!)

Saturday
On our last day in Bangkok, we began the morning with a boat ride in a long tail boat about 30 minutes until we arrived at a floating market, where you can take a boat through...or walk, which we did. Pretty touristy but the boat ride there was fantastic and I made some fun purchases-including totally delicious spring rolls, cooked on the back of a boat.
We then went to a wat that's a women's monastery, and met the first female Buddhist monk in this particular practice of Buddhism. Her talk, just on issues of Buddhism and life in general, was really good, and taught me a lot about Buddhism I didn't know. It was unfortunate that it was our hottest day so far, and we were all a little too hot to chat for long.
Then, we went to the airport yo leave for Chang Mai. Or at least, we tried to. We were flying a budget carrier (think Southwest) from the older Bangkok airport...until we got there and they had canceled our flight, causing us to go FLYING (literally, I was really glad I couldn't see out the window) in an airline van across town (18 people plus tons of luggage in our group, plus others bumped from this flight) to the new airport to catch a flight on a different airline. When we arrived, said airline had not hear we were coming. It seemed like it might be a disaster, but we all boarded on time and all luggage arrived on time (after I paid for my 5 kgs of overage)
Our hotel in Chang Mai turned out to be a huge improvement from Bangkok, which is a pleasent change.
Sunday
Shopping. Literally thats all we did. Visited various factories (silk, silver, laquer) and a large jewelery store and have many purchases to prove it.
So, until I show off my (and your!) stuff, thats all I have.
Monday
Monday, we started a nomadic adventure, checking out of our hotel in Chang Mai and headed in Lampang province. But on the way we stopped at an elephant hospital and training center....and I rode an elephant!!!!! So cool, I loved it. We also watched an elephant show (playing instruments, painting, stacking logs and bowing) and visited baby elephants. I couldn't resist the 6 month old one...but so hairy. It was really fun.
We then visited a rehabilitation center that focuses on healing body and mind in mostly post stroke patients that seemed like a very nice place to recover, and a lot of their concepts for healing were really interesting.
Then, we hit our hotel, which wasn't too bad either. A bunch of girls, including me, decided to go get our hair washed and blown out, which was well worth the 80 baht+ tip (so, like, $4) to have nice straight bangs for once. This is a very small town, but we still managed to find a nice little place in a fancy resort for dinner.
Tuesday
In the morning, we visited a wat where they provide health outreach to the senior citizens of the community. They were so welcoming and hospitable, and the services they provides, in terms of health screening, are really important.
We visited Lampang Hospital, which has the most progressive pharmacy practices we've seen this far, and it was interesting to hear about their experiences in clinical pharmacy, but I won't bore you with that.
We then took our bags again, and headed to the north some more, to Chang Dao, a very small town about 40 K from the Burmese border. We went with the group to another restaurant at a pretty resort, which seemed amazing in the very small town, and what was even more amazing was the Karaoke bar we took over as a group (read: we were the only people in there) and sang karaoke, group style, for hours. We even got my father in law up there.
Wednesday
And here we are at today. Again, we checked out of our hotel, and headed to the local hospital. They have the country's most successful HIV/AIDS outreach program, in terms of reducing rates of spread, and so we spent time learning about their program. The outreach is entirely supported through sales of mushrooms, which the grow, and donations, so it was cool to hear about.
Then, we went to a nearby national park with a beautiful small waterfall and spent a little time exploring around and climbing the waterfall, which was shockingly not slippery, and I got all the way up, which I'm sure those of you who know my fear of heights will be amazed by.
And then, we returned to Chang Mai, back to the nice hotel, dropped off loads of dirty laundry, ate Indian food for dinner (I needed a change for a night!!) and now am here. We're in Chang Mai until Friday, when we make our final trip north to Chang Rai (and a brief jaunt into Burma, to reset our 30 day tourist visas.)

Miss you and love you all.

Two Weeks in Bangkok (and the world's your oyster)

7:18 AM at 7:18 AM

It's officially been two weeks since I was last on US soil. I'm still having a great time-so many new experiences and things to see!

I realized there have been a couple of random things I haven't shared, so here we go, along with updates.
There are malls EVERYWHERE. It's unreal how many there are. There are definitely bargains to be had-and would be even more if I were more Thai sized, like, a zero.However, I have picked up some fun stuff.
Speaking of being Thai sized, they feed us ALL the time, which I don't think helps. We have breakfast included in our room rate-although I've learned to mostly just eat fruit (the other options are white bread, very very greasy fried eggs, or Chinese style breakfast, which I'm not wild about.) Then, wherever we have class feeds us a snack in the morning and coffee or tea, lunch, and an afternoon snack. It's unbelievable. Luckily (or unluckily?) I am not real crazy about snacks that involve mystery hot dogs, so I'm not actually eating 5 times a day. Not that I'm ungrateful, it's just a lot. Lunches are generally very good, albeit somewhat mild Thai food. I don't think they think us farang can handle the heat. I've definitely been full enough to skip dinner on several occasions though.

Where we last met-Monday evening
After writing my last email, I headed out with a group of friends to an area called Khao San Road. It's a hugely touristy/backpackery area, but it was fun to see. I had some awesome mango sticky rice for 30 baht (less than a dollar) and shared several bucket-with multiple straws- of drinks with friends. A very fun, non-schooly evening.
Tuesday
We spent the morning learning about the theories of Thai traditional medicine, which is slightly different than Chinese traditional medicine, and then put our knowledge to work in the afternoon by having a 90 minute Thai massage. It was about 8 dollars, with tip, and was super relaxing.
We then headed to a wholesale mall, where you can get good deals if you buy multiple items. I picked up a shirt...and a gift for one of you :) There was SO SO SO much to look at though, it almost made my head explode. I'm pretty sure all the pieces at these places end up in Forever 21 and the like in the US, marked up 200%.
My father in law, who is here on the trip as our leader, generously invited me to join him and friends for dinner. We first had drinks on a very swanky rooftop bar, called Moon Bar, watching the sunset over Bangkok from the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. These drinks were not the bargain I've been getting-but the view and atmosphere was very much worth it. We went to a modern Thai restaurant in the same building for dinner, where one of the people who was with us (who is Thai) ordered-and everything was just fantastic. The view from the restaurant was also amazing, as we were in a corner of the building in tables set into the floor-and there happened to be fireworks in the distance that night! Very cool
Wednesday
We spent the day at the dermatology hospital, learning mostly things about leprosy. It's still a problem in southeast Asia, although it's really treatable in most cases. It was pretty mind blowing to hear about, since I tend to think of it as mostly a biblical type disease.
We then headed back down to Royal City Avenue, the club district we went to during the first week, and again, it was a great time. The clubs here are so nice-and we had a great seating area for our crew.
Thursday
We took a long drive out to an area called Lopburi to visit an AIDS hospice. We watched our pirated copy of Slumdog Millionare, which I had already seen, but this one had the most ridiculous English subtitles you've ever seen. It was illogical strings of words and provided and extra level of entertainment. The AIDS hospice was incredibly moving-there's a huge stigma associated with HIV and AIDS here, and these people at the hospice are in the end stage of disease. Especially sad, but interesting, was the piles of bags of cremated ashes. There's a misconception that you can contract the disease via contact, so many families won't accept ashes back after their loved ones die at this place. It was worth it to see this place.
We then went to the main part of town, which people called Monkey City as it's literally overrun with Monkeys. There's signs warning you to hold on to your purse and glasses, and monkeys running on the tops of buildings. It's also the city of an ancient city, so we took a quick spin through the ruins. We were all so hot though-so didn't last too long.
All the sweating I did in the sun at the hospice and then in town also made my entire formerly sunburnt back decide to peel off-it was pretty sweet.
Friday
Today we spent the day at the National Chest Disease Institute, learning about TB, SARS, and the threat of a global influenza pandemic. The lecturer was the most engaging we've had the whole time, so it made for a great lecture and discussion. We visited the wards (with masks on-hopefully I won't have a positive TB test in May when I'm due for my next one) and I was again impressed by how little privacy these patients seem to have. These public hospitals also have no air conditioning in the wards, which is unbelievable to me.
We're all pretty exhausted, so tonight we had a fun dinner at a Korean BBQ place, were hoping to see a movie, but all the good ones in English aren't playing anymore, and are now here in the internet cafe. We've gotta pack tonight, because tomorrow, we head to Chang Mai! I'm ready for the change of pace for sure, although could probably still find things I haven't seen in Bangkok.
Before we head out though, we're due to go to a floating market (you go though the market on boats) and have a discussion with a female Buddhist monk.
Hope all is well with all of you! Keep your updates coming!
Katie

More Updates from Katie!

7:08 AM at 7:08 AM

Hi all!

Here's another for your reading (if you desire) pleasure! It was great to hear all your updates too.

Where we left off...Friday

Again, Friday was a very interesting day at lecture. We spent the morning discussing the efforts to develop an HIV vaccine in Thailand, and then Thailand's experience with the Avian Flu. They served us lunch, as always and it was a delicious Tom Yum Gai (soup.) As a side note, we're being served at least lunch and two snacks daily. Our hosts at every site are incredibly hospitable, and lunch is usually something Thai, and then coffee (instant! which I'm getting used to) and a snack. Some of the snacks are a little foreign, but the effort is appreciated. However,lunch's deliciousness was slightly dampened by the parasite lecture that followed...which was GROSS. You do NOT want intestinal parasites.
Let's just say it made everyone a little paranoid abut some of the street foods we've been sampling. I know some people have been interesting in hearing about the food, and it's all been fabulous.One of the PA students here with us, from the University of Colorado, was actually raised in Thailand and speaks Thai, so has been helping navigate food choices. It's very helpful. Serving sizes are actually a reasonable size here, and I've had things ranging from the VERY VERY spicy to pretty tame.

After lecture, we headed to Hua Hin, a beach town about 200 km away from Bangkok for the weekend. This was a nice hotel, much improved from the Bangkok hotel, and was a nice change of pace. After arrival, we did a quick change and had dinner-which seemed expensive but still was very reasonable :) I had Paenang curry, which I know many of you know I'm obsessed with-and it was better than I could've hoped for.

We hit the town, but it's pretty mellow, with many many many many older German tourists, so we were some of the only people dancing at the bar we went to. We strolled around town, again, with many many German tourists, and then took a walk on the beach and crashed, pretty late

Saturday, or "The day Katie learns just how close we are to the equator"

Saturday was just what I had been needing...a free beach day! After a breakfast at our hotel, I and several of the other girls took the 20 foot stroll to the beach, paid for some chairs, and immediately began just chilling.

Or, baking, as it turned out. Let's just say the sun is intense here and my back can prove that to you.
I had a pedicure on the beach that maybe wasn't the most sterile thing ever, and I have beautiful toes and hope I don't live to regret it. I refused scraping, don't worry :)
Mango and a beer in the sun for lunch...a great day all around.

Then, as a large group, our Thai hostess, Noi, arranged for dinner at a beach restaurant. I wasn't prepared for just how beautiful it would be, but it was phenomenal, and the food was VERY fresh and delicious seafood and Thai specialities.

We headed back to the hotel for a swim in the ocean to see phosphorescence, algae that glows when you disrupt the water and make it seem as if you were swimming in fairy dust.

Sunday

Sunday we spent a couple of hours on the beach (erm...mostly in the shade this time for me) and then headed to Brandon, the aforementioned PA student's grandmother's house, which is in the same town. It was absolutely beautiful, she was a wonderful hostess, and we had a great day just swimming around in their pool before heading back to Bangkok for the week. The ride was quite uneventful in our lovely vans we're carted around in-they have surround sound and DVD players, so it made the 4ish hour drive pass quickly.

Monday...today!

We visited a Chinese traditional medicine hospital and learned about the theories before traditional eastern medicine practices, and saw some people getting acupuncture and cupping, which was very cool to see.

In the afternoon, we visited the biggest slum in Bangkok, called the Khlong Toei Slum, that's home to almost 200,000 people. We visited the foundation that works as advocates for the impoverished of Bangkok, and also is involved in efforts to help those effected by the 2004 tsunami. We walked through the streets of the slum, which was somewhat shocking in ways-although not necessarily as bad as you might think. However, it did make us feel bad about complaining about our hotel.

Then, about half of us took a very speedy elevator to the 83rd floor of the tallest building in Thailand, a hotel called Baiyoke Sky Tower. We had a cocktail (included with elevator price) and took in the view

You could see the whole city from the top, and it was a neat experience.

This is our last real week in Bangkok; we head to the north on Saturday.

Hope all is well! Photos to come soon I swear-for those of you on facebook, there may be some tagged of me you can check out that others have put up.

Love you

Katie