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Top Ten Posts from A Summer Around the World

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Prague. We are all just walking each other home. You are what you love, not who loves you. 

Happy May! Even as I am buried in outlining for final exams, recovering from strep throat, and preparing for a summer abroad in Uganda (!), I find myself reminiscing hard about this week last year–when I left NYC for 3.5 months backpacking around the world!

As part of my frolic down memory lane (and exam procrastination…) I’ve put together my top ten list of A Southern Yankee Abroad posts from last summer. Enjoy! ❤

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#10 – Who knew three days without wifi or a shower with friends in Bolivia could be such an amazing and freeing experience! Girls Gone Wild: Three Days in the Bolivian Wilderness

#9 – Vietnam has unlimited hidden treasures. I’m Hueee Up (I Feel Blessed) + Halong Bay

#8 – Traveling isn’t always rainbows and butterflies… Kutna Hora and a Train Ride with Franz Kafka (Czech Republic)

#7 – Cambodia remains my favorite country I’ve ever visited — deep sadness and deep beauty. Siem Reap: Temples and Countryside

#6 –  I did some soul searching in the most beautiful city — Paris, the City of Light. Questions in Paris

#5 – An encounter with a Buddhist monk in Chiang Mai reminded me that kindness transcends nationality, language, and religion. Wat’s Up?! Monks, Cooking, and River Cruises in Chiang Mai

#4 – I truly felt at home during a week-long visit in Provence, thanks to the generosity of some amazing people I met along my journey. Provence: Lavender Fields and Lost Luggage

#3 – Craic abounds in Ireland, especially if you’re friends with Michael! Ireland Part 1: Brexit, Dublin Pride, and Irish Football

#2- Being lost on the back of a motorcycle in the rain surrounded by people who don’t speak English in Ho Chi Minh City is a memory I could never have planned, but will always treasure. Adventures in Saigon

#1 – I turned 27 years old on top of a rainbow in Peru…literally! This trek up Vinicunca Mountain with Sarah, Rachele, our guide Abel, and Rainbow the dog was the highlight of the entire summer. A Birthday Trek to Vinicunca Mountain 

 

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Wat’s up?! Monks, Cooking, and River Cruises in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has been a perfect start to the trip! After going to dinner and out with some very new friends on Thursday night, I woke up at 6am on Friday (thanks jetlag!) to plan my next 2 days in Chiang Mai. Fortunately, my hostel had a full-time travel agent on staff who was able to help me plan some fun things.

I spent Friday morning exploring the area. After shopping for a bit and trying to talk myself out of buying items to add to my already heavy backpack, I wandered past Wat Bupparam on Tha Pae Road (a wat is a temple!). I walked through the gates to check it out, and noticed a monk doing his chants in a small side temple on the complex. I took my shoes off and stood outside, not wanting to interrupt but curious all the same. He looked up from his pages, smiled, and waved me in. I sat with him as he finished his chants. I couldn’t help but feel very humbled as I sat with him–just the 2 of us in the temple. I was not planning to take a picture, as I assumed this would be disrespectful. However, after he finished his chant, he gestured for me to take a picture. I asked/gestured to see if he was sure this was ok, and he smiled and nodded his head. So here’s my monk friend…I am so grateful that he made me feel so welcome, even though I was clearly very awkward and lost!

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My new friend 🙂

After more wandering around, I then spent the afternoon at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (you can read about that here).

Saturday morning, I headed to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep with one of my Canadian friends from Thursday. The trip to the wat took about 30 minutes in a songthaew (a taxi where you sit in the back of a pick-up truck!) and the ride was a very steep uphill climb. Once there, we trekked 300 steps to reach the wat, removed our shoes and explored the temple. It had an amazing view of Chiang Mai!

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The sassy monk statue on the right is throwing shade!
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View of Chiang Mai from Wat Doi Suthep

After visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, we took a cruise of the Ping River to a small farm down the river. The other two people in our boat happened to be Bible translators. I learned that over 1,500 of the 6,000 spoken languages in the world have no written form.Their work is to visit remote villages in areas of the world where there is no written alphabet and work with the people there to use an international phonetic alphabet to create a written language. They then translate the Bible, as well as information regarding best agricultural practices and healthcare that can be helpful to the community. At the farm, we visited the various crops and had a delicious lunch of lemongrass juice, longan juice, tamarind juice, and fruit before cruising back to Chiang Mai.IMG_7541

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The cruise passed the summer home of the princess of Thailand!

Above: U.S embassy in Thailand, black chickens, and a man fishing

After relaxing back at the pool at the hostel for a bit, I went to a cooking class with Mam at We Cook. After visiting an open air market to buy ingredients, we headed back to Mam’s house, where she taught us all about Thai cooking. Mam is absolutely fabulous…I learned a lot about strong flavor groups and balancing sweet, salty, hot, and mild flavors. The class was full of several other solo travelers, and by the end of the 5 hour class, we were all good friends after laughing at each other for 5 hours. I made spring rolls, green curry, tom yam soup, pad thai, and sticky rice with mango. Yum yum!

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Crushing spices for green curry. It’s hard work!
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Mam checking our work. She demanded excellence!

Tomorrow, I say goodbye to Chiang Mai. It is such a special place, and I’m happy it was my very first stop for the summer!  

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

This afternoon, I hopped in the back of a pickup truck with a few other friends from my hostel and rode 1.5 hours through the hills outside of Chiang Mai to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The sanctuary is a camp for elephants who were formerly used in the riding business. Many people aren’t aware that riding elephants actually hurts the elephants over time, as their bodies are structured to carry weight in their lower bodies and not on top. Elephants are also harmed by the equipment used in the riding business, such as straps and hooks. The average lifespan of an elephant used for riding is about 20 years shorter than other elephants.

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The sanctuary, as well as camps and parks with a similar focus, is harnessing the tourism industry to change the way elephants are perceived and treated. Elephants were once used by their owners in the logging industry. When that industry dwindled, elephants were then transitioned into the tourism industry as a riding attraction. The elephants are owned by “mahouts,” or elephant trainers, who train the elephants to do tricks and to be ridden and then lease the elephants to tourism companies. By introducing a sanctuary experience as an “ethical alternative” that consistently attracts consumers, the sanctuary pitches itself to the mahouts as a better (the mahouts don’t want the elephants to suffer either, but they have to find ways to cash in on their investment), more lucrative, and more promising business choice for their lease. The sanctuary then attracts tourists to come and feed, bathe, pet, and rinse the elephants, and uses the money made to pay the mahouts as well as operational costs. Mahouts make money, the elephants are treated well, and tourists can take part in a fun experience.  The sanctuary will also buy riding elephants with its own funds, and these elephants become permanent residents of the camp. All other elephants are on lease from their mahouts.

 
So what did we do with the elephants? First, we had to put on a traditional Karen tribal tunic. The guides told us this is so the elephants would feel comfortable around us (maybe this is true, or maybe it’s something they just tell tourists…who knows!) IMG_7476.JPGThen, we started feeding the elephants bananas. Elephants eat between 200 and 300 kilograms of food per day! The elephants were not shy at all, and actually followed us when they saw we had bananas in our hands! One elephant even almost mistook my iPhone in my hand as a banana…crisis averted! These elephants were very muddy, and it didn’t take long before I was very muddy.

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The elephants are so excited to get bananas from visitors!!

This was very fitting, as we next took the elephants to a mud pool and got in the pool with them to give a mud bath. Yes, I swam in the mud with the elephants! I have never been dirtier in my life, and it was fabulous! My biggest concern was being careful that the elephants didn’t accidentally step on me or one of my friends. We were a few hours from any town, so this would be a bad place to break a foot! After the mud bath, we followed the elephants down to a river and rinsed and scrubbed them. Then, we left the elephants behind and trekked to a beautiful waterfall in the jungle and went for a swim. By this point, I was covered in mud from head to toe, so I took the chance to rinse off in the surprisingly cold water. Afterward, we all had a delicious meal prepared by the camp workers, and then hopped on the back of the pickup to go the 1.5 hours back to Chiang Mai. Given the winding and bumpy road and exhaust fumes from the truck, we were all a little nauseated, but that was a small price to pay for such a beautiful and magical day!

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This elephant is pregnant and you could feel the baby elephant kicking!! Her baby will get to live at the sanctuary with her 🙂

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So It Begins: Memphis to Thailand

I’ve finally arrived to my first overseas destination in Northern Thailand! I will be spending a few days here solo before heading to Bangkok on Sunday to meet up with a group. I arrived after layovers in Chicago, Vancouver, and Shanghai, for a total of 35 hours of travel time. Yes, Memphis → Chicago→ Vancouver→ Shanghai→ Chiang Mai. Crazy, but I did it!  

Surprisingly, the Memphis airport was the busiest I have ever seen it on Tuesday afternoon. It usually takes less than 15 minutes to check in and get through security. It took about 45 minutes on Tuesday. Fortunately, I made it to my gate just fine with about 10 minutes to spare. My dad saw me off at the airport. I am so glad I was able to spend time with him this week, as well as with my mom, other family members, and friends over the last few weeks before the leaving the U.S.–it meant so much to me!

Once I arrived in Vancouver, I realized quickly that the Canadian version of TSA is so strict! Even though all of my shampoos and conditioners were in small bottles, they said I had too many bottles, so I had to throw some away. I didn’t want to be “that girl,” but I really wanted to explain to him how picky I am about my hair products, and I needed to take all of these with me to last for 3 months! However, I kept my mouth shut and sadly threw several away in order to be in compliance. I was annoyed then, but now I realize it’s pretty hilarious I had so many tiny bottles in my backpack. Also, my backpack is a little lighter now!

In Vancouver, I boarded a 12 hour flight with China Eastern to Shanghai. Unfortunately, I had looked up China Eastern on Yelp the night before, and was thoroughly freaked out by what I read. It seemed all of the reviews talked about how horrible the airline was, regarding everything from the manners of the crew to leg space to food to safety. One reviewer even talked about how his flight had been in freefall multiple times, and he thought he was going to die as he and the other passengers screamed the whole flight! Needless to say, this made me even more nervous.

However, the flight could not have been smoother. We flew over Alaska, the Bering Strait, and Russia, barely crossing the Pacific (This was important to me, as I get nervous about flying over large bodies of water. If you have to emergency land, where do you go?!) We even flew around the edge of North Korea (!) and landed in Shanghai ahead of schedule. The layover in Shanghai airport was very relaxing, as I accessed the free wifi to text and FaceTime with friends and family and found a Starbucks for a “just like home” coffee fix! The only downside is that I was unable to check both my Gmail and Facebook, as the Chinese government has blocked both. I also wasn’t able to use Google for the same reason. I’ll never take these sites for granted again!

 

Once I finally arrived in Chiang Mai, I hired a tuk-tuk (basically a motorcycle taxi) outside of the airport to take me to my hostel. I was able to bargain with him to reduce the price from 200 baht to 160 baht! He swore he knew where my hostel was, but it was only after 45 minutes of riding around and stopping to ask 6 people that we ultimately found it. I am not complaining though…the ride was fun and I was able to get a good first look around Chiang Mai! The first night in Thailand was a complete whirlwind, mostly due to extreme tiredness and adrenaline. I made friends with a group of Canadians at my hostel, and we went to dinner and then to a “disco” (just a bar really…but it’s fun to call it a disco!) I’m excited to see what the next few days in Chiang Mai hold!!

 

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Tuk-tuk selfie (no shame!) Delirious and excited after 35 hours of travel!
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Asking directions (again). I didn’t think we would ever get there…everyone was extremely nice and tried to be very helpful though!

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