About Gabby Carter

Studying mass communication abroad at Thammasat University

My first Thai scam

It has been a month since my last post, and in that time I have been able to travel to six new cities. This year Thammasat University held an inter university sport event that lasted two weeks. This meant that after only two weeks of study we had two full weeks off. Naturally, myself and some other exchange students used this to our advantage and booked a trip away. We started up in the North of Thailand at Chiang Mai, from here we ventured down to Singapore and then up through Malaysia. In this post I am just going to speak about my Chiang Mai experience.

I travelled to Chiang Mai with three Thai students and two other exchange students, both from America. I expected the city to have a similar bustle to Bangkok however I was very wrong. Even though it was still a big city I thought it felt more like a small town. The first night we stayed close to lots of unique cafes and Chiang Mai speciality restaurants. Al were delicious. At night we visited an extremely long night market that showed off some of the textiles that come from the region.

The following day the Thai girls arranged for a taxi driver to take us to our next night’s accommodation, glamping about an hour out of the city. On the way the driver was supposed to take us to Doi Suthep, some strawberry fields, and some places the taxi driver recommended. Before coming to Thailand, I had heard about lots of taxi driver scams, so I was cautious but since my Thai native friends arranged it I thought I should trust them.

We woke up early, so we could see Doi Suthep, a temple on top of a mountain at sun rise. The glow of the yellow sun rising over the town in front and the intricately designed temple, made for a stunning view.

Sunrise from Doi Suthep

Once we had soaked up the beauty of the temple we started heading out of the city. Our first stop, an elephant park. This is where red flags began to fly because we specifically told the driver we did not want to see elephants as we had already arranged to go to an elephant sanctuary on our final day. The whole time we were there the driver was trying to sell us different packages, but we politely declined and moved back to the car.

We got on the road again and shortly stopped at what I thought was a nice cafe on a creek. However, after getting coffee our driver approached us about paying an entrance fee, of about $20, to see a hill tribe above the river. The price seemed a bit extravagant to see a village, so we declined but he then came back with a counter offer of $8. As one of the Thai girls was very interested in going we decided to go up. The ‘hill tribe’ was only about two-minute walk up a slight hill and there were about 16 huts. This didn’t seem enough to host the eight different kinds of village tribes it was said to have. I overheard a tour guide explaining that all the men were out working on farms so they weren’t in the village. It didn’t take much observation to see men playing on their phones around the back of their huts. The hill tribe women are known for wearing long neck pieces but many of the women simply put them on like necklaces. The obvious tourist trap felt objectifying towards the people and especially the children that were there.

Once I happily left the ‘hill tribe’ I thought we must finally be going to the strawberry fields, but some people were getting hungry, so we had stopped at another beautiful café on the water. Here the two American girls and myself began asking the Thai girls what was going on. Before this moment we were just going with the flow as every discussion was had in Thai, but we were starting to get frustrated about never knowing what was happening and why we hadn’t gone to the strawberry field yet. They told us he wasn’t going to take us anymore because it is too far away. So, we decided we were going to speak to him as we didn’t feel it was fair that we still pay him as much if he was not providing the service we agreed on. Once we mentioned the strawberry fields to the driver he began acting like a three-year-old having a tantrum. He threw off his jacket and started walking fast back and forth saying how he never said he’d go there and it’s too far. This made me concerned that he might get in the car and drive off with our stuff, so I stood in front of the driver’s door. He came over and tried to push me out of the way, so he could get in, but I didn’t want him to go so I stayed in front of it. One of our Thai friends kept talking to him in Thai and it was clear they were arguing. Eventually after the arguing we all got back in the car, with us three English speakers still unclear about where we were going. We ended up at the campsite, so that answered that question. We got out of the car and more arguing about the price followed. We all paid about $2.50 less than originally planned so a very small discount. The whole experience was frustrating and exhausting. It also left us at our campsite 4 hours early.

We were lucky that the owner of the site, an ex-teacher, was so lovely. She made us lunch for free and showed us an area we could hang out. being in the beautiful atmosphere of the mountains was exactly what was needed after that experience. That night we had a BBQ and watched the stairs before settling for an early night.

The view from my tent

The next day we headed off back to Chiang Mai by bus this time to avoid anymore dodgy taxi drivers. Once in town we went to the infamous fried bread place that shapes bread into elephants, frogs, dragons amongst other things. We also visited an interactive art museum that proved to be a lot of fun for the afternoon.

The last day we spent in Chiang Mai was my favourite of my time in Thailand so far, we went to see the elephants! We were picked up from our hotel and taken in an open-air truck to the elephant sanctuary. Here we were able to feed, play, and wash them in a river. It was a lot of fun and the elephants seemed happy and playful. There is so much information on ethical elephant sanctuaries, but at the same time still so much you don’t know about what happens behind the scenes. The relationships between the trainers and elephants seemed so genuine and helped me believe that they really do care about the treatment of the elephants. We were even told to leave some elephants alone for a while because they did not feel like being crowded.

The baby elephant recieveing a tickle from a trainer

Chiang Mai is such a unique place with such a range of things to do there and is definitely worth a visit.

Settling into Thai time

It has almost been two weeks since I first touched down in Thailand. Although I haven’t been here long yet, I have already faced so many challenges and have discovered many fascinating things about life in Thailand.

As this is my first blog post I think I am going to answer one of the most common questions I have been asked “why did you choose to study abroad in Thailand?” as well as how settling in to a new and very different home has been so far.

When I decided I wanted to go on exchange I spent a long time working out where exactly I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to go somewhere very different from Australia. I also knew that I wanted to travel quite a bit while I was away so finding somewhere affordable and close to other countries was also important. The last criteria I had was I wanted to be able to receive credit for core subjects while I was abroad. Out of all the options I was given Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand was able to tick the most boxes. Whilst for me Thailand seemed to be the best option it was quite clear that for most other students at QUT it was not. The lack of previous students having attended Thammasat University made it difficult to talk to someone who knew exactly what life would be like there. Also, due to the language barrier, many aspects of the university website were confusing and unclear. The lack of information about my studies and other things like how easy it would be to make friends and the best places to live was quite frankly a bit terrifying.

Thammasat University uniform

I arrived in Bangkok on the 2nd of January hoping to relieve some of my concerns during orientation week. The first event that I attended was uniform shopping. Yes, that is correct, in Thailand university students generally wear uniforms. I began to get a better picture of how the university and Thai student life worked after speaking to some of the Thai students that helped us buy our uniforms.

  1. The faculty I was in meant that I only had to wear a uniform when I was having mid-semester or final exams.
  2. Out of the 80 odd new exchange students only one other would be up at the Rangsit campus (just north of Bangkok) with me because most of the English programs were at the campus in the city.
  3. Thai people are really friendly and helpful people.

The university also paired me up with a couple of Thai students who studied up on the Rangsit campus. Both girls that I was paired up with were very lovely and helpful. They guided me on everything from how to get around to where to live. Although I was fortunate to have such supportive people helping me out I still struggled with simple things such as reading and signing the lease of the apartment I am living in. It may have been translated into English but the sentences did not make much sense. Since I was no longer in the tourist area asking a taxi or motorbike driver to take me somewhere was very difficult and it helped me realise how important learning some Thai would be for survival while I am studying here.

I have had one week of classes and so far, I have had a mixture of teachers. Some have been extremely charismatic, and good at English. Whereas others have been quite strict or had to ask other students to help translate some sentences into English for me. Either way being in journalism and communication classes have already proved to be a great way to get an inside look at different issues in Thailand and aspects of Thai culture that are not as obvious. I am very interested to see what the rest of the semester holds.

Although I came to Thailand with a bunch of concerns I have been able to work through all of the challenges and so far I am very happy with how everything is going. Being at Rangsit campus has turned out to be a positive. It has helped me to be able to befriend more Thai students than I would have been able to otherwise. I am also really lucky that the other exchange student in my faculty is really awesome and it has been great to have someone to travel to places near our campus and places closer into Bangkok with. I have learnt so much about Thailand and myself already and cannot wait for the next four and a half months here. I am going to try and post as much as I can on Instagram so if you would like to see more of my travels follow gabcarter.