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About Gabby Carter

Studying mass communication abroad at Thammasat University

Sawadee pee mai Thai (Happy Thai New Year)

I was lucky enough to be in Thailand to celebrate Songkran, the celebration of traditional Thai New Year. Celebrated every year from 13 – 15 April (although dates can vary depending on where in Thailand you are) and uses water, as a symbol of washing away last year’s mis-fortune.

Many of my new Thai friends have gone home to spend time with family, and those who are Buddhist, go and make merit at temples. However, the holiday is known for what I would consider the biggest water fight I have ever seen! These water fights are not everywhere in the country however all the biggest destinations hold them.

There is a mass exodus of the locals from Bangkok as most go back to their hometown but I stayed in the capital to celebrate Songkran. A couple of key streets become full of both international and domestic tourists and a few locals all keen to be involved in the celebration.

The morning of New Year’s Day, I headed to one of the spots for a big street water fight. It was insane! Even though I was not there during the busiest time I still came out drenched head to toe from a barrage of water guns, hoses and buckets. People who lined the streets wearing masks and gripping super soakers were my nemeses’. I left around lunchtime and while it was busy, there was still room to move and run to try dodging people’s shots at you. I did see videos of the same street later in the day and the wide street was packed shoulder to shoulder.

After being soaked we went back to clean ourselves up before heading to a bar which was holding a Songkran event in a more suburban area. Once we got there we could see how locals who did not leave the city celebrated – and boy were they wild! There were people young and old lining suburban streets throwing water at motorbikes, cars and buses that passed by. There was also white powder that they put on their face that apparently softens the skin. By this time of night many of the people were quite intoxicated and would run onto the road with the white powder and get the motor bikes to slow down while the coat the riders face with the powder.

Songkran celebrations is one of the most fun festivals I have ever participated in and I think that Songkran alone is enough reason for me to come back to visit Thailand. I would recommend to anyone considering coming to Thailand, to try and time it with Songkran, to see and enjoy the festivities for themselves.

Compare the Pair (Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand)

One of the things I love best about Southeast Asia is the closeness of other countries. I have already been able to visit two new countries; Singapore and Malaysia.

When I first stepped off the plane in the middle of the night in Singapore I knew it was going to be something entirely different from Thailand. The airport looked like a luxury hotel and the process was very efficient. We got a taxi from the airport to our hostel and were even told to do up our seat belts!

Myself and two fellow exchange students woke up the next day ready to explore. We only had one day in Singapore and we wanted to make the most of it. We began our day taking the train to the botanic gardens, the perfectly groomed greenery was a nice contrast from the surrounding city it reminded me of Central Park in New York City.

Waterfall in the Botanic Gardens

 

We then travelled to Little India. Here we saw beautiful yet quirky street art. Even in Little India, a place known to be more chaotic, the streets were so clean and orderly. I was beginning to see how ahead of the times Singapore was in regards with efficiency and modern development. It reminded me of District 1 in The Hunger Games.

Street art in little India

By now it was lunch time and we were hungry for the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world. We headed to a hawker market in China Town to check it out. The food was tasty however I have tasted food of a similar quality and price in Thailand.

Following our quick sit down for lunch we headed to the Marina Bay area. This is by far the most glitzy and photographed area of Singapore. We had some time to kill before we the light show started, so we went to a rooftop bar, LeVel 33. Here I got their IPA that was brewed in house, it was pricier than anything else I’d spent that day but worth it. During our time here, the sun began to set so we headed out to the Supertree Groves. Their glow was stunning! The view from a distant lookout and below them were both gorgeous. Time was ticking on our 24 hours in Singapore but luckily, we only had one more thing to tick off, the light show on the Bay. I had read reviews about how it was nothing special, so I didn’t have my expectations set high, but boy I couldn’t disagree more. The special effect lights and sound were so perfectly timed to tell the story of a beautiful bird spreading its wings. For a free show that is on every night I felt that I got way more than my money was worth. My time in Singapore helped me understand that even if countries are in the same region, historic and current events can shape the economy and culture of those countries very differently.

Roof top view of Marina Bay

Super tree Groves

Light show

 

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur early the next day. I would consider the development of the city somewhere between Bangkok and Singapore. We first ventured to the old part of the city to visit some museums that gave us greater perspective of Malaysia’s past and its current culture. We were prevented from entering the museum until an hour after we arrived due to Friday prayers. The echoing of the prayers over the old city was fascinating. We next visited the police museum. This enlightened me on how many colonies have tried to rule Malaysia. Later that night we went out with other people from the hostel to a backpacker bar area. It was lots of fun and I ended up learning salsa dancing from a Costa Rican!

The next day we visited the Batu caves. It is out of the city slightly. Once there, you climb 272 stairs to get to the top where there is a temple. We were lucky to be there at the start of a Hindu festival, Thaipusam, so there were many traditional ceremonies happening. One of the most notable things were people all dressed in yellow carrying offering in metal vases on their heads. Later that day we went to the new part of Kuala Lumpur to check out the famous Petronas Twin Towers.

Top of cave

The following day we headed to Cameroon Highlands, a popular Malaysian destination known for it’s greenery and tea plantations. We arrived in the afternoon and went on a small hike (there are many popular trails in the area). The trail led to a waterfall. As we walked along the waterfall to the bottom of it, I sadly saw mountains of rubbish that had piled up after going along the stream. It was a very visual representation of the ugliness and destruction our waste is doing to the world. The next day we walked one of the longest trails in the area, that also had the best view of the region. Along the way there were many beautiful trees and shrubs but again plastic was almost as plentiful as the trees in the rainforest. The walk was very pleasant and made even more so buy a dog that decided to come with us, I called her Milly. Our final day in the Cameroon Highlands the three of us went on a tour that included a small guided hike and a trip to the tea plantations, bee farm and strawberry fields. The guided hike was interesting, I learnt there were over 500 types of moss in the forest and that there were flowers that caught and fed off bugs. The tea taste testing was also delicious.

View from the top of the hike trail

Our final destination for my two-week trip was George Town, on Penang Island. This town had a very heavy English influence, complete with splashes of classic English infrastructure around, such as the red telephone booths. One of my favourite parts of the area was the high value it placed on art. I have never been anywhere that had so much street art. All the art added so much character to the town. There were also many art galleries that displayed local visual artists. On the final day we visited the beach. It was nothing special as again, it was full of rubbish along the shore. However, getting in the ocean still felt like a perfect way to end my time in Malaysia.

George Town street art

It’s eye opening to see how different countries that border each other are. Singapore’s big difference is it’s valuable trading port, giving the nation great wealth to build modern infrastructure. Whereas, Malaysia is a melting pot of culture, it has a lot of Malay, Chinese, and Indian people and traditions that make up the country.

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.