My Thai Experience: Study Abroad Done Right

Elliot B.
Thammasat University, Thailand (Semester 1, 2019)

My last post on QUT Gone Global was back in January, so I apologize for not posting sooner. Back then, I had just settled in and begun my first week of classes at the Rangsit campus.

What I loved about studying at Rangsit was that each time I went into Bangkok, it felt just as exciting as the first time. If I was studying at the city campus, I would get used to living in Bangkok and the excitement would eventually subside. But by only getting to see Bangkok on the weekends, the thrill of driving through the city and walking around the different areas was still there, even near the end of my exchange.

I found university life in Thailand completely different to university in Australia. Thai universities feel a lot like school: you have lots of homework; you are asked to participate in class discussions; and you have the same classes with the same people. Most classes have between 30-50 students, but in one of my classes, Advanced News Reporting, there were only 10 students. This was great because I could really get to know everyone, and could develop a good relationship with my teacher. You also take between 6-7 subjects, so you get to know the other students very quickly because you see them so regularly.

My class for JM310 – Editorial and Article Writing

The highlights of my trip include spending Songkran in Chiang Mai. Songkran is the Thai New Year holiday, famous for water fights that are held all over the country. People of all ages wear colourful Hawaiian shirts, arm themselves with water guns and buckets, and spray water at each other. Chiang Mai is known as having one of the country’s biggest Songkran celebrations.

Drenched on the streets of Chiang Mai

Another highlight was getting to know so many Thai students. I’m a massive food lover, so I found getting along with Thai students super easy. We would talk about food all the time. One friend invited me over to his house to cook with his family and have dinner with them. We cooked up a huge feast of traditional Thai dishes including kai palo (sweet and sour pork soup), red curry of duck, dry-fried prawns in garlic and chili, and the best fried rice ever!

The huge meal we cooked!

One last highlight would have to be a trip with my closest exchange and Thai friends where we took to an island in Southern Thailand called Ko Phi Phi. We spent an incredible day on a boat and visited some beautiful beaches. These are memories I’ll never forget.

My friends and I on a boat somewhere in the Andaman Sea

I feel very fortunate to have had this amazing experience, and implore others to go on exchange. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan. More information available here.

Adjusting to Life in Thailand

In Thailand, there’s a phrase called ‘Thai Time’. It applies when Thai people do things in their own time – which I’ve realised happens quite a lot!

The first time I experienced ‘Thai Time’ was waiting for my acceptance letter from Thammasat University. Around one month before my planned departure, the letter finally came through. Phew!

I decided to study in Thailand because I wanted to study journalism in Asia, and Thammasat was one of the few options to do this. I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand anyway – I really love Thai food – so it worked out perfectly.

Fried fish balls with chilli sauce – so good!

I arrived almost two weeks before the semester began to give myself some time to settle in and explore Bangkok. For the first week, I stayed right next to the famous Ratchada Rot Fai Night Market. Almost every night I went to this huge food market and tried something different. My favourite dishes were a spicy mango salad with fried fish, fried fish balls with chilli sauce, and an insanely spicy chicken noodle soup. If you can’t tell; I love spicy food so I’m in heaven here.

First time wearing the uniform!

During the first week, I met my Thai buddy who showed me some of Bangkok’s must-see sights including The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. She also helped me buy my uniform, which I only have to wear for formal occasions like taking exams or going on tours with the university.

The next week I stayed at a hotel right on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, which is the main river in Bangkok. Located across from the Thammasat Tha Prachan campus, it was easy catching a ferry across the river to get to orientation classes. It was also right near a super authentic market called Wang Lang market, which was bustling with activity every day. I was often the only foreign person at the market!

With new friends from America at Wat Pho

Once all the orientation activities were complete, I had to move to the other campus, which is located around 45-minutes north of Bangkok. Most of the new friends I made stayed behind at the Bangkok campus which was tough, but fortunately I’ve become really good friends with the people who also study at the Rangsit campus.

So far, campus life at Rangsit has been really interesting. The Rangsit campus is huge and it has its own transport system to get people from class to class. I’ve had my first week of classes which were mostly just introductions to the courses. Next week, classes fully begin so I’ll let you know what they are like next time!

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan. More information available here

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.

Flooding = Holiday time

Dear Flood Waters,


After months of waiting, the flood waters have finally reached Bangkok. Now, the city is more or less surrounded by water. Some areas have been flooded for over a month. 564 people have died. 50% of Chulalongkorn students have flooded houses. All universities and school have been closed. Some classes were cancelled for two weeks, while others were cancelled for five weeks. Drinking water has been in short supply. Our favourite restaurant was closed for two weeks. Air Asia can’t offer all of their usual meals due to food shortages. There is hardly any traffic on the road anymore. Exams will be easier…

What an interesting few weeks it has been, waiting for updates on whether or not university will stay cancelled and if our accommodation will be flooded. However, two days ago we were given a letter asking us to prepare for evacuation. BOOM! What a state of panic we were all in! Where will we go? What will we do? Is the semester over? Do we fly home? Can I stay here and walk amongst the sewage, crocodiles and poisonous snakes? One mature-age exchange student even said, “I am leaving a.s.a.p. because I don’t believe anything the government is saying. It is only going to get worse. The airport is not safe as they say.” A classic six thing to say…

Floods from the air...

Needless to say, we all enjoyed our impromptu mid-semester vacation, seeing the silver lining of the rain cloud and taking-up the opportunity to see more of South-East Asia. Myself and five others chose to visit Vietnam. If you ever get the chance to travel with some outrageous Germans, a freaking beautiful French chick, a crazy Japanese lady and a fine Finnish female, I would highly recommend it. It was literally gnarly.

The group!

North-bound from Ho Chi Minh City (Siagon), we stopped off at Na Trang and Hoi An on the way to beautiful Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. To start, Ho Chi Minh is a nice introduction to Vietnam, boasting many museums to teach you about the Vietnam War and also crazy traffic (the number one attraction in all of South-East Asia according to Lonely Planet)!

In regards to the war, between 1-3 million Vietnamese, Cambodian’s, Laotian’s and American’s were killed. The US (who supported South Vietnam) viewed the war as a fight against communism, whereas the North Vietnamese viewed it as a war against colonisation. One of the most horrible things was the use of “Agent Orange” – a herbicide  that killed 400,000 people, and caused a further 500,000 children to be born with birth defects. When the American military sprayed it over Vietnam, their goal was to kill the forest, thus forcing the rebel soldiers out of hiding. However, there was an extremely toxic compound included in the spray, which caused bigger problems than just plants dying. Walking around Vietnamese cities today, you still see many, many suffering disabled people – children of those who inhaled Agent Orange. In one particular museum, many preserved foetuses and still-born babies are shown, all with significant defects. This was particularly disturbing, especially since they were housed amongst photos of soldiers holding blown-up bodies and American military trucks towing Vietnamese people by a rope along the road. There was one quote from an American commander that really walked me animally on the cookie: “My solution to the problem would be to tell the North Vietnamese frankly that they’ve got to draw in their horns or we’re going to bomb them back into the stone age.” … why are there stupid people like this guy in the world? I must wonder, what turned him into a monster? Were his parents also stupid? Was he starved of love as a child? Was he bullied at school? Was he ‘out-of-proportion’?

The babies...

Also horrific were the “Tiger Cages” pictured below – ‘rooms’ for naughty prisoners. The first one is for 1-3 people, where as the second one is for 5-7 people. These affected me a lot more than torturing chamber next door… I guess that could be because torturing seems like such a far-away concept, something that I really can’t imagine. However, I could really imagine ‘living’ in these cages for a week or two. It wouldn’t be nice.

Tiger Cages... but for people

Moving on, My Lovely Mr. Singing Club, the traffic situation in Vietnam makes Bangkok seem so normal and civilised; like a tranquil river-side village. You really need to keep your whits about you. Scooters rule the road with an approximate 1,000,000:1 ratio with cars, and they come from all directions. Two of our friends had accidents, and we witnessed two more. Surprisingly though, it’s extremely easy to cross the road. You just walk out at a slow yet constant pace, and everyone goes around you. It’s as easy as getting your hand-bag stolen and totally beats using traffic lights. THE CAR HORNS THOUGH!!!!! Oh. My. Buddha. If I ever need to hear another “singing” Vietnamese horn, that’ll be the end of me. Try sleeping on a night bus or travelling five hours with not just a ‘beep’ everyone 20 seconds, but a SINGING horn… I’m still disturbed. Not even two packets of Oreo’s and 30 minutes of listening to High School Musical songs made me feel better.

A car for the whole family

A very festive lady indeed!

The highlight from Nha Trang would be the boat trip we did. We were excited about a day of diving in the blue ocean and visiting some beautiful island beaches, but let’s say we got more than we bargained for. It was all very normal until lunch time. We were the only white people as well as the only people who weren’t about 40 or 50. All was peaceful. As soon as the food came out however, they seemed to think that really loud David Guetta music was appropriate. Interesting. When they announced our ears would be blessed with their live rock band, we decided it was time to sunbathe upstairs. Sadly we left out earplugs at home. There was no time to get bored though, because then the floating bar was in the water and, before we knew it, there was an erotic dancer dacing on the bar! If that was not enough, he proceeded to stick plastic cups over his nipples. AND THEN the most boring looking old man in the world climbed to the top of the boat, jumped off and started drinking wine in the water. Well, we were in such a state of shock…

Mr. Crazy!

His spirit remains young, despite his age

Fast-forwarding to Ha Long Bay – it is stunning. It is amazing. It is spiritual. It is cultural. It is a ‘must do’ before you go blind. And if you flirt with the travel agent whilst playing with his cheeks, it costs only $50 for two days and one night. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. They are so beautiful you can literally sit there for hours (looking out, obviously) and not cease to be dazzled. The one thing I can’t let slip though is the dirtiness of the water. There is so much rubbish and oil on the surface it is sickening. I guess it is pollution on a small level in comparison to Western style pollution, but when the surroundings are so beautiful you can’t help but be disgusted and upset. It reminded me of this time when I was hiking through the Peruvian jungle and a Peruvian child threw his Inca Cola bottle into trees. I said it’s probably best he doesn’t do it and should pick it up. He said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. We’re in the mountains. No one cares.” GRRRR… that is when you should care the most! The highlight of this Vietnamese highlight would be swimming at dusk among this isles. In a patch of clean water, it felt so phenomenal and unreal! Simply magical.

Ha Long Bay

It really has a magical feel...

Hanoi is super vibrant and well worth a stop over. The food is so tastey! I will miss Vietnamese food. Also, the locals do this funny thing, where they sit on street corners drinking tea and eating seeds… they look like birds and the ground is covered in seed shells!

As I leave you today, one month and 10 days before I come home, I would like you take three key points away. Firstly, don’t start a war – it never ends well for anyone. Secondly, don’t pollute Ha Long Bay or the Peruvian Jungle. Thirdly, and finally, come on a University exchange to Bangkok – you’re never in Bangkok and never at University!

You know I dislike you immensely Floods,

No XOXO for you,


P.S. I just got sent my end of year assignment for I&O Psychology, as I can no longer attend the final exam. This is the assignment guideline: “select 2 topics and write 3 pages each.” This really redefines vague.

Umm... errr... it's art.

The real Asia. Finally!

Dear France (the country),

I send you my deepest sympathies for your loss in the 2011 Rugby World Cup… as they say, “Second place is the first loser,” so I have little doubt that you are extremely upset. Making matters worse, it seem like you feel the referee treated France unfairly. I hear you say, “What’s the point of playing a match, if the Ref already knows who will win?” The world today is such an unfair place, and since you are French, I can imagine the alleged ‘corruption’ makes you more angry than it would any other nation. May I suggest you have a strike against the South African referee? Practically speaking, it would be best if your people parked their trucks on my peoples railroad tracks. Maybe then you will be listened to.

In all seriousness though, I was amazed with how well you played, and I must admit there wasn’t a second in the game when I didn’t think you could and would win. Also, it’s a shame the last five minutes wasn’t really rugby; otherwise you could have really caused an uproar. Nonetheless, I am glad my glorious nation won! It has been so long since their last success, and it is nice to win during a home game. I’m as happy as the parent of someone who just used a potty for the first time! Go the All Blacks! Go New Zealand! … also congratulations to Australia for winning the ummm what’s it called…Bronze final?

It seemed appropriate to watch the match somewhere French, so it’s just as well I was in the former French colony – Cambodia. Rugby, however, was not the real reason why I travelled to Cambodia. Finally, I was able to see some of the real Asia! This is a extremely special country and I highly recommend that you visit. First, I went to Siem Reap, home to the famous Angkor Wat (Angkor WHO?) temple, and then on to the capital, Phnom Penh – a bustling and exciting city with a dark history. This trip was a bit different than my other trips, as I chose to travel alone, meeting a lot of ‘interesting’ people as a result. My name is Sam Thomson, and this is my story:

Adrenalin was pumping before I even entered Cambodia! I had read a lot about the dodgy Thai-Cambodia border on the internet and I was excited: FINALLY I WOULD NEED TO BRIBE A POLICE MAN! However, the silly boarder-patrol policeman was less adamant about me paying the 100 baht “Visa processing” bribe as I was about not paying it, so I got into the country with a massive three dollars saved. I was gutted; there is nothing like an exciting bribe to make you feel like you’ve left Australia. Before leaving Bangkok, I read that everything was a scam in this area and that you should trust or talk to nobody. For some reason though I thought it’d be a great idea to casually hitch-hike from the bus station to the boarder – luckily I gave a cheeky / flirty smile to the right person, and she was more than willing to take me there for free (a rare offer in Thailand). I think I could have started a Thai family on this occasion if I wanted to, but tonight was not the night. Nonetheless, in true Thai style, right after our introductions, I was asked, “Do you have Facebook?” – who knows, maybe we’ll stay in touch and I can shatter her dreams some other day.

This reminded me of some cultural differences regarding social networking, bringing back happy memories of one particular Thai girl – our conversation went like this:
“Hi. I’m Sam.”
“Hi Sam. Let’s be friends. Do you have Facebook?”
“Yes… Sam Thomson…”
“ Skype?”
“Yes, but ummm errr I don’t use it very often.”
“Black Berry Messenger?”
“Ah, yea, but it’s not common in Australia, so I won’t tell you it.”
“No, I don’t have it anymore.” (lie)
“ Myspace?”
“Google Chat?”
“No.” (lie)
“What’s your phone number?”
“I can’t remember [lie] – can I tell you later? Anyway, what’s your name?”

HOW MANY MEANS OF COMMUNICATION DO WE NEED? The youth of today are unbelievable.

Anyway, at the border there is a fake but very genuine looking place to buy $20 scam Cambodian visas, currency exchange booths which you must be stupid to think the exchange rate is close to acceptable, a thousand tuk-tuk and taxi drivers to take you places that you don’t want to go, and the coolest thing is you can actually walk past the visa patrol and boarder security and into Cambodia without anyone stopping you. I was going for the Police-will-come-and-yell-at-me-when-I’ve-gone-past-the-real-boarder tactic… Apparently not, and I got as far as the bus stop and thought, “Hmm… I should have filled in some forms, plus got a visa and stamp by now… whoopsie.”

Onwards and upwards, I got to Siem Reap, former home of the Khmer Empire – Angkor, Southeast Asia’s largest empire during the 12th Century. After a series of wars, a variety of kings and some infrastructure breakdowns the empire collapsed, leaving the beautiful temples behind… it almost seems like Cambodia hasn’t had peace since. History lesson over, I forgot that this area was a high-risk zone for malaria and had not taken my pills, so mosquito spray was applied like a fat man applies butter to his toast… as they say. Nonetheless, if you want to buy 100 valum pills for $10 without a prescription, this is the place (not that I did it… I just got offered it at a pharmacy). The Angkor area is pretty stunning place, with temples for Africa… or Asia even. The day was spent soaking up the ambience, smelling the history and biking around the Cambodian country side (which was so lush). Check it out for yourself:

Angkor Wat

More Temples

Next it was on to Phnom Penh, a 6-hour journey which was perhaps the highlight of my trip. The bus drove through endless Cambodian villages… as in genuine villages, no make-up. What a cultural delight. The majority of the region was flooded, so it was really interesting to see how the locals reacted. Although their raised-houses were surrounded by deep water, they continued living in them. The kids were swimming around in the flood water. Life seemed normal. In the worst hit areas, people had more or less moved their entire lives onto the road side. From a travellers and photographers perspective, this was awesome. For kilometre after kilometre, the road was lined with cows, chickens, ducks, families in small huts, bikes, and hundreds of people carrying things on their heads. It was pure chaos.

I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for what the people were experiencing. I mean, I understand that it must be hard for them, but I didn’t feel anything. Actually, that’s a lie; if I felt something it was a mixture of respect and awe. The spirit seemed high and the people seemed unaffected. As one of my Tuk-tuk drivers said, “They have their family. They have their rice. Nothing else matters. You don’t need money in the country-side.” As long as people have enough food to eat, somewhere to sleep, a family to be with, and clean air to breathe, I generally don’t categorise farmers in the country as ‘living in poverty’. What really upsets me is when I see 7-year-old girls dancing outside of bars like they are pole-dancers, If she’s like that now, what will she be doing in 10 years time?, or when you walk down the street at 2am and a bunch of 5-year-old boys run up to you and start pulling on your clothes, begging for money, Where are their parents? Why aren’t they in bed, asleep?, or when you need to walk through a narrow passage, but must walk over a man with no legs sprawled out over the ground, Why is this the only thing he can do with his life?, or when the government decides to redevelop some land and destroys peoples housing without warning or compensation. Do poor Cambodians even have rights?

Frogs that still croak and leap.

Phnom Penh has a very dark history, and was relatively unstable until 1997. For those of you who slept through social-studies class, the most infamous leader in Cambodia was Pol Pot, who lead the Khmer Rouge army. Attempting to turn Cambodia into a communist nation, he aimed to kill all intellectuals – doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, writers, business-men… even wearing glasses was enough to warrant execution; anyone who was able to think for themselves was a risk to the new Cambodia. Pol Pot endorsed slogans such as, “It is better to kill an innocent person by mistake, than to let a ‘traitor’ [educated person] run free,” and “To destroy you is no loss, to preserve you is no gain.” All-in-all, his regime killed around a quarter of Cambodia’s population.

In terms of ‘Sight-seeing”, the S21 Prison in Phnom Penh is an old school which Pol Pot converted into torture prison. After going there, seeing photos of tortured-to-death people and seeing blood splattered on the floor and walls, I really got an impression of the pain Cambodian’s suffered. Furthermore, there are the “killing fields” just outside the city, which as the name suggests, are the fields in which the Khmer Rouge killed many people – there are thousands people in mass graves there. It’s also pretty horrific, with teeth and bones scattered on the ground. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Khmer Rouge is that they couldn’t afford bullets, so all their murders were done through torture, beatings and decapitation. One example of this is the “killing tree” – children were held by their feet and wacked against a tree multiple times before being thrown into the grave.

I have a question for you: for regimes like the Nazi party and the Khmer Rouge, who should be punished / held accountable? Just the leaders of the organisations or the soldiers as well? The Milgrim experiments really made me feel like the soldiers shouldn’t be punished… they were only doing what they were told. But then again, we all need to take responsibility for our actions at some point.

Killing Fields

During this trip I met a few interesting people. One tuk-tuk driver, a 23-year-old Cambodian guy with super English, came and talked with me for two hours. Apart from the usual stuff, he told me about some of the foreigners he’s driven around: a 32-year-old Australian woman who suggested they get married and he moves to Sydney with her, where she earns $80,000 a year; a German man who offered to pay for him to live and study in Germany for three years; and a gay English man who emails him every other day… the tuk-tuk driver said to me: “I’m a bit scared about being friends with him because he is gay. I understand how girls and boys boom-boom. But how do two boys boom-boom?” He was such a nice guy who had such great interpersonal skills; it was sad to know he’ll probably spend too much of his life as a tuk-tuk driver. Then I met a German guy who had a Cambodian girlfriend for 6-weeks. The girlfriend, though, has a western man-friend who sends her lots of money every month. Last week, the German woke up, his girlfriend was gone, and he never heard from her again. Then I met a Nigerian man living in Singapore, with his Chinese wife and 2-year-old daughter. I thought he was really cool, until he said, “Ah, I just went to a bar and asked a girl how much she costs. She said $40. There’s no way I am paying that much – only $20. But I like to really look at the girl before I take her home. Last time I paid $30 and I was not happy with her services.
Umm you have a wife and daughter – don’t be so disgusting. And actually, I need to cancel our dinner plans for this evening.

So as I reflect on my Cambodian trip, I’m truly grateful for having a fortunate upbringing, in a peaceful country with a normal(ish) family. I have to wonder though,  how different would we be if we lived through a war in our countries? Would we be as educated? Would we appreciate lives gifts more? Would we be happier?

You know I love you,


P.S. Exams are easy here. I hardly studied and got 86%, 89%, 90%, and 95%. My assignment grades have been good too: 85%, 90%, 100%.

P.P.S. I went out partying last night and kissed two girls.

Oh so pretty!

To the wise man who told me, “Don’t bring in the kitten from the cold if you want a clean couch,”

Boy, oh boy, I have some lush stories for you today. Lately, I’ve been following the advice of the Shabu-shabu tribe, and started “painting my life with rainbows.” In other words, I have tried to experience a diverse range of ‘stuff.’ I’ll tell you about a white-sand island that was blessed with my presence. Furthermore, I hear you want a ‘profile’ of the typical exchange student. Also, there are some nifty sayings that I think you should use with your German friends. Finally, maybe it’s best you don’t come to Thailand at the moment, as it’s raining a lot.

Another island holiday. More beach. More ocean. More sun. More swimming. More relaxing. More beach parties. More mosquito bites… what a life! As they say in Brisbane, “If only that was a Facebook page, we could all ‘like’ it!” My beautiful Swiss friend, Stefanie, and I decided to escape to Koh Samet, a ‘National Park’ island three hours from Bangkok, for a romantic weekend. It is a really beautiful island, which is hard to imagine considering its proximity to such a smelly city! Furthermore, I wrote ‘National Park’ in speech marks to show that in Thailand there is nothing like a cheeky bribe to allow development in a protected area. The highlights included hiking the length of the island (+/-) whilst exploring the beautiful shores, and then kayaking out into the depths of the ocean and swimming with… ourselves! In terms of partying, there is something about dancing on the beach the screams “Freedom” – and I’m not talking about the feeling of freedom when you are swimming naked (although, that did feel good), rather the feeling of freedom I’m sure you have post-shower after hiking through the Peruvian jungle for three days… so fresh! So lush!

The beautiful beach....

Sam and Stefanie!

Of course, since I’m on a cultural exchange, I need to appreciate the life lessons one learns day-to-day. The three key takeaways from this weekend were: 1) Thai dogs lie differently to New Zealand dogs, 2) Developing countries have many more, much larger billboards on their motorways, and 3) When you are on the beach at 4am with someone, be warned of security-guard flashlights, lightning strikes and scary thunder…. in the words of Darren Hayes:

“Breathe in, breathe out, there is no sound,
We move together up and down
We levitate, our bodies soar
Our feet don’t even touch the floor.”

The way my dog lay down in New Zealand

The preferred lying position of Thai dogs

With Stefanie and many other exchange students speaking German, I’ve managed to pick up on a bit of the lingo. Many German sayings are so groovy when translated into English! In fact, if you have some German friends, I think they’d really appreciate it if you used the following phrases in context…

Germanlish – English
I’m fox devil wild – I’m really mad
Come on! Jump over your shadow – Be brave
Now it goes around the sausage – It’s crunch time
You walk me animally on the cookie – You are really getting on my nerves
I fell from all clouds – I was really surprised
I think my pig whistles – I cannot believe it
I cannot dare my ears – I cannot believe it
Did you eat a clown for breakfast? – You are being really funny today.
I understand just train station – I don‘t get it
My lovely Mr. Singing Club – Holy moly
I have an ear worm – There is a song stuck in my head.

As you say, LOTI!!! (Laughing on the inside)

But who are these German’s? Who are these exchange students? How do they think? Why are they in Thailand? Questions like this are best answered by reading, “Things Bogans Like.” The term Bogan, however, has many negative connotations, so we will call these young creatures Xcited Exchange Students (XES). And yes, the acronym is sex spelt backwards because that’s what the XES’s are all about. These wild animals, many of whom are experiencing life outside of captivity for the first time, are ready to experience the local cuisine… and when I say cuisine, I’m not talking about a Pad Thai ordered mild from Koh San Road with a bucket of poison and coke. For the boys, it seems none of the female XES’s are that into them. They’ve tried, they’ve failed, and now they’ve moved onto a more ‘cultural’ experience. From what I’ve heard (and I’ve heard some interesting things)… let’s just say there seems to be quite the difference in traditional mating ceremonies between species. For the girls, the XES’s are a bit gross; not quite boyfriend material. But neither are the Thai boys it seems – apparently they just aren’t tall enough and lack that ‘hunter-gatherer’ macho-ness. En fait, I’m constantly reminded of the Wivenhoe Dam here… the pressure and tension is starting to over-flow! Nonetheless, most of the XES’s have received a Thai-tan (i.e. got very sunburnt in that English-person in Turkey kind of way), and can boast a repertoire of experiences such as elephant riding, temple touring, full moon parties, bargaining to save five cents, buying a ‘7-Eleven’ or a ‘Chang Beer’ singlet, and of course, we wouldn’t be in Thailand if someone didn’t get an elephant tattoo when they were drunk – la classe américaine (that’s for you, Dani :-P). Studying, exams and grades are more a complementary part of the exchange, with pretty much everyone who isn’t German feeling quite blasé about school life. But they’re a cool bunch of guys and girls, eager to experience the western-Asia as much as possible (with a little bit of real-Asia).

– It’s really hard to link some topics, so please excuse the awkward jump – Unless you think this is okay:
While you may still be rolling on the floor laughing from the German sayings, some Thai people currently have no dry floor to roll on, and they are not laughing…

Currently there are large floods over South-East Asia. In Thailand, 10 provinces are being evacuated and 260 people have died. The flooding is starting to hit Bangkok, and 700,000 sandbags have been ordered. Having being in Brisbane for the floods in January and now being here, it’s interesting to note the difference in reactions. I can’t tell if it is just because I was more involved in the Brisbane floods, but life in Bangkok seems to be carrying-on as normal. In Brisbane I felt like Queensland closed down for the week and panic was wide-spread. From the photos below (which I stole from the newspaper), you can see how some Thai’s have reacted differently to the situation…

A casual meal in the flood water.

Fanned Elephant Tours Through Flooded Towns-a niche

You know I love you,


P.S. Don’t worry, we can still be friends even though Australia will lose against New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final. When I tell myself that it’s like charity, I find I still want to talk to you.

... the winners.


To my wonderfully special cousin, Lucy.

Whoever said exams in Thailand are hard has obviously never done an exam in Thailand. Maybe I speak too soon, as results are yet to be released, but after minimal study Chula’s exams didn’t present themselves as a challenge. In fact, I even had to thank the lecturer of our hardest exam for not insulting our intellect – it felt so good to use my brain again.

The most amusing exam would have to be Industrial and Organisational Psychology. For those of you who I haven’t already told, this teacher has a really ‘different’ teaching style: (i.e. Reading the textbook out. Word-for-word. For three hours. Non-stop. I would upload one of the many videos I have of her, but I don’t want to get into trouble). Our exam included 160 m/c questions and in the week prior to the exam, the lecturer said, “The mid-term is very hard. I will give you some assistance.” She then preceded to roughly read-out all 160 questions, encouraging us to write them down. We obviously obliged. Then, in the exam, she was kind enough to give us the hints in the question: e.g. What are the three main aspects of I&O Psych – a, b, c, or all of the above? “Hmmm… have I walked into a maths exam by mistake?” Or, in four consecutive questions, we were given all four definitions that needed to be matched with one of four terms. In other words, we had all the definitions plus all the terms and just needed to play mix-n-match. “Oh dear, post-test evaluation’s are done post-test and pre-test-post-test evaluation’s are done pre-test and post-test, right? Or is it the other way around?” Finally, some of the questions were just plain crazy: e.g. Testing that a person does by themselves is called – group testing, individual testing, paired testing or none of the above? “Seriously?”

Nevertheless, I don’t want to make it sound like I got 100% in any of my tests. I didn’t.

**Take a breath**

On a completely different and more important topic, child prostitution is something that has been on my mind a lot lately… and it all started when dad’s girlfriend did a charity run, raising money so child prostitutes can be trained as hairdressers – a healthier profession. I then read an article called, “The Diary of a Sex Slave”: Most of it is pretty graphic, so I will try to sum-it-up. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW!!! In most Asian countries, about 30-40% of all prostitutes are children (boys and girls). In Thailand, around 800,000 prostitutes are under 16. This group alone earns a greater profit than the sale of either arms, drugs or lottery tickets. The above article is about a Cambodian girl named Sreypov, who was sold to a brothel by her mother (well, actually, they pretended she was going to become a maid, but that never happened) when she was just seven years old. Forced to sleep with up to 20-men per-day, she sometimes rebelled. This resulted in server punishment that included being burned with a hot poker, covered with biting insects, whipped with an electric cable, and even worse, unmentionable things. An appointment with a girl apparently costs as little as $5. However, because pimps can charge around $800 for a girls virginity, the girls are often stitched-up to fool the next client. Interestingly, although paedophile tourists get the most media attention e.g. through World Vision’s “Name and Shame” campaign, locals are the most frequent abusers…

However – let’s move one. I hope that is enough information for you to realise that there is a big problem!
Now, what can be done about it…? During my research, I came across these suggested solutions:

1. by helping to rescue the children who are unwillingly caught in this web, providing re-education, health care, and job training;
2. by addressing the laws that govern the practice of prostitution in order to prohibit the enslavement and trafficking of children;
3. by addressing the economic issues that force children to migrate to the cities, where they are exploited in a variety of ways;
4. by examining the customs and culture, to determine the part of people which plays a role in diminishing the worth of any child.

In conclusion, I would like to say this message was not intended to offend anyone from any country. I wrote it purely from an educational perspective, hoping to motivate at least one person to help tackle the issue.

You know I love you,


P.S. I sent an email to all the lady-boys I know, asking them lots and lots of questions. I hope they reply soon so I can tell you why they’re so popular here!