Olivia H.

About Olivia H.

Hello! My name is Olivia Herzberg and I am a senior majoring in International Business. At the age of two I started traveling and it has always been my passion. I am studying abroad in Bangkok, Thailand. I will be here until the end of May, so follow along with me as I share my experiences while abroad!

Mai Pen Rai

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As most already know, Asia is known for its exquisite temples and the history behind them. I did not realize how many temples I was going to see when I got here. But after spending almost four months here already, viewing temples is just another part of daily life here for me. I see them everywhere, driving into the city, around the city, in local parks, national forests, etc.

I visited Ayutthaya which is the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam, before Bangkok became the capital city of Thailand. Ayutthaya is located 80 kilometers north of Bangkok and transportation is simple to get there. I paid 60 baht ($2.00) to catch a ride in a van. Ayutthaya was a prosperous international trading port from 1350 to 1767 when it was razed by the Burmese. Ayutthaya contains palaces, Buddhist temples, monasteries and statues. Arriving there, my friend and I noticed that there were no taxis in sight except tuk tuks who were only trying to scam you. Since Ayutthaya is huge and takes more than one day to see all the ruins and temples, we decided to rent a motorbike for a 100 baht all day pass ($3.30). It was much more enjoyable to ride around on a motorbike than to sit in on a tour with a large group of other people. This way we could visit certain temples at our own pace, and have a lax schedule where we could see whatever we wanted for however long we wanted. It was unbelievable walking around, I could definitely still feel the history here. The temples and ruins were amazingly beautiful and so intricate. It is so hard to wrap my mind around how these huge stone buildings were built so long ago with no modern technology.

As I mentioned before, stray dogs are everywhere in Thailand. Some nice, some not so nice. I had a little run-in with a stray dog while touring on our motorbike. We took a road that we thought was leading to the next temple, but turns out it was a dead end road leading to a man’s house. As we were driving up and quickly realizing that we were not on the correct road, a stray dog came running up to us barking and growling. Coincidentally our motorbike died right as this was happening. I have never been more scared in my life (this almost beats the first time I saw a gecko in our dorm kitchen). This was just our luck: taking the wrong street that lead to a dead end and having a stray dog attack us right as our motorbike died. Nevertheless, we quickly started back up the motorbike and zoomed off as fast as we could. I was sitting on the back laughing so hard and also still shaking at the fact my life flashed before my eyes! The rest of the trip we decided to only stay on main roads and avoid stray dogs as much as possible.

A few weeks after my visit to Ayutthaya, I took a trip to Chiang Mai, a city located on the northwestern corner of Thailand. The main reason we traveled here was for Loy Krathong, translating into English as “to float a basket”. This is also known to westerners as the Lantern Festival. This festival takes place on more than one day. One day boats are released to get rid of all your bad karma throughout the year, and most make a wish as their boat is released. We were very lucky to get to create our own boats with our hostel owner. He cut slabs of bamboo trunk as the center base, and picked loads of banana leaves to decorate our boats with. It was such a fun experience to get to learn about this holiday and be able to make it more meaningful by creating our own boats rather than spending money on one that another person created. We went to the river in Chiang Mai as a group, and one by one we released our boats making wishes and letting go of all of our bad karma. The next day was the releasing of the lanterns, symbolizing the same sort of idea: releasing karma and creating a clean slate for the year to earn good merit. Due to my class schedule and tests, I had to leave a day early and miss the releasing of the lanterns. I was pretty bummed about it, since it is such an amazing event to witness, but I was fortunate enough to look out the window and see the thousands upon thousands of lanterns floating in the sky as I was going home on a bus.

 

Laos, The Hidden Gem

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“The best trips are usually unplanned, random, spontaneous and most importantly fun.”

 

This is the most accurate quote for my trip to Laos last weekend. Two friends and I last minute (and I mean the day of) booked a night bus to the capitol city: Vientiene, Laos. Our friend Logan had just visited Laos a few weekends before and told us all the amazing things he did and saw, so I knew I had to travel there. From Vientiene we took a van 3 hours through the windy underdeveloped roads to a little backpacker town named Vang Vieng. Laos opened my eyes in ways I never thought possible. Coming to Thailand I thought it was pretty underdeveloped, but Laos took it to a whole new level. I saw many adults walking around barefoot and ripped clothing selling fruit or little trinkets they made themselves just to put dinner on the table at the end of the day. Just the venue of the village showed you how underdeveloped the country was with the shacks serving as houses, dirt roads, and the amount of poverty I saw. But despite all of this, I met the most genuine and happy people I have ever met in my life here. This trip to Laos really made me take a step back and realize how easy we have things in the States. We take even the simplest things for granted and Laos really taught me to become more aware of the way I live life and that the things I worry about are minuscule compared to the things going on there.

I took a 3 ½ mile bike ride through the village to a blue lagoon at the base of a mountain. As I was biking through the village I could see very clearly inside the houses because none of them had doors. One house I remember vividly had only two blankets on the floor serving as a bed, and a fan. Nothing else. I also saw the owner of the house boiling water outside over a fire since none of the water there was safe to drink. This is when I really got a sense of the culture here and how I wanted to show my respect here and prove myself not to be the typical American that everyone has a stereotype for. The woman noticed me biking by and gave me the most beautiful and happy smile and waved, and I smiled back and greeted her by saying “sabadee.”

Children were walking back home from school on the side of the road and that showed me how safe this village is. One thing I kept thinking about when I saw all these things was, “wow. What a way of life. What an amazing way to grow up.” Children were actually enjoying themselves playing soccer with each other and running around having fun outside. Today that’s becoming very uncommon back in the states.

After the blue lagoon we biked back to our hostel located on the main road of Vang Vieng. We went to bed pretty early because we planned a pretty exciting and packed day the next day. When we woke up, we ate breakfast and got picked up by the bus that took us about 30 minutes up the mountain to a spot by a river where we went tubing through the caves. This was one of the scariest yet most exciting things I’ve done for the fact of my huge fear of being in water when it’s dark. The cave was pitch black, and the only way we could see where we were going was from a head light our tour guide provided us with. At first I was doing alright and not really thinking about the fact that I had no idea what was swimming under me until I felt something slimy and warm slide across my back. I lost it after that. My tour guide couldn’t quit laughing at how scared I was how much I was freaking out. I tried lying on top of my tube to where no parts of my body touched the water until we reached sunlight again.

After our tube tour through the cave we stopped for lunch before our next adventure. We were sitting on a big rock near the river watching 5 little boys play in the water and catch fish with a water bottle. Someone handed them a plate of rice and all of them were fighting over it and scarfing it down. When I saw this my heart fell to my stomach and I thought about anything I could do to give them more food. My friends and I had leftover bread and bananas from our lunch so I grabbed them from our table and brought them down to the boys. They snatched them up so quick I don’t think they even had a chance to see what kind of food it was. This brought tears to my eyes. It immediately made me regret every bite I had just taken of my own lunch because there are others that need it way more than I did.

After we hung out with the boys for a little bit we had to leave for our next adventure: kayaking. This was my first time kayaking so I was pretty nervous but I was in the kayak with my friend Sami who was pretty much an expert kayaker so that helped a lot. The view while kayaking was unbelievable. Huge mountains in the backgrounds with beautiful trees lining the river. The water was so clear and in some shallow spots you could see all of the colorful rocks beneath.

We ended our trip with a hot air balloon ride over Vang Vieng before catching our bus back to Bangkok. This was absolutely breathtaking. It was completely silent and peaceful looking out at the mountains and village under us.

I will remember my trip to Laos and all the feelings I had and things I saw forever. This trip made me so thankful for all of the things I have and experiences I get to do. It also taught me to chill out and not worry about the things that I think are a big deal because there are much bigger things others are worrying about and I saw that first hand.

XoXo, Olivia

Mai Pen Rai

This was taken at the Veggie Festival in Chinatown, Bangkok. All the foods here are so unique and the way they prepare the meals is also so fun to watch.

If you look close, you still won’t be able to find me! This is a picture of all the international students studying this semester at Mahidol University. On this day we each planted a tree to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the King’s reign, and also to celebrate the 84th birthday of the Queen.

Just a little scenic photo of an island off the eastern seaboard on the Gulf of Thailand, known as Koh Phangan.

 

Sawadee ka from Bangkok, Thailand!

My time here continues to be more and more amazing everyday, and “mai pen rai” is still apart of my daily outlook on life and how to handle any situation here.

Coming here I was told to take notice of everyone’s happiness and smiley faces and WOW everyone was right. Thai people are so happy and welcoming. Everyone looks at me with curious eyes because they know I am not from here, wondering what I am doing here, but they are always smiling. I am nowhere near fluent in the Thai language, but when they see me trying to speak in Thai they love it.

I would like to talk about the little things here I have noticed that make this country so unique and amazing. There are stray dogs EVERYWHERE. I mean everywhere. That was one of things I noticed most when I came here. 15-60% of stray dogs in Thailand have rabies, so that was one of the first rules P’A gave us: DO NOT PET THE DOGS. It is such a sad and unique thing to see, because most of them are so cute and look so nice so you would think a little love would brighten their day, but that is not the case.

Another unique and awesome thing I have noticed here in Thailand is the amount of geckos there are, inside and outside. One of the first nights I was here I went into our kitchen area to fill up my water bottle, and when I turned on the light 2 little geckos ran up the wall. Nothing has scared me more than when I saw those little things! At that time I did not know it was normal for geckos to climb walls especially inside, so that took some getting used to. But now it is one of those little things that I will definitely miss seeing when I return home.

You learn very quickly (and I mean within the first few hours) that bug spray will be your best friend here. With the immense amount of humidity, and the fact that we are in a tropical jungle, mosquitoes are everywhere. Dengue and Zika are the two main viruses you can catch from a mosquito bite, so I have been sure to keep bug spray with me wherever I go. Although it is not a problem and probably won’t be for the rest of my time here I do not want to risk it.

But let’s talk about food, one of the best parts!

This is by far one the biggest things I am going to miss when I go home. Food here is amazing, Simpy Siam in Maryville doesn’t even begin to compare! It is also very cheap almost everywhere you go. Across the street from my dorm is a little family owned, in-house restaurant that I could definitely survive off of for the rest of my life. We call her pasta lady. She has everything from pad thai, rice with vegetables or meat, sandwiches with crab, ham, chicken, or tuna, multiple kinds of spaghetti, and salads. A meal here costs 30-40 baht which is right around $1 USD.

Down the street right next to our ISA office is a little restaurant called Little Girl. It has many more Thai food options for around the same price as pasta lady, anywhere from 30-60 baht. Also very amazing place to eat. It is cheaper to eat out every meal than to buy groceries, which sounds unhealthy, but there are so many healthy options and restaurants to pick from. Our school has a great cafeteria as well, called the atrium canteen. Meals here are also 30 baht, and you can choose from so many different Thai cuisines. Smoothies are a huge thing here in Thailand, also very healthy and very cheap. There are some American foods that I miss having in my day-to-day life (CHEESE!!!), but I know one day I’ll be home eating all of the things I miss here, thinking “man I really miss those amazing Thai cuisines, and pasta lady!”

One important and culturally relevant event that happened last week was the passing of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Until his death he was the longest reigning monarch in the world. He reigned over this amazing country since he was 18, a total of 70 years. The loss of the nation’s father has taken a huge toll on the Thai people. A national broadcast has announced a year of mourning has begun. I have noticed so many changes in the culture and the vibes in general here. Many businesses, restaurants, clubs, etc. have willingly closed down for the time being. For the first few days, music was not allowed to be played, and celebrations of any kind have ceased. One place I noticed this the most was on the BTS sky train. Usually it is a very loud, energetic ride every time I take it, but ever since the passing of the King it is completely silent. There wasn’t any music playing or any adds on the televisions. Another thing I have noticed is the change of wardrobes: everyone is wearing neutral colors, white, black, or gray. It is so unique to be here during this emotional time, and I just try to remain respectful and show my condolences for the Thai people. It is also very eye opening to be here for such a major event, because I saw with my own eyes how much it has impacted Thailand.

This event has made me appreciate Thailand in general so much, and I can only show my respect toward this culture and the people as much as possible. One goal of mine while here was to submerge myself into their culture in any shape or form, and I continue to learn new things everyday and look forward to meeting new Thai students and learning from them. Like I said in the beginning, this experience continues to be more and more amazing, all thanks to the Thai people, my director P’A, my fellow ISA friends, and everything else about this amazing country.

Sawadee ka and kop khun ka!

Olivia Herzberg

Mai Pen Rai

 

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Sawadee ka from Bangkok, Thailand!

This trip has been so unimaginably awesome so far. Tomorrow will end week three of being here for me. I have learned so much and grown so much in these past three weeks that I never thought was possible. I have met so many awesome people, friends, locals, teachers, students, and most importantly our ISA resident director, Aaron aka P’A. This experience would not have been as amazing without everything he has done for our ISA group. So, let me tell you about some of the things I have experienced, food I’ve tried, culture, and much, much more!

My ISA group consists of 19 students from all over the United States. It is hard to describe how close knit our group has gotten just in these 3 weeks of being here in the unknown. The first day we arrived, we had a welcome orientation held by P’A. We talked about some cultural norms, do’s and don’ts, safety, basic language, and Thai life in general. After this orientation we loaded up into two vans and drove 2 1/2 hours outside of Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. When we arrived, we checked into our hotel, by the way it was so beautiful, so many gorgeous plants, trees, and scenery. We left for our first floating market, which was more unbelievable than I had ever imagined. I experienced so many different smells, foods, crowds of people, sights, and socializing with the locals. The next day we visited the Death Railways War Cemetery and Research Center. I learned so much about Thailand’s history here. It was so eye opening and stomach wrenching to see how people got treated.

After that, we took off to swim with elephants at Erawan National Park. We got to ride in the back of a pickup truck with benches and a safe overhead cover. This is one of the many popular forms of transportation utilized in Thailand. Swimming with the elephants was by far my favorite part of the whole trip so far. I had so much adrenaline the whole time! You don’t realize how huge those animals are until you are right up next to them and in the water with them. Eventually after they started warming up to us and vice versa, we got to ride them around in the water. They are such playful animals, they loved to dunk you under and try to knock you off. The owners of the elephants lived in little huts on the same land as the elephants, which I thought was so beautiful and different.

The next day we drove to a different part of Erawan National Park and hiked up 7 levels to the top of a gorgeous waterfall. It probably took an hour to hike up to the very top, and in the heat and humidity here it was not as easy as it sounds. But the second I reached the top and saw the scenery, every drop of sweat was worth it. The water was so clear and full of minerals. It was a little bit chilly but felt amazing. We had around 3 hours to hike around and do whatever we wanted, so we played around in the water, and I got some great shots of the views.

I also visited a temple cave during our Kanchanaburi trip. It was unbelievable to see such a huge Buddha in the cave, and so many people were in there peacefully meditating and worshiping the Buddha.

So there are a few things I have experienced throughout my first week here in Thailand. In my next few blogs I will expand more on the culture, food, Thai people, language, and life here in general.

Kop khun ka for reading, and always remember Mai Pen Rai. (This means “it is what it is,” a huge expression used, and lived by here in Thailand.)