This alphabetical HoT Info Guide is designed to be useful, but not necessarily fully comprehensive (as always, be sure to do your own research) and is subject to change.
Questions and suggestions are always welcome and appreciated to improve this guide.
AIDS is relatively high in Thailand, especially amongst sex workers and those who use their services. If you are going to have sex with anyone, make sure it’s safe sex (and safe in all possible ways). Also, be careful of needles in regards to injections or tattoos. Respect yourself, protect yourself.
The legal drinking age in Thailand is 20 and it is critically important to be responsible and not drink to excess. Research consistently shows that excessive alcohol (plus other activities) is more likely to result in disaster. It is OK to drink responsibly during HoT if you are at least 20 years old, and if you want to, but it is prohibited to get drunk during HoT regardless of age. Also, alcohol consumption is prohibited during any official HoT activities, including group meals.
Thais don’t like to show anger and/or see anyone else expressing anger; doing so will not be respected and will likely make any situation worse. Being polite, being calm, not being loud, and smiling are the ways that Thais respect. This is referred to as jai yen, a cool heart, which is central to Thai culture. Thailand is affectionately known as “the land of smiles”, though realize that the smile is not necessarily a sign of happiness; the smile is a multi-purpose tool.
There are a lot of beautiful and exotic animals in Thailand and they should be respected and protected, while being enjoyed. Never purchase any food, products, clothing, art, medicine, souvenirs, etc. made from wild or endangered animals, including snakes, lizards, crocodiles, turtles, frogs, bats, monkeys, tigers, pangolins, and elephants. It may be illegal to do so in Thailand, illegal to bring back to the US, and is socially, ethically, and environmentally irresponsible.
Tiger Kingdom has been rated “poor” by Right Tourism. The rest of their info regarding Thailand is here. Tiger Kingdom is awesome in the sense that one can get up close and personal with tigers, but it’s awful in the sense of what humans must do to those tigers (and their families) to get them to act that way. It’s the tiger equivalent to human trafficking (likewise with most elephant, monkey, crocodile, snake, and other animal camps and similar with the Night Safari and zoos generally). Wildlife tourism, generally, is problematic.
HoT will visit an elephant sanctuary, where elephants are cared for instead of exploited and abused, so there is no riding, no chains, no bullhooks, no beatings, and no forced labor; just love and positive reinforcement.
As the capital of Thailand since 1782, Bangkok has about 1/7 of Thailand’s population (10 million out of Thailand’s 70 million people) and accounts for about 30% of Thailand’s GDP. Bangkok is one of the most visited cities in the world.
Although there is technically no official state religion in Thailand, it is effectively so: about 93% of Thais are Buddhist and Buddha images are ubiquitous, considered sacred, and protected by law. There are many temples in Chiang Mai and around the country. Thailand is the world’s most religious country, according to a 2018 survey, with 98% of the people declaring themselves to be religious.
“Climbing, sitting on, or leaning against a Buddha image, regardless of its size, condition or whether it is genuine or a replica, is considered contempt to religious objects…. Buddha images are sold as objects of worship and not for any other purpose…. Unauthorized export of Buddha images from Thailand is a violation of the law, which will subject violators to legal action.” “Sacrilegious acts [including profaning Buddha images and impersonating monks/clergy] are punishable by imprisonment even if committed by foreign visitors.”There are many monks in Thailand and fewer nuns. Most Thai males become a monk for at least a period of weeks to months, usually when they’re young, and some for years or even for life. Monks wear (usually) orange robes, have shaven heads, live and study at the temples, only eat in the mornings, and do not touch women.
Buddhism is often practiced as a ritualistic religion and also as a philosophy, unlike in the US where there is more Buddhist philosophy than Buddhist religious practice. Thais are also animist, believing that various spirits (including ghosts and demons) inhabit the world and many things in it (e.g., houses, forests, rivers, trees, etc.); thus, nearly all homes and businesses have spirit houses. Buddhism and animism are woven into Thai daily life. To a certain extent, one can view Buddha as the most powerful spirit in Thai theology, though Thais would not likely put it this way. Many Thais also seek out astrology, fortune telling, lucky numbers, etc.
For a very concise guide to Thai Buddhism, read “Theravada Buddhism in Thailand“.
For more detail, read Wikipedia’s “Buddhism in Thailand”.
“A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made … to compensate for emissions made elsewhere”, according to Wikipedia. HoT will informally offset the carbon emmissions due to our travel by supporting FORRU-CMU, the Forestry Restoration Research Unit of Chiang Mai University for their efforts towards reforestation.
If you want or need to bring your cell phone (or tablet), you may have to arrange with your carrier beforehand; incoming and outgoing calls could have high roaming charges. Other possibilities include relying on wi-fi, buying a data plan through your carrier, purchasing a Thai SIM card, or renting a cell phone in Thailand. Regardless, be sure to password protect your devices.
With the exception of during our reflection sessions and whenever else inappropriate, you can use your phone at any time for any purpose. Thailand is very photogenic!
“Chiang Mai is where many travelers fall hopelessly in love with Asia”, says Rick Steves in Asia Through the Back Door. “Peaceful and ancient, Chiang Mai is famous for its lovely climate, scenery, and [people] [as well as its food, markets, temples, ruins, and more] — not necessarily in that order.”
“Chiang Mai regularly features in lists detailing the best cities in Asia to visit and is one of those places that has a great vibe that can be difficult to explain to people who haven’t yet been”, according to Roy Cavanagh, who maintains the Thaizer website. “Chiang Mai is a modern city, but one that hasn’t forgotten its past…. Chiang Mai is a big city with small-town charm.” In 2013, Monocle magazine declared Chiang Mai one of the world’s “most loveable cities”.
Lonely Planet writes: “If Chiang Mai were a person, it would be Bob Dylan. With a history dating back further than anyone can remember, its influence remains enormous. And despite its great age, there’s still a bohemian chic that makes it as relevant and hip as ever. Culture capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai was once the heart of the Lanna kingdom. Today those wanting to flee the bustle of Bangkok visit to lounge in coffee shops and drink in the city’s artisanal atmosphere. With a friendly, cosmopolitan feel, this is one easy, safe, and pleasant place to explore. There are dozens of well-preserved temples here, too. Many new ecotours and adventure trips are appearing, and with a choice of river rafting, elephant[s], trekking and off-road cycling, even the biggest adrenaline junkie will be sated.”
According to Joe Cummings, Lonely Planet’s Thailand specialist, “Chiang Mai is a beautiful place: The people are friendly and relaxed, the weather is great, you’re in the cultural centre of Thailand, with the perfect blend of modernity and tradition.”
According to Madison Park for CNN, Chiang Mai, known for beautiful landmarks such as Wat Chedi Luang, as well as its friendly, laid back vibe, is the world’s most popular city for so-called ‘digital nomads’. This mountainous city perpetually ranks at the top for digital nomads as a calm place to work and play. “It’s the perfect combination of low costs of living, stable Wi-Fi, friendly people and community,” says Johnny Jen, who left his corporate job in California to move to Chiang Mai. “There’s also a ton of culture, great food, warm weather, a great coffee scene and all of the comforts of a big city while having a laid back, easygoing vibe.” Casey Hynes concurs by saying that “Chiang Mai offers a mix of affordability, infrastructure, and quality of life that’s difficult to find elsewhere.”
Over 7,700 miles (~12,500 kilometers) from SJSU, Chiang Mai will be our incredible classroom!
Chiang Mai as a digital nomad (with Spanish subtitles)
Chiang Mai on Wikipedia
Chiang Mai on Wikivoyage
A Guide to Living in Chiang Mai (written for ex-pats, but could be useful for some tourists)
“I knew there is a lot to see in Chiang Mai, but I had no idea there was this much to see.” — Ryan E.
“Chiang Mai is distinctly cheaper than many tourist destinations in Thailand. Plus, there’s so much to explore, including ancient temples, markets, a fantastic cafe scene, mountains and traditional villages. Street food here is excellent and you’ll find your Pad Thai for as little as $1.” — Nicole Leigh West
“The best thing about Chiang Mai is you can get lost yet find the most extraordinary things and then realize you were never lost to begin with.” — Abby R.
Dress for summer! Clothing is inexpensive and easily obtainable in Chiang Mai (e.g., sun dresses, skirts, sarongs/wraps, pants, shorts, shirts, scarves, shoes, sandals, hats, etc.), though not all items may be available, quality varies, and shoes over size 10 (men’s) are less common. Also, clothing and other items (e.g., bags) are easily and inexpensively repaired in Chiang Mai. Additionally, if you have any clothing or anything else you would like to donate, that can easily be done, as well (e.g., Free Bird Cafe is an excellent non-profit restaurant, used shop, and zero-waste store, which also accepts donations of almost everything).
Thailand experienced another coup on May 22, 2014, one of many in its modern history. The Thai military, always a powerful force in Thai politics, took over quickly and without struggle, as it had done so most recently in 1991 and 1996. After a brief period of curfew, those restrictions were lifted, though censorship has been increased. The 2019 elections left the military in power.
It is illegal to criticize or protest the military, government, or the coup (as well as the monarchy and the Buddha). Certain actions are considered implicit criticisms of the military government and are also banned or strongly discouraged, including: political gatherings of 5 or more people, wearing a red shirt (but don’t wear a yellow shirt, either), holding a red bowl, reading George Orwell’s 1984, playing the Tropico 5 video game, giving a Hunger Games-style 3-fingered salute, and, yes, eating a sandwich in public, as well as other activities.
There are still deep political and economic divisions in the country (e.g., the top 1% of Thais own about half the wealth in Thailand). Although there have been coups, demonstrations, and other forms of political unrest, especially in Bangkok and the four southern provinces, Thailand and the U.S. have had a friendly relationship since 1833 and Thailand is designated as a “Major Non-NATO Ally” by the U.S. There are currently no travel warnings or restrictions against going to most places in Thailand. The country remains safe and enjoyable for tourists and most other people; few visitors would even realize there’s a military government if they didn’t know, given the generally very low-level of police and military presence in and around Chiang Mai.
COVID-19 canceled HoT 2020 (and much else), though Thailand, and especially Chiang Mai, did very well overall.
Credit cards are widely accepted in more upscale restaurants and stores and in places that cater to tourists, as well as in hotels and banks, though most smaller establishments will not accept them. Some credit cards may carry a 3% fee for use at some establishments; your credit card company may also charge for international transactions (most do, some don’t). If necessary, you can make a request that your credit card company waive the fees, negotiate with them, or get another credit card that doesn’t charge.
It may be a good idea to let your credit card company know before you go to Thailand that you may be using your credit card there, even if you likely won’t, so that it’s not blocked due to suspected fraud (some credit card companies prefer this, others don’t).
“There is minimal risk from crime in Chiang Mai. Most travelers to Thailand feel relatively safe. Non-violent crimes, however, appear to be occurring with greater frequency. Petty theft, purse snatching, and pickpocketing are more common in areas foreigners frequent, such as Chiang Mai’s Walking Street and Night Bazaar. Violent crimes (e.g. murder, armed robbery, and sexual assault) against U.S. citizens and other foreigners are relatively rare.”, according to the US Department of State.
Make sure that all your valuables and other important items are not easily pick-pocketable or purse-snatchable.
Needless to say, do NOT contribute to crime in Thailand. Even shoplifting and graffiti can be harshly punished. Surveillance cameras, both public and private, are widespread.
“Culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life”, according to sociologists John Macionis and and Linda Gerber on Wikipedia. Some people experience one type of culture shock upon arrival and another upon returning home.
Do not use ANY illegal drugs on this trip or in Thailand (e.g., marijuana/kancha, opium, meth pills/ya-ba, etc.). None whatsoever. Even if you do use drugs in the U.S., our service learning trip to Thailand is definitely not the time nor the place to do so. Besides being a violation of this program’s and our university’s policies, drugs are illegal in Thailand and offenders can be severely punished, including jail or death in addition to heavy fines and high legal expenses for you and your family.
Thai law states: “Violators of laws related to illicit drugs, e.g., having and holding for use, or being a producer, seller, or transporter, are subject to the death sentence.”
Do NOT under any circumstances try to buy, sell, possess, use, carry, transport, hold, store, stash, mail, smuggle, hide, help, or otherwise come into contact with drugs or people selling or using drugs in any way, as you could also be implicated in their crime, as well as implicate those you room, work, and travel with, including the rest of us. Being American or ignorant of the law or language will not save you or us from severe punishment and high expense.
Also, make sure that you do not unwittingly become a “mule”, carrying drugs for others, which is another good reason to always safeguard your own bags and to not watch, guard, hold, store, carry, mail, or transport anything for anybody else.
Some people always travel with duct tape; most people don’t. Duct tape can be used for a multitude of purposes (e.g., repairing shoes and luggage, fixing glasses, making handles, hanging clotheslines, sealing openings, waterproofing, patching water bottles, making rope, resealing food packages, rebinding books, marking trails, and much, much more).
Most electrical outlets in Thailand are 220 volts AC. Outlets have two flat-pronged or two round-pronged holes, so you may need a transformer/adapter if you bring any items that need electricity, though very often you don’t. It won’t be required in our hotel.
Check here for more info and visuals.
Elephants are incredible animals and are the symbol of Thailand. Although there are no elephants in the city itself, there are various nearby elephant camps and sanctuaries in Chiang Mai province and we will have an opportunity to get up close and personal with these magnificent beasts at a beautiful sanctuary for them and other animals. We can also learn more about them, including their use and abuse in Thailand.
English is fairly widely spoken, even if not always fluently, especially in situations and establishments that deal with tourists. Also, Thai is often transliterated, including on street signs.
You would need to take six summer units or more to be eligible for financial aid at SJSU. For any questions about financial aid, please speak with Carol Garcia, as she is the person in the SJSU Financial Aid Office who specializes in financial aid for study abroad.
You could also investigate scholarships.
In any event, traveling is an expense that makes you richer. In an article entitled “Studying abroad gateway to better careers”, it says “In today’s economy, the question is not ‘Can you afford to study abroad?’ – The question is ‘Can you afford not to study abroad?’”
Please check out my 21 Ways To Pay For Your Study Abroad Adventure.
Be sure that you review the regulations of your airline, especially in terms of what’s not permissible (e.g., knives, scissors, needles, and hypodermic needles, perhaps, as well as the issue that carry-on bags must not exceed the airline’s size and weight maximums). No single container with more than 100 ml (about 3 oz.) of liquid or gel is allowed in carry-on bags. Also consult the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for current restrictions. International flights require that you are at the airport at least 3 hours before scheduled departure.
The airplane ride will be looooooong and you will be sitting for a long time. Make sure to periodically stretch (e.g., standing, walking, stretching, yoga, chairobics), stay hydrated by drinking lots of water or juice (alcohol and caffeine are not recommended, but a little is OK), have reading material, music, and whatever medicines and personal items you might need. Windows are best for sleeping, in my opinion, while aisle seats are best getting out of your seat. If you want a special meal on the plane, check here for your airline (I usually get VGML, AVML, or something similar, depending upon availability).
Remember that you will arrive in Chiang Mai the day after you depart from the US (possibly even the day after that if you leave late in the day). Returning, however, you will likely be back in the US the same day, possibly around the same time, you leave Thailand. Expect to be jetlagged (though there may be ways to minimize this).
By the way, according to the Weekend Australian, “flying is safer than any other form of transport except escalators”. Even if turbulence can sometimes be scary, it’s safe, so relax and enjoy the ride.
To book your flight to Chiang Mai (CNX), I recommend using aggregator sites, such as SkyScanner, Google Flights, Voyazor, CheapOair, Kayak, Orbitz, Hipmunk, Skiplagged, Momondo, and others to research and get the best deal. Set up a fare alert and check the fares multiple times per day to get a good fare. You might also want to check the websites of individual airlines. It is recommended to use privacy mode or anonymous searching on your browser, so as not to drive up demand for what you’re searching for, which could increase the price. Before booking, confirm your dates and be certain that you will be able to be at the hotel by the time we meet as a group.
This is what happens if you book your plane ticket under your nickname (make sure not to do it!)
Why You Should Never Post Pictures of Your Flight Tickets or Keys (make sure not to do it!)
Thai food… yum! Fresh tropical fruits and vegetables, curries, soups, noodles, stir fries, spring rolls, rice, smoothies, juices, snacks, nuts, coffees, teas, and more. Thais love to eat, do it all the time and just about anywhere, and it is typically a social affair. Food and drink are almost always available. There are also fun and hands-on Thai cooking classes.
“Chiang Mai is famous for its excellent food, both in restaurants and street stalls.” — Samuel Boomer
Here’s my article on veg eating in Chiang Mai called “Chiang Mai, Thailand: J is for Vegetarian”.
Thais generally eat their food with a spoon and fork, using the fork to help push things onto the spoon from which they eat (chopsticks are typically only used for noodles in or out of soup).
In addition to ample and delicious Thai food, Chiang Mai has American, Arabic, British, Burmese, Chinese, French, German, Indian, Israeli, Italian, Irish, Korean, Japanese, Malaysian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, and (unfortunately, in my opinion) corporate fast food as well as other foods.
I recommend eating at local establishments of whatever ethnicity — for purposes of taste, health, price, culture, freshness, sustainability, and supporting the local economy — instead of Western chains.
Most food in Thailand is safe, including street food, though use your judgment. If the oil looks too dark, if the place doesn’t look too clean, if the food’s been sitting out and especially in the sun too long, if the person cooking or serving seems sick or has dirty hands, or if you otherwise get a bad feeling, it might be best to move on and try something else and there’s always something else. For what it’s worth, the only times I’ve heard of serious food poisoning in Thailand are from people eating meat on the street.
“The flavors in the food and drinks are incredible. Some of the best food I have ever had in my life.” — Abby N.
“Nowhere…have I eaten so well, so cheaply, so grandly and with so much joy as in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.”
– Deepti Kapoor, Chiang Mai food paradise: ‘The best I’ve ever eaten’
Travel is priceless, but it can come with a steep cost. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, reminds us that “To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice”, because study abroad and travel, especially in this increasingly-globalized world, are invaluable socially, emotionally, intellectually, and professionally. If your parents (or grandparents) can’t or won’t financially support your adventures, there are many possible ways to raise money for travel and study abroad. Be frugal and creative!
Read more: Dan Brook, 21 Ways To Pay For Your Study Abroad Adventure
If you’re even more ambitious and entrepreneurial, learn how to Diversify Your Income.
Before departure, you can get an SJSU Student Health Center physical, go to a Kaiser travel office (if you’re a member), or receive other advice or treatment from a medical provider. You can also optionally disclose any of your health issues, including ongoing conditions, allergies, necessary medications, etc. in writing to me at your discretion.
There are high-quality pharmacies/drugstores, medical clinics, and hospitals in Chiang Mai and medical care is inexpensive and considered very good, so much so that Thailand is a major destination for medical tourism (meditourism). Some medicines by prescription in the US are inexpensively available over the counter in Thailand. Most medical professionals will speak at least some English.
Although no shots are required to visit Thailand, certain things are recommended, especially making sure you’re up to date on your routine vaccinations, including hepatitis, polio, MMR, and tetanus, as well as this year’s flu shot. Hep-A is especially worthwhile and, after your booster, is good for life; likewise with typhoid.
Some form of mosquito repellent may be useful, as is sun screen, though be careful about using dangerous chemicals (e.g., DEET). Some people use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (e.g., Purell) and/or hand wipes, especially after touching certain things and before eating.
If you bring any prescription medicines (up to a 30-day supply, the maximum amount according to Thai law), also bring your actual prescription (and send a copy to your web-based email account). If you wear eye glasses or contact lenses, you should bring your prescription in case you need or want a new pair (Top Charoen Optical is a good company and around the corner from our hotel). It’s typically much cheaper to purchase prescription glasses, contact lenses, and medicines in Thailand.
If you use any medications or the like (e.g., Tylenol, Advil/Motrin, Benadryl, Claritin, Dramamine, etc.), it would be a good idea for you to bring some, so that you’ll have your own ready supply, though those and other medicines are easily and inexpensively accessible in Chiang Mai.
I will bring a mini-first aid kit and you might want to bring your own one, too.
If you need non-emergency healthcare, contact the insurance company first, so they can provide you with someone to see with billing going directly to the insurance company. However, if it’s an emergency, get to a doctor, clinic, or hospital ASAP and we’ll deal with insurance later.
If you need a reputable health clinic, consider HCMC
(across from Tesco Lotus Hangdong, like a Super Target)
Nisachon Morgan, MD
275 M.6 Chiangmai-Hangdong Road
If you need a local hospital, consider Chiang Mai Ram Hospital
(for taxi: Roong Payabaan Chiang Mai Raam)
8 Boonruang Rit (just across from the northwest corner of the Old City)
If you need to seek medical attention, let me know what’s going on and if you would like me to accompany you.
If you want to learn some useful skills, as a first step, try this CPR video, First Aid video, Mental Health First Aid video, Verbal First Aid video, and/or Emotional First Aid video. Here is a First Aid Video Library with many videos in English and Spanish; here is another first aid video collection. The more you learn and know, the better for you and for those you can potentially help throughout your life.
We will stay at the Eurana Boutique Hotel located in a cool area within the one-square-mile (1.6 sq. km) Old City of Chiang Mai (address: 7/1 Moon Muang Soi 7; tel: + 66-53-219-402), surrounded by a moat and city walls/gates. Each room will have two beds (double occupancy), air con, a refrigerator, 2 free water bottles per day, and a bathroom. The hotel also has free wi-fi, a computer, newspapers, and a koi pond in the lobby, buffet breakfast included (Thai and western food, coffee and tea, fruit, etc.), a pool, and a very small workout area. Please be respectful of the hotel, including its property and staff.
“My hotel, a modest, yet beautifully tropical and sparkling stay tucked away in the Old City [near] a small art gallery and a tropical smoothie hut.” — Lindsay W.
Make sure you arrive in Chiang Mai on time and you may want to arrive a bit earlier; to arrive in Thailand on the first day of HoT, you’ll have to leave the US a day or two beforehand, due to time of departure, length of travel, and the International Date Line.
A tuk-tuk from the airport to the hotel should be about B100-B150 per person. Ask how much and prepare to bargain, if necessary. A fixed-rate taxi should cost about B150 or so and the ride should take about 15 minutes. There’s also an occasional airport jitney and some bus lines. A red songtiow (red truck/red car) is a share-taxi and also an economical way to get to the hotel (or anywhere else). Be sure to get Thai baht from a kiosk or ATM before you leave the airport (rates are about the same everywhere), so you’ll be able to spend money.
Internet cafes are available (for email, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, gaming, whatever) and our hotel will have free wi-fi (and a computer in the lobby), as will many hotels, cafes, bars, and restaurants, and some other establishments. There have been some reports of e-fraud on public computers, though I personally haven’t had any problems. Always make sure to sign out of everything you’ve signed into and also close the web browser when you’re finished. You might also want to consider a data plan if you’re bringing a phone or tablet.
King/Queen/Monarchy & Lese Majeste
The monarchy is widely revered in Thailand, so it would be very disrespectful to say, write, or even repeat anything bad about the king or the rest of monarchy (e.g., queen, prince, princesses) or even criticize or offend them in any way (even past royalty).
Importantly, it is also illegal to do so and constitutes the serious crime of lese majeste (Thai Criminal Code Section 112) for which Thais and foreigners have been jailed, sometimes for many years. Examples of offenses that have landed people in jail include saying something negative about/criticizing the royal family (anything that “defames, insults or threatens”): offhand remarks, unflattering comments, jokes, blogging, emailing, posting on facebook (even liking someone else’s allegedly offensive or insulting post), tweeting, texting, singing, graffiti-ing, not standing during a tribute to the king, criticizing a royally-supported project, insulting a royal pet, and so on. Also, the king is on all money, so it is illegal to tear, step on, or write on Thai money or anything else with the royals depicted, such as posters, flags, advertisements, etc.
In November 2014, a Thai student was sentenced to a relatively-lenient 2 ½ years in prison (reduced from 5 years after he confessed) for allegedly defaming the king while using an alias on Facebook. After a man was sentenced “to 20 years in prison [in November 2011] for sending text messages deemed offensive to the country’s queen”, ABC News reported that “Lese majeste is the crime of insulting a monarch, and Thailand’s laws against it are the most severe in the world. Even repeating the details of an alleged offense is illegal.” With a rise in these types of cases, in December 2015, a Thai man faces up to 32 years in prison for simply liking a Facebook post allegedly mocking the country’s king. That same month, a man faced a lengthy prison term for making a sarcastic remark about the king’s favorite dog. Even the U.S. ambassador to Thailand has been investigated for a statement he made, as was an old man for questioning an ancient royal elephant battle.
Anyone can make a complaint against anyone else and the police are then required to investigate, while the alleged offense cannot be repeated, orally or in writing, as that too would be a violation of the law.
According to Amnesty International, Thailand’s lese majeste law, considered the harshest in the world, prohibits any word or act which “defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent”. This apparently also includes past kings, the monarchy as an institution, the current Chakri dynasty, royal projects, royal pets, not standing for the Royal Anthem, coins and currency, images, and so on. “The King’s Anthem is also played before every film at the cinema along with photos of the King—make sure you stand up for it.” Convictions for this crime has increased dramatically since the May 2014 coup.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does NOT apply in Thailand, especially when the speech is related to the monarchy, military, or religion. Being American, careless, or ignorant of the law, language, or culture will not save you from the possibility of a long prison sentence and high legal expenses for you and your family.
When the US Consulate in Chiang Mai finds out that an American has been arrested, they simply supply the name and number of a Thai lawyer, but are otherwise unable to help. We may be able to criticize the law itself (Criminal Code Section 112 and others), though we apparently even need to be careful about this, but we cannot violate it and therefore must avoid this topic while in Thailand.
Even though most Americans don’t know any Thai, many Thais know at least some English, so you’ll be fine using English in most circumstances.
However, it is often much appreciated when you can speak even a few words of Thai and your experience in Thailand will undoubtedly be enhanced. “Having some basic language skills can make a huge difference to the type of access you’ll get, and the things you’ll get to see. Language opens doors that would otherwise be closed to the average tourist.”
To that end, here are a few tips, words, and phrases to get you going.
Thai is a tonal language, emphasis is often on the last syllable of a word, a written r is usually pronounced like an l (there is also aural confluence between the sounds b and p, d and t, v and w, as well as j and ch), and the letter h, as in the word Thai, is usually silent. Making an effort, saying even a couple Thai words, smiling, and being polite will be appreciated by many Thais.
- hello/goodbye = sawatdee (followed by the polite marker kaa when spoken by a female, by kraap (often pronounced kop) when by a male) (you could/should use the polite marker after just about anything to be more polite, respectful, and respected)
- please = kaa when spoken by a female, kop when by a male
(put this sound at the end of almost anything you say to make it more polite)
- thank you = khap khun (followed by kaa when spoken by a female, by kop when by a male)
- yes = chai (or kaa when spoken by a female, kop when by a male)
- no = mai (or mai chai)
- I don’t want it = mai ow
- never mind/your welcome/don’t worry = mai pen lai
- don’t put/don’t include = mai sai
- I don’t understand = mai kow jai
- heart = jai
- the fear of offending another or causing inconvenience = kreng-jai (literally, fear-heart)
- name = chu (nickname = chu len)
- like = chawb
- want = yaak
- food = ahaan
- restaurant = raan ahaan
- banana = gluay (slang for easy)
- vegetable = pak
- rice = khao
- tofu = taohooo
- curry = gang
- spicy = ped/pet
- vegetarian = mongsiweelaat
- vegan (Buddhist vegetarian) = jay/J
- delicious = aroi
- very delicious = aroi dee
- room = hawng
- water = nahm
- bathroom = hawng nahm
- hotel = rungrem
- good = dee
- bad = mai deee
- happy = dee jai
- cute = narak
- smile = yim
- big = yai
- little = noi
- small = lek
- a little bit = nit noi
- very/much/a lot = maak
- more = eek
- go = bai
- rain = fōn (pronounced like phone)
- hot = rawn
- cold / cool = yen
- road/street/avenue = thanōn
- lane/alley = soi
- temple = wat
- pagoda / stupa = chedi
- professor = ajarn
- teacher = kru
- college student = nak seuk sah
- foreigner (mostly white)/Westerner = farang
- Thai language = pasa thai
- English language = pasa angleet
- dance = tenra
- enjoy/fun = sanuk
- very happy/comfortable/chill = sabai sabai
- peace = santipop
- mindfulness = setee
- monk = phra (young monk/novice = nen)
- elephant = chong
- dog = maa
- fish = pla
- butterfly = pee-see-uh
- stop = yoot
- cool evening = yen yen
- white rice mountain = khao khao khao
- don’t burn new silk? = mai mai mai mai mai?
(it’s a tonal thing!)
- 1 = nung
- 2 = song
- 3 = sahm
- 4 = see
- 5 = hah
- 6 = hōk
- 7 = jet
- 8 = bat
- 9 = gow
- 10 = sip
- 20 = yee sip
- 30 = sahm sip
- 40 = see sip
- 50 = hah sip
- 100 = loi
- 1000 = pahn
- same same but different = same same
Lots more info, words, and phrases at:
Top 100 Basic Thai Phrases to Know
Wikitravel Thai Phrasebook
Wikipedia Thai Language
YouTube: Learn Thai – Lesson 1: How to Introduce Yourself in Thai
Omniglot’s Useful Thai Phrases
Learn Thai Language for Free
Thai Language Lessons for Your Holiday!
There are also various websites, videos, apps, books, CDs, DVDs, tutors, groups, and classes for Thai language, culture, news, tourism, and so on.
There are many inexpensive places that can do your laundry in 1-2 days, charging about $1 per kilogram (2.2 lbs.), so feel free to pack light. It’ll be washed in a machine, dried, folded, and bagged. Some of them will even clean shoes.
Certain activities are illegal in Thailand, having landed people in jail, and are therefore strictly prohibited, including: any illegal drugs; any other illegal activities (including shoplifting and graffiti); any e-cigs or vaping; any criticism or insult of any sort of the king, royal family, and monarchy; any criticism or insult of any sort of the military; any criticism or insult of any sort of the government; any criticism or insult of any sort of the Buddha and/or treating any Buddha image in a non-sacred way. Pornography, gambling, defamation, spreading false information that could cause a public panic, most drones, and advertising alcohol, including online, are also illegal in Thailand. It is also illegal to post anything online — comments, messages, tweets, posts, photos, videos, art, links — that can, broadly interpreted by the government, affect “peace and order, good morals, and national security.”
Any of these activities may result in students being removed from HoT, besides substantial legal and financial trouble.
“Although there are no laws that criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults in Thailand, some discrimination exists” (US State Dept).
The 2015 Gender Equality Act criminalizes discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation and is punishable by up to 6 months of prison and/or a B20000 fine. A civil union bill as well as the inclusion of a third gender are also being considered.
For the most visible of Thai LGBT, read about kathoeys.
There are many places that offer massage (e.g., body, back, foot) starting at about B150/$5 per hour, so feel free to relax and enjoy! Massage has a long history in Thailand and there are massage schools that teach Thai massage. For what it’s worth, there are also fish pedicures and snail facials available in Chiang Mai.
Bring whatever medications you need in your carry-on bag and also bring a copy of the prescription(s) (it is legal to do so up to a 30-day supply). You should also put this information online as well.
Thai pharmacies are widely available, high quality, and typically have over-the-counter versions of many prescription medicines. It is generally easy to get most prescriptions filled.
Meditation is a key component of the practice of Buddhism (as well as other religions and philosophies) and has been scientifically shown to be emotionally, psychologically, and physically beneficial, in some cases as much or more so than western pharmaceutical drugs and without any of the negative side effects. Meditation is the ultimate DIY and is infinitely portable.
As with nearly every country in the world (except for the U.S., Liberia, and Burma/Myanmar; the UK is a hybrid), Thailand uses the metric system: grams and kilograms for weight, meters and kilometers for distance, liters for liquid/volume, Celsius/Centigrade for temperature.
ATMs are widespread, which you can use if your ATM/debit card is hooked into the MasterCard/Cirrus or Visa/PLUS network and you have a 4-digit password (if your PIN is not 4 digits, get it changed before the trip; 6-digit is sometimes OK). (You can also get money from ATMs by using your credit card with a 4-digit password, though it will likely be treated as a cash advance with interest charged starting that day.) Most ATMs will charge ฿220 (~$7) for each withdrawal using a foreign bank card (Schwab reimburses if you use its debit card).
In Chiang Mai (as of 2020), Krungthai Bank (light blue) ATM withdrawal limit is 20,000 baht, Bangkok Bank ATM limit is 25,000 baht, and Krungsri Bank (yellow/brown) ATM limit is 30,000 baht. Almost all ATMs charge ฿220 per withdrawal, regardless of amount withdrawn.
Be careful to not leave your ATM card in the machine, as ATMs in Thailand hold onto your card for the entire transaction. Create a system to ensure you do not forget it.
Besides using ATMs, you can exchange US dollars (or archaic travelers’ checks) at various currency exchange windows or banks (bigger US denominations get a slightly better rate). There are about 31 baht to the dollar (and 100 satang to the baht, though golden-colored small satang coins are rarely used anymore). The symbol for baht is a B with a vertical slash through it (฿), though occasionally with a forward slash and often written simply as B, Bt, or THB. Each baht is worth about 3 cents; B100 is about $3; a B1000 bill is $30; a B500 bill is about $15.
Check for the latest rates.
You should exchange some money when you arrive at the Thai airport; rates are fine there and you’ll need the local currency. Large Thai bills may be difficult to cash (B500 & B1000), so be sure to get a lot of small bills (B20, B50, & B100). Many vendors won’t have change for large bills, sometimes not even for smaller bills. You can change big bills at banks or by making small purchases at a 7-11 or Tesco Lotus.
The Thai minimum daily wage for Chiang Mai of ฿320 (about $10/day) is less than the minimum hourly wage in California. (For some skilled professions, the minimum wage is higher.) The Thai workday can be 8 – 12 hours per day, 6 days a week.)
Monks are available for conversation or to answer any questions, whether personal, religious, or otherwise at Wat Suan Dok (MWF 5-7 PM), Wat Chedi Luang (everyday 9-6), Wat Doi Suthep (International Buddhist Centre, daily 9-11 AM, 12:30-2 PM), Wat Sri Suphan (Silver Temple), Wat Phakhao, Wat Umong, and other temples, all of which are fascinating to visit otherwise, too. Monk chats are also a way for the monks to practice English and for others to learn Thai, ask about Buddhism, learn about the lives of monks, to ask philosophical questions, to discuss life, etc. Monks or other Buddhists will not try to convert or otherwise convince you to believe what they believe.FYI: monks are not allowed to touch women, though they can speak with anyone (feel free to ask them about it). Monks in Thailand also won’t directly hand anything to or directly take anything from a woman.
Thai people do not typically use their family names or surnames in social settings and instead use their given name or, much more commonly, their nickname, which most Thai people have. When they want to be more formal or polite, they use the non-gendered title Khun (Mr./Ms.), so I am often called Khun Dan or Prof. Dan (or in Thai, Ajaan Dan). You are welcome to call me whatever is reasonable and feels most comfortable to you.
Bring what you need (including a swimsuit and reusable water bottle), though less is better; you can likely get it there (at the huge Tesco Lotus Hangdong, Big C, Robinsons, a 7-11, or some other indoor or outdoor market) or do without, though always take your own necessities (e.g., glasses/contact lenses, medications, tampons; be sure to carry these and your important papers and other valuables on the plane). It’s best to make a list of things you need and want to bring, adding and checking off as appropriate.
I recommend taking a photo of the luggage you plan to check-in at the airport (just in case it gets misplaced).
As much as possible, I recommend bringing less stuff, more money, an open mind, a flexible approach, and a good attitude. If you do, you’ll have everything you need.
Here’s how Mr. Bean packs for his trip (4-minute video).
Passport and Other Paperwork
You need a passport to go to Thailand, but you do not need a passport to apply to HoT.
“If you currently do not have a passport or you are in the process of renewing/applying for a passport, you can still complete the application. You will need to upload a holding document [saying something like “in progress”] to move on to the next section of the application.”
After you have fully paid, please place the photo page of your passport, your school ID, and your driver’s license (if you have one) onto one single page, then scan/photo and email it to me with only the word “HoT” and your name in the subject line. In the body of the e-mail message, please type your passport number and also include emergency contact info (someone’s name, relationship to you, telephone number, and e-mail address) and, if you want, any other info you’d like to share with me, which will of course remain strictly confidential.
You should also send, cc, or bcc a copy to yourself and also send yourself the info on whichever credit and debit cards you plan to bring (including card #s, 3-digit security codes on back, expiration dates, card tel #s), just in case they need to be frozen, canceled, or replaced.
For the plane, carry your passport on you, not in your luggage.
When in Thailand, you should always either carry your passport or some other form of official ID, as is required by Thai law, or a copy of your passport and Thai visa stamp (free on arrival). Take a photo of the visa stamp on your phone.
Be sure to keep your passport in a ziplock bag and protect it from all contaminants, including water, lotion, ink, oil, and hand sanitizer to avoid unnecessary trouble and possible jail time.
Your passport needs to have an expiration date that is at least 6 months after your travels.
In an emergency in Thailand, dial 191 for police. Otherwise, 1699 for the regular police; 199 for fire; 1669 for medical emergency; 1155 for Tourist Police. The TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) Call Center is at 1672.
Respect holds a high value in Thailand and it is expected, although foreign tourists are given much wider latitude by the generally-tolerant Thais. Thais tend to be polite and they very much appreciate politeness.
Some instances of (dis)respectful behavior include:
- Affection: public displays of affection (PDAs); showing romantic/sexual affection in public is generally frowned upon in Thailand, though this has been loosening up a bit; Thais prefer modesty
- Anger: showing anger or raising your voice in public is generally frowned upon in Thailand; Thais prefer and respect jai yen, a cool heart, and polite, calm behavior
- Buddhism: it is disrespectful and illegal to criticize Buddhism or to use any Buddha image in a non-religious, non-sacred way
- Clothing: respect is shown through clothing by dressing modestly, especially at temples, orphanages, and governmental organizations, where shoulders and knees should be covered (some temples mandate this)
- Door Thresholds: When door thresholds are raised, be sure to step over (not on) them, as there are Thai spiritual and historical implications
- Feet: the feet are considered dirty and the spiritually lowest part of the body, so feet are not supposed to be pointed at anyone, at any Buddha images, or at anything or anyone deserving of respect; don’t put your feet up on a table
- Head: the head is considered the spiritually-highest part of the body and therefore one should generally not touch the heads of others
- Language: use of even a few Thai words and the polite kaa/kraap ending shows respect
- Monarchy: it is disrespectful and illegal to criticize the king, queen, royal family, monarchy, and people/things related, whether explicitly or implicitly
- Shoes: shoes should be removed for all temple buildings, most houses, some businesses, and at other times/places to show respect
- Wai: a hand gesture of putting both palms together at the bottom of your face to show great respect (for more info, check here)
If you make a mistake with anything, just apologize and smile. 🙂
Dos & Don’ts (great list with links)
Rice i(khao) s the staple food of Thailand (and is also made into rice noodles, rice whiskey, etc.). Thailand is famous for its jasmine rice called khao hom mali, and Thailand is a leading exporter of rice. Rice is such an integral part of Thai culture that the Thai phrase kin khao literally means to eat rice, but is often used simply to mean to eat.
Generally, the biggest risk factors for getting into serious trouble or bodily harm anywhere in the world are (1) taking unnecessary risks, (2) consumption of alcohol (and/or drugs, which are strictly prohibited), (3) crossing streets (or otherwise being in them), (4) jumping into or being in water, (5) being high up on something (e.g., ledge, wall, balcony, cliff), (6) getting involved with the wrong people, (7) night/darkness, and (8) being out alone.
Note well: The more intense these phenomena are and the more they are combined, the higher likelihood of something going disastrously wrong. Don’t take unnecessary risks that come with serious downsides (be careful), be extra careful crossing streets (and avoid motorbikes), don’t drink to excess and don’t use any illegal drugs (stay legal and be responsible), don’t get involved with any people engaged in illegal activities of any sort (use good sense), be conscious of ledges, railings, balconies, and cliffs (don’t lean on or jump too close to these danger zones), avoid swimming when tired, injured, or alone (don’t dive, know how to get out, etc.), be extra careful at night (take precautions and be aware of your surroundings), and rely on the buddy system (do not leave yourself or anyone else in our group alone).
Also, do not take anything that doesn’t belong to you, including a cell phone, even if you find it and want to return it to its owner.
If any person or situation (e.g., whether Thai, tourist, taxi, motorbike, activity, restaurant, store, office, hotel, house, street, alleyway, bar, market, drink, stranger, acquaintance, someone’s room) doesn’t feel right to you, take evasive action — when in doubt, get yourself out! — and don’t worry about how it might look, sound, or feel. Protect yourself and others; always prioritize health and safety! As Bruce Lee wisely cautioned, “When things go wrong, don’t go wrong with them.”
Safety first! Be aware, be safe, be careful, protect yourself, consider consequences, and don’t take any risks where the downside can lead to serious injury or death. Think before you do.
Building codes may not be closely followed or enforced, so, for example, do not lean on railings or windows, including in our hotel and on balconies. Scooters, motorbikes, and motorcycles can also be quite dangerous, whether as driver, passenger, cyclist, or pedestrian, especially considering variable road conditions, driving on the left side of roads, rain and slick roads, widespread DUI, and aggressive Thai driving styles (according to the World Health Organization, Thailand has the second highest rate of road fatalities, after Libya, in the world, mostly due to motorbikes).
Not only are motorbikes dangerous and many people get hurt on them, but they are also illegal to drive without a special license and further illegal to ride without a helmet. Insurance policies will probably not cover your costs, if something goes wrong. Therefore, do NOT ride a motorbike/motorcycle during HoT, whether as driver or passenger (and best not to do so at all, especially while in Thailand).
Likewise, do NOT go ziplining or to any water parks (or anything similar) during HoT, as too many people have been injured or killed doing these. Also, do NOT cliff jump, dive, scuba, bungee jump, zipline, parasail/paraglide, parachute/skydive, abseil/rappel, balloon, jet ski, spelunk/cave, or engage in any other especially dangerous or risky activity during HoT. Further, our insurance does not cover these or other dangerous activities.
Aside from the danger, these activities are strictly prohibited and may result in failure of this course and removal from this program.
Locks should be used on bags and hotel room doors should always be locked, whether one is inside or out of the room. Money and important documents should be stored in a waist pouch, zipped or buttoned pocket, or otherwise in a way that would be difficult to snatch or pickpocket, especially while shopping, in crowded areas, in touristy zones, or while otherwise distracted. Never leave any bags or valuables unattended outside of the hotel room.
Try not to put your belongings down (e.g., wallet, pouch, passport, keys, money, glasses, phone, camera, bank card, etc.) when you’re out, as it’s very easy to get distracted or otherwise forget, and always be sure to look back before you leave a place (e.g., restaurant, cafe, store, stall, taxi/tuk-tuk, office, counter, ATM, changing room, floor, internet cafe, someone else’s room, pool, lobby, etc.) to make sure you haven’t left any of your belongings behind.
Violent confrontational crime is very low in Thailand, but stealthy crime like pickpocketing and purse snatching is fairly common (I sometimes carry an extra decoy/dummy wallet/pouch with a relatively small amount of money in it when I travel, keeping more important things further protected).
Some people have referred to the Rule of Stupid, which is worth heeding:
“Don’t go stupid places with stupid people at stupid times and do stupid things.”
In the very unlikely event of a local emergency in Chiang Mai,
all HoT members should meet ASAP at:
- Plan A location:
Eurana Hotel lobby (if safe, available, and accessible)
Moon Muang Soi Jet (address for taxi)
- Otherwise, Plan B location:
Wat Suan Dok (pronounced What Swan Duck)
(meet at Pun Pun veg restaurant in back of this big temple, just west of the Old City, across from Chiang Mai University Faculty of Dentistry on Suthep Road)
The U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai does not recommend going to the U.S. Consulate (or any other places associated with the U.S. or Thai governments or American culture) during local emergencies.
While not as widespread as some other places, many tourists have been scammed in Thailand. They may be offered inexpensive gems or jewelry to resell for a much higher price in the U.S. These gems are fake. Don’t be led to shopping (especially for jewelry, gems, silk, or carpets) by someone you just met or don’t know. Be careful of motorbike and similar rental scams where they hold your passport for ransom. Be wary of hidden and huge cover charges and high-priced drinks at bars where sex workers (bar girls) are plying their business. Don’t be tricked by these or any other scams. Think critically!
Be friendly, but be aware. Have an open mind and heart, but not so open that your good sense falls out. Don’t be lulled into doing something you wouldn’t trust at home or anywhere else. Before you get too deeply involved with anything or anyone (physically, financially, emotionally, or otherwise), do some research and please speak with me and/or someone else as a precaution or reality check.
Sometimes referred to as community-based learning or experiential learning, “Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities”, according to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. That’s what we’ll be doing in Chiang Mai. Service learning supports others as well as supporting social justice, while also supporting the students engaged in service learning. Through sharing with and serving others, we often get much in return, as giving is a form of receiving.
Blending thinking and doing, service learning is a unique and vital modality that brings the classroom into the community and the community into the classroom. Service learning is an integrated form of experiential learning involving cycles of preparatory reading, collaborative work in the service of others outside the classroom with local organizations, and reflective writing and group discussions, as well as linking personal and social responsibility. With service learning, we directly experience the practical applications of academic knowledge and social analyses in both community and classroom.
According to the SJSU Center for Community Learning and Leadership, “Service learning promotes learning through active participation in meaningful service experiences in the community that are related to course content. Through reflective activities, students enhance their understanding of course content, general knowledge, sense of self-awareness, civic responsibility and commitment to the community”.
“Service learning is a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of applying what [they] are learning to community problems and, at the same time, reflecting upon their experiences as they seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.” — Janet Eyler and Dwight Giles
“Service learning [is] a pedagogy of active participation in service that is coordinated with classroom content to simultaneously improve students’ critical engagement with the course curriculum while fostering civil responsibility.” — Corey Dolson and Chris Baker
“Service is not a form of moral obligation. It’s more about feeling the potential of the universe, the latent energy within the universe that is waiting to be released and expressed through you and your own unique qualities. There is no single paradigm of service. How do we truly release ourselves into the field of action?” — James O’Dea
“I can’t help but feel that perhaps the people/animals I volunteered for did more for me than I did for them. They enriched my soul.” — Ashley O.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Sex work, or prostitution, is basically illegal in Thailand (as are sex toys, the pornography business, and some porn), though widely permitted and selectively (un)enforced. According to the US State Dept: “not only is prostitution illegal, but there are serious consequences for those choosing to pay for these illicit services”, especially when it involves those underage. The age of sexual consent in Thailand is 18, regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
There is a very high incidence of AIDS and other STIs amongst sex workers as well as various scams, drugs, drugging, crime, thievery, blackmail, coercion, trafficking, and violence in the prostitution industry.
Although most of the girls and women, and to a lesser extent boys and men, in the sex work industry are doing so willingly (though still not completely by choice, as it’s typically seen as an economic necessity by some poor people), many of those involved are trafficked from Thailand and other South East Asian countries and are essentially slaves.
It is required and respectful to remove your shoes to enter all temple buildings as well as most homes and some businesses and offices.
Thailand is considered a shopper’s paradise (especially for clothes, art, jewelry, handicrafts, and kitchenware). There are many indoor and outdoor markets in Chiang Mai, where bargaining is part of the culture and expected, except where prices are marked (and even there sometimes). The best bet is to get familiar with the prices by comparing, deciding if you really want it, deciding what approximate amount you’d want to purchase it for, and then bargaining in good faith and with good fun.
Every evening, there is a huge indoor/outdoor market in downtown Chiang Mai called the Night Bazaar. On Saturdays, there is the Wualai Saturday Walking Street Market just south of the Old City and on Sundays, Rachadamnern Rd., the middle east-west street of the Old City (as well as various adjacent streets), is closed to traffic and becomes the Sunday Walking Street Market. All of these markets start in the late afternoon and go on late into the night. There are various other markets, such as Warorot near the Ping River, in the city.
Smoking is banned in most public places and indoor environments (even though it unfortunately still occurs). It’s also unhealthy, unpleasant, expensive, eco-destructive, and a form of domestic violence.
It is illegal to bring an e-cig into Thailand and it is illegal to vape in Thailand. Vaping is subject to a big fine and/or long imprisonment.
Coined by C. Wright Mills in 1959, the sociological imagination is a key sociological concept that understands that macro social forces shape micro individual thought and action, while individual behavior shapes social forces, recognizing their dialectical and oscillating connections. The sociological imagination is how self and society continually connect to, reproduce, and subvert each other.
“International travel can be educational, uplifting, and empowering. The Department of State enthusiastically supports U.S. citizens exploring the world.”
There are many academic, professional, and personal reasons for studying abroad. According to a report on global responsibility by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, “To be an educated person in the new millennium one must have the new skills that come from exposure to other cultures and the understanding produced from the study of different societies and nations. To be employed in those parts of the economy that cross national borders and the barriers of different languages one must be educated in a global environment that provides comfort and understanding of the cultures. Even to function at home, as most of our graduates will, in an increasingly diverse United States environment, a new sensitivity and understanding is required.”
In this era of global climate change, global wars and terrorism, global business and economics, global trade and finance, global arts and culture, global tourism and travel, global activism and human rights, global food and pandemics, and globalization more generally, opportunities to study abroad are simply invaluable. According to SJSU Study Abroad, the many benefits of studying abroad include helping students:
• to get an advantage for internships, jobs, Peace Corps, scholarships, and/or graduate school,
• develop global competency and an international perspective, so you can better assess and analyze issues and therefore resolve problems more creatively,
• acquire global language and communication skills, so you can better work with and lead academic, occupational, and other teams in diverse environments,
• expand your awareness about yourself and your society by immersing yourself in a different culture, and
• enjoy yourself, while making new friends and professional contacts from around the world.
As Robert Freeman notes, a global education is more important than ever and students need “to become effective by being cooperative, compassionate, and connected”, what he calls “the three C’s”. A fourth “C” is being creative, which travel tends to boost. In the words of Robert Reid, “Travel makes you smarter, sexier and more productive”. Students in this program will have the knowledge, skills, abilities, capacity, connections, and attitude to successfully learn, work, create, and lead in a diverse, dynamic, multicultural, and globalizing world to help create more just conditions in whatever arenas they enter and whatever communities they are part of.
Whereas the 19th century has been called the British Century and the 20th century has been called the American Century, many are referring to the current 21st century as the Asian Century.
This non-Eurocentric, Asia-based Faculty-Led Service-Learning Study Abroad Program to Chiang Mai, Thailand (most study-abroad programs from the U.S. are to Europe) will be a life-changing global experience, in educational, personal, and professional ways, for all involved.
A Thai temple is called a wat. There are hundreds of Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai (with about 36 in the Old City alone) as well as the occasional Christian church (various denominations), Hindu temple, Sikh temple, Muslim mosque, Taoist temple, and even a Jewish center. Thai temples are always sacred religious places, but can also be community centers, refuges, sanctuaries, marketplaces, museums, sports fields, schools, orphanages, playgrounds, monuments, monk residences, tourist sites, meeting places, landmarks, historical sites, massage parlors, restaurants, picnic areas, places to rest or sleep, and so on.
The wats in Chiang Mai are impossible to miss, beautiful to see, easy to visit, (mostly) free, open, and interesting to check out. They are an integral, intriguing, and inescapable part of Thailand. Check some of them out! Visitors, especially women, are expected to dress respectfully.
Some of my favorite wats in Chiang Mai are Wat Suan Dok (a lovely wat with Monk Chat and Pun Pun vegetarian restaurant, just west of the Old City toward Chiang Mai University), Wat Chedi Luang (in the Old City), Wat Umong (a nearby forest temple, which is very peaceful, past Wat Suan Dok), Wat Doi Suthep (on top of a mountain outside the city), Wat Chiang Mun (the oldest temple in the city, near the Eurana Hotel down Soi 7), Wat Buparam (on Thapae Rd., not far from the Old City toward the Night Bazaar), Wat Jet Yod (northwest of the Old City, near Chiang Mai University), and the silver temples on either side of Wualai. There are many others for you to explore and enjoy!
“Thailand is easily the most interesting and most beautiful place I have ever visited. Behind every corner and on every street, no matter where you are, there is something unique to be seen.” — Megan Pinckney
“The Thai national anthem is played in public places at 8am and 6pm every day and you are expected to stop what you are doing and listen in silence. This is particularly noticeable at [Chiang Mai’s] Saturday and Sunday walking street markets where the crowded street comes to a standstill.”
“I had the time of my life here in Thailand. … It went by too fast! The only thing I would want is there to be more time.” — Sarah S.
Thailand (Indochina Time – ICT; UTC +7) is 14 hours ahead of California time in the summer (Pacific Daylight Time; UTC -7).
Tipping is not common or expected in restaurants or taxis, and it is never required, though people occasionally leave a small amount for good service after a restaurant meal, massage, tour, or hotel stay. Tipping a small amount may sometimes be expected, however, for someone who carries your bags, or does something difficult for you, but is rarely expected elsewhere and there is no set percentage or amount. Some people will be happy to receive a tip, while others will be embarrassed or confused by it.
Thailand is transitioning to western toilets, though squat toilets still exist, especially outside the city. Also, public toilets may charge a small amount to enter and another small amount for toilet paper, if toilet paper is even available; rural toilets will likely be squat ones without toilet paper (therefore, some travelers carry a small roll of their own).
In Thailand (as in England and Japan, for example), people drive on the left side of the road (the opposite of the U.S.). Given this difference, be especially careful when crossing streets, as it is easy to get confused or complacent.
There are various modes of transport in Chiang Mai. Besides walking, bicycles, motorbikes, and cars, the tuk-tuk (pronounced took-took, a 3-wheeled taxi, an iconic symbol of Thailand, which vaguely makes the sound tuk-tuk as it drives) is quite common as is the songtiow (pronounced song-tee-ow, a covered, usually red pickup truck with two rows in the back, sometimes called red car or red truck; songtiow means two rows). There are also regular taxis and a small number of bus routes.
The tuk-tuk is a private taxi and the fare has to be negotiated beforehand and is estimated/calculated by distance and sometimes number of people. A short ride in a tuk-tuk should be 40-60 baht or so per person; to/from the Night Bazaar, for example, 60 baht or so, though they will likely ask for more, sometimes considerably more, especially to get back to the hotel at night or if you’re in an out-of-the-way location. No tuk-tuk ride within Chiang Mai should ever be more than B150 per person, but it could be.
A songtiow acts as a share-taxi (a mix between a taxi and a bus), where there are people getting off and on along some sort of rough route on main roads, needing to be flagged down and without any specific stops, speaking to the driver about where they want to go before getting in. A typical (red = dang) songtiow fare should be B20 (yee sip baht, or the slang, yip baht) and sometimes B30, though it may vary (increase) for foreigners (it also may vary by color/function of the songtiow, distance, destination, traffic, time of day, personality of the driver, etc.). Songtiow drivers are less likely to speak English than tuk-tuk drivers.
Tipping is rarely done. Payment is always made at the end of the ride, though the price is negotiated before you get in the vehicle.
“It’s not what you spend or pack that makes your trip memorable; it’s the state of mind you bring. … Savor the differences. … Be ready to ad-lib, to be imaginative while conquering surprise challenges. Make an art out of taking the unexpected in stride. … Good travelers — like skiers bending their knees to make moguls more fun — enjoy the bumps in the road. … Don’t complicate your trip: simplify! Travelers can get stressed or waste time over the silliest things, which, in their niggling ways, can suffocate a happy holiday. … Avoid unnecessary burdens. … Ask questions all along the way. Make yourself an extrovert, even if you’re not. … Don’t be afraid to butcher the language. … Be a catalyst for adventure and excitement. … Be open-minded. Absorb, accept, and learn. Much of the success of your trip will depend on the attitude you pack. If you can think positively, travel smartly, adapt well, and connect with the culture, you’ll have a truly rich … trip. So raise your travel dreams to their upright and locked positions, and let yourself fly away.” — Rick Steves
“While traveling, be aware of your own privilege, but also don’t assume that Western connotations of wealth, happiness, and development are the same everywhere.” — Leah Feiger
Read these and many other bits of travel wisdom and inspiration in:
Dan Brook, GO!: Travel Quotes to Send You Off
“When we take a real vacation — in the true sense of “holiday,” time marked by holiness, a sacred period of respite — our sense of time gets completely warped. Unmoored from work-time and set free, if temporarily, from the tyranny of schedules, we come to experience life exactly as it unfolds, with its full ebb and flow of dynamism — sometimes slow and silken, like the quiet hours spent luxuriating in the hammock with a good book; sometimes fast and fervent, like a dance festival under a summer sky.” — Maria Popova
No vaccinations are required for Americans going to Thailand. That said, according to the CDC, “All travelers should be up-to-date on their routine vaccinations [e.g., polio, tetanus, MMR]. In addition, most travelers to Thailand should also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Typhoid [and Japanese Encephalitis] vaccine should be considered.” It’s also recommended that you get the flu vaccine (as you should each year). Malaria is not a concern in Chiang Mai or in nearly all of Thailand.
You will automatically get a 30-day visa on arrival at an airport at no cost (15 days if arriving by land) with a U.S. passport. From Thailand, it is easy to travel to other countries, so you can consider doing so before or especially after our program. If you’d like to stay longer than 30 days in Thailand, by going earlier and/or staying after our 22-day program, you may need to arrange before our trip for a tourist visa (90 days) by contacting the Thai Embassy in DC or one of its consulates in NY, LA, or Chicago. Alternatively, you could leave Thailand and re-enter the country (when done for this purpose, it’s called a visa run). As of August 29, 2014, one could apply for a 30-day extension to their 30-day visa for B1900 without leaving the country. These rules have been changing and may change again. Those who overstay their visa can face significant penalties, so research, plan, and calculate and calendar your days carefully.
When in Thailand, you should always either carry your passport or some other form of ID, as is required by Thai law, and/or a copy of your passport and Thai visa stamp (free on arrival). Take a photo of the photo page and the visa stamp on your phone.
Voluntourism, also known as volunteer travel, volunteer vacations, and responsible travel, is the act or practice of going somewhere to do volunteer work in community service, providing many potential benefits for the volunteers as well as those being served, while visiting a place other than one’s community. Voluntourists are not heroes or saviors, but should think of themselves as helpers and assistants who can learn from, befriend, and empower those they serve. About 1 million people engage in voluntourism each year. We will be voluntourists in Chiang Mai.
“Volunteering is the most authentic way to experience a place and meet locals.” — Anmol Arora
“The basic motivation for voluntourists seems to stem from a rejection of mass tourism and the embracing of alternative experiential travel that is more meaningful. … While mass tourism represents certain levels of exploitation of host communities and their environment, voluntourism represents the enrichment of the host communities by dedicated voluntourists.” — Tracy Connors
Research on similar programs has shown that this type of learning often makes students:
• more socially responsible and politically involved,
• less racially and culturally prejudiced,
• less cynical and alienated,
• feel more empowered and inspired,
• more knowledgeable,
• more linguistically and geographically savvy,
• more confident and mature,
• more self-reliant,
• more emotionally intelligent,
• have higher self-esteem and increased self-respect,
• better team players,
• better leaders,
• better citizens,
• better and more successful students with higher GPAs and graduation rates,
• more productive,
• more globally aware, concerned, and engaged,
• better able to connect theories and concepts in the classroom with social phenomena in the world, and
• more desirable as candidates for scholarships, internships, graduate school, Peace Corps, and professional employment.
“I came to Chiang Mai with the intent to volunteer and give back to the community, but instead I was given so much more than I could ever offer.” — Amanda M.
“I am just so thankful to have gotten the opportunity to come here and be able to have made an impact on the lives of others here. But I am more grateful for the impact this place, the students, and just the overall experiences have had on me. I feel like I have grown so much. I am a better person because of everything I have experienced here in Thailand.” — Samantha D.
Don’t drink the tap water; drink bottled water only. Tap water in Thailand can be unhealthy to drink, though not as bad as some places (e.g., India) and it can therefore be used for brushing teeth, but feel free to use bottled water for all purposes. Bottled water is readily available, safe, inexpensive, and should be consumed to keep hydrated in the hot climate. You can bring a refillable water bottle and freely fill it with purified water at our hotel breakfast buffet or from inexpensive machines in Chiang Mai (it’s also good for the plane if empty before security and then filled at a water filling station or fountain in the terminal).
June in Chiang Mai will likely be hot (average high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (~32C), average low of 76F (24.4C)) and quite humid/muggy (about 55-97% humidity), so it is important to drink a lot of fluids (non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated) to stay hydrated, healthy, and happy. It is easy to find bottled water, various juices, smoothies, shakes, soy milk, and more.
With over 13 hours of daylight, the sun will rise before 6 AM and set about 7 PM. Many days could be overcast and it likely will also rain while we’re there, with about a two-thirds chance of some rain on any given day, as June is the end of Thailand’s hot season and beginning of its rainy season.
Zip Lock Bags
You might want to bring some zip lock plastic bags to protect your passport, wallet, money, electronics, journal, meds, or anything else from rain or other water.
I sincerely want you to be happy, healthy, safe, and successful. I also don’t want you to ruin this trip for me and your classmates or the possibility of future trips for me and other students or to bring disrepute to us or SJSU and dishonor to Thailand. So, please be careful, be responsible, and be respectful, focusing on health, safety, and legality, while serving, learning, and enjoying your precious time in beautiful Thailand.
As with life generally, all specifics are subject to change.
Further Resources (be sure to check out)
10 Things To Avoid Doing In Thailand
There are also many websites, apps, digital alerts, photos, videos, films, books, articles, blogs, vlogs, groups, news, magazines, podcasts, music, and social media opportunities related to Chiang Mai that could be interesting and useful.
Following Program Rules:
Failure to follow program rules or instructor’s written and/or oral warnings, especially regarding health, safety, SJSU regulations, or Thai laws, including the ones in this HoT Info Guide, can result in failure of the course and removal from HoT (including the hotel) without course credit or financial refund.
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