The past week has been a big transition for everyone in SST. We have moved out of our host families, finished our internship programs, and left Chiang Mai headed south toward Bangkok. Leaving family members that have been living and providing for us for the past two months was difficult for everyone. These families sacrificed so much in order to serve us and make sure we were comfortable, along with allowing us to have a rare glimpse at how the people of Thailand truly live their day to day lives. My parents worked all day on campus at Chiang Mai University then headed to the local market to work all night, all the while providing for me in so many ways. Overall the experience we had with our host families was humbling to say the least, and was something none of us will forget.
Being a Westerner in this Eastern world has been incredibly confusing at times. I find myself constantly questioning what the people of Thailand actually believe as far as religion and philosophy are concerned, and after more than two months I still don’t have a clear answer. Buddhism denies the existence of any deity or supernatural beings (at least at a philosophical level), yet everything we see here seems to go against this philosophy. The numerous temples and statues dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses, the spirit houses standing outside every public building, burning incense at altars, and worshiping Buddha images are all things we have seen daily in Thailand, and known as folk Buddhism. In the West we constantly argue for one truth or one philosophy to live by, denying all others. But here in the East it feels like everything goes, and people go about their daily lives practicing their beliefs in ways that don’t always make sense to us Westerners.
Anyways, back to what we have been doing… This past week we embarked on our trip down south toward the Capital, making numerous stops along the way. The amount of history we’ve learned and seen has been incredible this week. We have experienced history that is older than anything most of us have ever seen before, temples and palaces that are hundreds of years old, and are still playing a large part in society today. Being able to learn about the various influences Thailand has had in the past, and then seeing how those influences have affected society through architecture and art has been an incredible experience.
Our first stop was Sukhothai, visiting various temples along the way and finally arriving at a hotel where we spent the night. The next day we all awoke bright and early and rented bikes to ride around the ancient ruins of Sukhothai. You realize that you are part of something special when you find yourself biking with some of your closest friends through an ancient city in the middle of Thailand. The entire day was something I will never forget.
After thoroughly exploring Sukhothai, we headed on to Phitsanulok, then to Lopburi where we found ourselves fending off hordes of monkey living among the local temple. There were literally hundreds of primates (sometimes five at a time) jumping from student to student in search of food that we were given in order to feed them. By the end of the visit, everyone was covered with little monkey footprints, and ready to wash their hands off in the nearest bathroom. That night we stayed at a hotel that was decorated by numerous monkey sculptures, putting more monkeys into an already monkey-filled day.
The next day we headed to Ayutthaya where we explored a few temples and museums, and ended up having dinner that night on a river boat with a great view of the temple we visited earlier that day. After all of this we ended up in Bangkok where we were able to explore the city via river boat, and were able to see the king’s palace, full of incredibly breathtaking views… and Chinese tourists…
Overall this week has been full of change and transition, but also exciting and fun. We have seen things that we will never see again, and remember them forever. I really want to personally thank SST and our host families for allowing us to stay with them and experience what Thailand is really like from the inside. This entire experience would not have been nearly as insightful without the help of these people.
This week’s blog post was written by Will Thompson (pictured above), sophomore Sociology and Art major from Covenant College. Covenant College is located in Chatanooga, TN. To view the pictures from the historical field trip click the following link: Historical Field Trip.