Friday, December 13, 2013

Service Learning at BEAM

I know I’ve mentioned working at a place called BEAM a couple times before, but never really intensively talked about it. As you may know, I’m on a service-learning program that combines academic study with volunteering in the community. We get placed by our program director according to skill set, interest, and availability.

When we met at the beginning of the semester and I mentioned that as a biology student I have a background in the natural sciences, my program director put me in touch with an organization called BEAM, which stands from Bridging Educational Access to Migrants. These migrants come mainly from the ethnic states of Myanmar, who are in Chiang Mai to seek better opportunities for work. Many of them seek out opportunities for education as well, and so many migrant schools have sprung up in Thailand, everything from elementary schools in the refugee camps to evening classes for migrants wanting to learn English.

Many schools also teach vocational skills, like tailoring or computer work, to help migrants be more employable or even open up their own businesses. The problem is that most migrants are undocumented and are constantly at a risk for deportation. This, as well as not having Thai language skills, prevents them from going to a traditional government school. None of the migrant schools are accredited, so there is little to no opportunity for migrants to attend university even if they have high school equivalency.

Enter BEAM. Established in 2009, this non-profit organization split off from the Migrant Learning Center in Chiang Mai to meet the needs of the students for a high school equivalency, currently limited to the western General Education Diploma. The GED program at BEAM is a two year course that teaches students the English skills as well as the content needed to pass the GED exam. Most people in the west with critical reading and thinking skills could pass the GED if they wanted, as all information to answer the questions is provided, it’s all about being able to interpret the text, graphic, or chart.

I was asked to teach a GED-preparation chemistry course for the second year students, some of which would be sitting the exam in late November and some not until 2014. I was given a textbook and a few other materials to teach out of, but other than that the curriculum was up to me. It was a huge challenge to undertake, but I felt confident in my enthusiasm, commitment, and understanding of the material. I would teach a lecture to morning and evening students every Friday, and then offer an optional afternoon class to give extra help in the form of worksheets, one-on-one questions, activities, and videos.

My students were very sweet and very patient with me as I stumbled over their unfamiliar Southeast Asian names. They were attentive during class but sometimes struggled when I gave assignments to be turned in later. There was no formal grading system; it was just up to me to quantify their learning in the form of projects and quizzes. I had them each research a different element when I was gone on my two week break, and they came up with some pretty interesting stuff!

During the afternoon class some memorable activities were watching Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy. We also grew our own sugar crystals and I showed them how the polymers in plastic bags keep water from spilling out even when you poke a pencil through. We also broke out a molecular modeling kit when talking about the structures of different compounds. There was lots of equipment and glassware available for my use, but I did not find out until later that there was a locked cabinet with chemicals somewhere in the office. I would have brought in my own stuff but I had no idea how to buy chemicals in Thailand! The classroom wasn’t really conducive to experiments, though, and the Thai custom of removing one’s shoes before entering a room or building posed a bit of a safety threat. I hope the students found my class interesting and fun, though.

Chemistry only accounts for around 15% of the science subject test, so I felt a little like a weight was taken off my shoulders. I also found out that BEAM has a 100% pass rate for the students who sit, having graduated three classes already, so I hoped my efforts contributed a little to its sterling reputation. This was a very humbling experience overall, though, as it really is all about the students’ motivation to succeed and aspire to do more with their lives than the preceded generations of migrants.

Doing international service work can be a slippery slope, as it’s all too easy to fall into the “foreign savior” trap and think that you can swoop in like a superhero and save all the poor people from whatever social ill ails them. This is a form of neo-colonialism and it does not show respect for the existing culture. Instead, international service work should be about integrating into the community and working for what it truly needs, rather than what the volunteers think the community needs. Working at BEAM may not have been as glamorous as building houses or caring for orphans, but it made a difference where a difference was needed. I now believe that working “with” people is far more effective and important that working “for” people. As someone looking to pursue a career that seeks to serve others, this is a critical insight and I am so grateful for the opportunity to develop in a unique way.

Today I leave for Bangkok to fly back to the States tomorrow. I will try to have at least one more blog post wrapping up my thoughts about this incredible journey, but until then I want to thank each and every one of you, dear readers, for your continued support. I really could not have done it alone. 

Karen Village Homestay

Well, as I said, finals week got the best of me and I have just been running around like crazy with studying, exams, papers, and my last week of service work not to mention trying to get everything packed up and ready to leave the country TOMORROW. I don’t think I’ll believe it until I’m sitting on the plane headed over the Pacific Ocean.

I wanted to do a full post on the Karen village experience that I had the week after we got back from Bangkok. The Karen are an ethnic minority in Southeast Asia, mostly living in Thailand and Burma. The trip was meant as an extension of our service learning, but was a bit of an experimental trip as my program director was invited by a personal friend named Man to visit his remote village of Mae Pah Bpoo for a weekend and was encouraged to bring some students. Four students (myself included) volunteered to head up on a Friday afternoon until Sunday evening, ready for adventure and to have a unique and immersive cultural experience.

We were advised to pack light – just a backpack or so – but warm because being up in the mountains during the “winter” was sure to bring some chill. I packed the thickest jacket and scarf I brought with me to this otherwise tropical climate and after Buddhism class on Friday we piled in a pick-up truck to head up the windy mountain roads. We stopped first at a market to buy food and bottled water.

The journey was a very bumpy four hours, but the view was beautiful and we had a nice time talking, laughing, and bonding so the time went quickly. We made a quick stop at the town of Samoeng, which is famous for its strawberries! Sadly they were still one month out of season but since being back in Chiang Mai I’m starting to see them at the markets. It was nightfall when we finally reached the village, and we were greeted by the headman before we took our stuff to Man’s uncle’s house where we would all be staying. There was a small bedroom for the two guys and some mats laid out on the floor in the main room for the three girls. We then went over to Man’s mother’s house for dinner. Karen food is absolutely amazing – a mountain of rice that you can top with different stewed vegetable and meat dishes. My favorite that night was boiled pumpkin, and there was also different kinds of mountain vegetables and morning glory vine, which is a popular dish in Thailand and very tasty.

After dinner we drank some beer and tea and then went around visiting a few different villagers. One man who fondly asked us to call us “Grandpa” invited us into his house to sit and chat. Man could translate for the villagers who only spoke Karen, and my program director could also speak with them if they knew Thai. We also picked up a few essential Karen words: “tah blueh” is the word for both “hello” and “thank you,” so we said that a lot. “Oh ah ah” means “eat a lot!” – we were urged to do that at every meal, to the point where our favorite phrase in Thai became “im jah dai” – “I’m so full I’m going to die.” We also heard a lot of “gola,” which means white person, the equivalent in Thai is “farang.”

We didn’t go to bed terribly late but it felt like almost no time had passed when Man came in to wake us up. We got dressed and had breakfast at Man’s mother’s house again. Man had told us about the oldest woman in the village. “She complains all the time that she wants to die already, but she has a good heart,” he told us. She was very tiny, as you can imagine, but still very alert and could move around her house by herself. Her son in law was the “Grandpa” we visited the night before. I gave her the last bar of soap and basket I brought from home, both handmade in Colorado, and she seemed to like them.We asked several times how old people thought she was, and we would get a slightly different answer each time, but all estimates were over one hundred, which was amazing. She had helped build the road to Wat Doi Suthep in the 1930s, and had walked all the way from her village to Chiang Mai and back in order to do so. When we went back and took pictures with her the next day, I sat next to her and she held my hand.

We were originally supposed to help the villagers build a rice barn on Saturday, but the headman had called a meeting and it was decided that the village would rather use the money to buy chairs for their elementary school instead. So we had some free time to talk a walk to the next village over and visit the river. Man told us it was “just over that hill” but after two hours of hiking up a mountain in the hot sun we began to question his judgment of distance. We were accompanied by a flock of elementary aged boys, who ran ahead, climbed up the trees, pulled off branches to eat berries, and shot at birds with the slingshots they carried with them. At the top we stopped to talk to some teenagers on motorbikes to see if we could negotiate an impromptu taxi service. We were in luck, though, when a guy from Mae Pah Bpoo pulled up in his truck, heading for the same place we were.

After a bumpy ride down the mountain we arrived at the river and all the boys immediately pulled off their shirts and jumped in the freezing water. Since there wasn’t anyone else around, we girls stripped down to shorts and sports bras and joined them. The water was so refreshing and exhilarating to totally lie down and immerse our whole bodies. We wandered upstream for a little while before having to get out and catch the truck back to Mae Pah Bpoo.  We took turns taking showers; the village has running water in a few small bathroom buildings that are shared by the community. By this time it was mid-afternoon, so we had a late lunch (I could not stop eating this excellent noodle dish that was basically Ramen and cabbage except awesome) and then a little nap on the floor of Man’s mother’s house before going outside and watching the boys play soccer in the late afternoon light.

In the evening we met back with the headman, as he wanted to talk to us about coming to their village and about their way of life. Our director had brought a huge tin of little shortbread and apricot biscuits, which were so addictive that I must have had “my last one, I promise” too many times to count. The village does not have electricity except for rewired car batteries and  solar panels that were given to them under former prime minister Thaksin. When the lights went out suddenly people just lit some candles and thought nothing of it. We split more beer and hot tea and a few of the ladies in the community decided to give us Karen nicknames. I was christened “Poh Loh Eh” which means “cute flower.”

Exhausted, we had a late dinner and then slept like rocks. We were awoken by several of the young boys peeping in the windows and yelling, “Good morning, gola!” Before breakfast we visited a lady who had a few extra woven items we could buy. Each of the girls got a bag, the guy student got a shirt, and one of my friends got a long white dress that signifies being unmarried. She was a little wary about wearing it around because several women had expressed the desire for Western daughter in law! After breakfast we donned our Karen attire (some of us borrowed shirts) and went to try our hand at rice pounding.

The village uses one big lever-type mechanism to pound the shells off the grains of rice, and then wide, flat baskets to sift the grains of rice out. We weren’t very good at either activity, and it was probably a miracle that we managed to produce more rice than we dumped on the ground by accident. No one seemed to mind, though, and the morning passed quickly. We had enough time for a final lunch, and then Man’s mother performed a blessing for us. She prepared a plate of rice and a plate of the apricot biscuits, while Man told us that in lieu of the biscuits they would usually use meat of some kind, usually a freshly slaughtered chicken. I was pretty grateful that they did not feel the need to kill a chicken just for us, as I try to eat as vegetarian as much as I can. Man's mother then draped several white threads over the plates, and one by one she wrapped the thread around each of our wrists while saying the blessing, then broke off the end and threw it over our shoulders. Man translated the sentiments of the blessing as gratitude and well wishes for long and happy lives.

We gave gifts of tea and chocolate to Man’s mother, then a special ornament to the uncle who hosted us before departing on the pick-up truck. The way back to Chiang Mai was a bit shorter, although we did get stuck in some traffic. We arrived back at Uniloft sad that the weekend in the mountains was over, but so grateful for the opportunity to experience it. The “hill tribes” like the ethnic Karen have been turned into somewhat of a commodity for the tourism industry, with tour packages taking people by the busload to a few closer villages to gawk at the "natives." This visit was a far cry from that, as our main objective was to be observers and a humble presence in the village. Several people expressed how much they wished they could speak English and talk to us, and we would respond that we wished we could speak Karen!

The other thing that we heard a lot was a desire for us to return. I would love to go back and visit Mae Pah Bpoo, but I just don’t know when that will be! I really enjoyed being in Thailand and I have hopes of coming back someday, but the world is just so darn big and there are so many other places to explore. The Karen people will always have a special place in my heart and I am so glad that I took the opportunity to go out of my comfort zone in some ways, but actually return to my comfort zone in others because I am much more content in the forested mountains, up in the fresh air and dirt, than down in a large city. Guess I always be a Coloradoan at heart. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Yee Ping Lantern Festival

Gosh, has it really been over a week since I've updated? Apologies, everyone, but in my defense it is the week before finals and I am on the leaving-Thailand countdown, so you've got to cut me some slack.

That doesn't mean I don't have a lot to say, though, because this particular post is one that I've been looking forward to writing since I decided to come to Thailand. That's right, this one is all about the floating lantern festival that enticed me to spend four months in Chiang Mai in the first place. I was finally going to get to live my dream!

We drove back from Bangkok in time for the weekend-long Loi Krathong festival, which actually is a Thailand-wide festival that is celebrated by floating little boats on a river with good wishes for the future. Yee Ping is special to Lanna, the former name of Northern Thailand centered around Chiang Mai. Yee Ping refers specifically to the release of the floating sky lanterns.

Thousands of tourists flock to Chiang Mai for this event each year, so I guess we were lucky to not have to try and find a hotel or anything! Traffic was still pretty bad in the city, though, so we arranged for a song taew to come pick us up at our building a few hours before the festivities were to start. We were headed out to a place called Mae Jo, where a temple outside of the university there was famous for the release of up to 10,000 lanterns at one time. The ceremony started at 6:00 pm we made sure to stake out our spot in the field - lanterns purchased and food cart dinners in our bellies - by 5:00 pm because there were already so many people there.

I say the ceremony started at 6:00, but the actual lantern release did not happen until 8:30. Obviously we had to wait for it to get dark for the lanterns to be most effective, but first and foremost this is a Buddhist merit-making ceremony and is done to honor Lord Buddha. Therefore there was a long ceremony beforehand where several monks processed in, we did a long meditation, and then the monks and other meditators did a circumambulation. There was a constant stream of lanterns in the sky from outside of the temple area, but those on the field were instructed to wait until the proper moment to light and release the lanterns.

I was glad that we waited because being in a sea of warm, bright lanterns for a few brief minutes and then watching the cloud lift up away from the earth and float up into the night sky was simply breathtaking. The tradition says that the lantern will take away all your woes and negativity as it rises away on a breeze, and we were also told to make a wish as we let go of the enormous lanterns. I made a big, important wish for my life. Can't tell you what it is, or it won't come true, but let's just say I won't even know if it comes true for quite some time!

My camera isn't the best so sorry for the low picture quality, but really no huge fancy camera in the whole world could truly capture the magic of the moment. I'm so happy I could see it in person. A true once-in-a-lifetime experience. I took a little video of the second lantern we released after watching the sky for a little while. As you can see, you have to let the lantern fill with hot air before releasing it.

I'm also glad I got to be there with the special friends I've made while in Thailand. It made me realize a few things that are important in life: surrounding myself with positive people and seeking out adventure whenever I get the opportunity. I would also like to express my gratitude towards everyone who has supported me along the way and who have opened the doors to adventure for me!

We thought we would "beat the crowd" and leave a couple minutes early so we could get back to our song taew driver on time, but apparently the rest of the crowd thought the exact same thing. I won't dwell too much on how hard it was to get out, let's just say that we tried to keep a positive attitude and it was a situation we can definitely laugh about in retrospect. Our song taew driver waited up for us, and we all made it back to Chiang Mai safe and sound!

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is having incredible experiences like this so early in life. Just like in the movie Tangled, once you realize a dream you can feel a little bit disoriented and not as grounded. The amazing thing that I realized, though, is that the world is virtually infinite. There is no way that I can see everything in one lifetime, so as soon as I cross one thing off the  "bucket list" there are at least a hundred things that can fill its place. It's both encouraging and overwhelming, so I guess the best I can do is take things one adventure at a time.

Okay, that's probably enough reflection for one night! Hope you enjoyed reading about Yee Ping and the video. I have a few more ideas for posts before I leave Thailand, so, as always, stay tuned! Can't make any promises about the next time I'll be able to update, though. Schoolwork beckons . . .

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Visiting Parliament

I recently teased with my family members that I have been to more government buildings in foreign countries than I have in my own, as I have also visited the Reichstag in Germany but saw the Capitol building only from a distance when on vacation in Washington D.C. The Parliament in Bangkok isn't so much a tourist attraction, but as international students it was important for us to visit in order to better understand the politics of the country we had been living in for the last three months.

Thailand transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in the 1930s, asking the king to abdicate his power and changing the name of the country from Siam to Thailand. As a result, Thailand is still getting used to being a democracy and to put it lightly, things have been a little trial and error. There have been eighteen constitutions thus far and a great deal of pushing and pulling back and forth between leaders and ideologies as a result. We visited first with a deputy speaker of Parliament, who spoke to the importance of maintaining a neutral stance in his position in an attempt to appease all sides.

Next we met with the former prime minister of Thailand, who was very charismatic but controversial. He spoke to the importance of voters and having elected (rather than appointed) leaders so that Thailand is ideally a "by the people, for the people" nation. Objectively looking at the current political climate, however, it is obvious that there is still a ways to go on this front. Though one could argue that no country has gotten it perfect yet. I certainly could file some grievances with my own government on some issues, but ultimately experiences like these are personal for me because it reminds me to take my citizenship into my own hands and stay informed and use my vote wisely.

We were warmly welcomed by the Thai Parliament and posed for many group pictures as well as were invited to sit in on an actual meeting, although it was all in Thai. Another highlight was visiting the museum where we got to get up close and personal with the various Thai constitutions and other important original documents! I was amazed because the U.S. equivalents are carefully protected in dark rooms behind bulletproof glass with several sinister security guards around to make sure the tourists keep shuffling past. Someone pointed out that there is quite the age difference in these documents, and the Thai Parliament isn't quite as touristy as the Declaration of Independence.

Our next stop was at the Anata Samakhorn Throne Hall, which used to serve as the Parliament building before it moved to its current location (and it's planning on moving again into a newly built place). Now this throne hall is a beautiful museum with so much art given in homage to the members of the royal family. The building itself is stunning, done up in the Italian architectural style.

Again I am the victim of a "no photos allowed" rule, because the inside was absolutely incredible. The frescoes on the ceiling and the marble interior was amazing in and of themselves, but the true marvel was with the various artisans' gifts that are housed there. Thrones, palanquins, and models of royal barges were made of intricate gold  and inlaid with precious gems. I could have stared at the scenes depicted in huge wood carvings forever. Massive embroidered tapestries showed famous stories and were made with every color of the rainbow and then some. I regretted running out of time before I could truly appreciate the collections of dishes, porcelain, and smaller embroidered pieces that were housed downstairs. The Throne Hall is a definite must-see for anyone visiting Bangkok.

Our final stop was at a famous monument of a king astride his steed in front of the Throne Hall. It is placed next to a medallion, small in comparison, inlaid in the pavement as an homage to democracy. The professors summed up that it represented Thailand's politics well: the monarchy is still the most revered, and even if it no longer has as much political power over the people, it's ideological power is as strong as ever.

That basically concludes our trip to Bangkok! We stayed up late to pay an informed visit to the red light district of Bangkok, but I didn't stay long, preferring instead to hang out with friends in the hotel and swap riddles. The next day we were back on the road, doing the long haul all the way back to Chiang Mai. I was glad to have the whole weekend in front of me, and was a weekend it was, as it was time for the famous Loi Krathrong festival!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Textiles, Cultural Center, and the UN

We had a very busy next day that started early with a visit to the Jim Thompson Textile Museum. Located at his historical home, Jim Thompson is famous for having put Thailand on the map for textiles and fabric production. His home was just as innovative as his business, as it linked the traditional Thai houses together to make a larger house where one used hallways to walk from room to room without having to go outside. The whole area was beautiful and showed the fusion between the traditional Eastern styles and Western influences that are common in Thailand. I loved to see all the old art pieces, especially the intricately detailed porcelain dish collection. Another highlight was a demonstration on extracting the silk threads from the cocoons of silk worms.

We then walked over the the Bangkok Art Cultural Center, which is a multileveled modern building that caters to all needs of the art community. There are coffee and clothing shops that draw the artistic crowd, a theater for live performances and films, and large galleries for the current art exhibits. There was one that featured the use of recycled materials - I loved walking through loops of newspapers attached together and draped from ceiling to floor. There was also a really neat sculpture that was a mosaic of mirrored cubes that were so large and stacked in a way that you could walk underneath them, to see an alcove where a pile of dirt and your own image was reflected back at you a thousand times.

I loved the peace and quiet of the art museum compared to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok traffic outside. Since the food was a little pricey inside the culture center, we walked right across the street to the shopping center where we went the day before. I sprung for Subway, though, and it was great to have a little taste of home in the form of a tuna sandwich and a double chocolate chip cookie!

In the afternoon we got the special opportunity to be guests at the United Nations in Bangkok. After going through security, we got our own name badges and were escorted to a conference room to talk about the state of human trafficking in Southeast Asia with a UN representative who does field research. It was an interesting talk that really helped me understand how international policies break down to the national level and even the regional level. The image that the phrase "human trafficking" brings up is often one of women and even children being sold into slavery for sex work, but that is not really an accurate picture. The majority of trafficking cases are for the labor industry, such as fisheries, but that doesn't have the same emotional draw as "sex trafficking" so less people know about it. In reality, sex work is often the best-paying kind of work some people, often migrants, can find and so is seen as an unsavory option but an option nonetheless. 

I think the real problem is the demand for sex work from the clientele and that a true solution will only be found when we can find a way to change the culture and reduce the demand for sexual services. The criminalization should be placed on the clients, not the workers. When sex workers get busted, no one is offering viable employment to replace their jobs. Plus, as long as it's illegal, it's unregulated, which can be dangerous for all parties involved. That's why groups like Empower, an organization of sex workers in Chiang Mai, have arisen to change the way we look at the sex industry. They have even started their own bar (which I have visited) to show that they refuse to be victimized and that their employment should be legitimate, even if it is viewed as socially taboo.

As you can see, our trip to the UN gave me a lot to think about in conjunction with what we had been learning in my Institutions of Thai Society class. The remainder of our trip was just as politically focused, but I'll save that for another day and give you a little break! Until then!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Grand Palace and Wat Pho

Hello everyone! I'm sorry I haven't been updating on Bangkok more, things just got busy this week! I am off to one more adventure this afternoon - a weekend home stay and service project in a remote Karen village. Karen are an important ethnic group to the struggle in Burma, but this is a Thai Karen group. I'm really excited!

Anyway, we arrived in Bangkok late Monday night so our sightseeing didn't start until Tuesday morning, but we started off big with a tour of the Grand Palace. The current royal family doesn't really reside there much (seeing as the king and queen are quite elderly) but it was still magnificent to see.

I was particularly impressed with this golden chedi, which is a common sight in Thailand except this one was covered in a tiny gold tile mosaic from Italy.

As we continued on the tour, I saw a familiar sight in the form of a model of Angkor Wat! One of the former kings had wanted to show the prestige of the kingdom of Siam (modern day Thailand) over the neighboring Khmer kingdom in Cambodia. He wanted to go and bring Angkor Wat to Siam, which would have been expensive and difficult, so I guess he had to be satisfied with this model.

One of the main attractions of the Grand Palace is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which I unfortunately was not allowed to take pictures of. However, I thought that the mural surrounding the temple was equally fantastic, as it was gold-leafed and depicting scenes from the famous Hindu story of the Ramayana.

I was also impressed by the beautiful garden areas of the palace. We had a nice break here to take pictures and explore a little before heading off to another temple, Wat Pho.

Wat Pho is home to the enormous reclining Buddha, the posture he takes just before his death. It was very crowded but I managed to snap a few pictures, despite my camera battery dying a little bit!

I thought the chedis at Wat Pho were beautiful too, covered in intricate, detailed floral designs. 

After Wat Pho, we had lunch at a small restaurant on the riverside and then relaxed in a nearby park where we saw a giant prehistoric-looking lizard crawl into the water! It disappeared before I could get a picture, but it was a crazy sight to see. We had the afternoon off with the option of going to a shopping area. A couple of my friends and I went and checked out the upscale malls before doing some shopping in a maze-like area of market stalls in one of the malls. We topped it off with a pizza dinner and then headed back to the hotel to rest up for the next busy day.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sunny Sukhothai

As we ventured further south, the tiny hints of cooler weather we experienced in Chiang Mai were pretty non-existent. Though technically we are at the end of rainy season and beginning of "winter" here, this born and bred temperate west/northwest gal just can't get over the fact that she can still wear shorts and a t-shirt and still sweat in the middle of November. Regardless, hitting up Sukhothai Historical Park was well worth it before the long van ride to Bangkok. We started early in the morning with a visit with a Sukhothai expert, who showed us all the sites we would see on a model map.

As my Thai professor said, "He is an encyclopedia on Sukhothai, but unfortunately for you, this encyclopedia is written in Thai." Our professor graciously translated, though, and we had enough background to appreciate the ancient temples. First we wandered over to a modern temple to admire the murals, some of which featured the current king of Thailand and his family participating in Buddhist community activities.

The first old Sukhothai temple we visited was the famous "Big Buddha" temple, as the Buddha image is so large they suspected that it was built first and the temple constructed around it. It is considered good luck to make a wish and then touch the downward facing pinky finger of the Buddha's enormous hand. The long, curvy fingers are a trademark of Sukhothai style and a good insight into the perceptions of beauty at the time. 

The next stop was a temple featuring a walking Buddha image, and was known as the temple of the rock bridge as that was the path you had to use to get up to this forest temple. The workout was worth seeing the large Buddha image up close and for the view from the hilltop. 

Next we headed back to the main historical area, the heart of the old city, to see the many temples there. So many large Buddha images, both walking and sitting, and dozens of chedis, the pointed structures that house important Buddhist relics. The main chedi has a distinctive lotus flower spire.

The oldest temple thought to be at Sukhothai is actually the only one that faces south instead of east and is built in the Khmer styles of Cambodia and Angkor Wat. This is indicative of the Khmer influence on the region and how the ancient kingdoms were not so isolated but interconnected. 

Our final stop was a temple that overlooked a body of water with Thai longboats on it. It was very beautiful and peaceful in this area of Sukhothai, and I thought it was a little sad that we didn't have more time to explore, but we had a tight schedule in Bangkok and so needed to get on our way!

We did not get into Bangkok until late, so we went to bed as soon as we could to be ready for a full day! If any of you keep up with international news, you may have heard that there is political unrest in Bangkok right now and our visit happened to fall in the middle of it - protests and demonstrations and the like. I can assure you that I never felt unsafe and as a school tourist group no one bothered us. I will give you more details on that in a later post, so good night for now!