re: Bangkok

that one time

Moving on, our next destination was Bangkok! Being a fan of big cities, I was looking forward to this part of the trip and after how wonderful Chiang Mai was, it could only get better right? To save on time, we flew from Chiang Mai in the early hours of the morning, arriving in Bangkok after one hour and with the rest of the day to explore.

First thing on our list was seeing the Grand Palace and not knowing how close this was, we took a short bus journey to the destination. Attempting to cross the road while the heavy flow of traffic was momentarily paused proved a terrible mistake and we quickly retreated to the safety of the pavement. A moment that proved pivotal in shaping our experience of Bangkok. *Cue start of parallel timeline* We were approached by a friendly local who immediately recognised us as tourists and informed us that the Grand Palace was closed for a couple of hours due to a Buddhist celebration. Helpfully he marked some points of interest on a map, telling us about special markets that were held this week in conjunction with the Buddhist holiday. Lulled by a sense of security cultivated by our experience in Chiang Mai, we went along with his story and to cut this tragic tale short, ended up paying a ‘special discounted price’ (~£30) for a simple boat ride. Going along the various channels of water off the main river, I was initially terrified of being taken to a secluded location and robbed of our possessions. However, we passed by many other tourists in situations identical to us, which gave us a sense of ease, leaving us to somewhat enjoy the rest of the boat ride as much as we could. Feeling infuriatingly angry to the point where we found it quite hilarious, we ended up being dropped off just around the corner from the Grand Palace. Here, we came across a sign outside the entrance informing us ‘not to trust wily strangers’. Thanks. Really helpful.

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Attempting to suppress this experience from memory, we tried to take in the beauty of the Grand Palace, but battling both the heat and the rude Mainland Chinese tourists became too much for us to bear. Retreating to a nearby 7/11 and re-thinking our plans for the day lead to heading back to the hostel to check in and wallow in our frustration chill out. In the evening we headed to Koh San Road, where we were put off by the rowdy western tourists and instead found a quieter place to comfort ourselves with food before checking in early at the hostel, which was great by the way!

  • Here Hostel: a cute hostel within walking distance of the main attractions, but tucked away enough to chill out from the craziness at Koh San. Giant slide in the lobby and free breakfast – what’s not to love!

re: elephants

wherein we paid to be elephant servants for the day.

A very important box on our Thailand ‘to do’ list was to see elephants. Reading a lot of articles about elephant welfare, we were adamant to avoid elephant trekking and other similar tourist traps such as Tiger Kingdom, which we saw prolifically advertised. Scouring through various leaflets, we eventually decided on the elephant camp that was part-owned by our hostel – Into the Wild. It was one of the cheapest that we saw and appeared to offer just as much as other camps for around 2,300 THB.

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On the day, we were greeted by our guide and given bright red woven ponchos as well as a gregariously coloured bandana to wear for the day. Upon arrival we helped to unload the tuck full of food, water, etc. for the elephants and were told to walk directly to the shelter without stopping for the curious elephants, otherwise they’d steal all the food! This made for a pretty scary but exciting experience as we ran across the stretch of land between the hut and the elephants – all while the guide tried to distract them.

Our first proper interaction with the elephants involved feeding them bananas, and seeing them up close was amazing. This camp had three elephants, all girls, two were around 45/50 and the other only 5 years old! Seeing them up close really put into scale how enormously powerful they are – even the baby (!). This fact was especially underlined as we tried to cross the small river with the elephants and encountered some water buffalo. Their presence really unsettled the elephants, who natural instinct was to protect the baby of the herd. As we were quickly ushered back, they let out great trumps of distress and warning that, along with the pounding of their feet, reverberated through us. Thankfully, the water buffalo were chased away and the day continued on without incident. After walking around the nearby forest with the elephants, we were taken back to camp for lunch before getting into our swim suits and giving the elephants a medicinal treat as well as a nice mud bath. Although this was fun, I shudder to think about what could be in the mud, more so when it inevitably got into your mouth (nice). Continuing the elephant pamper session, we took them to the river to wash off. Here, I also got the opportunity to be lifted by the trunk of an elephant! We spent the rest of the day drying off in the sun before changing back into our clothes and heading back.

Quite a lot of our friends at the hostel had also booked an elephant sanctuary that day, so it was amusing to hear everyone else’s experience as well as the competitive undertone that came with each (but let’s be real, my day was the best). As the national animal of Thailand, visiting an elephant sanctuary should be on everyone’s list! With elephants appearing on everything from flowing pants to decorated temples, it’s clear how much they are loved and revered. Given the respect from the locals, it is only expected that we do the same. Elephant trekking is notorious for its inhumane methods in training the elephants, and sadly the enjoyment of customers is put in higher regard than elephant welfare. Elephant camps, however, usually consist of animals rescued from these harsh practices and are given a much better standard of life. In turn, this is reflected in the experience you get. That is, a much more personal and meaningful day, spent learning and actually interacting with these magnificent creatures.

(Apologies for the blurriness of some images, my camera got accidentally knocked onto the macro setting T-T and I wanted to use these photos heh).

re: coming home

Back for Good (maybe).

I’m back! After about a month of constant travel, I returned to the UK on the 23rd June – just in time for the EU referendum and what lovely news to be welcomed back with the next morning *tears falling as I fall down in a slow circle and die*. The words of Take That might echo the thoughts of Leave voters this past week with my friend Grace suggesting that Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ should replace the United Kingdom’s National Anthem. Anyone else care to contribute to our EU fallout party playlist?

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2016 is proving to be a dismal year, so to brighten things up, I’ll refrain from lamenting on things I’ll miss from my exchange and look towards some home comforts that I’m glad to return to:

  • Personal space! Whilst Hong Kong is a city over spilling with vibrancy, one thing I won’t miss is constantly sharing space. Nothing beats having your own room, infrequent violations of one’s personal public bubble, or even taking your time with a meal without being shooed away for the next customer.
  • Me-time! As selfish as this sounds, travelling around with a group of friends really makes you cherish your time alone. It’s absolutely wonderful to explore different countries with close friends or develop new friendships, but it can also be exhausting being around people 24/7 (hello hostels). It’s nice to have some down time once in a while, reconsolidate your thoughts and just soak in being in a different country, rather than focusing on the next place to see or activity to do.
  • Sleep! For a pretty active person, I do love my sleep! Sure, if you have three months or more travel time, you can afford to sleep in now and again. If not, travelling usually means early mornings and late nights, which can also be a mood killer. (I get the sleep equivalent of ‘hangry’ if deprived of my slumber.)
  • Sensible currency! One crazily inflated currency is hard to get your head around, so try three in the space of a month. If you’re too lazy to pull out your phone before every transaction, mental arithmetic is necessary to convert back into GPB, but at least this cognitive effort is rewarded by pleasantly cheap prices. (Unless it’s Japan. Everything is expensive in Japan). Being back means not getting confused at the amount of zeros in the price, triple checking the notes I’m handing over and worrying about being stuck with useless coins!

It’s easy to romanticise this past year – certainly the best one of my life so far. However, the reality of returning will be an entirely different experience as I remind myself that studying abroad and working abroad are not the same thing! Separate posts will up in due course for all the places I visited, but for now I’m basking in the fleeting novelty of being back at home and in blissful ignorance of my unpacked suitcase.

re: booking out.

let’s have a catch up ey?

It’s been a while since I posted, but things suddenly got very hectic after reading week – a cheeky trip to Seoul meant cracking down on university deadlines and sadly not a lot of time to spend on the ol’ blog. But today I just took my last exam and am ready to travel as much of Asia as possible before my flight back in June! While I’m happy to be done with exams, I don’t want to come to terms with the fact that this signals the end of my study abroad period 😥 There’s been so many great experiences, and I’m not just talking about travelling to different countries… story time!
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Sitting in a class I was very nearly on the verge of skipping, I came to the sudden understanding of the purpose of going on exchange. Instead of the usual lecture, the class was split into two groups arguing for and against the given topic, ‘is the current approach of cognitive neuropsychology really helping us to understand the human mind?’ The experience was amusing, engaging and students became surprisingly passionate, despite the random assignment to groups. Although, knowing psychology, this is should be hardly surprising at all, (Tajfel’s minimal group paradigm, anyone?). Perhaps the surprising thing is that I was considering missing the class. But this is what I came to realise, being on exchange is fundamentally to experience education in another environment, a different style of teaching. I know, what a revelation right? However, I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking this; at least I like to believe so! For many students considering studying abroad, the most prominent and alluring factor is simply being in a different country. After, comes the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, maybe improve upon a language and of course, the shimmering prospect of endless travel. For a lot of students, studying is a ghostly afterthought and not something to really gain any enjoyment out of. Although I grumble and criticise the teaching here as not being comparable to what I know in the UK, I was actually really struck by how dynamic the methods are. An in-class debate in place of a lecture is not something you would usually see in psychology course outlines and being able to learn from your fellow classmates NOT through mundane and repetitive presentations is really refreshing.

While there’s plenty of wonderful and amazing times to be had travelling and living abroad, finding the fun in studying is not to be overlooked! Damn, why does this sound so nerdy.

Also, I now have periscope – follow me on there for occasional live broadcasts hah (@karmeli0n). Will this be the next big thing for ‘blogging’?