|Andrew's Thailand Adventures|
6th August, 2002
Well it's hard to believe that I spent yesterday working in an office in Sydney and have spent today sightseeing and having a whole stack of fun in northern Thailand! The map on the left shows where we have come in flying into Bangkok and then changing for Chiang Mai. After less than 24 hours in the country I have decided that Thailand is a fantastic place and I feel very much at home here, and can understand why so many people who've been here have told me they'd love to come again. I didn't sleep particularly well on the plane but in all other ways the flights were great, and at this stage I'm doing fine and am not worried about the lack of sleep. Actually I think I have had a pretty easy run so far - travelling with one of the others on the team, transiting through Bangkok airport at a non-busy time, and being picked up from Chiang Mai airport were all helpful factors in my first experience of overseas travel to make it that bit easier.
Thailand (or at least the part I have seen, Chiang Mai area) is an interesting blend of cultures. On one hand there are the tribal and traditional influences, and their religion (Buddhism) is very much tied in with this. I knew I'd arrived in Thailand when I got on the plane to Chiang Mai and there were a whole stack of Buddhist monks on the plane! On the other hand there are the western influences - the brands and sometimes makes of cars are the same, the same multinational companies have their outlets around everywhere (for food, fuel, cars etc), and the newer shopping areas are very Western in approach. We even sat in a coffee shop today that had a picture of Brisbane on the wall (see right)! The landscape around Chiang Mai is very similar to that of some areas of Country NSW in terms of terrain and type of bushland, although one difference that stands out is the number of rice paddies. In Thailand people drive on the same side of the road as us, many of the road signs are similar, and it is possible to get by with just English, a few smiles and speaking very slowly (although it wouldn't be out in most of the rural areas). They still give the traditional greetings, although to date I must confess I haven't used any of the Thai phrases I have learned, probably because I only know a few and the conversations wouldn't go very far. I'll have to make a point of trying to speak in Thai soon though.
I guess it's because of these similarities that I feel very much at home here (and also due to the hospitality of the Thai people). There are a number of differences though, and the blend of cultures becomes clear when you can walk down a street past an electronics shop, music shop, furniture shop etc as we have at home and then interspersed with all of these are street stalls, shops selling statues of Buddha, local motor mechanics, and outlets that we don't usually have in Sydney. One could be forgiven for thinking there are no road rules in Chiang Mai, although they do tend to drive on the correct side of the road and have their headlights on at night which is helpful. There are a stack of motorbikes everywhere and they are one of the primary forms of transport. I have caught a Sawngthaew (prononced "Song-tay") which is one of their forms of taxis, several times, and you can usually catch them anywhere in town for about 10 baht (50c) (see left for Sawngthaew and Jenny & I riding on the back of one!). Three of us caught one today and the driver understand properly where we wanted to go, so we effectively had a nice tour of Chiang Mai for 50 baht. There are also have smaller vehicles called tuk-tuk's which are a bit more expensive and don't always take you where you want to go, so we're sticking with the Sawngthaews for the time being. But I might give a tuk-tuk a go before I leave for the sake of it.
Another difference to Sydney is the humidity, although so far it hasn't been any worse than Brisbane in summer and I haven't found it a major hassle. You just get a bit sweaty, that's all. Depending which part of town you walk through there may be one of a wide variety of smells, from the appetising Thai cuisine to exhaust fumes and other less pleasant odours. Although even these haven't been a problem.
So the main thing is that I've arrived safely and am having a great time (thanks for your prayers in all of this!), and have met up with most of the rest of the team. I am staying at a place known as the Maepeng Riverside House (right) which is quite nice and safe accommodation. The rooms have ensuites with sit-on toilets which are a bonus (traditional Thai toilets require squatting depending on the desired use). And at only 400 baht per night (that's about $A20) including breakfast the next morning, you can't go past the price. Today we spent the morning at the Arts and Cultural Centre of Chiang Mai which was absolutely fantastic. The area has a very complex and extensive history, many times more complex than Australia, so there was a lot to take in and no way we could come to understand it all in the time we had. But it was very helpful in gaining some insight, understanding why Chiang Mai is the way it is today, and why their religion (i.e. Buddhism combined with a number of other superstitions) plays so much of a important role in their culture. There was also a school group there while we were there, again with a number of similarities to Western culture e.g. all dressed in similar uniforms to what we have, doing a research project on the history of their City, etc. One of the interesting things that struck me towards the end of the display was their future development plans for Chiang Mai in the next 20-50 years, which would raise the standard of living incredibly across the board. It will be interesting to see what happens. Interestingly the spread of Christianity in the area also got a positive mention.
This afternoon we had lunch at an eatery in the city (after walking around for a bit trying to work out where we were going), and saw a lot of interesting shops and markets on the way. For lunch 3 of us were fed for 200 baht ($A10), for what was a pretty good meal. This afternoon we also went for coffee at a local coffee shop to where we are staying, did some work on the kids program for the conference, and went in to town for dinner tonight. We also had a bit of a briefing from some of the local missio's, who had some quite encouraging news with the progress of church plants in many of the hill tribes in northern Thailand, where new people are coming along and becoming Christians every week! Also, many of the local pastors are teaming up and starting to work together really well, and this is starting to bear some significant fruit. If you want something to pray for, pray for this as it is a significant time in the growth of the church in this part of the world and is ultimately a spiritual battle for the eternal future of people's lives.
At this point let me introduce you to the rest of the team I will be working with for the next 2 weeks.
We also have with us Rachel's friend, Jenny, who is on a medium-term (2 year) mission placement with a missionary family looking after their kids full time, and will be at the conference but won't be directly involved in running the kids program.
Tomorrow morning we are planning to go to an orphanage school for children who are HIV positive, which works with them, gives them an education and aims to have them adopted out into families who will take care of them in the absence of their natural parents. I'm sure that will be an eye opener and a really valuable experience. Then we will also be planning more of this children's program for the conference, visiting a Wat (temple) and zoo just out of Chiang Mai, and going to the night markets. It should all be a heap of fun!