I traveled to Thailand and Vietnam over my winter break with International Business Seminars.
Things I Saw
A group of us went to see all the amazing temples and beautiful gardens at the Ancient City. We rented bikes and rode around the large garden. The Temples stood out against the surrounding greenery and exotic flowers and were absolutely breathtaking. We took our shoes off and went inside a few of them. Tall walls of precious stone and stained glass greeted us at the entrance. The rooms glittered with vibrant colors decorated in gold. It was the most beautiful buildings and garden I have ever seen.
We took a river canal to the Damnoen Floating Market. It was a neat form of transportation to the market. There were lots of palm trees and small houses which eventually opened up to a larger channel of water where the market was. There were Thais selling everything you could imagine: clothes, jewelry, hats, souvenirs, and some of the best food right from their boats in the river. I loved this experience because it was very different than the typical touristy ventures. We really got a good sense of the culture and lifestyle. From the food to bargaining goods, to communicating with the locals, I felt very connected with the culture and people.
This place is a sanctuary for sick, old, disabled, abused and rescued elephants. There were 22 elephants in the sanctuary of all of the various ages. From a baby calf to an 80-year-old elephant, we got to interact with all of them. We fed the elephants watermelons, bananas, bamboo, and baby pumpkins. After we gave them a mud bath in the river and it was by far my favorite experience on the trip! They were so big and majestic, I had a lot of love for these gentle giants.
What I learned
There is always something to learn from every travel experience. For me, I was really in awe with how much I enjoyed the Asian culture. Thailand is nicknamed, “Land of Smiles,” and I can confirm this to be very true. Thai culture is very welcoming, hospitable, and quite lovely.
Yes, it might mean no:
Thais are known for being very nice and friendly and don’t like to let others down. After going to some of the businesses we learned that a lot of times they will agree to do something but then the task doesn’t get done. Yes, does not always mean yes. You may be told or promised something specific at the moment but it is guaranteed to be carried out.
Thais place significant importance on various parts and positions of the human body. For one, the head is the most spiritual part of the body and you shouldn’t touch someone’s head including children. In general, PDA is not something Thais do. They also tend to slightly bow or lower their heads in greetings or times to show respect. The feet are viewed as symbolically low. One should never gesture or point with their feet as that is seen as disrespectful. Pointing is also viewed this way. To gesture someone, their hands must be palm faced down and use their four fingers to beckon. However, Thais are also very tolerant and understanding of foreign visitors and tourists as long as one is within the range of common respect.
Monks and religion are highly respected:
Monks are highly revered and upmost respected in the Thai culture. Disrespecting them is one of the worst things one could do. Females especially need to be careful of their actions. They never touch them or directly hand objects to them. They are to place any offerings directly in their dish. They also should refrain from sitting next to them or touch their belongings. It is very important to respect the Monks. Any disruptive or disrespectful behavior will be frowned upon or even corrected by locals.
Traveling from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh
We took a coach bus from the hotel to the airport. From there we took a 2-hour plane ride from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City. It was super fun to be able to travel with all the group leaders and students. Most of us were fortunate enough to sit next to each other or be in the same section. After the initial 14-hour flight from the US to Southeast Asia, this plane ride was a breeze! I also highly recommend bringing a comfy neck pillow—you won’t regret it!