Friday, October 17, 2014

Sawaddee kha!

Mahidol University International College Overview

Mahidol University International College, often referred to as "the IC" around campus, is merely a cluster of buildings within Mahidol University in Salaya. The university itself is quite large, with several canteens in different faculty buildings and an almost infinite number of spots to eat, study, or relax. There is a restaurant in the IC called the Herb Garden and small cafes where hotel management and business students can work and receive training. I have heard estimates of about 20% international students and 80% local students, and it certainly looks like it, but don't quote me on that. The campus is beautiful! Mahidol actually has other campuses: Bangkok Noi and Phayathai, which house medicine (and hospitals) and other sciences including dentistry and pharmacy. It's a huge university that seems to only be making more strides this year. My roommate, who is Thai, says Mahidol is ranked #1 in the country this year. I'll take her word for it!
On the edge of Mahidol University's campus
I'm taking mostly elective classes considered to be lower-division at HPU, but as a senior, I believe you can still challenge yourself in any class to keep up your academic momentum. MUIC's extracurricular life is actually quite active. I stopped by the Writer's Club, Photo Club, Muay Thai Club, Volunteer Club, and Art Club. There's definitely something for everyone, and it's possible to create a new club or group. Several guys in my dorm have even organized informal football (soccer) games.

Daily Life

I had a surprisingly easy time adjusting to the local culture, though it took a while longer to get accustomed to things like transportation and the language barrier. Personally, I found the culture to be familiar in many ways because I have lived in Hawaii and the Philippines. Lots of rice and noodles, and I was not too surprised by the amount of spiciness in the food. However, it's easy to ask for no spice, or just "nitnoy"--"a little"!
Because Salaya is not a huge city like Bangkok, you might notice here how incredibly kind and accommodating the locals are to non-locals needing help. The only downside is that outside of cities, it can be difficult to communicate as not as many people speak English. Fortunately, signs and menus do have English and photos; in a pinch, you can simply point, nod, and hold up numbers on your fingers, but it feels better to practice speaking Thai when ordering, asking for directions, or telling the taxi driver where to go.
A tuktuk in Bangkok's Chinatown
Transportation is a bit tricky at first. The taxis start at 35 baht (~$1). It's easy to compare taxi prices to the U.S. and think it's a great deal, which it is, but buses and minivans are cheaper; the caveat is they require some time to get used to. Mahidol actually has shuttle vans that can take students to various malls and into Bangkok for free. Be wary of tuktuks in cities like Bangkok and Pattaya; in the latter city, you could be charged upwards of 100 baht for just a few minutes.
The Green Park neighborhood's spirit houses
Everywhere you go, you'll be reminded of two things: the royal family, and Thai Buddhist practices (including animism). In shops, outside of establishments, and even along the roads, there are photos of he King and Queen with ornate frames, sometimes with flowers or other decorations. There are also small areas in each shop or restaurant, sometimes on a shelf or a small platform on the floor, where the owners will place offerings in Buddhist fashion. Finally, in every house--even my dorm's neighborhood--you'll find small spirit houses with similar offerings of food, drinks, and flowers to the spirits of the land. Thais believe that each part of the land, from homes to large, empty fields, is home to a local spirit/guardian. (Learn more about spirit houses on

Green Park Home

In front of Green Park Home
I may be biased, but Green Park Home has to be the best Mahidol dorm! It is small but very cozy, with a central common room where it is easy to meet and simply hang out with international and Thai students alike. I felt a great sense of tightly-knit community from my very first day here, even though I moved in later than everyone else. We (try to) have daily workout sessions, occasionally go out to eat together, or just have a chill movie night in. We consider our housekeeper as more of a "house mom"; she's very sweet and funny, knows us all by name, and even cooks for us. Just a minute's walk out of the Green Park neighborhood are several restaurants, cafes, street food vendors, and a 7-Eleven (there has to be at least one 7-Eleven per block in Thailand...). A five-minute walk brings you to Image Mall, which has not only shops and restaurants, but also an open market on the weekends where you can buy produce, clothing, and other goodies. While the dorm is a 10-15 minute drive to the university, there is a regular shuttle van every weekday. It is also near the main road, making it easy to catch a taxi, bus, or minivan to Bangkok. Because my roommate is a local Thai, she has been extremely helpful when it comes to finding out the best places to find groceries, shop more cheaply, and overall just getting around daily. I think I chose the right dorm!

Even More Traveling Plans

Phrayanakhon Cave in Hua Hin
It seems as if the Green Park community is in a perpetual state of planning the next trip. My next adventure will take me and a few others to Chiang Mai during Loy Krathong (Lantern Festival) in November. I'm very excited, as not only will we experience this beautiful once-a-year festival, but we've also booked a day trip to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, a famous elephant sanctuary which allows visitors and volunteers to feed and bathe elephants that were formerly exploited for elephant rides. I know it's very popular for visitors to ride elephants in Thailand, but knowing that I can hang out with and learn more about elephants in a responsible way is more than good enough for me! After the elephant sanctuary, we're heading 2-3 hours north to Chiang Rai to  visit perhaps the Mae Kok River and the Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) before heading back to Bangkok.
This weekend is actually the very first weekend I've spent at home in Salaya. I've already taken many weekend trips with my fellow Green Park residents. Our previous destinations included: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Pattaya, Koh Larn, Ko Chang, and Hua Hin. Each location is quite unique, rich in history, and has an adventure of its own; Salaya itself has a couple of historical sites. I'll share more about these places  in the next blog! 

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