Photography Corner: Shan Cultural Festival

Northern Thailand hosts amazing cultural diversity. I find the Shan people to be of particular interest because all of the novices at Plekwiwek Dhamma Center where I am living are Shan. Most Shan reside within the borders of Myanmar (formerly called Burma) in Shan State. Myanmar has experienced decades of ethnic and political strife. Many Shan people seek independence from Myanmar in recognition of their unique cultural and language identify from the Burmese ethnic group. Although recent years have found relatively stability in Myanmar, the area where I am living continues to host many refugees who fled the violence between the different ethnic groups in the region.

In early November I was privileged to attend a Shan cultural festival that was located at a nearby temple, Wat Phra Wiang Inn. This temple is literally on the border with Myanmar. During an armed conflict in 2002, the temple grounds were divided between Thai and Burmese control. Today a fence runs through the traditional temple compound with various buildings located on separate sides. There are now Thai and Burmese army bases on opposite sides of the fence. For the past decade the temple has also hosted a refuge camp for Shan people who fled the war in their home state. The future of Shan State and the Shan people living in Myanmar and Thailand, including many of the novices who came to the Center directly from Myanmar, is unclear.

Corinne Kolm, on-site intern

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Photography Corner: One year in Thailand

Katherine Devine was an on-site intern with ATMA SEVA from August 2012 – 2013. Below are photos from her year in Northern Thailand!

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Photography by: Katherine Devine

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Photography Corner: Street Food of Chiang Mai

ATMA SEVA generally uses our Photography Corner as a way to highlight smaller and lesser known places around Thailand, usually including temples and cultural sights.  These are all wonderful insights and amazing places to see and I am so glad to have seen them through the Photo Corners.  However, I have seen a noticeable lack of the wonderful, amazing, beautiful…. delicious street food that Thailand has to offer!

As an on-site intern in Chiang Mai I have been partaking in many of the street foods and food stalls that can be found around the city and have found many hidden (or not so hidden) gems.  The foods range from fresh fruit and smoothies to grilled meats and fried snacks.  There are noodle stands with the ever famous pad thai and noodle soups to salad stands with deliciously fresh papaya and other fruit salads.

The options are endless! And cheap!  With a smoothie running you about 20-30 baht (less than a dollar) and salads and noodle options in the dollar to two dollar range I have been able to try so many items and yet feel like I have barely scratched the surface.  I generally go to a few main places near my house but you can find food on just about any corner in Chiang Mai at any time of the day (or night!).

Some of my favorite locations include a market for students right across from Chiang Mai University, the Sunday night walking street, the Chiang Mai Gate Market, and a night markett off of Huay Gaew on the way to Chiang Mai University.  One of my absolute favorites is at Chiang Mai gate where you can find Mrs. Pa’s smoothie stand.  She makes the most ridiculously delicious smoothies I have ever tasted!  She lets you chose any amount of different fruits from her smorgasbord of options, sugar or no sugar, and then blends them up to perfect consistency while smiling, chatting and working on the next smoothie in line at the same time.  And all for 20 baht! Her smoothies are SO good that she has had several articles written about her including one on CNN’s travel site which you can see here:

http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/life/best-smoothie-chiang-mai-887475

A huge part of what makes Mrs. Pa, the smoothies, noodles, soups and all of the other food so great is that I am always greeted with a smile 🙂 and even though we may not understand each other completely every person has been so gracious and so willing to make sure that I walk away happy with some delicious food in hand.  It is a win-win situation: great food and great experience!  Needless to say I am quite in love with the street food of Chiang Mai and its vendors!

So without further ado, here are some pictures of my favorite foods and places to get them in Chiang Mai!

WARNING: All pictured foods are very delicious.  Drooling on your keyboard may ensue.  We take no responsibility for damaged keys.  Thank you and enjoy!

Amy Kaylor, on-site intern

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Photography Corner: Art in the Concrete Jungle

While it may not come as a surprise to most, but many people view Bangkok as a dirty, crowded and grimy city (except perhaps the Siam Center area, with the extravagant malls and decor). But it is usually not recognized for its art. However, within this large and chaotic city, you can find some beautiful, and maybe sometimes misunderstood, art just walking along the streets.

When walking around a lot of neighborhoods in Bangkok you can easily stumble upon art that may represent some factor of Bangkok life and culture. It may also be completely random and confusing. But either way, it is a representation of this city. In many cases there is a stark contrast between the amazing art you see in front of you and the slums it is surrounded by. It is also fascinating to see this kind of art with grand skyscrapers in the background – which really tells you the story of how Bangkok has grown and is still growing.

Street art is quickly becoming an embedded part of Bangkok. As a result, the very first Street Art Festival was held earlier this year. It was such a major event that the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre gave over 400 square meters of exhibition space over to street artists, which was the biggest exhibit of its kind.

So while Bangkok may not be well known for its art, when you’re in the city always take a look at your surroundings – you never know what you might stumble upon.

Katie Davos, research intern

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Photography Corner: Day Trip to Fang District

Prior to wrapping up my on-site internship in Wiang Haeng, I had the opportunity to take a short day trip with a fellow teacher and some students from grade M. 4 (the equivalent of 10th grade in the United States) to the neighboring province of Fang. It was an interesting time to travel as the rainy season was in full swing, threatening to keep us confined to the indoors. We left early in the morning and, due to my tendency to get very car sick, I spent a great deal of the three hour drive in a Dramamine-induced sleep. But as I began to fight off the drowsiness I realized that the rain had stopped and the landscape had transformed into a vibrant sea of green. While the rainy season can be draining, with its lack of sunlight and grey skies, it also creates some spectacular sights. As soon as the rain stops, the fresh planted rice turns technicolor green, the sky a radiant blue, and the mountains in the distance covered with a misty haze. As the views unfolded in front of me, I quickly reached for my camera and tried to capture the beauty of northern Thailand with its expansive rice fields and surrounding mountains.

Our first stop was Wat Thaton, a large temple filled with Buddha relics from around the world. The novices and I enjoyed exploring the hundreds of statues and the variety of designs – some were very modern looking, while others were very old and traditional. Afterwards, we walked up the naga-style ramp to the top level of the temple where we paid respect to an ancient, and very well respected, Buddha relic. The views from the top of the hill were amazing as we looked over the town of Thaton and neighboring hill tribe villages and the Maekok River. By this time, the sky had fully transformed from grey to brilliant blue and the air felt crisp and fresh.From there we headed to the Fang hot springs where we marveled at the park’s geysers and beautifully maintained park. The park had ancient trees with raised, knotted roots that added to the mysterious beauty of the park.

I think the students enjoyed the trip as much as I did – it was great to get a change of scenery and explore different landscapes. I had no idea Fang district had so many outdoor activities to explore. I hope to return in the near future to explore the area further and all it has to offer!

Maria Moreno

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Photography Corner: Elephant Nature Park

Chiang Mai is one of the most beautiful cities in Thailand. Being surrounded by nature, it offers an amazing amount of outdoor activities that one can partake in. One of the most common activities that people do in Chiang Mai is taking an elephant riding tour. Many people take up these tour opportunities without doing proper research on the company they are going with – this is exactly what I did when I first visited Chiang Mai three years ago.

What many people do not realize is that many of these tour operators do not treat their elephants with proper care and respect. They are used as an object for tourism purposes only, with the expense being taken out on the elephants. While riding an elephant can be an amazing experience, it is extremely important to make sure the tour company you are going with treats their elephants properly.

This is where the Elephant Nature Park comes in. The park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center for those elephants that have been abused. The elephants are free to roam in a natural environment on their own, surrounded by a river, and beautiful mountainous landscapes. Most are extremely accommodating to the many visitors that help out at the park.

While it is a completely different experience than taking a general riding elephant tour, you get so much more out of it. Not only are you there to volunteer and help, you get educated on the problem of abused elephants in Northern Thailand. I participated in a one-day volunteer visit. This included feeding the elephants by hand twice throughout the day, bathing them ourselves in the river, and ending the day with a documentary on this issue (for example, I learned that there are only 30,000 Asian elephants left on the planet, – on their website they put it in the perspective of under a third of a sports stadium crowd. Also, lunch was included and it was an amazing vegetarian feast.)

There are many different ways in which you can visit and volunteer at the park. Besides a one day visit that I did (where they pick you up and drop you off at your guesthouse), you can also partake in being an Elephant Volunteer for 7 to 14 days, or even be an Elephant Helper Overnight for 2 days and 1 night.

The organization is doing great things, and you have an opportunity to give back and gain knowledge that perhaps you did not know before. You can find all of the information, background, and volunteer offerings on their website: www.elephantnaturepark.org, and usually your guesthouse will have information on the park as well and set everything up for you.

Enjoy the pictures!

Katie Davos, research intern

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Photography Corner: Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao is a small island in the gulf of Thailand, just beyond Koh Samui and Koh Pha-Nang on the western shores of the gulf. Also known as “turtle island”, Koh Tao is a tourist hot spot known for its amazing snorkeling and diving in the crystal clear blue waters surrounding the island. The marine life and coral reefs are still surprisingly healthy despite the steady stream of people, and dive sites range from lush coral to looming rock formations and even a ship wreck. Whale sharks have even been known to make appearance around Sail Rock, a world class site for advanced divers. Although Koh Tao is close to the full moon parties on nearby Koh Samui, this island has a more relaxed vibe with people focused on outdoor sports like diving, hiking, rock climbing and biking. There are of course bars and good night life around Sairee beach, the largest stretch of beach and main hangout on the island, but the best parts of this island off of its shores.

Getting to Koh Tao is pretty easy but can be a lengthy trip depending on your budget. If you are short on time, there are flights into Ko Samui and Chumpon from Bangkok, which take only an hour but can cost considerably more. From there ferry services run to Koh Tao daily.  If your traveling on a budget like I was, I would recommend taking the bus from Bangkok down to Chumpon and then the ferry to the islands. I booked both my bus and ferry tickets in one package with Lomprayah, and the cost about evened out if I booked each separately. I would highly recommend them if you are looking for an easy reliable service! (http://www.lomprayah.com/E/index.htm)

Once on the island there are dozens (if not hundreds!) of places to stay ranging from small hostels, to beach bungalows to 5-star resorts. I went to the island with no reservations and found a cheap little bungalows on the southern tip of the island for only 300 baht/ night. However if you are looking to travel during the high seasons I would definitely recommend booking ahead as little island paradise fills up fast. If you are looking to scuba dive, and you absolutely should be, there are dive shops all around the island where you can sign up for course for open water certification, advance your existing certification or just dive for fun in shallower waters with a guide. You can also just rent a snorkel and go out and explore for yourself!

Below are photos I took from my trip to Koh Tao in August. Unfortunately even with an underwater camera I wasn’t allowed to take the camera diving but I hope you can still get a sense of the beauty of the island. If you have any questions about traveling to Koh Tao please leave a comment below!

Katherine Devine

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