Custom travel – Three week learning adventure Part VI

Below is part VI and the last entry of Raghav’s custom learning adventure from 2012! If you missed it, here is Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, & Part V.

23 July 2012 


Comparing ID cards

Today was a pretty simple day, with my conversations with the group from Shan State being the highlight. We had a very interesting conversation today, comparing cultures. They got an American – Indian perspective of my life and I got a Thai outsider perspective from them. We compared each other’s problems and challenges in life. Compared to them, mine seemed very insignificant. Most of their comments ranged from how to find work, finding and relocating their families from Burma, living with segregation, and more. This conversation was definitely an eye-opener for me to appreciate the opportunities and privileges my background offers, and the challenges that others face in their daily lives.


Group discussion!

24 Saturday 2012

Today, on the whole, was a very cultural day. I started the day off with a lesson in the National sport of Thailand: Muay Thai. David and I had two guys teach us some different techniques of the sport such as kicks, punches, and blocks. It was really fun learning the sport that I had seen people here watching so often, even in the remote hill tribes.


David and I with our Muay Thai teachers


The whole group getting ready for food!

After our lesson, David and I headed over for our next discussion to the Best Friend’s Library. A lot of people didn’t show up today, so I was able to have a much more intimate conversation with the ones who were there. Today, each person brought their favorite dish from their origins. One girl was so excited, she brought three full dishes of food! The food was very similar to Thai, just with a little more meat and seemed a lot spicier to me! It was really fun trying all their types of food and hearing that they all love pizza and pasta, most said they could it every day! In addition to the food, we continued our comparison of perspectives of each other’s countries. This conversation seemed to be, universally, the most interesting for me and for everyone else.

With our discussion coming to a close, we all decided to go out to dinner as it had been awhile since we had gone anywhere as a big group. We decided to go for Mexican. It was a fun dinner with everyone!  After dinner, Natch and his girlfriend Im dropped me to my hotel. We shared some local fruit and talked a little. Then it was time to go to sleep!


David, Nid, Marcia, me, Ji, Natch, and Im ready for Mexican food!

25 July 2012

Today would be my last full day in Chiang Mai. It is amazing how quickly three weeks flew by! I started off the day with a cooking class. When I first heard the idea of cooking, I wasn’t too excited about doing it, but I tried it anyway. A guy came to pick me up in a car and took me to the restaurant I would be learning at. A nice lady greeted me there, and we both went to a small open market very close to her restaurant. We bought all the things we would need to cook with and brought them back. It took me about three hours, but in the end, I was able to learn how to make three different curries, papaya salad, mango dessert, and much more! I was glad that I took the chance at doing something I hadn’t tried before!

After they dropped me back to my hotel, it was time for my last discussion at the library. Today was a pretty short discussion because most of the people had to leave early for work and other things. We had a very informal conversation with everyone about their lives, parents, romantic interests, and very simple conversations. At this point, only about 5 were coming to the discussions, but I felt very connected and comfortable with each one of them, more so than I probably would have been if it had been a large group. We did some closing activities and took pictures there with Garrett. As always, it was kind of a melancholy goodbye as we had gotten to know one another.


Last group shot with Garret at the Best Friends Library!


Nid and I wearing traditional Thai outfits!

Everyone was pretty tired from going out to a late dinner from the previous day, so we decided to end the day early because I also would have my long flight back tomorrow. We did however first go to Nid’s costume shop and tried on some of her elegant costumes. After, I went to the hotel and fell asleep for the big day back the next day!

Click here for more details about Custom travel

‘Like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook

written by: Raghav Agarwal


Custom travel – Three week learning adventure Part V

Below is part V of Raghav’s custom learning adventure from 2012! If you missed it, here is Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Interested in custom travel? Click here for more information!

20 June 2012 

Today, we woke up at the farm around 9 in the morning. Dtee had already left to go to work in the fields. Heading out in the light rain, we rushed back to the village because we were slightly late for our talk with the kids. We reached the village and freshened up quickly and went to the school. The kids were in their classrooms. When the students leave the classroom, they chant “thank you teacher” in English. We went to the room and the kids come in one by one. While I start looking up some more pictures on my iPad to show the kids, Moi brings me a cup of coffee, showing that she also has opened up to me (she was one of the shyest ones).

We start off the discussion with a funeral presentation from the kids. The two explain the process once someone in the village passes away. It was interesting to note that funerals here were not a one day thing. There were many ceremonies, and the burden was not just on the family, but everyone in the community participated. It was a rule that within three weeks (approximately) a family who has lost someone will not be left by themselves lonely for a single day. When it was my turn, I presented briefly on Hindu funerals as I didn’t know too much about either American or Indian funerals.


Relationship discussions

After our funerals presentation, we started talking about relationships (boyfriend/girlfriend). Both the guys and girls were shy and laughing throughout the discussion. When my turn came, even I was a bit uncomfortable because everyone was giggling. It was a fun topic though, and it was one of the most interesting things that we talked about with the kids.

We then went to Nid’s uncle’s house to hear a few more presentations, with the principal also joining us. I noticed that everyone presented something except one. Upon questioning him, we found out that he came from a different village (Karen); a village that was converted to Christianity and had lost its culture with time. It was kind of disappointing to see such an ancient and rich culture destroyed by another to get some followers.

After all the presentations, we said goodbye as this was our last day of discussions. We took a few pictures with all the kids. We exchanged Facebooks and emails IDs. It was so cool to think that I could keep in contact with kids so far off from my home. We then met up with the principal again and took some pictures with him. He gave me a guestbook to write in and I wrote a note of thanks to the people and the kids.


Group shot!


Me with the principal and Nid.


Me with Nids Dad.

Upon arriving home, we got ready to learn how to work with bamboo, with Nid teaching us. I made a lot of mini baskets, but I got her dad to make most of the harder parts. It was nice of him to teach and help us. When Nong Beau came home for the first time she asked me for help with her alphabet. We practiced together, and I was amazed at how well she knew it! I was also glad that she had finally opened up to me!

When Moi came home, I asked her whether she wanted to go play volleyball. We went and some of her friend’s came with. It started to rain, and we played for a long time in the rain. It was a ton of fun! After her friends leave, Moi and I played badminton with Nong Sai (one of the children of our house) watching.


Me with Nong Beau practicing the ABC’s!!


Trying on the traditional Lawa attire

Tired from playing for such a long time, Moi and I headed home. When we got to the house, the family surprised me with a traditional Lawa costume. I tried it on (with Dtee’s help), and we took pictures with Nid’s family as this was the last opportunity we could. I was taken aback by the kindness of the family throughout my stay with them.


Me in the traditional male Lawa attire


Hunting for eels in the rice paddies!

Once we were done with dinner, Dtee decided to take David and me out eel hunting because this was something typical that farmers do that I hadn’t seen. We went to some nearby farms to do so. We looked hard for some eels but we couldn’t find any. At one point, my flashlight ran out of batteries, which was the scariest experience being on thin steppes in the pitch dark. Ultimately, we couldn’t find any because apparently they hide when it is raining. Coming home, I was exhausted from the day’s events so I just fell asleep after getting killed in some arm wrestling matches by Dtee.


Arm wrestling with Dtee!


Group shot with Nid and her family!

21 June 2012

Today, we had to get up early in the morning because it was the day we had to go back to Chiang Mai. Everyone was already up waiting for David and me. Moi and Nong Sai said bye because they had to go to school early today. Nong Sai gifted me with a Lawa bag. I was surprised because my communication with her was minimal, so it was really nice of her! I decided that next time I come to the village, I will get her something. After they left, everyone started giving me gifts; I was very appreciative of their kindness! I got a ton of Lawa bags. Pee bit even gave me several handmade hair-clips for my sister. After receiving such hospitality, I did not feel like leaving the village at all.

After saying bye and promising to come back soon, I set out with a truckload of people (me, David, Dtee, Nid’s dad, two of Nid’s uncles, oo, some other Thai girls, and of course Nid) and things to drop off at the village. This time along the bumpy road, we only had to get out of the truck once. Along the way, I started talking to some of the Thai girls on the truck. I learned a lot about them. They were all Catholic, and they told me about the many churches that we saw on the way. I also told them a bit about my own religion because they seemed very interested in that there were many other religions practiced in the US other than Catholicism. During our conversation, it started raining very heavily, making our ride so much more enjoyable!

We reached Mae Sariang and Dtee dropped the girls and our suitcases off at the bus station. Then, we went to go get a Thai massage and said bye to Nid’s dad. It was kind of sad saying bye because it had been such a good time with him. I got ready for the massage by putting on some massage clothes. It was an interesting experience. It was extremely painful (my left calf hurt for days) but it did have a refreshing and healing feeling to it. After our massage was over, Dtee came to pick David and me up while Nid finished her massage. He dropped us all at Leelawadee restaurant, and we said bye to him as well. This was also sad because we had spent so much fun time with him!


Getting ready to go back to Chiang Mai.

At the restaurant, I got some noodles (I was pretty tired from the trip there). After lunch, we left for the bus station. We got into the van after packing everything. I went into the window seat and enjoyed the long ride back and also slept for a while. Upon reaching the city, we took a taxi to the hotel where I would be staying (Rainforest Boutique). David dropped me to the room and left for his own home. I took a hot shower. For the first time ever, I started appreciating ‘luxuries’ like hot showers after the freezing cold bucket showers in the village.

Natch then came to pick me up, and we went on his bike to the shopping mall to fix a camera. We had dinner at Pizza Hut (we chose this because it had been awhile since I had had something not Thai!). We talked about my experience at the village and continued our previous conversation about how people can be truly happy even if they are poor. After, we left the mall and drove around the city. I saw a really cool temple on the way made of wood and gold. We also a ton of bars and even more lady-boys than I could imagine. After a quick drive around the city, Natch dropped me off at the hotel. I soon after fell asleep.

22 July 2012

Today, I started my discussions with Burmese refugees from Shan State at the Best Friend’s Library NGO. (Find them on Facebook) Before we started our discussions, I was given a briefing about the political situation in Burma at present because, to be honest, I didn’t know much about the military dictatorship there. I was shown pictures and books, and David and I talked a bit with Garrett, the director of the organization. This day was ice breakers and introductions, as all the first days had been. It was a bit intimidating this time because they were all older than I, mostly in their twenties. They were also pretty independent and much more mature than the others had been.


First day of discussions at the Best Friends Library.

After our late discussion, we headed out back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We decided to go to Khun Churn restaurant, a vegetarian Thai restaurant that my dad had really enjoyed when he was here. The food was alright and the ambience was really awesome!


At the night safari!

After our dinner, we decided to go to the Night Safari that night. There, I got to hold and  feed a baby white tiger! It was actually pretty scary because, even as a baby, this guy was strong and aggressive! Before the actual safari, we got to see an awesome show with lights, dancing, and waterworks! On the safari itself, we saw other bigger tigers and many other animals on our safari. We even got to feed some of them such as giraffes and monkeys.


David, me, Marcia, Nid, and Natch at the night safari!

Don’t forget to ‘Like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook!

Click here to read part VI

written by: Raghav Agarwal

Golden triangle and reflections on borders

Welcome back Raghav

Me arriving at the Chiang Mai airport

This summer (2013) I am visiting Chiang Mai with ATMA SEVA for a second time for two weeks. This time, my trip’s main focus is teaching English camps at various schools and developing monk chats in preparation to bring them to different schools in Arizona. In addition to this, I also have some opportunities to travel and really get to explore some of the locations I hadn’t been able to yet.

On one of these trips, I got the opportunity to visit Chiang Rai, near the Golden Triangle of Thai, Laos, and Burma. Through this experience, I was able to see two major borders and see how they operate.

While visiting Chiang Rai, Tony, Lily, David, and I (some of the team members) saw some really cool places. Our first day, we stopped at a restaurant after visiting the opium museum. Across the restaurant, we had a beautiful view of Laos across the river while sitting in Thailand. This was the first time I’ve been sitting in one country looking at another, which was really cool to think about!

(L-R) Natch, Lily, Antoine, me, David

(L-R) Natch, Lily, Antoine, me, David at the Golden triangle

Before I saw Laos, I imagined some completely foreign land. While looking across, I found myself trying look for distinguishing factors between where I was and where I was looking. Seeing the borders on the map, I honestly at first almost thought that I would see a dark line separating the countries. Ultimately, I realized there was absolutely no difference. On both sides were the same beautiful green mountains, the same restaurants, and the same kind of people looking back at us. This made me realize how insignificant that border on the map is practically. These kinds of borders are just created by men to separate the world to try to create their personal territories.

At the Mae Sai border with Burma right behind us!

At the Mae Sai border with Burma right behind us!

After a scenic lunch, we went on a boat ride across the river to visit Laos for a bit. We toured a market that was near the dock. Still expecting vast differences between Laos and Thailand, I was surprised to see the striking similarities between the markets. They were selling the same cheap clothes, jewellery, souvenirs, exactly what the shops back in Chiang Rai were selling. This is when I realized that we were less than a mile away from the other markets, why would there be a major difference between the two? Just because there is a border between doesn’t change the fact that, because of the proximity, the cultures practically grew and developed together. The local people were crossing the river as casually as they would any river for their needs. Another cool thing that we saw that night was a really big casino on the Laos side, and Natch explained to us that pretty much every night boats go to and from Thailand and Laos because the people are really into the casino, it didn’t really matter that they had to travel to a different country! Things like this made boundaries becomes pretty much meaningless in the bigger picture. In the vision of a world without boundaries, although they seem necessary now, borders ultimately are serving to divide us in a time we need to unite to solve the world’s many problems.

written by: Raghav Agarwal

Photography Corner – Wiang Haeng trip

ATMA SEVA went to Wiang Haeng to meet with a new Buddhist school we will be working with.  We visited the Thai/Burma border, a Shan refugee camp, local temples, Chang Dao caves, and a Dhamma center.

Hope you enjoy the photos!


Photos by David Poppe

Photography Corner – Mae Sai trip part 1

This photography corner is broken up into two parts.  The ATMA SEVA team recently took a trip up North to Mae Sai to make a ‘visa run’ and also to explore and see new sights.  Mae Sai is a city in Northern Thailand that is on the border of Burma, and one location travelers can cross to renew their visas.

Although the trip was only two days and one night we managed to see and do quite a lot.  The first day on the way to Mae Sai, we stopped for coffee and breakfast at a nice resort and then visited the famous White temple.  The White temple was created by a famous Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, and the Thai name of the temple is Wat Rong Khun.  You start by ‘walking through hell’ and once you begin you cannot walk backwards.  There is a staff member at the entrance and they will not let you walk back down.  After ‘walking through hell’ you enter heaven.  The artist created his vision for what each realm would look like, and the White temple is still a work in progress.  It is very unique and a main attraction in Northern Thailand.

After the White temple, we went to Mae Sai to cross the border and also explore the local markets.  In the city of Mae Sai there are giant markets with a wide range of products.  The market is very cheap and a place many Thai people go to shop in bulk or even to supply their local market.  Products range from cheap sunglasses, shirts, pants, handbags, wigs, jewelry, toys etc.  Mae Sai is also famous for their fruit flavored wine and if you are not sure which flavor to purchase, most vendors will let you sample the various flavors until you are happy with your choice.

Stayed tuned for part 2 which includes the Golden Horse temple and also Wat Thampla which has fish caves and wild monkeys. (google map on part 2)

Photos by David Poppe

Photography corner – Wat Ku Tao (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Wat Ku Tao is a temple located near Chiang Mai municipal stadium, close to Chang Phuak road.  It is most famous for its Chedi which is shaped like ‘melons’ or ‘alms bowls’ stacked on top of each other.  It is rumored that there are ashes of Burmese royalty (Prince Saravadi) buried inside of the Chedi.

This temple also hosts many Shan State events, including the Shan New Year.  Shan is an ethnic group within Burma.  In Thailand Shan people are refereed to as ‘thai yai’.

The temple is located in a quiet Thai neighborhood with lots of small ‘mom and pop’ shops.  It is worth a visit to see the unusual Chedi and to absorb the quaint surroundings.  Shan state new year falls around the middle of November (based on lunar calendar) and if you are in Chiang Mai, it is a festival you do not want to miss!


Photos by David Poppe