What Else Could I Ask For?

Experiencing different aspects of ATMA SEVA’s programs, especially teaching and interacting with monks, is an amazing part of my experience here in Chiang Mai. However, my working experience at Doi Saket could not have been amazing without the improvisation from a colorful life style that any intern may live in during their time at Wat Doi Saket.

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Me at Wat Doi Saket!

Doi Saket temple is very beautiful and enriched with amazing decorating styles. The paintings on the walls of the Vihan, the entrance to the temple, and the statues all truly reflect the long, glorious and vibrating culture and history. Every day at Doi Saket is a happy day for me. For each day, I spend at least 20 to 30 minutes for an easy walk or a hike around the mountain and the temple with my music. There are a lot of quick ‘hi’ back and forth between myself and the people around the temple, as well as those who pass by. Starting my day by waking up early for a quick chat and breakfast in the Wat’s kitchen has become my favorite habit at the temple. It reminds me of a lot of my childhood when my mom would wake me up early in the morning of a normal school day for a quick breakfast and rush to school. The kitchen ladies, like my mom, basically want to feed me to death every morning.

I feel so fortunate that ATMA SEVA put me to work with a group of teachers in the same office at the temple. Though I felt like a new comer to their place, in just a short while I was made used to the place and made to feel at home. They are like brothers and sisters to me. Being caring and concerned about your well-being is how they are. I foresaw myself very homesick after having been there for a long while. But no, I was just right there at a place I could call home. The friendliness, hospitality and emotional support they gave to me are immeasurable. Every lunch time, there are always jokes around the lunch table. We talked, and we made jokes. Even though there were a lot of language barriers in our communication at first, we always tried so hard to learn and get to know more about each other. This is a really unique chance for me to get to know more about Thailand in terms of its culture and the commonalities between Cambodia and Thailand. I taught them Khmer, they taught me Thai. As time went by, our cross-cultural communication skills improved quite significantly.

Downtown is within a walking distance from my work place. You have access to almost any kind of necessities you may need. It’s a small beautiful town, full of friendly people. I made friends with so many people in the market, in the stores and in the small restaurants. When you look like a stranger to them, sure you’ll catch their eyes. All you need to do is to say a simple ‘Sa Watt Dee, Krup’ to them. They will sure greet you back, and with an additional smiling face. In the evening, one could always find cheap and fast foods to eat on both sides of the street. The social environment is just perfect for those who are tired from work and looking for a spot to seat and relax with amazing Thai food. I was very lucky to get to know a very friendly Thai family who has their shop nearby the market. I got invited for a visit to their garden family and for a cooking session.

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Me with my new friends in Doi Saket!

What’s most fortunate of all, they have a Muay Thai training camp that I could have free access to training with boxers and a trainer. There, I got to practice a lot of Muay Thai, my most favorite martial art/cultural sport, with other interns from ATMA SEVA as an evening exercise. Just five minutes away from town, there is a beautiful fish pond where I spent a lot of time at. It is a great place for refreshing one’s mind with fresh air. You can go for a quiet walk or a run around the pond; and it is also a great place for reading.

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Muay Thai training!!!!

This is what an intern’s life would look like in their off duty time at Doi Saket. Of course, there are still so many other places and more activities to be explored and get involved in, depending on one’s personal interest. The point is: no matter what life style one may be used to before coming to Doi Saket, experiencing a different way of life in Doi Saket during one’s internship is truly a worthwhile one. In addition to getting involved with interesting and enjoyable education programs, the internship truly gave me a chance to be surrounded by amazing people, colorful natural and social environments, and delicious Thai food. So what else could I ask for?

Click here for more information about internship opportunities with ATMA SEVA!

written by: Kimhean Hok

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

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‘I have every earthly reason to feel excited…’

Me arriving at Wat Doi Saket!

Me arriving at Wat Doi Saket!

My name is Kimhean Hok (Kim), and I am twenty-one years old and from Cambodia. I am interning with ATMA SEVA for seven weeks in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My main responsibilities are to live and teach conversational English at Wat Doi Saket to monks as well as to learn about ATMA SEVA’s various projects. My main goal is to help connect ATMA SEVA with Middlebury once I get back to Middlebury College. Teaching and interacting with people of all socio-economic backgrounds are truly my passions. Over the course of my times in Cambodia and abroad (Norway and the US), I have taken part in many different social works, community services and humanitarian projects. In the summer of 2011, I participated in a volunteer program to help my teacher teach English to prisoners in my hometown. In the same summer, I spent twenty days working with the UWS (United Word Schools) project to help build schools and organize curriculum for indigenous children from remote villages and disadvantaged tribes.

As a liberal art student, what I expect from this internship are the unique sets of experience and knowledge that can empower and prepare myself to deal with complexity and diversity in my future career and other endeavors. Sure, this knowledge and experience will be achieved because, over the course of interning with ATMA SEVA, I will be encouraged to learn to cope with differences in real life situations by listening and appreciating others’ opinions, and by looking at issues from different perspectives. An internship which deals with education and community development requires interns to be highly flexible, cooperative, creative, and disciplined. Therefore, I will be compelled to be critical of communication methods and analytical and problem-solving skills in dealing with almost every aspect of my activities.

Me with fellow on-site intern Antoine in Chiang Mai.

Me with fellow on-site intern Antoine in Chiang Mai.

It has been almost one week since I arrived and touched the Thai soil on a practical basis for the first time. I was picked up by the director of ATMA SEVA at the train station; and on the way from the train station to Wat Doi Saket, my mind was full of worries and excitements simultaneously. Day one in Chiang Mai was full of welcoming gestures and words, greetings and hospitality from my Thai co-workers and the ATMA SEVA team as a whole. Being exposed to experience the heavenly beauty of Chiang Mai and the enriched Thai culture; and to be warmly welcomed by everyone, was quite a day full of happiness. At the end of the day, though I was extremely exhausted after having been on buses, taxis and a train, I lied in my bed feeling assured that ‘the next seven weeks in Chiang Mai will be such a positive adventure; and that I have every earthly reason to be excited for it.’

Teaching at Wat Doi Saket.

Teaching at Wat Doi Saket.

For the first few days upon my arrival, I set a goal to get to know my way around Wat Doi Saket; and to make friends with people at the Wat and in town. Up till now, though I have to admit that my Thai is not good enough for a long and proper conversation yet, I do not hesitate to witness the culture of friendliness and respect of the people of Doi Saket. I remember my struggle in day two when I was trying to introduce myself to a group of people in one noodle soup restaurant in town. We did not seem to understand each other much in verbal language, but the languages of ‘smiling’, ‘greeting’ and ‘respecting’ each other are universal. For a sizable amount of time I was there, I used these languages to communicate with them. Improvised by my few broken Thai sentences and their broken English, we were all entertained and so much rendered comfortable with each other. With regard to teaching students at Wat Doi Saket, so far I really have enjoyed it so much. Students are so smart and committed to learn. Though we still have some difficulties with communicating with each other, there is no doubt that this will improve quicker than I may realize it.

Kimhean Hok, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Photography Corner: Cambodia and Vietnam

Southeast Asia is a must see for many travelers.  Thousands flock here annually to experience the culture, natural beauty and history of this region.  Not always famous for the best reasons, Cambodia and Vietnam have rich histories that have been played out among some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.  Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, and Hue, to name a few, all contain scars bearing testimony to the conflict that occurred not too long ago in this region.  Despite, or perhaps in part because of these reminders, SE Asia remains a beautiful and fascinating destination for any world traveler.

I recently returned from a two-week trip from Bangkok to Hanoi.  Here is a collection of some of my favorite shots from the highlights of my trip. From the vibrant energy of cities like Saigon and Hanoi, to the awe-inspiring Angkor temples, to the relaxing backdrop of Halong Bay, there are no shortage of things to do and see in SE Asia.  This is only a snapshot of some the amazing places these countries have to offer! To read more about my trip, check out Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Schedule.

Photographs by: Jamie Shannon

jamie@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Schedule

Greetings!

I recently returned from a two-week trip through Cambodia and Vietnam with a good friend from college.  As anyone who has traveled these parts knows, two weeks is a very short amount of time to make it through these two countries.  Heck, try getting through even one! There were plenty of places we spent a night or two where I wished we could have stayed a full week, but that just wasn’t possible with our schedule.

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Day 1: Watching the sunset over the river in Bangkok from a hidden second story restaurant on the water.

But despite our time limitations, we did it!  I can definitively state that you can get through Cambodia and Vietnam in two weeks, although this may mean taking a strict editorial eye to your itinerary.  We endured many questionable stares or comments to the tune of “wow… that’s fast…” throughout our journey as people learned how much we were seeing in how little time.  A lot of travelers in our situation might have chosen to just see Cambodia, or to only do the south coast of Vietnam.  But it can be done. And I’d like to share some advice for those who might find themselves in a similar spot with only a few weeks to spare and a long list of sights to see!

When it came to planning, we each had our own “must sees.” For Anna, my traveling companion, Halong Bay in northern Vietnam was at the top.  For me, I had always wanted to visit the part of Vietnam where my Dad had been stationed back during the war.  We both agreed that Angkor Wat in Cambodia couldn’t be missed either.  Beyond those few stops, everything else was negotiable, which made planning a lot easier.

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Exploring the Angkor temples, a true must see for anyone traveling to SE Asia.

We met in Bangkok on a boiling Monday morning in March and spent one day wandering the city before taking off for the Cambodian border the following morning.  Throughout the entire trip, we booked our guesthouses and transport (including bus, train and plane) one city in advance.  This allowed us to be somewhat flexible while still planning far enough ahead that we never got stranded anywhere due to lack of transportation or accommodation, which was a big concern on our tight schedule!

We spent two full days at the Angkor temples with a guide, which I highly recommend.  Having Seng, a Cambodian born and raised in Siem Reap, to take us around made the days so much more enjoyable, and manageable.  If left to our own devices in that 100 degree heat and 85% humidity, I’m pretty sure we would have thrown in the towel much sooner and missed out on a lot of what the temples have to offer.

There are other tourist attractions in Siem Reap, like the floating villages on Tongle Sap lake.  Knowing our schedule, we agreed that we were content skipping all the side attractions.  This is one of the keys to traveling on a strict time budget: know what your “must sees” are, stick to them, and forget about everything else.  This is important with any trip, but especially important if you’re trying to see a country in less than a week.

A corollary to this is the importance of not lingering on what you didn’t see. Every trip is going to end with some regrets about a city or an activity that was missed.  At the end of my two weeks, I shared a ride to the Hanoi airport with a British girl who had been traveling for three months.  Instead of being elated at all she had seen and done, she couldn’t stop talking about how upset she was that she missed Halong Bay.  This is an easy trap to fall into at the end of a trip, dwelling on the few places that you didn’t see rather than thinking about all the amazing things you did see.  If you’re going to try to see a lot in a short amount of time, this feeling has the potential to be much worse.  We did a good job of cutting what we needed to and not letting our thoughts linger on the places that we didn’t get to (no matter how many times people asked us why we didn’t go to Hoi An.)  Keep in mind that this most likely won’t be the last trip you take and you will never, ever see it all, so be grateful for the time you have and what you are able to see.

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Halong Bay, northern Vietnam. Limestone islands like this one dot the bay everywhere.

If you keep these things in mind as you travel, you’ll enjoy your time even more.  Not everyone has the time or money to spend four months backpacking through SE Asia, which a lot of bloggers seem to do, so I wanted to share some advice for those of you who may be considering a shorter trip.  Sure, there are places that I wish we had seen… more of Cambodia (particularly the coast), Nha Trang, Hoi An, Sapa… but I returned to Chiang Mai with nothing but fond memories of everything that we got to experience.  Plus, I’ve gotta save something for my next trip to SE Asia! 🙂 Now I’m hooked!

Check out the corresponding Photography Corner featuring more photos from my trip.  And for more of my ramblings, check out my personal blog: jshannon614.wordpress.com

If you have any questions, whether about specific places I visited, or are looking for more general travel advice, please feel free to comment below or shoot me an email.  I’m always happy to swap stories and ideas with fellow travelers! 🙂

Cheers,

Jamie Shannon

jamie@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Visa run to Cambodia!

Recently, a few members of the ATMA SEVA team took a 10 day trip to Cambodia to fix our Thai visas.  When staying in Thailand it is very common to visit either Laos, Burma, Cambodia, or Malaysia in order to apply or fix a Thai visa.

The goal of this blog entry is to tell about our travels regarding how we got to Cambodia, traveling within country, what to watch out for, and also to share some photos from the trip.

Getting there

To start, we left from Chiang Mai and took a train down to Bangkok.  Unfortunately, because of the high tourist season we were not able to book sleeper cars (bed provided) so we settled for normal chairs.  The price for one seat was around 400 Thai Baht.  The ticket said the trip was fifteen hours but, as with everything in Thailand, there were unexpected delays and the trip ended up being just over twenty hours!  I would highly recommend either getting a sleeper car on the train or just take the bus. A plane from Chiang Mai to Bangkok is the fastest (only about one hour) but can be expensive when traveling on a budget.

Once we arrived at the train station in Bangkok, we took a taxi to a van station and booked seats on the van to take us to the border of Thailand and Cambodia, to a town called Aranyprathet.  The ticket for the air-conditioned van was around 200 Thai baht.  This trip took around five hours and was not too bad at all.  The vans move at a good speed and the seats are comfortable.  The van dropped us 200 yards from the border.

Border Crossing

Crossing the border from Thailand into Cambodia was extremely easy and fast. At the first check point you fill in a basic sheet with information for Thai immigration, and no charge at this point.  Now you are officially in Cambodia, and people will be approaching you for taxis and trying to sell you various items.  Next, you walk into a building to apply for your Cambodian visa, which is a simple sheet and the fee is around $20 USD.  This only took about ten or fifteen minutes.  Lastly, you go through an immigration check point where you have to fill in another sheet with basic information, no charge at this point.  Once you are cleared, you are all set and ready to look for transportation.

Poipet to Siem Reap

The city of Poi Pet is about 2 hours away from Siem Reap so you need to find a taxi to take you to the city.  This is where we encountered our first scam.  We had all read different opinions on whether to take a taxi right from the border or to take the free shuttle first and then a taxi.  Once you enter Cambodia people will be all over you asking where you are going and offering the cheapest price for a taxi.  This can be confusing and overwhelming, especially coming off over 24 hours of travel.  We choose the free shuttle bus and the plan was to get a taxi from the bus station to Siem Reap.  The shuttle takes about fifteen minutes and when we saw the bus station we knew something was off.  The bus station was in the middle of no where, with no lights, people, or buses around.  There were around seven other tourists on the bus and we all knew we choose wrong.  Once off the bus the local guys came out and began to call us a taxi.  The swindle is that they require you to pay them half and the other half to the actual taxi.  As opposed to getting a taxi right from the border to Siem Reap and there is no middle man.  Things began to get heated as there were about fifteen agitated Cambodian men surrounding two taxis, our group demanding a cut, and we were trying to bargain for the lowest price and figure out what was happening.  The total price was 1500 Thai Baht ($45 USD) but half went to the bus station guys and the taxi got the other half.  What we should have done is just get a taxi right from Poi Pet to Siem Reap and that price should not be more than 2,000 Thai Baht and if you find an offer for 1,500 Thai baht, that is about as good as we heard you can get.  The situation was funny in hind sight and we joked after the fact, but for a brief few minutes it looked like things were about to spill over.

Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville

We spent a total of 9 days in Cambodia, going from Poipet to Siem Reap to Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville back to Phnom Penh and from there flew back to Bangkok.  Just a few brief reactions and recommendations.

-Siem Reap is extremely touristy and was basically built to house tourists visiting Ankor Wat

-Ankgor Wat is tremendous and absolutely worth the visit. We were only able to spend one day there but there are 1, 3 and 7 day passes available. One day pass is $20 USD.

-Phnom Penh is larger than we thought and a fun city to walk around with lots of cool markets and shops all over.  Make sure to visit the killing fields at Choeung Ek (about 20 minutes outside of the city) and Tuol Sleng prison, or S-21, to understand more about the country and the history.

-Sihanoukville is one of the main beach towns in southern Cambodia, with lots of smaller towns on the outskirts. We took a bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville for about $10 USD and the ride is between five to seven hours.  The beaches were nice, people were friendly and there were plenty of guest houses available. We stayed around Otress beach which is slightly off the beaten path and less crowded.

-We did not book any hotels or guest houses ahead of time and were able to find nice places in each city for about $15-$20/ night. There are cheaper options available if you look hard enough but most tuk-tuk drivers steer tourists to the more expensive areas or places where they get a commission.

– Most people speak some English, so booking tickets, guest houses, talking to Tuk-Tuk drivers and ordering food was very easy and most travelers can get away with just a phrase or two in Khmer (the language of Cambodia).

Thai Embassy

The Thai embassy is located in Phnom Penh, the capital city, and is an easy tuk tuk ride from anywhere in the city.  The embassy was one of the most unfriendly I have ever been to, but you never know if it is a case of a bad or off day.  Before you visit or apply for any visa you should definitely look at their website before hand and have all your documents ready.  We were not as prepared as we should have been and had to take a tuk tuk ride to make photo copies and scramble for documents.  We left our visa application Thursday morning and were told to pick it up the following Tuesday afternoon.  Another good reason to check the website is to see the turn around time and to ensure you have enough time to obtain your visa and plan the rest of your trip.

Below are pictures from the entire trip!  If anyone has any questions about making a trip to Cambodia, visa runs, or anything else just leave a comment below.

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David Poppe

david@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org