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:

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


My view of Chiang Mai: from the seat of a Motorbike

trafficDoes this look like harmony, togetherness and peace to you? Is it an ugly rush hour nightmare, or something rhythmic and strangely beautiful?  On the surface, most of us would say the former.  When I arrived in Chiang Mai and took my first tuk-tuk ride, another volunteer Victoria was exclaiming how the traffic here really was special.  All of the different vehicles worked together in a beautiful, harmonious flow.  I naturally took one look at the noisy chaos of traffic around me and thought, “Wow…are all of the people at ATMA SEVA out of their minds?!” But now I have realized that while the traffic may seem stressful and chaotic on the outside, if you actually take time to observe and experience it, like Thai culture itself, it really is quite special.

As ATMA SEVA’s newest on-site intern, I will be helping with social media, volunteer coordinating and anything else ATMA SEVA needs!  I am living in Chiang Mai city close to the office, not at a temple or outside district.  I think that, because of this location, I have had a slightly different view of Thailand than some of our other volunteers.  Living in the city is definitely louder and more hectic on the surface but, even amongst the masses in the city, the underlying principles and values such as community, warmth and friendliness make Thailand what it is.

I have been here for almost a month now, but I have to say that I didn’t have a full understanding or appreciation of Thailand and its culture until about a week and a half ago.  So what happened a week and a half ago you ask?

My awesome motorbike!

My awesome motorbike!

It was my first day on a motorbike!  This is the first time I saw harmony in the city.  I don’t like to admit this, but I was pretty scared to get on a bike in Chiang Mai.  At first glance, the motorbikes, cars, tuk-tuks, and songtaews seem to be haphazardly zooming around the city without any mind to other motorists or traffic laws, an intimidating prospect for someone coming from a fairly civilized driving country.  I took it slow at first on smaller streets and almost immediately realized that they have a method to their madness here.  Everyone shows respect for each other, and all types of vehicles on the road work together to create space for all.  It is definitely an environment where you have to be very aware of your surroundings, but I think that this awareness also creates a sense of community.  I have been courteously allowed into traffic countless times as I fumble around the many one-way streets of the Old City.  This mindfulness of one another on the road alludes to the welcoming and kindness I have felt from all of the people working with ATMA SEVA.

As an intern, I have been fortunate enough to see almost all of ATMA SEVA’s locations for our  Wat Doi Saket Project in the time that I have been here through various volunteer set-ups and visits.  I feel so lucky to see all of the places that we work with because we have a huge network of truly unique locations and spectacular individuals.

From government schools to Buddhist temples and Dhamma centers, and from principles and English teachers to novices and monks, everyone I have met is enthusiastic about volunteers and teaching English to their students, and teaching Buddhism and Thai culture to us.

I have met principals who take in volunteers as if they were their own children… a monk who was a chef in the Cheesecake Factory… novices who love Liverpool Football Club…

Novices playing English games

Novices playing English games

I have done circle dances with the local ladies preparing for Loy Krathong and watched cotton being made into beautiful, dyed robes in just one day as a donation for a Kathin ceremony.

Process of creating beautiful robes!

Process of creating beautiful robes!

I have seen a temple nestled in the foothills of the Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai city and a beautiful Dhamma center in the mountains near the Myanmar border.

Dhamma Center in Wiang Haeng district

Dhamma Center in Wiang Haeng district

At first, I was a little bit nervous about going to so many new places so quickly but, at each and every place we have visited, they have welcomed us with open arms and treated us like family.  I have been overwhelmed by the sense of community and openness from everyone I have met in Thailand.  All of these people and places truly amazed me and are just a few examples of my experiences with the ATMA SEVA family.  I have been here only a short time, but I am SO excited to continue to experience and learn about Thailand and its people through this extended family.  And you know what? I am even excited to continue experiencing the “harmonious” Thai traffic jams on a daily basis 🙂

Amy Kaylor, on-site intern

My experience volunteering with ATMA SEVA

I was preparing to embark into a 3-month trip through Southeast Asia and could not ignore the “calling” to do some volunteering work during this time. I had been thinking about that for a long time, but never had the opportunity to do so. Since I am very interested in the field of Education, it was only natural to look for positions where I could spend my time teaching (and learning!) – and that’s where ATMA SEVA came into my life. Having planned to start my trip in the South of Thailand, the prospect of living in Chiang Mai for a while was a very inviting idea.

I found ATMA SEVA through a Google search, contacted David (programs director) and got very excited about the program. He was incredibly patient to answer my endless questions and put me in contact with two previous volunteers, Hunaid and Jamie. They were both very helpful and from their descriptions I could picture the experience ahead of me. Well, sort of. You can never be entirely prepared for it: surprises and unexpected situations will happen. And that’s not too bad after all!


Maekhue Wittaya School

I was assigned to teach English at Maekhue Wittaya School in a village located approximately 40 minutes from Chiang Mai. Although I did not have much experience in teaching, Katherine, ATMA SEVA’s volunteer coordinator, gave me a lot of support and provided guides and books that immensely helped me during the classes. What I encountered at the school was much beyond my expectations: extremely respectful students, curious and open-minded teachers, and friendly staff.


Mrs. Rattana and Mrs. Kru Nam at the Art Room

My host at the school, Ms. Rattana, was a sweetheart, and did everything she could to make me feel comfortable: from bringing local (and delicious) breakfast to making sure that a vegetarian lunch was cooked for me everyday. Students surprised me with their engagement at school activities (they helped clean and organize the space for events), as well as for their English knowledge. Pronunciation, I figured, was the main problem – they were often too shy to speak and as a result, most of them had a lot of room for development. Thus, I tried to engage them in several activities that would foster communication. From videos to presentations to games, my main objective was to let them feel comfortable with both my presence and the language, so that their voices could be heard.


Public speaking practice

The main challenge I faced was not being able to speak the local language – sometimes it was difficult to explain simple things. However, it also made the experience more exciting and fun – I would often convey my message through gestures, drawings (that most of the time made them laugh) and examples. It is so interesting to understand another culture and have the opportunity to witness genuine events – I was lucky enough to see presentations for the Thai Language Day, Sport’s Day, ASEAN Day and also Mother’s Day. Each of them was unique and showed me a little bit of the habits and beliefs of the Thai culture.


Sports day!

Another highlight of my experience was living with a Thai family. My expectations were again surpassed, and I was gifted with a loving, big family that received me as one of their own. From strolls at local markets – with personal guides that gave me detailed explanations of every fruit, vegetable or delicacy presented at the booths – to visiting family members who lived two hours away – where I could experience Thai life in the countryside –, it was definitely unforgettable. I received local gifts, blessings (from senior family members), tried different foods and drinks, and learned a bit more about Buddhism, which I reckoned is not only a religion, but also a fascinating way of living.

The moment I had to say good-bye was bittersweet, as I felt time went by so fast and there was so much more I wanted to do to help those incredible people. All in all, I took home not only pictures, but also special moments that will last in my memory for a lifetime. I am grateful to ATMA SEVA for making this happen, and to Thai people for teaching me their wonderful and special way of seeing the world.

written by: Daiana Stolf

Wat Doi Saket project – Eat, Pray, Love, Give

I found ATMA SEVA by chance online, and now I’m in Chiang Mai for 2 months, helping to teach English to young novice monks at Wat Pranon Bagatee in Saraphi.

I arrived on a Wednesday morning, and had my first lesson the next day! I was excited with thousands of butterflies in my stomach at the same time, but with the forwardness, constant smiles and support from everyone I was slowly but surely beginning to feel at ease.

The novice monks were eager to meet the new teacher from London as I was to meet them all, and there are some great characters! It feels like the lessons are full of smiles with a bubbly atmosphere, especially when games are involved!

I had my first lunch with all the students, the monks and other teachers, as well as the few dogs and cats around! But before lunch there’s always a chanting of thanks, which completely moved me to my very soul the first time I heard it. It was all overwhelmingly beautiful, the temple, the kindness, the peace and serenity of it all, I shall never forget those first feelings.

20130712_08061120130712_100101Aside from the teaching, there’s all the exploring of Chiang Mai, with the incredible history and the fact that there are more than 300 wats in this region, as well as hill tribes, mountainous national parks, hot springs, caves and plenty of markets with unlimited food stalls everywhere. It is almost impossible to go hungry!

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One of the things I personally adore is the fact that you can smile at a stranger, and in return get a great smile! This is afterall, the land of smiles, and what a great place to be!

I have now almost been in Saraphi for a week, and it already feels like I have been here longer. Everyone from the other volunteers, the teachers, and the novice monks have made me feel so welcomed and part of the team, the sense of community and togetherness is wonderfully gracious and humbling. I’m eager for each and every day, with so much to do, see and feel, it makes me think these next two months will go by too quickly for my liking!

Getting to know the students and helping them in lessons is very interesting, even just walking around the temple between lessons I will hear “hello teacher” followed by a big beaming cheeky smile!

I found it hard to imagine what it would be like here in Chiang Mai, and now that I’m here, I understand why I couldn’t imagine much, nothing could have prepared me for the genuine kindness and care from everybody here, not just for me, but for each other, everybody helps everybody. 


Victoria Castro

Teaching Abroad: Thai Kindergarten

After nine months in Thailand volunteering and living on the cheap, I eventually found myself in need of some extra cash. So, like many other travelers and expats in Chiang Mai, I landed a part time teaching job at a language institute. But under one condition – I needed to be able to teach Kindergarten. Although I have had lots of experience with kids, from my elementary school experience in America and working with Atma Seva, teaching in a Thai Kindergarten has been quite an adventure! Controlling 30 four year olds is difficult enough, but with the added language and cultural barriers, and the schools focus on strict discipline, I had to learn pretty quickly to adjust to rules of the classroom. I am still learning every class but here are some tips I have picked up along the way!

Make lessons as visual as possible and use objects in the classroom. If you are teaching numbers, count crayons and toys in the room. Or better yet have the students count themselves. If you are teaching colors, make color cards and have the kids find objects and actually walk up to it and match the color card to the object. Even for days of the week, you can write out flash cards, hand them out to students and have them arrange themselves in order.  (*Hint! Only hand out cards to students sitting quietly- they will be excited to play and other students will pick up on the desired behavior.) Flashcards are helpful but be careful not to become reliant on them as the kids will be bored with them fast. Don’t worry so much about preparing too many materials or worksheets; the more you use objects they can see and touch, the more they understand how to incorporate language in everyday life.

Keep them busy and get them tired! If the kids are starting to get tired or zone out, get them up and moving. It might just need to be a stretch break, teaching body parts and classroom commands along the way (ex. stand up and stretch your arms up high!), or a teaching a dance that goes along with the vocabulary but the more they are active during class the more they are attentive and the more vocabulary they will retain. My kids can really only sit for about ten minutes tops before they are antsy and need to get up and move again, I try to plan for 5-10 minutes of instruction/ vocabulary/ flashcards followed by another 5-10 minutes of a group game. If you can teach the words with an action attached that is even better, so even when they are sitting they are still fully engaged.

Use media. Show a short video AFTER they are tired! You can repeat the video and have them sing along or stop the video to point out colors, numbers and vocabulary they might already know. If there is a dance or hand motions that go along with the video, teach the movements before hand, and then practice with the video 2 or 3 times. This is also something to be careful not be reliant on but mixed with other visuals, and games, songs and video are a great way to keep your students interested (and quiet!) and also to introduce new cultural references.

Recommended Video Sites:

Go slow and repeat, repeat, repeat. Begin each lesson using words they already know and build on previous lessons. If you are scheduled to teach days of the week and last class you did numbers, spend the first 5-10 minutes on the numbers review and then use the numbers to count the days of the week. Keep going back to repeat letters, numbers, colors and shapes, and point them out in books, videos, songs and throughout your next lessons.

Keep smiling! Like most of Thailand, when things go wrong it is so important to just keep smiling and stay positive the whole time. Especially for the young kids learning a new language, maintaining a positive attitude helps the students loosen up and feel more comfortable to speak English even when they are making mistakes. There always seems to be a “silent period” before the kids get to know you and start speaking, so the faster you can break them out of that the better.

Other helpful Websites for Kindergarten:

Katherine Devine 

ATMA SEVA – First impressions of Wiang Haeng

Welcome Maria

Me (center) with two other ATMA SEVA on-site interns

When I was first told that I would be spending the next four months living in Wiang Hang, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I studied the tiny speck on the map and wondered what life would be like there, what stories the people had to tell, and what new adventures lay ahead. The past two weeks here have indeed been an adventure with no two days the same. But this is exactly the type of adventure I was hoping for. After living in Bangkok for 3 months, I was eager to move to a more rural area where I would have an opportunity to learn more about Thai culture and challenge myself to learn Thai.

The area I am in is actually comprised of multiple townships, each with its own distinct culture, language, and story to tell. Within a 15 minute car ride, you are able to visit a Karen village, a refugee camp that has an expansive solar-power project, and a village with Chinese roots (complete with traditional dress and red Chinese lanterns hanging from every home). The majority of the people in the region, however, are from the Shan State in Myanmar. In spite of the diversity in the area, the one aspect that is universal is the importance that Buddhism plays in each of their cultures. Every temple and pagoda is different – each one reflecting the stories and culture of its members.

novices construction Wiang Haeng

Novices helping with the construction

I am currently living in Pleekwiwek Dhamma Center, along with thirty novice monks and three monks. Pleekwiwek serves multiple functions: it is a dhamma center and meditation retreat, the home and training center for the novices, a community center, and a model for self-sufficiency. The founder of the center and current director, Dr. Phra Ajarn Thanee, received a master’s degree in agriculture, a fact that very much shapes the way the center is run. The novices grow a majority of the vegetables and rice they eat right here at the center. In addition to learning about farming, they learn how to make bricks out of mud and cement and have built a number of the cabins on the grounds. Novices learn to value the homes they have built for themselves, the food they have grown for themselves, and even the cotton they have grown to make the robes they wear. Therefore, the boys who have lived here have not only had the opportunity to attend school and learn about Buddhism, but also learn valuable life skills that they can apply to future life endeavors.


Shot from Pleekwiwek Dhamma Center

In spite of my efforts, I still struggle to pronounce the name of the Center correctly (at least, the locals don’t seem to know what I’m saying), however, as soon as I say that I am teaching at Wat Kong Lom and am working with Dr. Thanee, everyone kindly reminds me of the correct pronunciation: Pli-wih-wehk. It’s clear from their reactions that Dr. Thanee and the work he does is an integral part of the community. This is also evidenced from the number of training camps that have taken place here in the past few weeks.  The trip here started with an English camp which was followed by a weekend retreat with over one hundred students from the local government school learning about Buddhism and sufficiency economics, a few days later we had a flock of women working frantically to prepare decorations for blessing a new construction site, then we received a group of soldiers who helped plant numerous trees on the grounds, and then we hosted a large retreat for all of the students from Wat Kong Lom.

I am excited to be here and see all of the activity taking place around me. I never would have expected that that little dot on the map could be so full of life and yet so peaceful.

I have been working in the field of community organizing and event planning for many years, but I decided to come to Thailand to learn more about how community development takes place in developing nations. Pleekwiwek has been a great experience in teaching me more about sufficiency economics and the way that a community that is so diverse can come together as neighbors to help one another.  In the short time that I have been here I have learned more about Thai culture, language, and Buddhism than I have in the previous 3 months living in Thailand!

Buddha view Wiang Haeng

View from Wat overlooking Wiang Haeng

I am eager to continue learning – learning about northern Thai culture and all of the diverse groups in the region. I have already learned three new ways of saying “hello,” I’ve been anointed with a Thai name, and have heard numerous folklore stories from the region. I am also excited to begin teaching English. The people in the region and the novices I am working with are just as eager to learn about me, my culture and my language as I begin to teach at Wat Kong Lom temple school.

Don’t forget to Like ATMA SEVA on Facebook to follow along for all the adventures!


Songkran Festival

Last weekend, the tranquil and slow-paced city of Chiang Mai turned into the largest water party in the country during this year’s Songkran Festival! The festival celebrates the Thai New Year and is one of the main attractions for anyone visiting Thailand, especially during the hot season. With temperatures consistently in the 100’s and still months away from rainy season, it is the perfect time for Thai families, kids and travelers from all over the world to splash each other and play in the water! Chiang Mai is known to have the best party around and thousands of tourists come to participate in the biggest water gun fight in the world.

The water is used as a way to “refresh and renew” one’s self for the new year. Traditionally people pour water on the head or down the back and wish each other a happy new year and good luck. People pour water on the head of Buddha statues and there is even a parade for Wat’s to bring their statues out for people to bless and clean them.

Songkran is held every year on April 13th- 15th, but can last for almost six days with water play and family parties all around the city. For Thai families, each day has a meaning: the first day signifies the end of the past year, the second day is to prepare for the new year by cooking lots of food and cleaning the house, and the third day is the official start of the new year and when people make merit at the temples and honor their ancestors.  Many Thais travel home to be with their families for this holiday.  For travelers like me, the festival is a time to spend with new friends and a fun way to beat the heat!

I was very excited to celebrate my first Songkran in Thailand, and thanks to my handy waterproof camera I was able to snap some pictures of all the fun!


Kids begin playing with water guns and buckets of water the day before the official start of the festival.


A Thai family outside of their shop splashing people as they drive by. Although the city attracts thousands of tourists every year, Songkran is still traditionally a family holiday.


Cars backed up and people playing in the streets of Huay Kaew Rd., north-west of the old city. Multiple concert stages were set up and food stalls lined the streets.

On-site intern Jamie enjoying Songkran!

On-site intern Jamie likes Songkran!


Adults and children, young and old enjoying the festival!


People gathering water from the moat surrounding the old city.


Thai women washing a Buddha statue at Wat Phra Singh. During the three days people visit the temples to make merit for the new year by giving donations of money and supplies for the monks, lighting candles and washing Buddha statues for good luck.


Colorful flags hang from street poles, outside of shops and at the temples to commemorate the Thai New Year.

For anyone thinking of traveling to Thailand, Songkran is an absolute must! Everyone should experience this festival at least once in their life.  I can’t wait for next year!

Katherine Devine