After a brilliant month of traveling Asia, I arrived back home a few weeks ago with my heart torn. I encountered what everyone experiences after an enthralling vacation – post-travel depression. I just simply was not interested in immersing myself into my old routine after embarking on what turned out to be an incredibly life-changing experience. So when I finally came home, I wasn’t just reminiscing about all the good times – I began to wonder what I could do to get back into such a state where my stress level was at a minimum and life was absolutely beautiful. Everyone keeps asking me how my trip was – and rightfully so. But it is quite difficult to sum up such an experience with mere words.
“How was your adventure? How was Thailand?”
“The trip was amazing. Thailand was absolutely amazing. Given that my internship was in Thailand, there wasn’t a lot of red tape so I was able to be up close and personal with surgical procedures and witness a variety of diseases that affect the Thai children. Along with that, I was able to do a bunch of touristy things including bungee jumping, elephant riding, ATV-ing, and ziplining. But the best thing about Chiang Mai was the people – I met people from all over the world and hearing various perspectives in a program that wasn’t American-driven was absolutely refreshing – but yah, amazing!”
“Tell me more!”
Not to say that this little blurb I repeated isn’t true. It just doesn’t sufficiently capture what I felt – am still feeling – inside. For example, I saw more in Chiang Mai than landmarks and hospital procedures – I witnessed my confidence build up as I traveled around Asia. I’m not sure if it was because I was solely on my own, but I had a fire inside of me that kept me strong. You see, I have always had self-image issues. Whether it be my body, my hair, my face, my teeth, my skin – I have never been comfortable with myself. So you would think that in a place where the humidity was at a max and my hair was completely unmanageable, I would have folded into a shell. And yet, it didn’t bother me because I was too busy enjoying myself. I ran around the hospital in my scrubs, involved myself in every touristy thing possible, and every single night, played volleyball in the pool. My fear did not inhibit me and my stress level was at an all-time low. And although my physical/eating habits were the same (except rice was a staple in breakfast, lunch, AND dinner), I lost close to 20 lbs when I finally arrived back in America.
A picture is definitely worth a 1000 words in this scenario and I hope through a combination of photos and words, I can provide a detailed, yet concise summary of my time in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. I also accumulated some traveling tips and decided to dedicate a page on my blog with my thoughts on what to bring, what to wear, etc.
- Chiang Mai (Thailand)
I spent two weeks in Chiang Mai for my GapMedics internship. I was placed in Nakornping Hospital with my first week dedicated to the Pediatrics ward and the second in the Obs & Gyn ward. Given that c-sections are a common procedure in Thailand, I found myself in the Surgery wing a lot and was able to witness a lot more than just c-sections and sterilizations. Our work day typically began at 8 AM with an early commute to the hospital and our shadowing would end at 3 PM. After that we had free time until dinner at 7 PM, followed by global tutorials which was taught by a local RN. Given that most of us were there for only two weeks, we spent every day doing something differently. After global tutorials, we would run into the swimming pool until 10/11 PM and then go into “the white room” where we played cards and spoons until 1 AM. I ran on about 6 hours of sleep every day, but there was never a moment when I felt exhausted or lethargic.
Monday: On the first day of my pediatrics rotation, I was able to hold a patient in the NICU who was recovering for pneumonia. Given that it was my cohort’s “first day”, the tradition is to spend only a half-day at the hospital so that we could take a tour of the city center and experience some of the local cuisine with one of our program’s coordinators. I was also able to score a pair of these stylish elephant pants which brought me one step closer to becoming a legit Thai tourist! Along with our global tutorial courses, we also had an additional, one-time language course so that we could get a few Thai phrases down for our hospital placement. “Sawadee Ka” (hello/goodbye) & “Khob Khun Ka” (thank you) became frequently used phrases in the household.
Tuesday: Tuesday was “Temple Tuesday” where we climbed up to the tallest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which had a beautiful view of all of Chiang Mai. In the hospital, we spent the first half of the day in the Hemato Clinic where we witnessed many children who were anemic. One girl had such severe anemia that her facial features were affected to the point where she had no cheekbones and a flat nose bridge.
Wednesday: After several convincing arguments given by my fellow peds group member, I agreed to go bungee jumping on Wednesday. On the day, we also spent time in the HIV clinic where we got to palpate an enlarged liver in a 3 year old little boy.
Thursday: Apparently Thursday nights in Thailand are similar to Thursday nights in college towns across the US – so for our first Thursday in Chiang Mai, we celebrated with a BBQ Pool Party and a trip to the local night market, which was followed by a ladyboy show and clubbing at the poppin’ club, Zoe’s. During our internship, we spent time in the PICU where a heart patient who had contracted pneumonia was rushed in as we were entered the wing. We spent the rest of the session watching as a team of ten nurses and doctors hurried to intubate and hook up the patient to several monitors.
Friday: Given that the GapMedics program is a year-long program, some of the people we started off the week with were actually finishing up their two/three week stints. So we had to say good bye to some dear friends and then hurry off on our “Hill Tribe Weekend” adventure. Below was my pediatrics group for the week with representatives from the UK, Maldives, Italy, and the US!
Saturday: On our first full day of the “Hill Tribe Weekend”, we ended up going elephant riding, white river, rafting, waterfall sliding, and experiencing some amazing thai massages. We lived with a Thai family in an elevated bamboo hut and woke up to some of the most gorgeous sights and freshest air. We ended the night sitting on the deck and singing while watching the youngest boy try scaring the sole male member of our group. I also scored my first bracelet after bargaining with the women for 10 minutes.
Sunday: On the last day of our “Hill Tribe Weekend” adventure we visited Tiger Kingdom where we had the option of seeing small, medium, big, and large tigers – I went for the biggest! We also ziplined before arriving back at the GapMedics household. After a quick swim, we ended the night by attending the Sunday Night Market.
Monday: Our second Monday marked the beginning of a new placement, which for me was my stint in Obs & Gyn. Since it was a half-day to welcome in the new kids, us oldies decided to ride ATVs. Although it was supposed to be a three-hour gig, we ended up spending over four hours riding through the forest and the countryside and by the time we had finished, it was pitch dark outside. I also realized that although I was one of the few people in my group with an actual license, my skills in ATVing are subpar, evident in the fact that I rode into a cornfield -.-
Tuesday: On our second Tuesday, we decided to visit the Umbrella Factory and score some souvenirs for ourselves and our loved ones. As one would surmise from the name, this store created some beautful umbrellas. But what was special about this particular location was the artistry involved. Inside the store, you can select from a variety of items ranging from phone cases to scrolls to fans to lanterns. Really, anything or everything was there – and if it wasn’t, you had the option of bringing in an outside item. Then you venture outside where there is a row of artists, all gifted in their own way and who, for a small price, can paint you a one-of-a-kind piece of work. Below, my artist painted a scenic waterfall with two elephants on a scroll for me.
Wednesday: Waterfall Wednesday allowed us to once again, appreciate the natural beauty of Chiang Mai. Climbing up and down the waterfalls and laughing at our antics was a reminder that sometimes it’s the simplest of things that provide us with the utmost pleasure.
Thursday: Another Thursday meant another trip to the local night market where we witnessed a different, but equally entertaining, ladyboy show and an unforgettable night at Zoe’s. But a sweet memory for me was the aftermath of Zoe’s – after tucking respective people to bed, we ended up being the last four awake and simply proceeded to swap life stories in the white room at 2 AM.
Friday: You know, I wish I could say I had an amazing last day of my internship on Friday. However, the more remarkable moments occurred at the local cafe where we often spent our lunch time at. Speaking of lunch, did I mention that a lunch consisting of AMAZING Thai food in decent portions came out to be about a $1? And then a refreshing drink at this cafe with free wi-fi was another $1. So all in all, $2 dollars spent a day for an overall lunch meal. We also visited Zoe’s again since it was the club’s 25th Anniversary and lit lanterns at our farewell dinner.
Saturday: On our final day at the GapMedics house, we decided to spend the day swimming in the pool that we had fallen in love with. There was only a few of us left as most people had gone to Hill Tribe Weekend, Phuket, or another weekend adventure. One of my friends made ramen for lunch for all of us and after a few more hours of swimming, we left for the airport. I admit, I shed quite a few tears as I said good bye to people who had become some of my closest friends in a matter of weeks.
- Sri Lanka
Because I was in Sri Lanka for quality family time than anything else, I spent many days sitting outside on the balcony with my favorite grandmother and just listening to stories of her past. During the day, my aunt and I would watch Tamil movies that had just come out and at night, when my uncle came home, we would explore parts of Colombo. On a day that my uncle was able to take off, we took a trip to Sigiriya, a World Heritage Site. It is an ancient palace that was built on top of a rock, and was selected by the king due to it being 660 ft high. And we ended up climbing all the way to the top to witness the scenery and the magnificence of the area. We also took a detour to the Dambulla Cave Temple – another World Heritage Site that has been preserved so well that you can still see the details of a 14-meter Buddha that has been carved out of the rocks.
I went to Pattaya to visit the Father Ray Foundation that my high school Leo Club has been raising funds for annually. It’s one thing to hear stories from another about a certain organization and all the astounding work you do. You can donate tens of thousands of dollars to a cause, but never really understand the impact until you visit it. That is what I was expecting when I decided and I was pleasantly surprised and how much more I gained from the experience.
On the downside, it was during this three-day period that I fell terribly ill. And let’s face it, no matter how old you may be, when you’re away from home and suddenly fall ill, that’s when you want to go home. Home where just inches away is all the medicine you can get your hands on. And if you are like me and live at home, then you immediately think of your mom who would instantly nurse you back to health. While I wish I used more of my time in Pattaya, especially at night, exploring the city, I ended up sleeping immediately after my volunteer shift was over and trying to nurse myself back to health. However, I was able to capture a video of children from the home, village, and drop-in center that the Father Ray Foundation sponsors; all dancing in celebration of new equipment.
Going to Singapore was a last-minute decision and spontaneously occurred because a friend of mine who I met back in freshman year of UCLA was visiting home around the same time I was traveling. Her family was extremely welcoming and our few days together were activity-packed. As soon as I landed in one of the nicest airports I had ever witnessed, my friend whisked me off to the local beach where we spent two hours cycling around. We watched an indie movie called Bad Turn Worse and I was introduced to her childhood friends over dinner. We also visited the local museum and a beautiful botanical garden called Gardens By the Bay.
Ten different flights, four different countries (including my layovers in China), and about $4000 spent in total. But if I had the option to do it all over again, I would sign up in a heartbeat. There’s just something so cathartic about letting go and seeing the world for yourself without any ties, commitments, or distractions. I simply got a taste of it on this round, but I can say, with certainty, that parts of my heart were left in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. I know now, what I have known all along but with more fervor, that I need to do some more traveling. And if not now, when?
To be continued,