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Category: Chiang Mai

So Why Study Abroad?

Author: Ellie Ashbrook

Program: CIS Summer in Thailand


This is my last blog entry for my study abroad experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand, so I will try to make it as inspirational as possible. I was thrilled to be accepted to participate in this study abroad program because I have always been curious of what’s happening on the other side of the world. Being chosen to have a blog was another plus, so my mom can follow my adventure, and I can ensure her that countries outside the United States are as safe as our campus at Valpo. I had no clue what I was in for when I chose to apply for Thailand other than knowing I would be riding elephants, mountain trekking, learning how to cook Thai food, and going to Bangkok for a weekend. You can only learn so much from the internet, and YouTube videos are helpful, but everyone has their own experience.

Before I left for Thailand, my family and also my friends told me that I needed to be careful because, “it’s a whole other world over there.” This was obvious, but I didn’t want what they had to say to scare me. I was told that I would be eating monkey brains and that I needed to watch out for dangerous critters. The more I didn’t know about Thailand, the more nervous I became, so I did my own research…a few nights before I had to leave.

I found out that I would have to use a ‘squat toilet’ and a few other handy tips. I did not come across dangerous creatures, nor did anyone talk about monkey brains. I decided that I should just go on this trip with no expectations (but I did bring a good amount of packages of tissue for the squat toilets).

I couldn’t say that I expected any of my experiences from this trip to happen. An elephant kissed me, I went flying through the mountains of Bann Wang Hang, trekked in the mountains of Doi Chiang Dao (my happy place), I lost my phone in the streets of Chiang Mai, went white water rafting the Mae Taeng River, saw break dancing in the middle of traffic of Bangkok, and just this past week, I ended up at the Grand  Canyon of Chiang Mai.

My weekend trip to Bangkok was incredible. It reminded me of Chicago but bigger and a lot busier. Walking through the markets was equivalent to running through the doors of a store on Black Friday. The group went to the Grand Palace in the heart of Bangkok. The palace is the official residence of the Kings of Siam, so it was crowded because everyone wanted to see the royal family’s gold. The amount of gold on the buildings was quite overwhelming. The weather was brutal because of the humidity, and the amount of people in the area made it unbearable, so the group decided to take a break and visit another area of Bangkok where they had a few street markets.

The Grand Palace

Grand Palace-Bangkok, Thailand

My friends and I decided to skip the street markets because a nice cold coffee from Starbucks sounded so much better. We went to the Starbucks at the right time because as soon as we arrived, the Frappuccino Fun Party just began. There were only a few other people for the party. They didn’t know much English, and we only knew so much in Thai, but it was still a fun time. We tried the Chocolate Black Tea with Earl Grey Jelly and the Double Chocolate Green Tea Frappuccino. Both were delicious.

This past week, our Thai professor took us to the hot springs where they have hot tubs throughout this huge park with a mountain view. Eggs are available to purchase, so you can cook your eggs with you while you hang out in the tub. It was an interesting pair. The best time to visit the hot springs is in the morning when it’s cooler, so I can see why people enjoy eating eggs while they sit in a hot tub.

Group at Hot Springs

Hot Springs

How Do You Like Your Eggs Done_

The last unexpected thing I can tell you that happened on my trip is that I visited the Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai. It’s a huge quarry that’s filled with water. They have bamboo rafts spread throughout the body of water so that you can hang out and cheer people on to jump from high cliffs.

The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon-Chiang Mai

I have to cute it short, but I still have so much to share. I had no expectations for Thailand, and I’m glad I didn’t. I think the most important thing I learned about myself on this trip is to not make false assumptions. Life is unpredictable, so enjoy the ride.

Mai Pen Rai.


Mai Pen Rai

Author: Ellie Ashbrook

Program: CIS Summer in Thailand

Doi Chiang Dao, My Happy Place

It’s been my third week in Thailand, and I would say that  have become even more adventurous and more of a risk taker since the other week when I mentioned it. There’s this phrase that would describe Thailand’s motto, “Mai Pen Rai.” The phrase can be translated to English like, “you’re welcome” or “don’t mention it,” but when you ask a Thai person, they would say that the phrase has a deeper meaning. The phrase means, “It’s okay…everything is okay…don’t worry.”

My Buddhist philosophy teacher repeats this phrase to us when he goes into a discussion about Buddhism. The whole idea about Buddhism is that people practice the teachings of Buddhism to reach a state of mind where you have no worries. In other words, you stop what causes your suffering and your mind can be at peace. One main thing that causes suffering among a lot of individuals is attachment. My professor will always joke around with us that Americans can’t get enough of their iPhones (Thailand is a Samsung country). This is very true for teenagers and young adults because our phones become our everything.

Long story short, I ended up losing my phone this past weekend. The same day,  we went trekking in the most gorgeous, mind-blowing place. My group and I followed a guide named Three through the Doi Chiang Dao Mountains. He described every plant and why they are useful to humans. He even showed us how the village people cut the bamboo in such a way to create toys for their kids so they can entertain them while they cook and clean for the family.


Our guide also provided snacks on our trekking. We had these chocolate bar sweets called ‘Beng-Beng.’ They resemble a chocolate covered sugar wafer with a caramel fillings and have a crispy texture. We also ate Thailand Pineapple cookies. It was a coconut biscuit with pineapple jam. They were both delicious. Three took us through the village, and we saw how the Thai people lived in the countryside. It was very different from how the city people lived. These people made their children’s toys, their houses, clothes, and pretty much anything I can’t imagined doing for myself.

After trekking through the Mountains of Doi Chiang Dao, we stopped to have a lunch buffet, Thai style of course. There is nothing better than eating rice with every meal. Afterwards Three took us to the famous spot of Chiang Dao. The cambers are huge, but you can only walk so far until the cave becomes pitch black. It’s possible to see the unlit part of the caves, but the group was drained from the long hike. I’ll make that an excursion for the future (and so should you.)

Chiang Dao Cave

Chiang Dao Cave-Buddha Statue

That same day, I had lost my phone. I took the most beautiful pictures of trekking the mountains, and all I could do was accept the fact that I would have super boring blogs. I didn’t want losing my phone to ruin the rest of my trip That night, I repeated “mai pen rai” until I could fall asleep. I woke up the next morning and get ready for my next adventure, white water rafting in Mae Taeng River. I knew that I would only focus on surviving during this excursion. I had some time before we needed to meet, so I decided to take a walk around the area.

Morning Walk Scenery

I had no intention of finding my phone, but as I was walking several blocks away from my hotel, I heard the “note” tone go off. I know that this was an iPhone and kept looking on the ground while I walked. Mai pen rai, there was my phone with a text from my mom. Although I don’t have pictures of my white rafting trip because my phone died shortly after finding it, I am able to show you my happy place in Thailand. A detachment from something that we see or use in our everyday lives can be a difficult adjustment but try to remember the phrase, “mai pen rai.” Everything will be okay.

Risks Worth Taking

Author: Ellie Ashbrook

Program: CIS Summer in Thailand

Since my first week in Thailand, I have been more adventurous (and a bit rebellious) than I have been in my 20 years of living. There are a large number of stray dogs in Thailand because there are no kennels to host them. The monks of the Buddhist temples will provide the dogs with food and water but otherwise they roam the streets looking for any scraps to survive on.

street dog

Each weekend there is a weekend market with lots of food and homemade goods to purchase. There are always dogs roaming the streets of the markets and you need to be careful that they don’t lick you or your wounds. There was this one Chihuahua, and I didn’t think twice when he began licking me. I kept a positive mind, and thankfully, I have not experienced any signs of rabies.

I have talked to people about traveling the world and a lot of  that responses I get are about being afraid of the unexpected. I had no idea what bad things I would run into when visiting Thailand, but so far, I have had a great experience. There will always be things to be aware of, animals with rabies for instance, but there are ways to keep you safe.

This past weekend, I visited the Baan Chang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai. This was one of the coolest experiences of this trip. The park gave us the chance to feed a basket full of bamboo pieces and bundles of bananas to the elephants.

Honestly, at first I couldn’t get myself to approach the elephant because of their size. I got over the fear of how big these creatures are and reached my arm out. As soon as I did, the elephant swung his trunk towards me, and I was face-to-face with his nose. I couldn’t believe that I was feeling the air coming out from this elephant’s nose. 

Elephant trunk

After feeding the elephants, we were told that they could give kisses.

Ellie and Elephant

Yep, that picture with me screaming is during the kiss.  Once we were covered in elephant snot, we were provided with a Thai lunch. The lunch was Pad Thai (a Thai favorite). As soon as we finished lunch, I started to feel very ill. I had been feeling sick since the morning, but the Pad Thai did not settle well with my stomach.

When the Pad Thai looked appetizing

Once everyone’s lunch settled (except for mine), we were given directions on how to control the elephants while riding them. Riding an elephant is a difficult thing (especially when Pad Thai is not agreeing with your stomach). I tried to enjoy every minute of that ride, but it was quite difficult when trying to focus on not falling off a two-story high elephant. The ride home was about an hour back, and every minute of that ride, I could feel the bumps in the road and the Pad Thai slowly coming up. I’ll make this short and say that I’m thankful for good friends.

The day after the elephant park, I went zip lining in the mountains of Bann Wang Hang, Maeram. This was my first time and will not be my last. The adrenaline rush that I felt through my body while flying through the jungle has been the greatest feeling by far. The zip line adventure included several obstacle courses that also gave me a rush of adrenaline. Look up what abseiling is (but my abseiling experience was without any ability to stop myself). Our guides of the zip line adventure made the trip even more enjoyable (our guide called himself Crazy Man).

The Zip Line Gangzipline team

Zipline gang

Crazy Man, the guide

This is Crazyman

Thailand has been so good to me, and I still have so much to experience on my trip. It is normal to be afraid of the unexpected, but once you get over that fear, the reward is remarkable.

Greetings from Chiang Mai

Author: Ellie Ashbrook

Program: CIS Summer in Thailand

Today will mark my first full week of living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Since being in Chiang Mai, I have visited many historic sites and have learned so much about the culture that it will be difficult to share every detail about my experience.

Before I tell you about my first week of my Thailand experience, I want to reflect back on my first post and why I chose Chiang Mai. I have always had in mind that I wanted to experience something different from what I experience every day in my home country. I knew that Thailand would be an opportunity to achieve this. The way of life in Thailand versus how it is in the United States is completely opposite. The people of Thailand have a different way of driving (you are playing leap frog every time you need to cross the street) and have a different way of living.

The View from My Window

view from hotel

A few values that I learned about Thai people are that they find it very important to spend time, effort, and sometimes money to maintain relationships. Another value that Thai people strongly have is that they are present-oriented and look for fun and happiness in everything. They don’t take anything too seriously.

Every day since I have been in Chiang Mai, I have experienced the way Thai people value relationships and value the present versus the future. This past Wednesday, I had my first day of orientation at the Language Institute at Chiang Mai University. That night, we were invited to eat dinner with the staff at a place called, “Sip Song Pan Na Khantok” in Chiang Mai.  In Thailand, a traditional “Khantoke” dinner is a way to introduce northern food and performance to foreigner friends. They provide you with endless portions of food, so you will not leave hungry or be hungry for a few days. As we ate dinner, several boys and girls performed from the drama school at Chiang Mai University and towards the end of dinner, we were able to dance with them. It was a great way to break out of your comfort zone.

Khantoke Feast

sip song pan na khantok

One of my favorite activities that we have done is learning how to cook Thai food. The first day you are in Thailand, you will either eat noodles or rice. These two foods are everywhere! We drove to a local market (there are markets on almost every street in Thailand) and were shown the various foods that are included in Thai dishes.

Street Market Food: Chiang Mai Gate

street market food

From the market, we were driven to a kitchen farm. Our Thai cooking instructor gave us a list of foods to choose from that we could cook. Before we began the class, we enjoyed a welcome snack (Meang Khum), which is made with: roasted peanut, ginger, toasted coconut meat, chilies, shallots, sliced lime, a betel leaf and syrup which is drizzled on top. How to eat it: fold the betel leaf as a cup. Put all the ingredients in the betel leaf cup. Top with the sweet syrup. Eat the whole betel lead cup in one bite and chew it slowly. You will touch all flavors at one time.

Meang Khum

Meang Khum (Welcome snack)

The purpose of this welcome snack was to introduce all the flavors of Thai cooking. Thai cuisine is known for being spicy, so this is a balance of the five fundamentals: hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty, and (optional) bitter (this was the first time I have tasted all of these tastes in one bite)…I recommend trying! Once we had our welcome snack, we began cooking our Thai dishes. Our cooking instructor made sure that we understood the rules…always smile even if your food becomes inedible.

Stir-fried Chicken with Cashew Nut (Kai Pad Med MaMoang Him Ma Pan)

cashew nut

I cannot wait to share more of my Thailand experience with you!

How to make the syrup for Meang Kim:

Ingredients: palm sugar, salt, sliced shallot, sliced ginger, and water

Mix the ingredients well.

Heat on low until it becomes sticky.


You can book your own Thai cooking experience with

Why Chiang Mai?

Author: Ellie Ashbrook

Program: CIS Summer in Thailand

My name is Ellie, and I will be attending Chiang Mai University located in northern Thailand. I will be a junior in the College of Nursing program at Valparaiso University this fall 2016.

Why Chiang Mai? My family gave me the opportunity to choose any place in the world to study abroad (I had to do some convincing…and well, it worked). I have always been in love with outdoor excursions and have always been fascinated by Buddhism and Buddhist Art. As part of my studying abroad experience, I will be participating in many outdoor activities and will be taking Buddhist Philosophy and Thai Language courses.

Why NOT Chiang Mai? It only takes a total of 19.5 hours to get there with one connecting flight (if you are lucky). The first leg of my trip is 15.20 hours to Shanghai, China (the country’s biggest city), where I will have a night to rest for my second flight.  The flight to Chiang Mai airport should only take 4.5 hours. I will be staying at the Chiang Mai Gate Hotel while I attend Chiang Mai University for 4 weeks. I have been interested in the CIS Summer in Thailand program since my sophomore year of college.   This past spring I took Professor Corazzo’s art history class, Ancient to Medieval Art History, and if you know Corazzo and her enthusiasm for that class, you would fall in love with the various forms of culture and art just like I did. Each class, Professor Corazzo would comment, “You WILL go to these places.”

There are only a few days left until I board the plane, and I have so many mixed emotions. I am excited, frightened, nervous, and pretty much any emotion you can think of. I am so happy to be sharing my first independent trip you with. I hope that my passages interest you and get you thinking of planning a study abroad experience of your own.

But someday you WILL visit Chiang Mai, Thailand.

-Ellie A.Ellie - Headshot

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