7 weeks. 49 days. 1,176 hours. 70,560 minutes. 4,233,600 seconds. Anyway you slice it, it has been a long trip, capped off this past week by a mini-vacation to Thailand. After our farewell dinner on Wednesday and a frantic day of packing and preparing on Thursday, we departed Friday morning for Thailand. After arriving in Bangkok, we boarded yet another bus and began the journey to Khao Yai National Forest. On the way, we stopped for dinner at a cowboy-themed steakhouse, where we met the Thai students from Mahidol University International College (MUIC) who would be accompanying us during our trip. We spent 2 days in the forest, trekking and enjoying time with the MUIC students, learning about their daily lives and what they thought of the US. The day ended with skits, dancing, and a candlelight ceremony welcoming us into the MUIC family that I am sure none of us will forget. We continued from there into Bangkok, staying at the Novotel in Siam Square, right in the heart of the city. We stayed there for a few days, going around the city and visiting various sites. The MUIC students also met up with us again to take us to some of their personal favorite places in Bangkok, and show us around their home. Everywhere you look in, and especially in Bangkok, the King is prominently on display. The Thai have a love for their monarchy that amazed all of us, and no where else in the world have I seen as many shrines or monuments to a ruler. They were all along the highway, on billboards, on the side of buildings, and even in gas station restrooms. We visited the temple and palace of the old lineage of Thai kings, which houses a Buddha image carved of a solid piece of jade, ironically known as the Emerald Buddha. We also heard a lecture from the first female Buddhist monk in Thailand, and visited the monastery where she resides. The rest of our time in Bangkok was spent in a whirl of shopping, Muay Thai, and spending more time with the students from MUIC, who showed us amazing hospitality and kindness, even showing us how to prepare and cook a traditional Thai meal for our last night in Bangkok. From there, we departed for Ayutthya, the historic capital of pre-modern Thailand. It is a peninsular city, surrounded by rivers on three sides, which is one reason why it was chosen for a capital. All throughout the city, there are ruins of old temples and buildings from earlier periods in Thai history. It was in Ayutthya that we were also able to ride an elephant, something that most of us have been looking forward to all summer. It was an experience to remember, riding through ruins and even city streets atop an elephant, and I think everyone enjoyed it immensely. We spent our final day in Thailand, and indeed on the whole trip, visiting a Buddhist temple that was dedicated to fighting the AIDS epidemic and treating those with AIDS who had been abandoned by their families. The temple consisted of dormitories and clinics for the people suffering from the disease, as well as museums for the public, which were meant to teach people to appreciate their lives and health. We finished the day off with dinner and karaoke aboard a boat as we cruised down the river watching the sunset. There were many sad faces as we all went back to the hotel to finish packing and preparing to leave the next morning.
I am sitting now in the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, as we continue our trek homewards. We have had to say goodbye to people along the way, as the group begins going their separate ways after spending these last 7 weeks together. We have left Southeast Asia with many new friends, and many more great memories of an amazing summer, and I am confident in saying that I don’t think any of us will be quite the same when we get back. The plane is boarding now, and we are gathering our things, filling out US customs forms, and getting used to the idea that the next time we deplane, we will be in the US, on the other side of the world again. The End.