to the land of smiles

Written by Donovan June 23, 2014 Category: Asia, Thailand Tags: , , , , Comments

I joined FS without knowing anyone, not even my fellow year threes except for one or two familiar faces. After the end of 39 days, I’m glad to say that I’ve made many new friends and this journey has piqued my interest in studying geography. Basically I love outdoor learning, interacting with human subjects and hearing about people’s life stories. This trip has widened my horizons and allowed me to immerse myself in a Thailand that I never knew existed. Who heard of Lawa model or Ban Rak Tai where former KMT soldiers resided? I learnt about internally displaced people, how building dams along the mekong river has affected villages downstream, the deadly liver fluke disease prevalent in Isaan province yet people continue to consume raw fish, cross-border flows and borderscapes, the impacts of tourism in Chiangkhong after the opening of the new friendship bridge IV. wow I think these 6 weeks have taught me much about geography, life and friendship that I could never have learnt enough in the NUS lecture theatre or classroom. kudos to my wonderful profs, friends and thai buddies who made this trip a memorable one! 🙂

I was always not so keen on visiting the countries in the region and preferred to travel to other more exotic countries further away in Europe, America or Africa. I’m glad that this Thailand trip was not as boring as I expected because I visited many places off the beaten track, thanks to my prof’s contacts. The most memorable part of the trip for me was to see the Karenni refugees in Ban Mai Nai Soi. I learnt of their sad history, how they had to flee the Burmese army who burnt down their houses, thus forcing them to hide in the jungle. Some of them decided to go to Thailand for refuge, so they walked seven days all the way to the border and settled down in the refugee camps there. The students were very curious about us and Singapore, so we had a nice long chat with them and ate lunch together. We also exchanged emails and took many photos. I know that I might not be able to go back to the village to see them next time, though I should because I have greater mobility than them. For them, their lives are only restricted within the village and refugee camp. They are considered stateless, so they can’t go out to other parts of Thailand. As for returning back to Myanmar they are still uncertain because there is still ongoing conflict in certain states and they are contented with life in the refugee camp.

Oour incredible journey which took us to four provinces in northern Thailand:
Chiang Mai – Khon Kaen – Chiang Rai – Chiang Khong – Houayxay – Chiag Saen – Golden Triangle – Maesai – Mae Salong – Mae Hon Son – Ban Rak Tai

Goodbye Thailand! I’m sure I’ll visit you again next time. For now, it’s Myanmar, Philippines and Brunei left on my SEA checklist!

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