My last days studying at Siam University

On Tuesday, I finished the phase of my final examinations at Siam University and now I guess it’s time to look back again and sort of evaluate the studying part of my semester abroad.

One day is left before I go on my biggest adventure time so far – 2months of travelling in Thailand, WOW. Surely, that’s the part I kind of awaited the most and especially since mid of March the waiting nearly hurt (paired with being homesick and missing my family & friends like hell.).

However, studying at Siam had its pro’s and con’s, for sure. The first day, it felt so weird dressing in school uniform and being the white girl in a class of locals where everybody looks at you when you enter the room. That alien feeling definitely changed and I feel as comfortable as everyone else in class (as long as the Aircon is not freezing you to death!). In terms of organizations, Siam is something one has to get used to. And I clearly experienced some organizational issues already at my home university but here it’s a different world. Whether registering for your subjects, writing exams, getting paperwork done or scheduling finals – Siam creates a lot of chaotic confusion and not only once, I certainly had to calm down my temper before bursting into anger. It’s something you generally have to get used to in Thailand but sometimes I am just too German for that (yes, I’m an impatient stereotype with bad anger management and low stress resistance – shit!).

Looking at the specific courses I took, it was nothing special considering my Background from my home university. But let’s say 3 out of 6 courses were really fun and a pleasure to take part in (the other half was, well,.. “interesting”). Anyway, you barely hear any locals answering questions (or posing them themselves) – they struggle a lot with English language and are usually playing with their mobile gadgets (but who doesn’t). However, locals are very nice when working with them and the Thai education is strongly based on group work – reminds me of Hofstede’s collectivistic Dimension (wtf!). Even though the educational standard is way lower than what I was used to, the semester gave me various new impression, plenty of experience especially based on ASEAN and its culture and even my alien feeling or the language barriers will help me to overcome future difficulties.

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Long story short – for anyone interested in studying at Siam, here my list of pro’s and con’s (based on a comparison with my home university in Venlo, NL):

PRO:

  • University culture – all students are kind of like a “union” and support Siam University in every step they take. It’s a good feeling to be part of this – especially since I’m not used to it at all.
  • The Campus – wow, it’s simply impressive! Everything looks really nice, having a “Peace-Garden” with arts and tons of palms, golden ornaments on the buildings, MASSIVE buildings in general (the campus is huge!!), modern equipment in the media library (even a large cinema section and newest touch screen computers or iPod-Music stations) and a great variety of services (three (or even four?) restaurants, banks, copy shops, media library, gym, supermarket,..). Yes – definitely a big fat plus compared to my home university!
  • School Uniforms – maybe not in general a “pro argument”, but I enjoyed making this experience as I was never confronted with school uniforms beforehand. And since I got used to it very fast, it was not a big deal and even shortened my time in the morning as I did not have to search for clothes to wear.
  • Food – very decent and very cheap. Definitely a plus when thinking about super expensive, old bread in my home university…

CON:

  • The standard is far away from what I was used to. I did not have the feeling that I learned anything important about “Doing business”. Sorry Siam!
  • Organizational things – that’s really a pain in the a** at Siam. Even if you want to do simple things such as getting the grades from your exams, it’s a loooong way till you reach your goal. It often feels like you are sent from person A to person B with no particular reason, just to keep you busy. That’s also pretty much Thai culture – when someone cannot answer your question (e.g. “how to get to blablabla?”), they rather send you in the wrong direction than admitting that they do not know it.
  • The lecturing times – officially, it’s 2 ½ hours per class but they are often shortened to only having 1 hour, which is not particularly bad but since I mostly had 1 subject per day, it was annoying to have a drive for – in total – 1 ½ hours for getting there and being sent home that early. BUT – with my move to Supalai, that definitely changed.
  • Class Rooms – even though the campus in general is kept very modern and looks beautiful, the class rooms are the opposite. Most of them are very old, with broken chairs and not really a place to feel comfortable. Oh, and did I mention the restrooms already? Better avoid them.

Okay, so far it’s 4 vs. 4 arguments – and now I would have to think about more but I guess that pretty much gives an overview to everyone interested in studying at Siam. My overall feeling was (and still is) very positive – it’s a great experience and all the people will at least try to help you with whatever issue you have. It may not be the best education you can get in the world, but for Thai standards it’s still a very honorable university and in the end, you gain so many experiences about culture and everyday life in Asia – and that is the greatest “pro” argument.

Studying in Thailand has taught me something for life.

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Mixed Feelings at the (in)famous Tiger Temple

Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua (better known as Tiger Temple) – a Buddhist temple in the forest of western Thailand. It was part of a full-day tour package booked on Khao San Road for only 600baht plus an additional entry fee of another 600baht for the temple itself. In the previous entry, I mention the other half of the amazing tour package whilst now I will only focus on the (in)famous Tiger Temple.

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Located in Kanchanaburi Province (West of Bangkok, approximately 180 kilometres away), a large area of canyons and wilderness approached. I have to admit, I wasn’t really knowledgeable of the Temple beforehand and made a pretty unbiased opinion during my short stay there. Unfortunately, I had only 1 1/2 hours stay in the park as it closes at 4pm. For that reason, I went straight to what I was most interested in: The Tiger Canyon. I have to say, it was impressive to see around 10 tigers laying lazy in the burning sun (or the shadow of the woods), having the opportunity to walk near and even touch them slightly (everything “carefully” guarded of course). Certainly, the aspect of seeing roughly 30 other people in the tiger area made me feel sorry for the tigers – it’s just too much. However, I felt that the guards – particularly the monks (who started the whole tiger temple) and the foreign helpers – took good care of the tigers and had not attempt in hurting or abusing them. Further, I also believe that they were fed well and have not been drugged even though they were very calm (Tigers regularly sleep 18hours/day).

To get a better feeling and impression of their well-being, I paid a further fee of 500Baht to take part in the Tigers playtime where only 20 visitors could participate in as to not irritate the animals. This time – The humans were caged. At 4pm, when the usual business in the temple closes, the tigers were set free and played happily in the surrounding area – jumping, trolling, catching toys, swimming, climbing. Yes, that sure looked like fun and happily proved to me that they are not treated that badly.

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STILL: Overall, I felt sorry for them and think that those majestic creatures should live their life outside in the wilderness and not in a cage. The guards argued that they saved the tigers from being killed by poachers but that just underlines human cruelty and might not be true anymore (there are rumors that the tigers are illegally bred in the temple area). I do believe that the monks and the foreign helpers have a good relationship to the tigers, especially when knowing that monks – based on their Buddhist beliefs – see no difference between humans & animals (if not even seeing those fabulous creatures on top of humans). What I, however, think is very upsetting is the fact that they separate the Baby’s from their mother at no later than 3weeks after birth to get them used to humans. That’s also a reason why those tigers can never survive in the wilderness again… I think that shouldn’t be the case for a so called ‘conservatorium’. The money part of the temple is officially to feed and care about the tigers but it feels like a big fat tourist attraction and not like an attempt to really save the animals. Yes, I was a part of it but I was also blinded from their perfect masquerade and after reading several articles I sophisticated my opinion.

Anyway – good news for all the animal lovers: The tiger temple is closed now and all the tigers are departed to another and more protected conservatorium without being an infamous tourist attraction.

Further, here are some articles which provide different opinions (“pro’s and con’s”) about the Tiger Temple. If you are interested in building your own, go ahead and read those:

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Damnoen Saduak Floating Market + The Bridge over River Kwai

All right, this entry is going to be split into two as it deals with a full-day trip to two major attractions slightly outside of Bangkok – First, the famous Damnoen Saduak Floating Market including a short stopover at the bridge over River Kwai. The second part will further address the impressive “Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Temple”, better known as Tiger Temple.

First of all, the trip was booked on Khao San road where you can make great deals compared to the costly offers online. In the end, I paid 600Baht (~17€) excluding some minor expenses and another 600Baht admission fee to the Tiger temple. However, for a trip which went from 7.00AM to 8.00PM, that’s more than a fair price – especially since visiting a Floating Market and the Tiger Temple were high on my to-do list.
As already mentioned, my day began quite early as I had to be on Khao San road at 7.00AM to get picked up by an air-conditioned van which could accommodate roughly 12 people. After 2 ½ hours by guess (I’m not good with time data…), we finally arrived at our first stop, about 100 kilometers southwest of Bangkok: The legendary Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. For 150Baht (~4€), I joined a small paddle boat to get driven across the canal where all those numerous vendors tried to sell local foods & fruits, decoration, souvenirs, paintings and a lot of cheesy junk goods from their rowing boats.

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I was quite surprised that even on water, the vendors managed to be quite intrusive by using a long ‘fishing stick’ to pull our boat towards their goodies. Anyway, it was clearly a once in a lifetime atmosphere and even though the buzzing market might be a little more touristic than I thought, the trip was surely a great experience. After stepping out of the paddle boat, some locals approached me with a little ceramic plate having my picture printed on it. What the..? Well, I remembered that some people took pictures right before the boat tour started so that’s where the photo is coming from but it still was a surprise to discover my face on the plate. Of course I bought it – who knows what otherwise would happen to my picture..! Smart bugger, as bold as brass. However, since the paddle tour went on four approximately 45minutes, I still had some time to go through the market by walking where the vendors were even more focused on selling their goodies whilst some older ladies took it especially serious. The result: Me, three plastic bags of kitschy décor and an empty wallet (I may be exaggerating here but that’s at least how it felt…! To my defense: They were really convincing!).

To round the floating market off, the booking included a thrilling long-tail boat ride out of the floating market along some small canals to grasp bits of traditional local villages, gardens and planting (Have I ever mentioned that – before Thailand – I have never ever seen palm trees for real? And it’s still astonishing to me.).

floatingmarket riverkwaiWell – after the floating market, the group got some lunch which is included in the package and at around maybe 1PM we arrived at the sort-of legendary bridge on the river Kwai. I won’t say much to this part as I wasn’t really impressed by a wooden bridge but apparently a very famous World War II movie was loosely based on this railway bridge which is why it has become quite an attraction (In fact, the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai is widely considered as one of the greatest movies of all time – I should watch it someday!). Anyway, this part of the trip was a 1hour stopover and also offered the chance to visit a World War II museum for 40Baht in the same area. Well… compared to all those historic remainders in Germany, it wasn’t really a highlight in Thailand but apparently they think that Hitler is still alive somewhere and hidden in the woods (Sure, a 125year old geezer wandering in the woods…). But I guess I already mentioned that Thailand has some different point of views in general.

DSCN1337Generally, some might complain about the floating market and the fact that it became quite touristic over the years but I still enjoyed the 2hour trip. The stopover at the bridge would not have been necessary for me but after the two trips I was even more thrilled to go on with the tour until we finally reached the Tiger Temple….

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The Grand Palace, Wat Pho & Wat Phra Kaeo – Holy cornerstones of Thailand.

DSCN1146Last weekend, I finally visited the three cornerstones of Bangkok’s traditional culture: The Grand Palace (or Kings Palace), Wat Pho (the temple of reclining Buddha) and Wat Phra Kaeo (the temple of Emerald Buddha). In fact, those three ‘attractions’ are a must-see sight in Bangkok and without, the trip would simply not be complete. When visiting those holy cornerstones of Thailand, be aware that, as a woman, I had to cover my shoulders and legs, and could not wear open shoes. In all of the temple halls you also have to take your shoes off (which can be quite a pain when walking on the hot marmoreal ground…). When not following the dress code, you cannot even enter or have to borrow some robes and shoes. However, after three months in
Thailand now, I know that traditions and culture is most important here. Yes, including appropriate dress codes and gesturing.

DSCN1213All of the three sacred places were impressive and something you wouldn’t spot in Germany (or even whole Europe). The Grand Palace was built in 1782 and the royal family of Thailand (amongst other entities such as the royal court, government administrators…) could call it a home for 150 years. Today, the spectacular Palace is still attracting hundreds of visitors with its beautiful architecture and treasured details. You clearly see that the whole complex is a masterpiece of Thai craftsmanship and every corner holds a pleasant surprise of sparkling statues, mosaicked walls, and spiritual temple halls.

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Apparently, the Grand Palace complex includes many impressive buildings and halls whilst the famous Wat Phra Kaeo is also part of it. In fact, the so-called temple of Emerald Buddha is regarded as the most important Buddhist temple within Thailand. According to a legend, the Emerald Buddha statue, embedded within a spectacular buildup of a golden throne, was crafted in 43 BC. Inside a magnificent temple hall, the 75cm tall Emerald Buddha is a meditating Buddha Image completely carved from a single block of jade. Unfortunately, it’s not allowed to take pictures of the statue.

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DSCN1223Lastly, the Wat Pho is most famous for the GIGANTIC Reclining Buddha statue. The temple is very close to the Grand Palace district and one of the largest temple complexes in whole Bangkok. The reclining Buddha is 46metres long, 15metres tall and is completely covered in gold. WOW. Even the feet itself measure 5metres and it’s simply stunning to look at this thrilling masterpiece. In fact, I have to admit, I liked the Reclining Buddha the most as it was an insane feeling to enter the holy halls and seeing this monumental statue, seemingly squeezed in the building. The whole atmosphere was very peaceful and calming, even though hundreds of visitors shared the small space of walking next to the statue. Aside from the Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho offers further chapels containing Buddha images, golden statues, colorful tiles and impressive artwork.

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It was a beautiful day and I’m glad I could finally experience those traditional cornerstones of Thai culture. It’s not only that you don’t find anything comparable in Germany, but those buildings simply overwhelm you with all its stunning details and thrilling artwork.

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Siam University – a united entity.

Only two weeks of University are left before I only have my final examinations to face. Afterwards, the chapter of studying closes and two months of travelling lay ahead – I seriously cannot wait for it! Even though Bangkok is a massive city with tons of things to do (and I surely haven’t even done half of it), it feels like I have nearly rounded things off here. It’s a good feeling but it also implies that I’m ready for new adventures and I am craving for the upcoming island hopping!

Anyway, talking about studying… The midterms are already rounded off (for a couple of weeksnow, but I forgot to even mention them) and it was a walk in the park. One day, I even had three exams at once (two of them at the same time..!) but it wasn’t a reason to panic, not at all. Comparing my home university in the Netherlands with the standard here is like apples and elephants – NOT comparable. Not even slightly. But what I really appreciate about Siam University is the fact that all students are really united and stick together. The other day, the university celebrated an international sports day whereby all students were invited into the gym hall to cheer on their respective faculty and enjoy long-lasting games of volleyball. The best of it was really their halftime show performances where all faculties had a special performance with lots of dancing, athletics, lovingly created decoration, special effects, music, dialogues – a lot of tam tam. And it was great (made up for the failed Chinese New Year parade)!

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That’s really something I miss about my home university, this feeling of being united and fighting for a common goal. But here, I guess that’s also the secret about school uniforms. It’s mainly about identifying with the university culture and being part of something bigger. At least that’s what I felt during the sports event.

Chapeau!

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Chao Phraya Express Boat – another way of exploring Bangkok.

DSCN0787A very interesting and nice way to explore Bangkok is via a river cruise. The Chao Phraya River runs across Bangkok and offers a lot of possibilities from fancy dinner cruises, party-boats and cheap express boats. The other day, I experienced the famous Tourist Boat service where you have to step in a rather waggly boat with “hundreds” of others (mostly local people) and just drive from one spot to another. The decision was made to travel to the last pier possible as to have a full view of Bangkok from a whole new perspective. The view was amazing, especially because I caught sundown and had some wonderful landscapes passing by.

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The water transportation was very convenient, costs 15baht (which is not even 20cents) for the whole drive, wherever you want to step out. You have to be quite quick when getting out of the boat, though; it’s not unusual that you miss your pier and have to drive further. In fact, I would love to take the water transport more often but from Supalai Park, you need to take a taxi for some time to get to the next pier which often leads to the decision of taking the BTS instead. Still, it was a very nice experience and I definitely want to do a dinner cruise or party tour one day 🙂

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From Sivalai Place to Supalai Park

Oh, what I nearly forgot (but might be quite interesting for people who want to study at Siam University…) – two weeks ago, on 1st of March, I moved from Sivalai Place to the Supalai Park. Seems like I’m never getting tired of moving, hmpf.

Anyway… the main reason for the move was the way better location in terms of connecting to a BTS (which, at Sivalai, was only possible when taking a taxi for ~20minutes) and being able to walk to Siam University. In the end, I’m not only saving some money for avoiding taxi drives but also save a lot of time as it only takes a 5min walk to university now (instead of driving for 30-40min when traffic kicks in). Another positive aspect is the modern equipment & furniture, everything is new (the 40-floor building was constructed two years ago) and looks fantastic. Aside, I’m now living on the 24th floor and have an incredible view over Bangkok’s skyline – yes, that’s awesome! I can only recommend living at Supalai – not that I find Sivalai much worse, it’s just that the location is so hidden in a sub-district that even going to a 7/11 takes a 15min walk. At Supalai, however, you have plenty of stores within 200m reach (7/11, Family Market, Drugstore, various restaurants & food stalls), can get into the BTS Bang Wa which is apparently the best choice when wanting to go into the center, and have the possibility to take a free shuttle bus to Seacon Bangkae Shopping Mall (where you can get everything you need). AND: If you make a 6months (or even 1year) contract, the rent is much cheaper. Now that I’m only living there for three months, I have to pay a little extra as they are not a hostel as in Sivalai but rather fully equipped apartments for long-term living. I’m still better off, paying 7,000baht instead of 7,200 😉 (“Wer den pfennig nicht ehrt…”).

All in all, I’m more than happy with the decision and feel much more comfortable at Supalai Park. Get some impressions:

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