Written by D.J. Van Klompenburg, South Dakota State University
Happy New Year from Thailand! Our group enjoyed taking in the sights as sounds around the city in Chiang Mai for New Year’s Eve. The atmosphere was lively and exciting in anticipation for midnight to hit. In the sky were thousands (no exaggeration) of paper lanterns that people would write their wishes on for the new year and then release. The view in the sky with the lanterns, city lights, and fireworks was absolutely beautiful and an unforgettable experience. Certainly a New Years Celebration for the books!
For New Year’s Day we had some much anticipated free time. We headed up to the Mesa Elephant Camp where we were able to see a show where the elephants and their trainers showed off their skills. The elephants played soccer and even painted a few scenes for us. I’m convinced that these animals are more talented than I am after seeing that. After the show we were able to go on an elephant ride around the camp. Our elephant’s name was Billy and he was 35 years old. We were told that the elephants pick their own trainer and that it’s common for them to have 3 or even 4 generations of trainers in their lifetime. After posing for a few pictures we headed out for lunch.
After lunch we visited Tiger Kingdom where there are over 20 tigers (and 1 lion) in captivity. Certainly something you wouldn’t see in the US. We were able to purchase tickets to go inside the cages with the Tigers and their trainers. We were allowed to pet them and take pictures. Ages and sizes ranged from a few months old to full grown. Another unforgettable experience for the books!
After this we loaded up in the vans for the 3-hour road trip North to Fang. The never ending S-curves and hairpin turns made for a not-so-fun ride but the stunning views and landscapes made up for that. We even saw a few familiar crops being grown (corn!).
So far, I’ve found myself splitting time between being homesick and having the time of my life. The culture here is very rich and the people are very friendly. I’m doing my best to adapt to the food, but I’m really anticipating a nice trip to Jimmy Johns or Texas Roadhouse when we get home.
The thing is find most interesting here is the traffic and transportation. No one seems to obey any street signs or want to drive in their own lanes. This makes for interesting trips. We were told by our tour guide (who is awesome by the way) that car and other vehicle purchases are taxed at 280%, so having a vehicle is a major status symbol. We have yet so see any trains or other types of transportation. There are a few heavy trucks, which seemed to become more abundant as we got out of the city. It’s very interesting to see how much people can haul with just a small motor bike.
Our trip is focused on market access, so I’m interested in fining out if changes in infrastructure, law enforcement, or adding other forms may better help Thai farmers get their goods to market. So far, I think they are getting along just fine, as they aren’t producing the sheer quantities of commodities as we do in the US, so they don’t need trains like we have. But as this market develops, I see major changes in logistics that may need to be made. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore that more. Learning a little more every day!