Life Abroad; Kristen In Thailand

Travel; something everyone is dying to get out and do, but we all make 1,000 excuses of why we specifically can't go anywhere. Travel is not just for an elite, untouchable bunch. It's for you, and it's for me. It's for anyone with the passion and drive to JUST GO!

I'm going to introduce you to a number of ladies in this series, not so different from you and I, who took the leap and are living out the most amazing lives abroad.

They aren't just dreaming it, they made it happen, and we hope to show you that you can too!

Life Abroad; Kristen In Thailand

  • First up, Kristen. Originally from a small town in Ontario, Canada, Kristen was bitten by the travel bug hard a couple years ago, and off she went! Kristen is currently completing a semester abroad for her undergraduate degree in the destination of the moment; Thailand. Thailand is currently quite high up on my list of must-get-to destinations ASAP, so I had to pick her brain about life around the other side of the world!
If you have the urge to travel there is no other way then to just jump on in!

Hi Kristen! Thanks so much for chatting with us today. Thailand is such a popular destination lately, we can't wait to hear all about it! Can you tell us, where are you located, and how did you end up there?!
I am located in Bang Sean, Chonburi province, just an hour away from Bangkok and Pattaya, two major cities in Thailand. I ended up in Bang Sean because it is the home of my term abroad university Burapha University that has approximately 40,000 students. Bang Sean is mostly a university town with a small mall, local pubs, street markets and a beach front. 
Leaving the comfort of home is hard! What was it that really made you take the leap into going abroad? And was there anything that attracted you to Thailand specifically?

I started traveling international in 2012, where I went to France, Italy and Monaco for March Break. Ever since, I have always had the travel bug, since I have been to Europe in the past I jumped on the opportunity to experience Asia as a tourist and resident. Thailand was an obvious choice for me because the country is so diverse! It has so much history and something for everyone.  Bangkok and Pattaya are major city hubs that are famous world wide, Southern Thailand, like Phuket is popular for its beautiful beaches and Northern Thailand is famous for its previous opium harvesting and incredible markets. There is so much to do and explore in Thailand and I have wanted to come here since I had picked up my first Lonely Planet book.

I want to hear more about Bang Sean! Now you're the expert from having lived there for some time, the next chance my readers and I plan a trip, we want the insider details! What are the best, most authentic locations to hit in Thailand?  What are those cant-miss locations?
If you are traveling to Thailand I would obviously recommend hitting up some of the beautiful beaches in the South.  My personal favourite is Khao Lak because it is a beautiful coast that has a lot of natural forests right by the beach.  As well, I really enjoyed Northern Thailand, Chiang Rai was so interesting! It is not developed as other parts of Thailand but I think that is what makes it so unique. There are a ton of cheap night markets and information about the drug trade that happened in Thailand in the late 1970s. 

If you go to Chiang Rai I would highly recommend taking a trip to the opium museum, it was definitely one of my favourite places in Thailand. It is hard to go to Thailand and skip out on Bangkok, if you fly to Thailand 99.9% of the time you will fly into Bangkok.  Bangkok is not like other big cities I have been too, it is more spread out and  the buildings have a low rise, it is not build up like Hong Kong or New York City. I would definitely recommend a trip to the Grand Palace where you can get some information on the Monarchy that rules the country. I would also suggest a trip to Khaosan road, it has cheap hostels and is known for its abundance of foreign travellers (as the Thais say "Farrang"), and travel agents making it an ideal stop for backpackers.

RCA (Royal City Avenue) in Bangkok is the party place, it is a clubbing district with all types of bars, raves, pubs and parties. If you travel to Bangkok and have a passion for partying do not miss out on the RCA district.  Bangkok and especially Pattaya have some of the most outrageous people I have ever seen. If you turn down the wrong street do not be surprised if you find yourself being cat called by a "Lady boy" or heckled by vendors, these exchanges are very common in the bigger cities of Thailand.

Another can't miss location would be the Full Moon party in Koh Phangnan.  Some people travel to Thailand just to go to these all night ragers. They happen once a month on the full moon! I am going to my first next month and could not be more excited! If you are planning a trip to Thailand, I would suggest looking to see if you here for any famous festivals.  Luckily I was able to experience Chinese new years in Bangkok, which was so amazing! I am also going to be here for a festival called SongKran (Thai New Year) that happens in the middle of April! It is a national week long holiday where people go around spraying you with water guns, if you are foreign you are especially targeted. The festivals get crazy so make sure you check for them before you come!

Those all sound so wonderful, thank you for the tips! Thailand is a little different from small town Canada, to say the least! Tell us, what was the your biggest culture shock?
Getting used to the food and the language. Thai is incredibly hard to learn, it words are not based off the alphabet much like English, French etc. it is its own dialogue with its own pronunciations and letters. Not knowing Thai has been challenging for me, especially in the small town I live in Bang Sean. But most of the time in big cities like Bangkok people know enough English to communicate with you.

The food has been a shock for me, in Thailand everyone goes out to eat for almost every meal, the 'street food' is so cheap, it is actually cheaper to eat take away food than it is to cook at home. But I find Thai food hard to love. I was expecting Thai food to be pad Thai and very spicy, but Thai spicy is its own category there is nothing like it in North America. As for pad Thai it is surprisingly not that common and many Thai traditional dishes consist of rice, vegetables and some kind of meat. Most food has fish and meat, so being a vegetarian it is quiet difficult to order  authentic Thai food especially when I can not speak the language. I mostly find myself shopping at the local grocery stores and have found a few good restaurants where I have become a regular. Food has by far been the biggest culture shock, I guess I should have done my research.

How would you describe the people of the Thailand? How are they different from Canadians?
Thai people are some of the nicest, genuine people around and are particularly friendly to foreigner, many Thai people want to be your friend to improve their English and are always down for a good time. In smaller towns like Bang Sean, if you are foreigner you can expect to be stared at or asked to take a picture with. They are also very modest and kind, apparently this is influenced from their Buddhist religion (90% of Thai's are Buddhist). I have noticed the Thai students my age seem very immature, they are still very innocent and giggly. Thai people in general are tinier than North Americans and since I am petite I fit in pretty well, but many of the people in my group (age ranges from 20-24) have been asked if they are in the 30's or Ajaans (The word for teacher in Thai). 

Thai people are easy going, rarely have I seen someone cause a scene. They are a lot quieter than westerners, they talk very softly and the group of people from Canada  easily become the loudest in any public place.
It's always interesting to see how people in another country spend their free time. What do you do for fun in Bang Sean?
In Bang Sean, like many other coastal cities in Thailand, the people love hanging out by the beach and going to local pubs and restaurants. I find myself at the beach almost every weekend, the beaches are filled with people! On the beach you can rent sections under umbrellas that have a beach chairs and tables , you can rent it for the day for about 100 baht (approx. $4.00 CAN). If I do go to the beach and want to tan, it is common for people to stare at you, most Thai people avoid the sun at all costs (they do not want to be tanned at all, the paler you are the more you are considered beautiful and have high status). 

Local pubs are always packed with people too. On weekends I always go to the local bars. I have noticed Thai people have a passion for live music and whiskey.  It is typical to order a 26er of whiskey  at a pub with your friends and enjoy live Thai bands a bonus is that the Thai 'bottle service' is around $15.00 CAN, this might be why Thai people go to bars every night of the week! They think it is funny how westerners only go out on the weekends. Going out in Bang Sean is way more laid back than at home and if you do want to rave or dance your probably going to want to travel, on odd weekends my friends and I take a bus down to Bangkok if we want to hit some clubs!

Every night of the week; that is a life skill right there! Alright, of course we need to know, where else did you visit while in Asia?
While being in Thailand I have found it to be very cheap and convenient to travel to other parts of Asia. Bangkok is a major international hub.  I have booked trips to other parts of Asia a couple days in advance with little to no issues. Since being in Thailand I have made my way to Siem Reap, Cambodia; Bali, Indonesia and Hong Kong. It is amazing because before I came to Thailand I thought that Thailand was enough and I didn’t need to travel further.  I was wrong being here has only made me want to venture more! Especially from Bangkok because it is so cheap and easy to travel Asia, many countries have visa on arrival which makes it super easy to travel from place to place.
Did you have a bucket list or destinations that were must-visit places?
Yes my bucket list: Full Moon Party, get an authentic Thai massage (yes it is semi painful but worth it after and for only $8 why not!), witness some of the exotic animals such as tigers and elephants. Visit famous temples (I would suggest the White Temple in Chiang Rai, it is a modern temple and inside you can find typical Buddhist items like Buddha's and incense, but you can also find cartoons of Angry Bird and pictures of Freddy Kruger drawn on the walls), bamboo trekking, and trying a fish foot bath.

You've created such a fantastic adventure for yourself! I think travel is something everyone wants to do more, but finds a million reasons they can't go. Do you have any wise, experienced words for that bunch?
Honestly you just  have to decide to just do it  and take a chance! I think once you do you will find traveling is not so difficult.

My suggestion would be to make a payment plan. The biggest thing I hear for excuses, is that people do not have the kind of money to travel. But I believe it is more affordable than you think. For my trip to Thailand for a semester at home and a semester abroad for four and a half months, was cheaper than my first year just at university. I was able to pay for the entire trip without going into debt by saving my summer earnings. Planning ahead and making a budget plan would be the best advice for traveling, it is possible if you are willing to do it!

The first step is to go for it, there is really no other way. I took a huge chance coming to Thailand because the program was going out of another department in my university, the travel and tourism program which I have never taken a course in. I thought I would email the professor and see if I could still join! I thought  if it was meant to be, it would be and to my surprise I got in!

I received more than enough help and encouragement from the professor and my academic advisors to make it happen! This trip is something I could have never imagined myself doing a year ago and I am so happy to have had this opportunity.

I believe the trips you take pay for themselves, the experiences you get are incredible and there is just so much to learn out there! If you have the urge to travel there is no other way then to just jump on in!


Lastly, any tips you have regarding studying abroad?

  • Pack light! I made this mistake, before this trip the longest I have traveled was two or three weeks. How was I supposed to pack for four and a half months?! I did what anyone would do and packed like I would never spend a dollar in Thailand. Now I am stuck with having to buy at least two extra suitcases to bring my things home in.
  • Another tip would be to pack some comforting belongings. Whether it is your favourite Canadian comfort food like Kraft Dinner (I have not seen one box here), or your favourite sweater or fuzzy socks.  These things are nice to have when your feeling sad or home sick. Some thing that is familiar is nice! I  packed a lot of pictures of my friends and family and hung them around the walls of my room.
  • Another tip is to not take school so seriously.  Yes, you are still at school, but don’t  stress over school like a bad grade is the end of the world, half the reason you are abroad is to explore and have fun! School is important, but don’t waste time stressing over a bad mark!
  • Another really important tip: do not forget to bring adapters! Even though your plug may fits, always use adapters. I made this mistake with my laptop the Thai electrical outlets have a much higher voltage than Canada's. Even though my cord fit the outlet, the voltage over heated my computer over and I needed to buy a new battery. Do not risk it just find a converter and use it!
  • And finally, do not forget about your health, its easy to find yourself going out to eat or drink four times a week abroad, there's so much to do and see and people to meet and this often happens at night and over drinks and restaurant food! The last thing you want is to become sick abroad! I suggest finding yourself a gym and making healthy choices when you do go out!
This trip is something I could have never imagined myself doing a year ago and I am so happy to have had this opportunity.

Thank you so much Kristen, we really appreciate you sharing your experience with us, and have an absolutely wonderful rest of your semester!


The Quick List

All Kristen's recommendations in one spot!

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For more on Thailand, there's some great guides here!

Thailand is up there on my must-hit destination list! What's on yours?