Thailand: Buddhist Traditions and Contemporary Culture

Experience a diversity of cultures, communities, and urban and rural environments across Thailand during a summer abroad.

Take an immersive journey through urban and rural landscapes of Thailand. Experience the cultural sights, markets, and ancient temples of major Thai cities; live with host families in rural villages; stay at a temple and practice meditation; and participate in community service projects organized by local organizations. Learn introductory Thai through for­mal and informal language instruction and through time with host family members and other locals.

The program begins in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, home to hundreds of ancient temples and surrounded by mountains. Visit the city’s famous sites and museums and explore bustling street markets and Buddhist temples as you get to know the other members of your group. Shop at a local market with a cooking instructor who will teach you how to make traditional Thai dishes with the items you buy. Stay at a traditional temple overnight and learn about the cultural importance of the art of meditation.

As your Thai journey continues, you will live with a Kon Muang host family in a lowland northern Thai village in Chiang Mai province and then with a Lisu host family in a hill tribe village in Chiang Rai province. Join host fam­ily members and others in working on a service project, such as helping to build a natural water dam or assisting with reforestation work, depending on the needs of the village community. Other service opportunities could include teaching English to young children.

Experience the northern region’s tropical valleys and highlands as you participate in outdoor activities such as trekking, zip lining, rice farming and visiting an elephant park. Visit the ancient capital of Siam and UNESCO world heritage site Sukhothai as well as the seaside town of Hua Hin. Conclude your Thailand exploration  in Bangkok—visiting sites of cultural and historical importance, such as the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

To learn more about this program, visit experiment.org/THS.

At the conclusion of this program, each participant will earn a community service certificate noting how many hours of community service s/he completed.
 

PROGRAM AT A GLANCE

Theme: Language and Cultural Discovery

Components: City stay, rural stay, culinary training, community service, homestay, language classes, language immersion, hiking/trekking, outdoor activities, rugged travel

Orientation: Chiang Mai, 5–7 days

Homestays: Northern Thai village outside of Chiang Mai,* 9–11 days; Lisu hill tribe community in the  Chiang Rai province,* 3 days

Other Accommodations: Guest houses

Duration and Dates: 4 weeks, June–July

Depart/Return City: Los Angeles

Program Fee: TBD (does not include international airfare)

* Homestay locations can vary.

Riding an elephant in thailand

Days 1–7

Orientation in Chiang Mai

  • Learn about the history and culture of Thailand and learn about Buddhism
  • Get to know other members of your group during activities and group discussions
  • Visit famous sites and museums throughout the city
  • Explore bustling street markets and Buddhist temples
  • Attend Thai language classes
  • Take a cooking class and enjoy a traditional Northern Thai Khantoke dinner with dance performances
  • Attend a meditation workshop to learn about mindfulness and stay overnight at a temple

During the orientation period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located guesthouse.

Days 8–15

Homestay

  • Become fully immersed in the daily life of a Thai family and community
  • Do activities with your host family, including rice planting
  • Explore your host community and the surrounding area with your group, including visiting the local market, waterfall, and hot spring in the Prao district
  • Participate in a community service project such as building a house and planting trees at a temple
  • Teach English at a local school
  • Bike to neighboring villages, cook meals with your hosts, help in the fields, and learn Thai folk dancing

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family. Sample communities include Baan Mae Bon and Baan Ton Chok Sri Khum.

Days 16–17

Travel and a Day in Chiang Mai

  • This is a transfer day spent in Chiang Mai, where you might go zip lining or visit San Kampaeng Road (the “handicraft highway”)

Days 18–21

Homestay in Baan Doi Lan Village

  • Become immersed in the lives of Lisu hill tribe family and community
  • Participate in daily activities with your host family
  • Teach children at a local school
  • Go hiking

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family. Sample communities include Baan Doi Lan and Chiang Rai.

Days 22–27

Thematic Focus in and near Chiang Mai

  • Explore the lush jungle areas around Chiang Mai
  • Spend a day at an elephant rehabilitation center learning about elephants and their importance in Thailand
  • Participate in the Elephant Mahout Program at Baan Chang Elephant Park, a park that rescues elephants from inhumane conditions
  • Visit important sites while on a bicycle tour of Sukhothai, the ancient capital of Siam and a World Heritage Site
  • Visit Sukhothai’s historical park
  • Stay at the seaside town of Hua Hin, where you will spend time on the beach and visit the Chang Hua Mun royal project

During this period, you and your group will stay in guest houses and hotels.

Days 28–29

Thematic Focus and Program Reflection and Wrap-up in Bangkok

  • Visit important sites in Bangkok such as the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun.
  • Reflect with your group on your experiences during the program

During this period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Day 30

Departure

These are leader bios from summer 2014.

Ina Chu

Hailing from sunny San Diego, Ina Chu decided in high school that she needed a change of scenery and moved 3,000 miles across the country to attend Boston University (BU) in Massachusetts. During her time at BU, Ina studied abroad in Germany, served as a resident assistant, and landed a journalism internship that took her to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After graduating with a dual degree in German and journalism, she joined the Peace Corps in rural Thailand, where she worked side by side with locals to create community projects. In fall 2014, Ina returned to beautiful Boston to attend graduate school at Harvard University. In her free time, Ina enjoys good food, music, reading, traveling, and playing outdoors.

Lauren Williams

Lauren WilliamsBorn and raised in rural Southern Illinois, Lauren Williams had her first taste of international travel at the age of sixteen, when she had the opportunity to backpack throughout Western Europe as an international Girl Scout representative. She then attended Elmhurst College where she pursued degree in biology with minors in chemistry and art. The summer after freshman year, Lauren went to Europe to study the healthcare systems of Austria, Germany, England, France, and Italy. During her sophomore year, she studied with SIT Study Abroad in Australia, where she conducted field study projects on the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef as well as independently researching wildlife rehabilitation at the Australian Wildlife Hospital. Upon graduation, Lauren received a Fulbright grant to teach English in Northern Thailand for a year. She taught at a small school in Chiang Rai and interned at a hospital in Chiang Mai during summer recess. Lauren is a veteran leader of The Experiment’s Thailand program, having led Experimenters in Thailand in both 2013 and 2014. Lauren is currently a second-year medical student at Rush University in Chicago.

Six months later, and my experience in Thailand still affects me. While my friends spent their summers doing all types of interesting things, no one had an experience like mine. The friends I made, the people I met, and the culture I experienced remain with me in my daily life.  My love of traveling has taken me all around the world but until my Thailand trip, I had never had such an authentic abroad experience.
Let’s start with the people! Everyone I met in Thailand was incredibly kind and warm. Our homestay families welcomed us into their homes and during my two-and-a-half-week stay, I received several gifts and was made to feel at home.
Communicating with my family was not easy. My Thai was better than their English, which is saying a lot considering that the only Thai I knew was from our two lessons we had in Chiang Mai before going to our homestays. Bonding with someone who speaks a completely foreign language is not easy, but simply experiencing their way of life was fulfilling. 
I made some amazing friends on my trip as well. Now, several months later, I still communicate with all of them and find myself laughing about our inside jokes or daydreaming about our time together. In fact, back at home in my daily life, Thailand memories are my salvation through the stress of a difficult course load, extracurriculars, and college applications.
I could talk for hours about all my memorable experiences from the trip, but I would like to recount one of my favorite memories, which was with my host family.
One night as I was eating dinner on the floor of my homestay house, as is customary in Thailand, my family, as usual, tried to keep on feeding me after I was too full for anything more. As usual, they told me to “gin” or eat.  I responded by saying “Im lao” meaning I’m full but still they tried to feed me. 
Finally, I responded with “Im lao, katong” and placed my hands on my stomach.  Now katong in Thai means fat or, as I and my friends from EIL translated it, “food baby.”  At the mention of katong, my family all burst out laughing, and I joined in. 
This may seem like a small moment, but for me it was the time when I felt more connected with my family and as I sit here writing about my experience now, I have a wide smile on my face and am flooded with all the other little memories of my homestay that made the experience so worthwhile.

Julia Murphy, Berkeley High School