Let’s take a moment to reminisce. What were you doing late last summer? Probably waiting tables or watching re-runs of The Real World. I can safely recall that while I was contemplating whether to use Hawaiian Tropic or Banana Boat for a day of fun in the sun, marketing junior Sarah Viges was waving a sweet farewell to her hometown of Rochester, Mich. as she set off for Thailand where she would be contemplating a few questions of her own.
“Should I go for a three or four day jungle trek? Which weekend should I schedule to bungee jump?” Not bad, considering these arrangements were most likely made between classes. But that’s just the norm for students such as Sarah, one of five MSU students involved in the Thai exchange program that allowed them to study abroad for the fall 2004 semester. “It was an amazing experience,” she said. “The culture and the people were wonderful. I already want to go back!” Sarah, along with 40 other exchange students, resided mainly in Bangkok. While there, they attended Chulalongkhorn University, studying within the business program.
[seasia] When the books were set aside, Sarah accomplished a great amount of traveling. One of the most surreal experiences Sarah had was a two-day trip climbing Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. Three-quarters of the climb was done the first day, after which they set up camp for the evening. “While we were hiking, your face was wet from the mist, which was strange when you considered that it was from walking through clouds.” The last stretch of the climb took place in the early morning, timed perfectly so that they reached the summit at sunrise.
Getting used to the way of life halfway around the world meant adapting to the local culture. The most common form of transportation throughout the city, after walking, was on a tuk-tuk, a cart pulled by a bicycle or a motorized cart. Countless meals were eaten from street vendors within the cities. “I tried a variety of different foods,” Sarah said. “Pad Thai was probably something I ate most often.” Vendors also provided her the chance to eat rare fruits she had never heard of before, such as rambutan—a “hairy” fruit known for the crisp, sweet flesh inside. One of the unique staples found in Thai bars is a drink referred to as snake wine. It is a rice wine with a twist, or more appropriately a coil, given that one will find a deceased Cobra as they raise their glass to have a taste. “It was strange to drink something with a snake in it,” she confessed. “It’s said to have medicinal purposes.”
Evenings out were nothing short of extraordinary and were often free of any expectations. A night pre-determined to be low-key at a local bar ended with an invite to a party from the MTV VJ for Malaysia. Little did Sarah and her friend know that they would soon be dancing in circles around royalty and saying cheers to the Prince of Malaysia. Sarah also attended a Full Moon party, a wild event that takes place once every full moon on the island of Ko Phanghan. Overwhelmed with techno music and fire dancers, this party may shed some light on the term lunacy!
[jungle] When she wasn’t doused in body paint for a once-in-a-lifetime festivity, Sarah continued to explore regions of the world that most of us would struggle to pronounce. The Thai province of Kanchanaburi proved to be a natural wonder with an abundance of waterfalls that flowed into pools lined by limestone sediment, which imposed an exquisite aquamarine tint on the crystal clear water. “I couldn’t take my eyes off the color of the water,” she claimed, “it was absolutely beautiful.” If this spectacle’s beauty does not take attention away from the wrinkly fingers acquired while bathing in these pools, the waterfall that doubles as a waterslide certainly will!
Sarah also visited the famed Tiger Temple, also located in Kanchanaburi. The temple, run by monks, is a refuge for animals, where they can roam free of the confines of cages that they might encounter in makeshift homes. While there, Sarah had the opportunity to pet a tiger and see several other animals, unrestrained. “It was a little nerve-wracking,” she admits.
One of Sarah’s favorite places in Thailand was Chiang Mai where she completed a three-day jungle trek, staying in the villages of their guides, where most people did not speak any English. Of course, the adventure didn’t end there; she still had elephants to ride and a bamboo raft to build for an afternoon on the rapids! “We didn’t expect the raft to go below the water as deep as it did, but were assured it was perfectly normal,” she remembers.
Cambodia and Vietnam were among the other countries Sarah made a point to visit while she was abroad. In Cambodia she saw the temples at Angkor Wat and took another hike, this time through the Cambodian jungle, the same location where the movie Tomb Raider was filmed. In both countries, Sarah had some very intense encounters, seeing first-hand the remains of the Cambodian killing fields and the Kuchi tunnels from the Vietnam War.
Riding through various cities in a tuk-tuk, it was as common for Sarah to pass by the Mai Cong River’s floating villages as it was to pass by a street vendor selling North Face back packs or a five dollar bungalow on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Snake wine and rambutan fruit aside, Sarah most definitely had an unforgettable Thai advernture and a taste of the exotic culture.

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