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Thailand and the Environment: the Basics

Hi everyone, and welcome to the Centre College Thailand & the Environment course blog. We have 23 students and two faculty slated for a three-week course in Thailand in January 2017. We will post some basic information on the blog here (what we’re reading, what to pack, what to be considering before January, along with updates while we are abroad. Students, their families, and friends are all welcome to follow this page, and should also follow the Facebook page for the class. Welcome!

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Days 03 & 04: Kasetsart University, Mangrove restoration, & Aquaculture facilities

The culinary tour wore us out a little bit because everyone moved a bit slower today than yesterday, at least at the outset: then things ramped up with a little more excitement. For most of the trip we are traveling in three vans, and we started with those today.

We left the hotel bright and early, traveling to Kasetsart University, our aquaculture partner in Thailand. Kasetsart is the largest university in Thailand, and they have many great programs related to fisheries, aquaculture, marine science, and other related topics. The university is so large, we had a difficult time finding exactly what part of the campus we needed to be to meet our hosts, but they came and found us and took us to their building for presentations and a tour of the fisheries natural history museum.

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Our Kasetsart colleagues showing us the Mekong freshwater stingrays in the natural history museum. 

Then we headed out to the field for lunch at a restaurant built in the tidal zone of mangroves. Our hosts ordered a variety of dishes, from fried green beans and fried shrimp to Tom Yum Kung (soup), stir fried vegetables, curried crab, and sea bass.

Eating fresh and tasty Thai seafood on the edge of the mangrove was great, but our next stop would top it. We drove next to a mangrove forest restoration site near Samut Songkhram, west of Bangkok. Here we met Wisut, a local community leader who encouraged his community to address the problems caused by the clearing of mangrove forest by 1980s era aquaculture.

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Wisut, a local community leader, explains his seawall and mangrove restoration project. 

His story begins with the problems his village would experience in storm surges, when houses would be swept out to sea, and so much of the soil would be lost to erosion. The community decided to build a bamboo sea wall to try to slow any soil loss and begin to rebuild the soil, and then built another one.

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Three lines of bamboo seawall are shown with a pier built out to them. These seawalls have allowed for a more successful mangrove restoration than might have otherwise been possible. 

What they realized is that the sea walls were only the first step. The sea walls could help with soil erosion, and they helped some with storm surges. But a living barrier, a restored mangrove forest, can build soil, attenuate storm surges, provide habitat for organisms, improve fisheries, and purify water. After hearing Wisut’s story, we spent some more time on the concrete walkway exploring the mangrove restoration sites, and made our way out onto the platform to the bamboo sea walls (we are actually on the pier in the above picture. Dr. Sukkrit Nimitkul brought his aerial camera system (DJI Phantom 4 drone) to capture from above what we were seeing below. He was also gracious enough to take some group pictures.

We weren’t done. Next we headed to the Samut Songkhram Fisheries Research Station, owned and operated by Kasetsart University. Here we visited their sea bass aquaculture facilities and learned about the common practices, the novel technologies, and the research programs of Kasetsart faculty. Students even got to feed the fish, which according to our hosts was only appropriate since the same kind of fish had fed us two hours earlier.

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Cole feeds the sea bass at Samut Songkhram Fisheries Research Station. 

After the sea bass research farm, we headed back to Bangkok after a long and thought-provoking day. Some students decided to spend the evening on Khao San Road, and many others were ready to rest after a long day.

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#CentreAbroad group photo at Saturday’s Mangrove Restoration Site. 

On Day 04 (Sunday, January 8), we had a similar itinerary to Day 03, only this time visiting Kasetsart’s Fisheries Research Station in Sri Racha, just east of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand. Here we learned about the clownfish breeding program, and their program for breeding other saltwater aquarium species.

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We also saw the raft-based green mussel mariculture set-ups, a form of farming for seafood that has grown tremendously in the last two years. It was an approach Drs. Anderson and Werner had seen two years ago, but the expansion of these facilities is barely fathomable. They now pepper the bay there. Again, we had the benefit of Dr. Nimitkul’s drone to see the pattern remotely.

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The green mussel mariculture rafts now pervade the area near Sri Racha research station. 

We enjoyed the chance to dip our feet in the ocean and examine the marine life on the beach, too.

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After that, we headed to another excellent lunch, again seaside with fresh Thai ingredients.

 

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Sunday seaside lunch. 

Then we headed to large and quite popular (correction: busy) mangrove site in Chonburi. There was a lot to see and learn there, with a long boardwalk (that frightened a few students with its missing boards), a rope bridge, and a great deal of wildlife. Combined with Wisut’s talk about mangrove restoration, we learned that many Thai people are getting the importance of mangroves. The site in Chonburi was full of teenagers on dates, a couple taking wedding portraits and a few graduation pictures, and a number of families. It gave us hope for the future of mangrove swamp forests for the future.

Here is the link to the Day 03 Facebook photo album.

Here is the link to the Day 04 Facebook photo album.

Day 02: Wat Arun, Exploring, Culinary Tour

Our second day began with a far more rested group. Everyone pushed through the jet lag of being halfway around the world, and met up in good spirits. We started the school day with time for reflection and journal writing in the park near the hotel, took a quiz over yesterday’s material (the questions focused on the cultural components of Thai temples), and had a short discussion of what students have been noticing and thinking about since our arrival.

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Students writing in the nearby riverside park, reflecting on their first day. More pictures on the Facebook album (link below). 

 

We then headed out, using the Chao Phraya ferry to access and explore Wat Arun.

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Riding the river boat taxi to Wat Arun. 

This temple had earlier housed the Emerald Buddha (see Day 01) and is undergoing a massive facelift, which kept our students from climbing the steep steps, but many enjoyed Wat Arun anyway, and a number of students wrote their names on bells. A few found amulets they liked. We then started exploring. To begin, we had a group lunch in a spot for locals. Then we went walking, looking for a rapidly expanding Wat Pichai Yathikaram, and then exploring a Catholic Church in Bangkok, which made an interesting point of comparison to the Buddhist religious sites. The walk again got our step count up around 8+ miles, but the weather was nice, and we got to see a less toured area of town.

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After catching our breath a bit back at the hotel and in some Khao San massage parlors, we set off for our culinary tour, but we tried to get there using local transit, first a city bus and then the MRT (Metro Rail Transit, or Subway). There were a few anxious “group on a bus” moments along the way, but it was good experience.

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And then we got to the culinary tour. It’s somewhat difficult to describe this experience in words (or maybe even in pictures): we split into two groups, and each group made six or so stops throughout the evening, getting to eat at some of the well known Bangkok restaurants, and in between we rode in Tuk Tuks (three-wheeled taxis that are a bit more substantial than scooter taxis, but still pretty exciting).

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We ate a variety of Thai foods that our tour guides explained to us, including Pad Thai, a noodle-egg-chicken dish, papaya salad, mango sticky rice, and a few other entrees. We took little tours of Wat Pho at night, the flower market, and a rooftop with a view of the river and the temples. We even had back alley passes to see the kitchens where they were making the food. Within minutes, our appetites were satisfied; the tour lasted hours. It was an experience we’ll remember.

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Here’s a link to the Facebook photo album for Day 02.

 

Day 01: Bangkok, Grand Palace, and Wat Pho

Everyone made it through their first day in Bangkok, full of seeing religious and cultural sites, learning about Thai architecture, and lots of walking (my phone pedometer said 22,000 steps and eight miles of walking).

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Crossing a street near our hotel

Class today included learning about the influences and history of Thai architecture, and getting a sense of the importance of the royal family with mourners still filling the streets around the Grand Palace. Some of our highlights include seeing the Ramakien mural, the Emerald Buddha, and the model of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat (seeing the model gave some students the travel bug to see the real thing).

 

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Group picture in front of the Grand Palace

While at Wat Pho, we saw the Bodhi tree and reclining Buddha, and the students’ assignment was to sit and observe one object using their preferred senses, so that they could write in a journal about their objects later.

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A scale model of Angkor Wat. 

Once finished with class for the day, some took naps while others swam in the unheated outdoor pool here at the hotel. Some had their first Thai massage, and most everyone had Thai or Indian food for dinner.

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Bodhi tree at Wat Pho.

Here are a few pictures from the day, uploaded to the Facebook site.

We had a first day full of walking and culture. Our second day will be similar, but with a river taxi day pass. We are heading to Wat Arun and Wat Pichai Yathikaram, then doing a culinary tour.

Welcome to Thailand!

Tonight in Thailand and at around noon for you those of you in the U.S.A., everyone arrives in Thailand. This means a little bit of jet lag as our bodies adjust to being halfway around the world, on an opposite sleeping schedule, with new sights, sounds, smells, and foods to experience. Throughout the next couple days, we’ll share some of those new experiences here. Think some good thoughts for us as we hope for everyone’s luggage to arrive on time, and for any other contingencies to be minor. We’ll be tired tonight. Wish us luck!

A few sights for the first 24 hours in Bangkok: the Chao Phraya river (left) and the Grand Palace (right).

Thai Playlist

A good way to prepare yourself to enjoy the full sensorial experience of being in a new place is to accustom your ear to the sounds of it.  That includes gaining an appreciation for the music that the locals enjoy. Every bus, store and restaurant we visit will be blasting some catchy music video (MTV may be dead in the US, but not in Asia!).

Here are a few artists and genres to download on your phones for the long trip over the Pacific:

Thongchai McIntyre (Bird) (reminiscent of late 80s ballads)

Sek Loso (Loso) (a bit more like 90s pop rock)

Carabao (folk melodies to electric guitar)

Luk Thung Genre (Thai country music w/ rock effects)

Hill Tribes Visit

On January 10 & 11, we’ll be visiting two rural villages outside of Chiang Mai struggling with modernization and social, environmental and cultural challenges.

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Our guides and teachers, Jason Lubanski and A Supawadee have planned out the following two-day itinerary for us:

January 10: Ban Mae Tha (Northern Thai lowland village)

9:00- depart for Mae Tha Village, 50 kilometers southeast of Chiang Mai town
10:00- arrive to Mae Tha
10:00- 12:00 introduction: meeting and discussion with local community leader and youth about community background and local organic agricultural practices: questions and answers
12:00-13:00 lunch
13:00-15:00 break into two groups (one hour per activity)
Group 1: work in a local field alongside farmers (one hour)
Group 2: visit and learn about a seed bank (one hour)
15:00-16:00 return to common area and discuss experiences: Q and A ( cook some of the vegetables from the local fields that they just picked)

16:00-17:00 return to Chiang Mai

January 11: Ban Sop Lan (Karen mountain village)

9:00- depart for Sop Lan, about 60 kilometers southwest of Chiang Mai town
10:30- arrive to Sop Lan
10:30-12:00 introduction: meeting and discussion with community leader and youth about community background and issues facing Karen in Thailand: Q and A
12:00-13:00 lunch
13:00-14:00 forest walk with local guides
14:00-15:00 visit to alternative education Karen school
15:00-15:30 wrap up discussion

15:30- 17:00 return to Chiang Mai

Reading Thai

Sorry, guys–no ABCs here.

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The Thai alphabet is a bit more complicated than English, but if you dedicate a few hours to memorizing the consonants and 32 basic vowel rules, you’ll be able to read most signs and menus while abroad.  Just being able to sound out the beautiful script you’ll see on everything from temples to street signs will give you a great deal of confidence.

A couple good videos to start with are available on MThai Inter English/

Consonants:


Vowels: