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Dr. Powell’s May Term Trip to Thailand Part II

In Part I, we talked about the more academic side of the trip and some differences noticed between cultures. In Part II of the Thailand May Term, we will discuss the more inherently fun and less academic parts of the trip, because, even though this was a class, it was still an experience of a lifetime.

For Dr. Darcey Powell, in addition to the conversations the group had with locals, her two favorite experiences were the Muay Thai boxing class and their day as mahouts:

[…] In the Muay Thai boxing class, we learned about that style of boxing and practiced the techniques. As mahouts, we learned how to take care of elephants with respect to feeding and bathing, as well as how to ride elephants, and then put what we learned into practice with our own elephant for the day.

Dr. Darcey Powell

Students’ experiences as mahouts at the Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai was definitely one of the most favorite and memorable experiences of the trip, as Peyton Holahan ’19 recounts:

We spent the entire day playing with and learning about elephants. It really does not get much better than that in my opinion. We were greeted in the morning by the director of Patara who explained their mission as an elephant sanctuary focused on educating individuals about the health and well-being of these beautiful animals. Each person got assigned an elephant (or two) to spend the day with and it was pure magic. I was one of the lucky ones to get assigned both a mom elephant and her two-year-old baby. They told us that they assigned the elephants based on our personalities but I am certainly not planning on having kids anytime soon. I learned how to groom, feed, and bathe my elephants. Bathing them was by far the most fun because this involved getting on their backs and scrubbing them with a brush in the river. This was also really refreshing because Thailand’s climate is HOT.

A group picture interrupted by cuteness at Patara Elephant Sanctuary, picture courtesy of Dr. Powell

Along with our elephants we were partnered with mahouts who are the elephants’ caretakers and trainers. Our mahouts assisted us throughout the day in helping us ride the elephants and showing us how to take care of them. Patara is such a unique elephant sanctuary in Thailand in that they do not cage the elephants but rather let them roam freely because their mission is focused on recovery, reproduction, and reintroduction of elephants into the wild. Patara is one of the most humane elephant farms in Thailand for that reason and I am so glad that Dr. Powell chose this once in lifetime opportunity for us all to experience.

Holahan ’19

Sarah Hughes agrees with Holahan, giving her own description of her experience at the elephant farm.

I had been looking forward to going to the elephant farm since I had signed up for the trip, so I was tremendously thrilled when I found out that we each would have our own elephant for the day. We had the opportunity to feed our elephant sugar cane and bananas, inspect them for good health, bathe them, and ride them for their daily walk. I quickly learned that elephants like to eat a lot and eat quickly. This was because every time I would feed my elephant she would get mad at me and start to yell because I was not feeding her enough at a time and not quick[ly] enough. We then had the chance to speak to them in Thai and make sure they had slept properly the night before and were happy and healthy.

The next part was my favorite part of the trip. […] We had the opportunity to scrub them and play in the water with each of our elephants. It was interesting to see that some of the elephants really liked the water and others did not. Afterwards we rode our elephants to lunch. This ride was not what I was expecting, as we rode for thirty minutes straight up a mountain and only had a rope to hold on to.

Dr. Powell and a baby elephant, courtesy of Dr. Powell

Molly Zydel ’19 seconded the opinions of her fellow students, adding that:

The trip as a whole was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience out of the country. As for favorite parts of the trip, I absolutely adored our time in Chaing Mai. The city was gorgeous, and not near[ly] as overwhelming as Bangkok was. It reminded me a lot of home, which is why I think I loved it so much. While we were in that city, we also had an excursion where we got to be elephant care takers for a day. We each had our own elephant and we got to feed them, bathe them, and ride them. That day was phenomenal. It feels so surreal, even though I have pictures to prove it happened.

Zydel ’19

Hughes also mentioned a number of other fun activities that students were able to experience.

Some other things we did during the trip were visiting many temples all over Thailand, including the Grand Palace. We went to an adventure park at our hotel in Phetchabun, which is in the mountains, visited a factory, and went to Koh Samui, which is a gorgeous island in Thailand. We also were able to take a Muay Thai Boxing class, go to a rooftop restaurant, explore local night markets, and speak with monks.

Molly Zydel described her experience in Thailand as

[…] phenomenal. […] I could say so many things, but they all lead back to the statement of if you get the chance to travel abroad like this, do it. You won’t regret it. Even if it scares you half to death, do it. You find out somewhere in the middle of all of it that the experience is more exhilarating and eye-opening than it is scary. You change so much as a result of spending 3 weeks in another country that has such a different culture. Thailand was amazing. I just want to go back.

Ultimately, as Kiah Coflin ’19 concludes,

There are only so many aspects of a culture you can learn through a classroom […] [as seeing things] first hand teaches lessons better than any textbook ever can.


To see more pictures, go here to the official Facebook for the Thailand May Term. If you haven’t read the first part of the Thailand blog post, click here.

Thank you to everyone who helped with this post and were willing to write and submit pictures.


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