Golden Thoughts

A blog by and for Visitors to Thailand

Payap University Initiates Thailand-Cambodia Program

Posted by ezehner on January 23, 2010

The Thai and Southeast Asian Studies Program at Payap University, located in Chiangmai, northern Thailand, has announced the availability of a new Thailand-Cambodia study abroad program beginning Fall 2010.  Officially called the  Southeast  Asia Comparative Semester (SEACS) program, it gives students the opportunity to examine Southeast Asia, in both its historical and contemporary manifestations, by spending two months in Thailand and two months in Cambodia through a partnership with the University of Cambodia.

Until fairly recently Cambodia had been largely inaccessible to formalized study programs for foreign students. However, due to some special connections that Payap has made with the University of Cambodia, study abroad in this dynamic and historically important country is now both a safe and an exciting prospect.  Though still one of the region’s poorest countries, Cambodia has experienced rapid economic development since emerging from prolonged civil wars in the early to mid 1990s. Thailand and Cambodia are now extremely safe to travel, and both have rich cultural histories and rapidly developing economies.

St. Lawrence University’s Center for International and Intercultural Studies (CIIS) is proud to be one of the first participants in this new program, which is being offered in addition to our existing Thailand Semester Abroad program at Payap. Students enrolling in the new Thailand-Cambodia program will receive basic instruction in speaking both the Thai and Cambodia (Khmer) languages. In addition, during the opening two months in Chiangmai they will take the following two courses:  (1) Buddhism and Thai Society, and (2) Sustainable Development, Environmental Justice and Ethnic Minorities. Then, during the two months in Cambodia, they will study (1) Contemporary Cambodia: History and Society (taught in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh), and (2) Hinduism and Khmer Civilization (taught in Siem Reap/Angkor Wat, site of the massive and still impressive political-religious centers built from approximately 800 to 1400 CE).

A full description of the new program is being temporarily made available in the “resources” links on the left-hand side of this blog. A link to description on Payap University’s website will be provided as soon as it is available. Deadline for applications is mid-February, 2010. St. Lawrence students apply through the CIIS office at St. Lawrence University. Application documents are then assessed by personnel both at St. Lawrence and at Payap. For more information, contact the Center for International and Intercultural Studies (CIIS) at 315.229.5991 during regular business hours, or by email via the contact form provided on the CIIS website.

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Highland Home Stay Photos

Posted by ezehner on November 17, 2009

The students in our study abroad program at Payap University did a highland home stay in a Lisu village in Chiang Rai province. Some photos from the village trip have been posted on Payap’s website here:

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Muslims in Thailand

Posted by ezehner on October 5, 2009

On September 26, 2009, Dr. Edwin Zehner, St. Lawrence University’s Visiting Teaching Fellow for Thailand and Southeast Asian Studies, was invited by the students of St. Lawrence’s Islamic Culture Club (ICC) to  present on the topic “Muslims in Thailand”  at its annual community-wide celebration of the end of the Ramadan fast. The presentation was well received.

Dr. Zehner has added his speech script to the PowerPoint slides, and plans to post the whole thing to this blog as soon as he figures out to do so. In the meantime, if the server system cooperates, try clicking on the link below to hear the first Thai language lesson again, which I’ve been told is pretty entertaining. (Don’t worry that the file name looks wrong–it’s still the Thai language lesson!)

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Visiting Sukhothai and Phitsanuloke

Posted by ezehner on October 5, 2009

St. Lawrence University’s Study Abroad students at Payap University have recently returned from an excursion to the important historical sites at Sukhothai and Phitsanuloke.

Payap University has posted photos on the web at

The Thai script at the top of the page reads:

“From September 23-26, the 32 international students in the Thai and Southeast Asian Studies Program, under the direction of the Office of International Affairs, were taken on an educational excursion to the historical sites at Sukhothai and the province of Phitsanuloke to study the art, culture, and history of Thailand, being also joined by faculty and students from Naresuan University in Phitsanuloke.”

Sukhothai and Phitsanuloke are both very important in the history of Thailand/Siam, both are home to rich archeological remains, and both have been developed by the Thai authorities into attractive and easily accessible destinations for both Thai and international tourists.

Sukhothai, the first of the two cities, has in recent years been designated a United Nations World Heritage Site. From the 1250s to the late 1300s it was the capital of a significant independent Thai kingdom, one of the first major kingdoms to be created by the Thai people after they had moved into the lowland plains of present-day Thailand. For a short time the kings at Sukhothai either ruled or influenced most of the area of present-day Thailand, including parts of northwestern Laos and the (present-day) Burmese port of Moulmein. Sukhothai is therefore considered by most Thai to be the “first capital of Thailand,” though it was actually the center of an independent Thai kingdom that would later by absorbed by a more southerly one that called itself “Siam” and is the direct predecessor of the kingdom known today as “Thailand.”

Sukhothai is also significant for its major contributions to Thai culture and religion. One of its first rulers, King Ramkhamhaeng, claimed to be the first person to create and use the alphabet that would become the direct predecessor of the Thai writing system today. He is also probably the first Thai king that we know for certain was Theravada Buddhist, and his stone inscriptions suggest the religion was very strong and meaningful in the capital region when he reigned. Later, during the 1300s, Sukhothai became a major center of Buddhist learning, piety, and scholarship. Its artisans created the famous “walking Buddhas” that make the historical site so popular. In the mid-1300s, one of Sukhothai’s kings also wrote the “Traiphum [Three Worlds] katha,” a comprehensive description of the abodes of the gods, the earthly abode of humans, and the underworlds of nagas, giants, and various kinds of spirits. This work, also known to scholars as the “Traiphum” or “the Three Worlds cosmology,” was was until the mid-1800s foundational to the way most Thai Buddhists conceived of the universe. Though many of its conceptions have been changed by modern science, geography, and astronomy, most Thai Buddhists continue to be influenced by its descriptions of how the world works on a “moral” or “supernatural” level, and why it works that way.

As for Phitsanoloke, it is today considered by many Thai to be the “Gateway to the North.” This designation arises from the period, roughly from the late 1300s to the mid-1700s, when Chiangmai was the center of an independent kingdom known as Lanna (“A Million Rice Fields”) that shared a direct border with a more southerly kingdom based at Ayutthaya that called itself “Sayam.” Ayutthaya, the direct predecessor of the kingdom that is now “Thailand,” had already been founded in 1350, but it did not share a direct border with Chiangmai until after it had absorbed Sukhothai into its realms shortly afterward. Throughout that four hundred years of direct contact there was frequent warfare between Siam (Ayutthaya) and Chiangmai, and on their way northward to Chiangmai the Siamese armies often passed through Phitsanuloke. To more effectively manage the wars against Chiangmai, the Siamese kings sometimes even moved their capitals north to this “Gateway” city.

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First Thai Lesson is Available

Posted by ezehner on September 10, 2009

I have posted the first of a series of self-study lessons intended for students and other travelers expecting to live, study, or work in Thailand, particularly at St. Lawrence University’s study abroad program administered by Payap University in Chiangmai. This first lesson introduces the language’s basic building blocks, using the numbers one through ten to illustrate the main points, while also highlighting unexpected parallels in the English language. Along the way, you will also learn little bits about Thai culture.

Use the controller strip below to start and navigate through the lesson. You can also find it by clicking “Thai Language and Culture” at the top of the page, and then choosing “Lesson One.” Other lessons are coming soon. Send your comments, questions, and compliments to the blogmaster at

Here is Lesson One: 

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Greetings from an SLU Alum!

Posted by ezehner on September 9, 2009

Hello over there.

I will be reading your blog about Thailand and the customs.

I certainly hope you identify that Thailand is a group of peoples  with different cultures, languages, that all speak Thai and joined  by their love of their King. [Editor’s note: Though some of this is mentioned in the first Thai lesson on this blog, Peter makes a good point]

I have spent lots of time in that country and the area of Chaingmai  is certainly beautiful.   Most of my time is in the poorer area of  the Northeast, known as Issan [specifically, on the Mekong River near That Phanom on the border with Laos].   Yes, I am married to a Thai women  for 15 years.

Unfortunately, I am not able to spend my retirement years at our residence in Thailand or I would have extended an invitation to  visit the Northeast.   But when I am there I would certainly extend  the invitation for some of the students to visit and experience the  people of Northeast Thailand.

Peter Brennan, ’72

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Photos from a Visit to Mae Chaem

Posted by ezehner on August 31, 2009

SLU’s students at the Semester Abroad program in Chiangmai, Thailand, recently went on a week-long series of home stays and inter-cultural experiences in a village in Mae Cham district. Here is a link to some photos from the expedition, courtesy of the Thai and Asian Studies program at Payap University, which our students are attending:

The Thai script at the top of the photos page says the following:

“On August 24-29, B. E. 2552 (=2009 C.E. [“common era”]), the Thai and Southeast Asian Studies Program (Thai and Southeast Asian Studies), under the coordination of the Office of Educational Exchange, arranged a field experience for its students at Yaang Luang Village in Mae Jaem District, Chiangmai Province, where they studied the culture , customs, and lifeways of the Thai people who live in rural areas. The international students participating in Payap’s Thai and Southeast Asian Studies Program were joined by Thai students from Duriyasat College. There were a total of 33 participants.”

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Introduction to the Website

Posted by ezehner on August 19, 2009

This is a blog by and for people planning to visit Thailand. People who have been to Thailand, especially those participating in St. Lawrence University’s study abroad program in Chiangmai, are urged to contribute to the blog. It is hoped that this blog will be able to provide readers a more vivid and more personalized picture of the country and a better idea of what it means to live, visit, and travel there. As you may have seen, the blog also includes live feeds of media resources. If time permits, the blog will also help readers prepare for their visit by including self-paced lessons on Thai language and culture.

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