A Week in the Life

The last few months have been BUSY, but we just finished up and I am officially a second-year medical student! I’ve recently had several people ask me what it’s like in med school – how do we spend our time and whatnot.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine [remember] what life was like before school started. I know I had most weekends off, that even though I worked a lot, I still had time for writing and reading and cooking meals for myself. I know that these last few months, I studied most weekends, had no time for writing, struggled to finish one book and I hardly ever cooked for myself. When we started our block on the heart, lungs, and kidneys I got into a rhythm. I set the speed to high and settled into cruise control.

To give some perspective on what medical school is like I decided to keep track of everything I did for the last three weeks of class. Are you ready for it?

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One week – Purple is lecture, green is clinic time, blue is problem-based learning, pink is my personal calendar

My day usually starts with my alarm going off at 5:30 am, but I have a healthy relationship with the snooze button so I don’t typically get out of bed until closer to 6:15-6:30. I am a huge fan of slow mornings and my favorite ones are when I have time to make scrambled eggs with coffee.

I’m a lecture go-er and that runs from 8-noon, [Monday-Friday]. We have 10-minute breaks between lectures and often we use this time to grab a cup of coffee, go for a walk, or stand in the sunshine right outside the auditorium door. Not everyone in my class attends and as one of our professors calls it, these students are part of “Panopto Nation”. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to watch the lecture online, people are still engaging with and learning the material, it’s just a different way of approaching school.

Some days we have small groups instead of lecture. These are required sessions that we get questions and clinical cases for beforehand. The expectation is that we read through and come prepared for class. It’s more of a hands-on method that allows you an opportunity to see and struggle with the material in a clinical scenario.

Once a week, I go see my preceptor. She is a family medicine doc and she graciously teaches me the skills I’ll need to succeed as a real doctor. We are learning to interview, to perform a physical exam, to presenting, documenting and come up with an assessment and plan. While I’m there I usually go into the room first and talk with the patient. Then I present my findings to my preceptor and we go back into the room together. It’s awkward, I often feel unqualified and I definitely don’t know the answers. But, I’m learning and as the year has progressed it feels more natural for me to be asking the questions. I even knew some answers one day as we conveniently learned about acute mountain sickness a few hours earlier!

A bulk of the rest of my “free” time is spent studying – reading for lecture, flipping through flashcards, answering practice questions, making graphs, tables and drawing pictures in an effort to understand and learn the human body and diseases that we experience. *Spoiler alert – there’s A LOT*

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The “pretty page” for congenital heart disorders. I definitely am NOT an artist, but drawing helps give a visual of complex topics and ideas

However, I also try to find time for other things that make me happy like –

  • Exercise: I go to my Crossfit gym and I recently trained for a half-marathon so I was attempting to run several days a week.
  • Friends and Family: The good news is that I study with friends and then I usually eat dinner with my family. The friends that don’t live in Denver I talk on the phone with or we use this app called Marco Polo. You can record and send videos and the person can play them back whenever they want and as many times as they want. It has certainly made long-distance friendships easier!
  • Fun: In this particular week, we hopped on our bikes on Sunday and rode to some new Denver breweries, I went to a birthday party, met some friends at a restaurant and toured my sister’s new home.

My day typically ends around 10:30-11 PM and I’m out before I get finished with one page in my book.


Med school is a strange combination of exhaustion and fun. Our limits are tested, but I don’t even presume to imagine that it won’t be more challenging [and time-consuming] when we get to residency. It’s possible to do things outside of school, but I’ve definitely had to make some tough choices. For instance, when I had an exam coming up that I wasn’t prepared for and I ended up canceling on skiing to study.

Finding the harmony between when to say “yes”, and when to say “no” is never easy, but it’s a battle worth fighting in order to preserve the bits of yourself that aren’t a doctor or student.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Home to dust, cacti, and rocks. Capitol Reef National Park is a little know plot of land stuck between Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. Southern Utah is filled with a collection of canyons and desert and starry night skies. This was our destination as we hit I-70 early one Saturday morning to kick-start our #springbreak2018.

The plan was to car-camp the first night, followed by two nights out on the Lower Muley Twist Canyon. After checking in at the Visitors Center to register and get a permit for backpacking we decided to change our plans. [You need a permit to backpack at Capitol Reef, but they are free and as far as I could tell, there’s no limit on the number of permits that they give out]. The ranger told us that Capitol Reef was at 25% of their normal rainfall for the year. In a place that’s already strapped for water, this means there is even less to go around. She shared with us that Lower Muley Twist had no water – aka probably a bad idea to go there, unless you want to carry three days worth of water! That sounds heavy. The ranger did have reports that the Halls Creek Narrows trail had water, so it was there we set our sights on.

That first night we camped at a small, limited resource campground – Cedar Mesa – where our friends were able to find us after dark. We woke up the next morning, split up our food among packs and drove to the trailhead. The first part of the hike brought us down from the rim of the canyon to the wash at the bottom. From there, the hike twists and turns as it followed the dry river bed. It was so very sandy! Try carrying a pack with your next two days’ supplies along the beach. Despite the extra challenge, it sure was beautiful. That first day, we broke for lunch at this red rock and then kept trekking down the trail until we got to the mouth of the Halls Creek Narrows where the first drinkable water appeared.

With the sun rising on the canyon walls overhead, we cooked up some oatmeal and selected what would come with us on our day hike through the narrows section. The day before we ran into another person who told us that he encountered some deeper water that he had to wade through. So, we left our campsite preparing to get a little wet. Shortly after entering the narrows we ran into another person who said he found water that we all the way up to his neck! This was a very tall man. You bet we were a little nervous because we didn’t know who to believe about how deep the water would actually get, but we pressed on anyway.

In the narrows, the canyon walls loom directly overhead. They make you feel small, your problems insignificant. The quiet echo as your voice bounces off the smooth rock and the trickle of water at your feet. These are the sounds of the narrows.

I’m not sure where one of our travelers found water up to his neck because we never waded past our hips.

The last night of the trip, we camped out beside the dried wash. Stars overhead and sand underneath.

A break from school, a break from the real world, an escape into nature.

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Perspective//

In a brief moment above the water, I thought I would take a breath of air before plunging back under.

We started back at school on January 2nd. Winter break was the most relaxing, yet busy, two weeks. I managed to go yo-yo skiing, backcountry skiing, watch an absurd amount of the Crown and get everyone to do my bidding for a few days as I recovered from wisdom teeth surgery.

Since January 2nd, I’ve had two exams. I have two more exams next week.

It’s zero-to-100.

I signed up for this. Some days, I see pictures of my friend backpacking through Southeast Asia and I think to myself, “What am I doing????” But then I slap myself around because I’m walking through my dream right now. It’s easy to let the hours sitting in the lecture hall get to you as you’re trying to comprehend the endless waves of material crashing on your head.

Last semester we got our preceptors – doctors working in our community who have offered to take us under their wings and help form us, mentor us, lead us in this profession. My doc lets me go into the rooms before her. I’m practicing the basics, like taking vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate) and talking to patients. Then, I go and present to her what I’ve learned. There’s the handoff, the H&P, the oral presentation, a SOAP note.

Last week, I saw a patient and the next day there was a reference to her disorder in my lecture notes. Last semester, I learned about some diseases I never thought I would see. I thought it would be a disease unicorn, something that only existed in the textbooks or would show up on Step [I guess even a unicorn is less real than that, but you get the idea]. Then I stepped into a patient’s room and what do you think they were living with every day? These moments bring the lecture hall into perspective.

Two years ago, I started this blog. To bring perspective. Since then I hiked under a shower of ice, bought a crock pot, traveled to Minneapolis, Thailand, Utah, and San Diego to name a few. We explored what it meant to love people with everything we have, reminded ourselves that comparison is a thief, and adjusted to life as a medical student.

That’s a lot of perspective.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m still gonna go searching for some truth in this world. For some beauty and some grace. Thank you for reading along.

 

I’ve Lost My Wisdom

 

Hey, I know it’s been a while. These last two months have been humbling and exhausting and I haven’t had much energy to write. During this first semester of medical school, I’ve learned the entire human body, a multitude of rare genetic disorders and the molecular basis of disease. It was a little bit like a workout that you look at and don’t think will be that bad. Yet, after slugging your way through the workout you are left gasping for air, wondering how you were tricked. I made it through anatomy and slugged my way through molecules to medicine then found myself reaching for the surface.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well in school. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed in general. I identify as a 3 on the Enneagram personality tests, “The Achiever”. I’ve always been this person, striving for success and the acceptance of others. Thriving on straight A’s and comments like “good job”. This semester challenged me in ways that I didn’t expect.

Even this blog. I feel a certain amount of pressure to make it a success. Will people read it? Will the grammar be correct? Is this a good picture to share? I haven’t posted in a while, I really should write something. I don’t have anything interesting to share.

I’m constantly reminding myself of the reasons for starting a Glimpse of Grace. To find value and beauty and grace in our everyday lives. To share my life and the lessons I’m learning with those that choose to listen. Yet, somehow, the perfectionist in me wants this page to be perfect. Honestly, that is just plain exhausting and I’m sorry, but it won’t ever be flawless.

Looking through my photos I realize that there have been many things worth sharing. Here are just a few of the things I’ve done that I neglected to think were meaningful —-

  • I realized a dream and got a fiddle leaf fig [I haven’t killed it yet either]

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  • I visited my dear friends in Atlanta for a wedding. Every day I wish I could transport them to Denver.
  • I tried out new coffee shops and study spots. My favorites include – Union Station, The Stanley Marketplace, Steep, and the 3rd-floor study room at the library.
  • We went to a story slam and heard people share their personal stories about “control”.
  • I celebrated Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving with some of my favorite people in some of my favorite places.
  •  We helped serve a meal at the Denver Rescue Mission.

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  • We got dressed up and spent the evening at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We didn’t take any pictures once we got there, so it must have been fun.
  • Yesterday, I got my wisdom teeth removed. I don’t remember anything, from the moment when they placed the IV to when I woke up with gauze filling my mouth, fighting my heavy eyelids. We drove home in the snow and I laid on the couch, changing ice packs, taking pain medication and watching The Crown.

Here’s hoping I haven’t lost all of my wisdom, just the teeth. Here’s to getting back up again when life tries to knock you down. Here’s to celebrating and embracing our imperfections. I’m gonna go make some Christmas cookies now.

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.

I Am Thankful

How often do we utter those three words? How often do we say out loud, or write down, “I am thankful because of…”?

I would argue, not enough. Mostly because I’m guilty of it. Our days are busy, they might feel hard and overwhelming. We might not feel like we have anything to be thankful for on a daily basis that we weren’t thankful for yesterday. When we get together for Thanksgiving the common theme of thankfulness is friends, family, health BUT there’s so much more to life than that. If I’m being honest then it’s really the mundane things that we should be grateful for.

Today, wasn’t all that special. My family dog woke me up around 3:30 barking about something [he probably wanted breakfast], I then had class from 8 am – lunch, followed by meetings, some “studying” [aka email answering], medical student council and now I’m writing from my bed with my genetics book close by for some light reading after I post this. I’ll probably fall asleep with the lights on because that’s what I tend to do best.

It wasn’t a glamorous November 1st filled with saving lives and taking names. Yet, mixed throughout the day are things I feel incredibly thankful for. Today, I am thankful because of friends that send me emails of dogs they think I should adopt, friends that let me know they miss me, and friends that ask how I’m doing and then listen when I decide to actually tell them the truth.

I love this quote so I’ll share it again – a million times if I have to —

“For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful”

– Brother David Steindl-Rast

So, for this month of November, I encourage you to write down a daily gratitude. A simple thing that happened during your day that you were grateful for. Write it down on a slip of paper and put it in a jar, a box, a shoe. You don’t have to tell anyone, do it for yourself. Do it for your joyfulness.

Monday Night Update

People say that time flies when they’re having fun, but I know [without a doubt], that whoever first spoke those words has never tried to learn a semester’s worth of material in 2 weeks.

Time seems to pass these days according to my exam schedule – and yes – we recently learned my entire fall 2012 biochemistry class in 2 weeks. I’ve heard many of my friends utter these same words, “This time I’m gonna stay on top of it. I’m going to start studying tonight”. Inevitably though, the thought creeps in that we have 2 weeks until the next one, so one night off can’t hurt — work-life balance right? Wrong.

These are merely excuses, but this is why I have not posted in what feels like ages – 2 tests to be exact.

Now, I know you’re going to ask – “How is school going?”

It’s going well, actually. I love learning. Like for real, love learning. Every day there is something to be excited about, something to marvel at, and also feel completely overwhelmed by. It’s a game of give-and-take.

To be honest though, finding this balance is probably the most challenging part. I want to continue living my life and not let school become the end-all, be-all. Even though medical school is a huge goal I’m undertaking right now, I still ambitiously try to make it to CrossFit 3x per week, read a couple pages of a book before I fall asleep at night and have a non-med school conversation occasionally [it’s tough]. These are things that make me, Madeline and I’m refusing to let them go just yet.

Yesterday, as I was walking our family dog – Bodie – I listened to a podcast produced by 99% Invisible. If you haven’t heard of it, I totally recommend that you check the channel out – my personal favorite is Episode #127, The Sound of Sports.

Anyways, I listened to a podcast on the invention of the stethoscope and it stopped me in my tracks. Before the stethoscope, whatever was happening inside the patient was a mystery and doctors relied on asking questions, and then they actually listened to their stories. These days, we rarely use our stethoscopes and rely on tests, CT scans, ultrasounds, you name it, to give us a diagnosis.

“Before the stethoscope, you had to feel sick to be sick. After the stethoscope, to be sick, the doctor had to find something”. – Dr. Jacalyn Duffin

As I listened to this podcast, I began asking myself – how do we make sure our patients feel heard, and not like they are just a list of data points and symptoms? I’m asking myself – how can I do this better? How can I ensure that I first listen to my patient’s story before listening to their tests?

From the perspective of the patient – have you ever had an interaction with a doctor that made you feel seen? What did he/she do differently?

A New Rhythm

Human Body Block [aka Gross Anatomy] lasts 9 weeks. At the beginning it seemed like the block would take forever. I remember thinking to myself, “how will I ever make it through this?”

Somehow, I’m making it through this. We are two tests down, with roughly 3 weeks left and one more exam. The days pass quickly with this new rhythm of school, and the weeks consist mainly of —

Anatomy lab, lecture, physical exam sessions, ultrasound sessions, problem-based learning sessions, med school recess [lunch], study sessions, more study sessions, Crossfit, church, escape to the mountains. Rinse and Repeat.

Every day is a new day to learn something new, a new day to be amazed.

In my program we are introduced to ultrasound early on. We have machines that we can use to practice the skill on each other. When I say ultrasound is a skill, I mean that it is a skill. I thought it would be easy, I thought “how hard can it be to put a little gel on a probe and bada-bing-bada-boom you have a clear picture on the screen”. I was so wrong. Somehow we will get the hang of this though. Peel back the layers that cloud our vision.

In the meantime, we get to see some pretty awesome stuff.

Last week, with some help, we did ultrasound on our own hearts. Laying on the table, I saw on the screen my heart beating. The compartments working together to pump blood throughout my living, breathing body. This week, I worked with a group of 7 other classmates through a patient case and successfully diagnosed him with acute appendicitis. I’m learning to perform a physical exam, to listen to heart sounds and test for ACL tears. The reminder that I know nothing is constant, and humbling, but also thrilling at the same time. I have the opportunity to ask questions, to seek clarity, to think deeply. All things that I cherish and hold dear.

This new rhythm is stressful some days, but refreshing and inspiring on others. I don’t always feel on top of the world, but like I’m slugging through the mud on the way up the trail. The pastor at my old church in Atlanta once talked about how we naturally seek out the mountain top moments. We reach for the highs and dread the lows. However, as he so eloquently pointed out, “Have you ever noticed that people don’t live on the mountain tops? They live in the valley”. We do life in the valley. We love people, we work hard and every now and then we climb to the top of the mountain.

Living these, sometimes dreary, days to the fullest is what it’s about. This is the mundane and hard part of becoming who we are, but also who we are meant to be.


Last weekend, some classmates and I headed up to Breckenridge for the annual Colorado Medical Society Retreat. We laughed those deep belly laughs that seem to last forever, but also got to chat with some pretty big-wig docs in the world of medical policy. It was sweet.

Be You.

I’m officially a 4-week old medical student. Not a doctor yet, but people continue to insist that “there’s a doctor in the room if I trip and fall”.

It’s a strange feeling being here. For many of us this has been our dream for a long time. We’ve gone through the whole process of taking the required undergraduate courses, sitting for the MCAT, volunteering, shadowing physicians, holding leadership positions, writing our primary and secondary essays, interviewing, and then finally, waiting to hear the good news. [I wrote about my experience with the application process a while back – you can read it here].

After getting in and receiving the gift to defer I thought I would spend my next year calmly waiting for the moment to arrive. The moment when I would quit my job and move back to Colorado to start school. Instead, I experienced spells of panic after not hearing from CU for a while. I would wake up in a sweat, fearful that I dreamed the whole thing.

That I would show up to orientation on the first day and they wouldn’t be able to find my name on the list.

That it was all a mistake.

There’s a very real name for this feeling – imposter syndrome – and we’ve already talked about it a lot. They are constantly reminding us that we are here for a reason. It’s almost annoying having someone tell you every day that you are good enough, but I can also see why they would want to drill it in our heads that they chose us.

One piece of advice all of the “older” students have shared is to avoid comparison like the black plague. Comparing ourselves to classmates only perpetuates the imposter syndrome. It’s not productive to becoming a doctor, it’s not productive in every day life.

In medical school we are no longer graded on the bell curve [weird, right?], but rather we either pass or we fail. No in-between and no “only 10% of the class gets an A”. Now, I suppose this is created to foster collaboration among a highly competitive group of individuals. The idea being that if we aren’t pitted against each other, then we will be more likely to share our ideas, study tips and success stories. Yet, immediately following my first anatomy exam, all I could think about was how I did and what other people scored.

Comparison doesn’t just stop at the lecture hall door. For instance, some other things I’ve caught myself thinking of in the last few weeks are —

  • How it is that people seem to have solid friend groups established and I’m just trying to remember the names of the people next to me in lecture, plus the 2000 other anatomy terms.
  • How the heck people already know what they want to specialize in and I’m sitting here, interested in pretty much everything.
  • Should I be studying more like everyone else, or am I spending too much time outside of the library.

If comparison is a creature of habit then I’m not writing all of this down to reinforce the habit. I’m writing it down so I can turn around and crush those feelings to bits. My classmates are incredible and they have done things I only dream of accomplishing one day. I am honored to have been chosen to journey through medical school together and it would be a shame to see the adventure marred by self-doubt. What can we accomplish when we truly stop the comparison and work together?

So, I challenge you, today, tomorrow, and the day after that, take a moment and think about how you might be comparing yourself to others. Write these things down, acknowledge them, then crush those feelings to bits.

You are awesome. You’ve been hand selected for the journey that you’re on. Your contribution is important, valued and necessary. You can sit at my table.


On a completely unrelated note – have y’all ever thought of all the things in your bodies? It is absolutely incredibly how many important structures are jam-packed in your armpit. My mind is blown.

Thailand, Part 3

It feels like being in Thailand was forever ago. Not just a few months past, but years. The hustle of the everyday has snuck back into my life, and don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying every second, but the memories of a place on the other side of the world feel just beyond the tips of my fingers. Most days the smells, sights and sounds of Bangkok have faded and the colors have lost their brilliance. Then there are moments when I feel the breeze on my skin and I remember the open windows of bus no 1.

This is it, the third and final installment of our trip to Thailand. [Here is part 1 and part 2 if you missed out]


From Chiang Mai we traveled down south, to the Andaman Sea. We flew first to Krabi Town where we had arranged a bus transfer to the island of Koh Lanta. Ask anyone in Thailand about Lanta and the first thing they will say is, “Oh, you want to chill. Lanta is chill”. They were all surprised we didn’t want to go to Koh Pi Pi [a popular tourist destination], but we intentionally chose Lanta; seeking a relaxing island to counterbalance the buzz of Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

The Andaman Sea is known for it’s towering limestone cliffs and turquoise green waters. Indeed, one of the first sights we spotted outside the plane windows were these monster cliffs, towering straight up out of the ground. A climber’s paradise.

At the airport we were picked up by a local and driven to the bus depot. Usually there are boats that travel between the islands, however, during the rainy season the boat schedule becomes quite limited and some routes are shut down altogether. Lanta is not a very popular island so it’s a little more difficult to access. That being said, we had no problem booking a bus and ~2 hours later we were dropped off outside of our hostel, Blanco. Cute hammocks swung between the trees in the common area, nice tidy rooms and the beach was only a short walk away.

First things first. We changed into our swimsuits and headed for Long Beach. Talk about shocking though. Repeatedly we were told about the beauty of Koh Lanta, yet upon reaching the beach we discovered that it was covered in trash. Plastic bottles and wrappers littered the coast line. Here we were, in paradise, and filth was washing up on shore as people discarded their waste. It was especially convicting as we had been drinking from those same plastic water bottles for the duration of our trip. We brought with us reusable bottles, but neglected to bring a proper filtration system. I felt that I was part of the problem. I was angry and sad, but I also didn’t want to get sick from drinking unfiltered water. I wasn’t doing my part to protect this piece of the world.

After wrestling with this idea of pollution and talking about how we could do our part to help reduce it we were able to also see Long Beach for what it is – beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful. We walked and found some beanbags at a local resort that weren’t being used and commandeered them for the rest of the afternoon. Slipping in and out of sleep, reading our books and occasionally cooling off in the ocean. Lingering long enough to watch the sunset over Koh Pi Pi, a blue and purple hue cast across the horizon. We fell asleep on our first night to the rain splattering on the roof over our heads.

Day 2, on Lanta and we decided to splurge and go stay in a resort. We upgraded to the Lanta Sand Resort and Spa just a little further down Long Beach.

Oh my.

We stayed in a villa with an outdoor bathroom, seconds from a clean beach and swimming pool. Back to the beach for more lounging, swimming and another epic sunset.

Day 3, we rented motorbikes. Perhaps this was my favorite day of the entire trip. I’ve talked a lot about how I enjoyed the moments where I felt self-sufficient and independent; renting the motorbikes was the epitome of this feeling. Honestly, I was a little nervous at first having never ridden a moped before, but after a few practice laps on the hotel driveway we motored off down the road with a grin plastered from ear-to-ear.

My right hand turned the throttle and the wind blew through my hair. Riding along I remember feeling my face break into a smile and a laugh erupt from my stomach. It was exhilarating. With this new-found freedom we were able to travel to the opposite side of the island. Koh Lanta is quite large and there was no way we could have walked to the other side, but with the help of the mopeds we motored around and discovered the east coastline.

From Koh Lanta, we bused to the city of Ao Nang to catch a long-tail boat to Railay Beach [only accessible by boat]. We waited 30 minutes for 10 people to purchase boat tickets and then were pointed in the direction of the water, “Your boat is out there”.

Oh okay….so we walked to the boat. Through the waves.

The captain jumped out and started walking towards us while beckoning us into the ocean. He also kept motioning to his upper thigh saying, “It only goes up to here”. HA! I mistakenly chose to wear white linen shorts and laughed thinking that they would stay dry. With no other choice but to walk to the boat we hoisted our bags over our heads and plunged through the waves. After arriving at Railay Beach we repeated the process, but backwards toward land.

At Railay Beach we rented a 3-person kayak and paddled out into the ocean, among the cliffs. There was one cluster that we floated in between, two rocks reached down as the waves crashed into their bases, bird song and bug chirps drifted through the air from the plants growing from the rock. A perfect end to an adventure.


I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world. To explore another culture, to spend time with my sister’s and to challenge my comfort zone. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now, back to the drawing boards.

 

Thailand, Part 2

The suspense has been building. Are you ready to hear more of my trip to Thailand?

Last we talked, my sisters and I boarded a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. It was 7 PM and we were scheduled to arrive in the northern station the following morning around 9 AM. There are a couple of different options for this overnight train when booking your tickets, but we chose the #13 because the sun would be up while we were arriving. Our hope was that we would be able to glimpse the Chiang Mai countryside; Mountains, rice paddies, and lots of green foliage. Once on the train we found our seats and prepared to depart. In the meantime, there were people milling about, stowing their baggage, finding their seats and an older Thai woman selling chips for “cheap cheap”.

Shortly after sitting down Leah got up to use the restroom but returned thereafter and exclaimed, “I’ll think I’ll wait until we are out of the station”. Why? We wondered. Apparently, the “toilet” was a hole in the floor of the train seeing straight through to the ground. This was the first of many commodes we would encounter that had us saying, “Man, you have got to see the bathroom!”

As the train pulled out of the station, we chatted with the Canadian seated in our section and passed the phone back-and-forth as we played “Heads Up”. At bedtime the train staff appeared, efficiently transformed our seats into beds then disappeared again. We drew our individual curtains shut and closed our eyes to the gentle rocking of the train down the tracks.

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The Thai people like to describe areas of their country by assigning it a temperature – hot, hotter, hottest; Chiang Mai rings in on this scale as hot. Upon our arrival the day was just beginning to warm up, a weight of humidity dripping from the clouds. Our ride, exactly on time, piled us into a van with other travelers and one-by-one dropped us at our respective accommodations. The AirBnb rental we booked wouldn’t allow us to check in until early afternoon, however, we were lucky to be able to drop our bags at the front lobby and head to the Old City to pass the time.

Chiang Mai City is the old capitol of the Lan Na Kingdom and the Old City is surrounded by a moat and wall to protect its citizens from enemies.

We reached this after a short 20 minute walk down a winding road. Once past the gates of the Old City one finds a network of streets in a grid-pattern that is approximately “one cigarette” in length. Meaning, to walk from one corner of the Old City to the next you should be able to smoke exactly one cigarette [This was never verified as none of us actually smoke cigarettes, but if you go to Thailand and smoke, let me know the verdict!]. Compared to the hustle and bustle of cars, buses and tuk tuks outside the gates, the Old City has an air of peacefulness and calm.

In Chiang Mai we did a lot of things. We got Thai body massages [AMAZING], drank more Thai Tea, went on an excursion to the highest point in Thailand at Doi Inthanon [Doi means mountain], visited an organic farm and learned the magic of cooking traditional Thai dishes, bathed and fed elephants, hiked to a waterfall, went swimming in said waterfall, took a yoga class and discovered a local park tucked into the corner of the Old City. We booked all of our day trips through local tourist agencies that are very easy to find. It’s overwhelming because of all the options, but we went with our guts, and most importantly made sure that the elephant sanctuaries did not allowing riding.


Thai Body Massages, Day 1:

The Thai people love massage and it’s easy to see why once you’ve had one. For ~300 baht [or $6] you can get a one hour, full-body massage that incorporates deep tissue kneading and stretching. First you change into these outfits – for newbies, the pants tie in the front! All three of us put our pants on backwards and the massage ladies giggled as they told us to turn them around. Then they started with washing our feet and finished with your massaging our heads. We walked away feeling refreshed, declaring we would have one massage every day until the end of our trip.


Doi Inthanon National Park, Day 2:

Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand and is where the late King Inthanon’s burial site is located. We drove ~1 hour in a bus climbing steeply up the mountain side to reach a pair of waterfalls, Wachriathan and Sirithan. Our tour guide loved our short hikes and explained how as it was durian season, we needed our exercise [Durian is a fruit loaded with sugar. It has a very stinky smell though and can be quite difficult to find in the local markets].

From there we continued our drive further up the mountain, reaching the highest point and the burial site. The further we climbed into the atmosphere the more chilly, windy, and misty the air around us became. A vibe that translated deep respect and importance for the site we were visiting. To the Thai people, the King is of great importance and must be respected at all times, even in memorial.

Next, we drove to the King and Queen’s pagodas surrounded by a botanical gardens. It was a lovely sight, and even lovelier as the clouds began to shift and a view of the valley opened up below.

Our final stop of the day was the Karen Hilltribe village where we played with the most adorable puppy and bought some seriously comfy Thai pants.


Smile Organic Farm Cooking School, Day 3:

Another 1 hour bus ride and we arrived at the farm and cooking classroom. We signed up for an evening course and learned to cook traditional Thai dishes as the sun set over the Chiang Mai mountains. The farm was beautiful, growing everything we needed for our meal. We even got to walk around and pick some fresh herbs and flowers for plating. The Thai chili peppers are so small, so be careful when working with them. I accidentally ate an entire green pepper, thinking it was a green bean – it was SPICY. Anyone that wants to come over and enjoy a Thai dinner is welcome!




Elephant Sanctuary and Waterfall Hike, Day 4:

We were transported out of the city once again, this time to an elephant sanctuary. Elephants used to be employed and owned by families that would clear areas of the forest for farming use. However, the Thai government has outlawed the use of elephants for this type of labor. As a result there are many families that can no longer afford the care necessary to keep an elephant – they eat tremendous amounts of food each day! Hence, elephant sanctuaries. We went to a smaller location compared to some of the more popular retirement facilities, but it was still a great experience. We got to hand-feed bananas to the elephants and bathed them in a small pool on the property. Elephant’s mouths are like vacuums! They will use their trunks to grab banana after banana, and they will keep on eating unless the trainers limit their food.

Last, but not least, we spent a morning sleeping in, sweating it out in a yoga class, and laughing at the park.

Chiang Mai City was a full, bursting at the seams experience.


From hot we were now about to travel to hottest, the Andaman Sea.