And they did a lot more. Guided by Professors Rick Ruth and Lee Pennington of USNA’s History Department, the Mids trained at a muay thai boxing camp, rode elephants through a northern forest, cycled through a city of ancient ruins, learned how Thais make antivenin from deadly cobras at a Red Cross hospital, experienced a traditional nerve-touch massage, and even cooked up a few tasty Thai dishes at a culinary school in Chiang Mai. And when not riding mighty pachyderms, the Mids learned how to navigate their way through this diverse and developing Asian kingdom using all forms of local public transportation, including rides in the open-sided truck-taxis known as songthaew. They became savvy in the ways of exotic street food and adept at identifying a surprising array of unfamiliar snacks found at Thailand’s ubiquitous 7-Eleven shops.
Midshipmen and their muay thai boxing instructors at Lanna Muay Thai Boxing School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Photographed by Lee Pennington)
Leaving the rainy chill of a quiet Maryland morning for the stunning heat and unrelenting traffic blare of a Southeast Asia metropolis was jarring for all. Flying twenty-six hours to the other side of the world can give anyone a major case of jet lag, but jet lag is a great alarm clock for anyone interested in waking before dawn to learn the routines of Buddhist monks and the communities that maintain them. During the day the group spent time in temples both ancient and new as they learned about the myriad of functions that each Buddhist wat provides to the community. They explored forest temples, mountain temples, cave temples, urban temples, and teaching temples. A highlight for the group was the day spent exploring the ruins of Ayutthaya, a city that had presided over the most powerful empire in mainland Southeast Asia for four centuries.