Known as the “Rose of the North,” Chiang Mai is located on the Ping River in Northern Thailand and dates back over 700 years. Surrounded by high mountain ranges, it is in one of the most scenic areas in the country. Unlike most of Thailand, the climate in the north—and especially in Chiang Mai—can be cooler, with rain and mist, but it still has tropical heat and humidity. The region is full of lush jungles, national parks, and over 300 Buddhist temples. Historically and culturally important for trade, Chiang Mai Province is the second largest province in Thailand. A recent survey by Conde Nast named Chiang Mai in the top 10 friendliest cities in the world! A city of cultural, trading, and economic prominence for hundreds of years, Chiang Mai is host to many historical and cultural landmarks. There are over 700 temples in Chiang Mai alone. The famous “night market” is a sprawling tourist attraction that offers all sorts of trinkets, local handicrafts, food shops, and shows. Its tiny passageways and colorful booths are great fun to explore, however there are many side streets of shops and restaurants away from the touristy zone where students can find authentic local cuisine and truly start to experience all that Chiang Mai has to offer. Near the city there are national parks and nature preserves, including the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, Obkhan, and Doi Pui Suthep National Park. Located just outside of town, Wat Doi Suthep Buddhist temple overlooks the city—and Chiang Mai University—from the top of Doi Pui Suthep. CMU students traditionally hike to the top as part of an annual tradition; once they arrive at the top they find the elaborate temple with its pure gold dome, the beautiful view of the city, dancing shows by local hill tribe children, musicians, vendors, and a marketplace.
Haifa is a beautiful city, set on the Mediterranean Sea on the slope of Mount Carmel. Israel’s foremost port city, it plays a major role in the nation’s economy and is a center for high tech research and industry. Its 17 kilometers of beaches host excellent surfing and sailing conditions and nature trails, bicycle paths, wildlife reserves, and Carmel National Park beckon for outdoor enthusiasts. The city’s historical and cultural riches include museums, film and music festivals, an internationally acclaimed symphony orchestra, theatre, and numerous cinemas, discos, restaurants, and pubs. It provides easy access to other parts of Israel, with Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Ben-Gurion Airport all less than two hours away. In addition to Haifa’s vibrant Jewish community, its cultural and religious mosaic includes many churches and mosques. Haifa is also host to the center for the Baha’i faith and to Israel’s only Ahmadi Muslim community. The Ahmadiyya is an Indian sect of Islam, founded in the late nineteenth century, which promotes peace among nations and opposes religious coercion. Their large mosque houses a prayer hall and a first-floor exhibit of their history and significant contributions. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Baha’i World Centre is an expansive complex of gardens centered around the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab. Other sights in Haifa include Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery, home to a cave considered by Christian tradition to be the grave of the Prophet Elijah, the nineteenth-century German colony, Paris Square, Carmel National Forest, Ein Hod artist’s colony, the Haifa Theatre and numerous museums.
Puntarenas offers the peace and rural beauty of a small beach town while at the same time affording easy access to the activities of the capital. During the nineteenth century it was Costa Rica’s major seaport, but Puerto Limón and Caldera (11 miles to the southeast) have assumed that role. Now primarily a tourist destination and transportation hub, it is a bustling town, particularly during the dry season months (November–April). During the wet months (May–October) it is hot with refreshing afternoon showers. The geography of the city is unique since it is located at the end of a sandy peninsula almost five miles long, but only 120 to 700 yards wide. Consequently, one is always close to the ocean, and there are many beaches from which to choose. Puntarenas offers access to the Nicoya Peninsula on two ferries. Nicoya is best known for its pristine beaches and resorts, as well as for its native folklore. From Puntarenas, you can travel up and down the coast to world-class surfing beaches, nature reserves, and plantations. This central Pacific region offers something for every outdoor enthusiast. Students find buying a used bike upon arrival is the easiest form of transportation for getting around Puntarenas.