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Lesson Learned- The Time is Now

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As soon as I let go of the irrational fear that I might die a shark death here, it became my new favorite place. Railay Beach, Thailand

I wanted to take a little time to answer some of the questions I have gotten from friends and family about traveling and living in Thailand. For those who have the same reoccurring thoughts about living or experiencing a different life, that quickly get pushed away to the part of your brain where memories from freshman year of college live, this one goes out to you. To those of you who is looking at participating in the CIEE program, and anyone that wants to travel but is scared, this one is for you too.

The Unwritten Rules-

There are unwritten rules in life that we follow. We don't know how we know them, we just do. These include but are not limited to treating your server like a queen because they hold all the power, whistling in any context is only fun for the whistler and absolutely no one else, and responding to a text with "k" is code for, go sit on a cactus. 

The same things applies when traveling, don't be "that," traveler that adds to our countries bad name, cover your shoulders especially around holy places, and live fast, travel slow. Don't try to mm-bop, Hanson your way through the country.  My best advice on traveling in Thailand is that spending quality time in one place outweighs going to many places in a short amount of time. What does that mean? If you are going to come to this country, figure out how to be here not just spark-notes skim over it, there is too much to understand it takes time to truly unfold. 

To Work it or Not-

 There is a stark difference to living abroad and working abroad. As a teacher in a foreign country, I have a purpose and a direction to stick to, and Mondays still feel like Mondays. If you like to multi-task, a pay check and a beach vacation at the same time, find a job abroad. They are easy to find especially if you have heard about resumes, and actually utilize them. It is mostly a good option if you are anything like me and your current bank account balance is equivalent to one road-trip worth of snacks at 7-eleven. 

 If taking a side road to your career and life is in the cards and you can put things on hold, travel to all the places, see all the things. For the love of all things right in the world, find time to shower. I am sick of dodging bed bugs in places that foreigners rain down upon in great numbers.

You Can Go Your Own Way-The Bucket Un-list

I read a quote recently that said, "travel not to find yourself, but to rediscover who you have always been." This struck me because, this isn't the typical song and dance that you hear. You always hear ideas about finding yourself, growing, changing, becoming the person we are meant to be. To me, that just sounds like a lame way to describe the life cycle of a butterfly. Those things already imply that you are lacking something and that you will have to travel many miles, in order to stumble across some profound, Societies-level insight about life. It doesn't work like that.

Go out in the world to find out what exactly you’ve got to work with already. We are equipped with many more abilities then we actually use, (see: drive through windows and online shopping.) Discover your own dark side of the moon, so to speak, the areas of yourself that can only shake out when you’re forced to live a different life. Turn that Bill Nye like, potential energy, into forward movement. I don't know much about science but I feel like I gathered that nothing changes if nothing changes. 


Teaching … Traveling … Always Learning

I’ve been in Thailand for six months and while many colleagues are heading back to their home countries, I’m staying on for another half year. I will miss the friends I have made, but am looking forward to meeting new ones.

My teaching is going very well. An unexpected boost has been the improvement in my public speaking skills. To help ensure the students understand each lesson, I’ve learned to slow down (I can be a very rapid speaker), be well prepared, think thoughts out fully before speaking, and paint stories out of words. Over the last few months, I’ve made a lot of improvement in how I connect with the students and in my ability to speak more slowly and thoughtfully. These little changes are helping students understand the lessons better, and helping me add more passion to my teaching. I love seeing their eyes light up when they understand a lesson. It’s one of the great joys of teaching.

Another great benefit of this job is the opportunity to travel. I have trekked over parts of Northern Thailand and into other countries. Sometimes I journeyed alone and sometimes I traveled or met up with others; regardless, each trip has taught me new things. Here are some universal findings:

  1. Public transportation is not that difficult to use even if you don’t speak, read, or understand the local language. (Although it is fun to get lost sometimes.)
  2. People are very nice and willing to help; even willing to go out of their way to provide assistance.
  3. Real Asian food is so much better than the Americanized versions.
  4. Almost every city has its own culture!
  5. Nature is spectacular. The sunsets over mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, cities, are amazing each time. (It even makes those 4 am wake up calls worthwhile).

My majors in college were Archaelogy and Anthropology, which helped fulfill my natural curiousity about history and people. So, during each excursion, I’ve made it a point to explore local cultures. Every new city I’ve visited in Thailand showed me more about how Thai’s lived, their traditions and customs, and the differing dialects and foods that still exist. Each temple I stepped inside taught me more about Buddhism, why some monks joined, why they collect food and offerings every day, and how respected they are by the people. It’s been fascinating.

Some trips taught me more than others and not all learnings were historical in nature. For example, I’ve found I can handle a crisis in a foreign country (between things going missing and possible bed bugs) and figure out confusing directions. But the best part is simply the delight to be found in meeting people and exploring off-the-path sites. I’ve learned so much and have enjoyed it all.

A favorite trip was week-long vacation traveling around Laos. Along the way I met new friends who joined me for tubing, bowling, eating and exploring. Here’s a tip: If you want to meet people bring a deck of playing cards. A couple did this at a bar and we ended up closing down the place and then going bowling until 1:00 a.m. One of the pleasures of traveling alone is having the freedom to set – and change – one’s own schedule. I could leave the cities when I wished to, see what I wanted, eat wherever looked interesting, and travel where I wished. It can be quite freeing to not have to be sociable when one doesn’t wish to be.

These six months have flown. I have had interesting experience, made life-long friends, been able to teach great kids, and chased views I have only seen in postcards or movies. Teaching is no easy feat but I think I have a handle on it and am excited to see how much better my lessons are for next semester! Living alone is not the easiest thing in the world but I have hobbies and friends that make it all better! Traveling can be difficult and costly at times but the views, experiences, activities, food, and memories make it worth the long airport lines or missed buses! I am excited for my next six months and thank everyone who has made the first six months so memorable and wonderful.

The cities and countries I have visited are below:

 

Countries:

Thailand

Singapore

Cambodia

Laos

 

Cities:

Thailand:

Bangkok

Chiang Rai

Chiang Mai

Pattaya

Ayutthaya

Kanchanaburi

Singapore:

Singapore

Laos:

Vientiane

Vang Vieng

Luang Prabang

Cambodia:

Siem Reap

 

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Songkran

 

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Night Market-Laos

 

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Chedi Luang-Chiang Mai

 

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Wat Arun-Bangkok

 

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Kuang Si Falls-Laos

I can tell that we are gonna be friends

    Wow, what a whirlwind these past couple of weeks have been. Time is flying by at the speed of light and I'm certain that if time were physical it would be one vibrant blur. As crazy as it seems it still hasn't really hit me yet that I just moved across the world to an entirely different continent...maybe it never will. To be honest it just feels meant to be, each new and exciting day feels a little less like a dream and a little more like reality (although I do still have to pinch myself every now and then.) Having this goal of mine finally realized after two years of being afraid to make the leap feels so fulfilling. Everything just feels so right, timing included. The friends I have made already feel like family, and I feel so blessed to be in my quiet little town of Suphan Buri. This is the first moment since I have been here that I've had the time to sit still by myself, clear my mind, and let the weight of the events of the past few weeks sink in. At this very moment I feel overcome with emotion, my eyes are welling up with tears of pure gratitude. To be here is a privilege that I will never take for granted. I'm not sure if it's the solemn Indie music I have playing in the background as I write, or the storm brewing outside my windows, or the many tea lights I have lit and thoughtfully placed around my new room, but I am sure it is a combination of it all that lends itself to this overwhelming sense of peace and purpose that I feel.

    Now that I've covered the deep stuff it's only fair that I share some of the lighthearted realizations I've had since I've made it to Thailand. For my fellow ESL teachers and travelers alike, I am sure you will find one or more of these extremely relatable, for the rest of you reading this I hope you find these tidbits as entertaining as I do. 

 

We're Going To Be Friends

 

1.) Explosive deuces 

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If you have never experienced the hilarious yet utterly disgusting feeling of a shart, chances are more than likely you will find yourself cracking up alone (or horrified if you lack a sick sense of humor) inside a bathroom stall one day while disposing of your soiled undergarments. If you're one of the lucky ones whose stomach is slightly more well-adjusted to the spices of thai cuisine, chances are you will still experience the hershey squirts on a regular basis. Moral of the story, if you feel a fart coming on DON'T LET IT RIP (or you may end up with a splat.)

 

2.) BYOTP

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Expanding on that thought, if you do experience the rumblings down under you'd better have a roll of toilet paper with you because it is pretty much non-existent here. Luckily pretty much all bathrooms are equipped with a handy dandy bum gun (basically a water hose that blasts your bunghole until it's clean...think of it as a ghetto bidet.) Hopefully if you've got a number two in the works there's a western style toilet nearby or you may find yourself squatting over a hole in the ground closer to your feces than you ever imagined possible. 

 

3.) 7/11

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Never have I seen more 7/11's in my life, and never have I been more excited to have one around every corner (or sometimes even one right next to another.) I am a 7/11 fan girl. Not only is it the perfect place to get a ham and cheese toastee at 2 in the morning (if you know, you know), or a delicious fruit smoothie, it's also the place where most thais pay their bills. Trust me when I say you haven't really experienced 7/11 until you've been to a 7/11 in Asia. I love you 7/11.

 

4.) Dehydration

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Coming from Florida I figured the heat here would be no big deal, after all I am from the sunshine state. WRONG. I have never drank more water in my life. Any water you consume is pretty much instantly sweat out the second it hits your innards. Drinking 3-4 liters of water per day soon becomes the bare minimum. Dehydration is no joke. Also, be prepared to look like you walked straight into the shower with your clothes on within seconds of stepping out into the sun, that's no exaggeration. 

 

5.) Loyal Liva 

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Being that Thai is a tonal language, communication can often be a real challenge. You will find yourself more often than not pronouncing English words in what seems like an entirely inappropriate and racist Thai accent, but it is quite literally the only way non-English speaking Thais will understand what you are saying. 

 

6.) Strays

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If you are a crazy animal lover like myself, the many stray cats and dogs that you find roaming through the streets is both awesome and heart wrenching. I wish I could stop to pet every animal that crosses my path but it's probably not the best idea to risk being bit by what could be a disease ridden critter (monkeys included.) The temptation is strong, and the struggle is real. 

 

7.) No paparazzi please

I never Imagined I would be famous, and obviously I am not, but sometimes it does feel like I am some sort of celebrity. The farther from Asian you look, the more likely it is that you will be stopped and asked for a picture, or even more likely that people will start snapping pictures of you without your permission. 

 

8.) Say whaaaat?

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Get used to seeing a lot of typos on English signage and phrases on clothing that make zero to no sense. To be fair, I guess it's the equivalent of the white chick we all know with the Chinese tattoo that says"love" but actually translates to banana. 

 

9.) Thai nicknames

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Probably my favorite aspect of Thai culture thus far. Thais have names that are often ridiculously long and difficult to pronounce so it is commonplace for Thai people to be called by their nickname which is given to them by their parents. Some of my favorites: 

Nut

Orca

Plankton

Mint

Ping Pong

 

10.) Land of Smiles

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I have only been in Thailand a few short weeks, but I can already say with full confidence that I am in love with this country. I am in love with it's natural beauty, it's delicious food, but most of all with it's genuine and kindhearted people. It is no wonder why the people here are proud to be Thai. I feel so lucky to now call Thailand my home. 

Time Does Fly

Six months. Four countries. Eleven cities. 1,885 photos. 180 students. More planes, trains, buses, vans, tuk tuks, cabs, motorcycles, and songthaews than imaginable. New lifelong friends. Countless memories. Hundreds of temples. And I still have six more months left! Who’s ready for the next leg of my journey? Because I sure am curious to see where these next months will take me. (Of course, I already have plans in the making!)

These past six months have been filled with hard work, some doubts, some depression, and a lot of happiness, love, new experiences, and new sights. It’s a great mix that has shaped me for the better. When things don’t go as planned – items are stolen, lesson plans fall flat, transportation schedules go awry – I’ve learned that when you look for the good and lean on yourself magic happens. It’s a marvelous feeling when a student finally understands a concept, when I see breathtaking views, when a local and I are able to communicate despite language disparities. The good moments keep me strong and their memories linger far longer than those of the bad.

During my time here I’ve had experiences I didn’t fully anticipate: true happiness and deep sadness; times of loneliness tempered with the making of life-long friends; unidentifiable foods, most of which were delicious (although I still don’t know what they were); incredible travels in areas some people only dream about; a deepening appreciation for Asian culture and history, and so much more. There have been hardships and stumbling blocks, but mostly I’ve been able to figure out solutions on my own, pick myself up and keep going. If you’re lucky, adversity teaches reliability and brings strength.

This is the first time I have ever lived alone. That can be difficult enough, but instead of doing it in my home country, I chose a place where I didn’t know the language, was unfamiliar with the culture, and knew absolutely no one. The idea was enthralling; the reality an adventure. I’m strong, capable and adventurous and have loved almost every minute. But, it’s not easy. Living abroad, especially by yourself, is difficult. There is no network of friends nearby, no loving family to visit on a weekend. It takes time to learn the simplest things, such as how to order food, or recognize local landmarks, so you can easily find your way home. Even with extensive research and being well prepared, I still struggled initially.

However, once I looked inward I realized how strong I really am, how much I can handle, and how to make myself content/happy without the help of others. Despite the physical distance, friends, family, and loved ones are easily contactable and make living alone seem less lonely. I’ve also made several good friends and we’ve had some fun times (girls-only nights are amazing). One lesson learned: Next time I live alone I will have a pet as I can’t cuddle plants. Another lesson: I’ve become very comfortable just “being.” Being in the moment. Being present. Being okay with myself: who I am, what I want, what I need; my flaws, my advantages. It has been a bit of an uphill battle to get to this point, and I know I still have a ways to go to be fully content and happy, but I’m secure in my skin and happy with who I am right now.

Just as important – I’m looking forward to my next six months teaching and learning in Thailand!

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                            Celebrating Loy Krathong-November 2017

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                                                  Wat Pho, Bangkok-November 2017

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White Temple, Chiang Rai-Nov 2017

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                                                 Chiang Mai-December 2017

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                                              Angkor Wat, Cambodia-March 2018            
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                                                             Ayutthaya-February 2018





The One With The Final Thoughts

    It's crazy that I'm writing my final Thailand blog post from the same exact spot that I wrote my first one. I am sitting on the floor of my best friend's house but instead of being anxious about leaving America we are anxious about assimilating back into America. It sounds crazy right, I mean we grew up here- how can we harbor any trepidation about being home? Because we are different than we were 6 months ago, that's why.

    6 months ago we were young women embarking on a journey together without a clue of what it would be like. 6 months ago we sat cross-legged on her floor and poured over books about Thailand and tried to learn and prepare for the culture we were about to join. 6 months ago we were sure that the lives we left behind would be patiently waiting for us when we got home. I can't speak for her, but for me- life is different now. Now I know more about the culture than any book from Barnes and Noble could possibly have taught me. Now many aspects of my life that I left behind have completely altered. I've changed career paths, masters programs and schools. I have had to sacrifice aspects of my life I never wanted to sacrifice- and hoped I wouldn't have to. I've crashed and burned literally and figuratively over the last 6 months and you bet your ass I'm a better person because of it all.

    There were so many things about Thailand that shocked me to my core when I arrived that now I barely register. Babies sitting on mother's laps on the backs of motorbikes without helmets... time being a loose guideline rather than a solid basis to revolve my life around... students taking 14 courses at a time... road rules that don't really exist... 90% of the population being happy and willing to assist you to the best of their ability... the cost of everything being so incredibly low... all of these things were concepts I thought I'd never get used to and now I have to adjust myself back to the culture I've always known and honestly many things about Thai culture will be hard to give up. I already miss it so much.

    I look forward to the next chapters in my life and the ways that I'll be able to apply this experience to them. I've grown and changed so much and yet if anything I just feel like a stronger version of myself. I can't wait to see everyone and start piecing my life in America back together, but the first step for that is to sleep a very long time. Thank you to the kind souls who followed along with this blog, you are all the real MVPs. Mai pen rai!

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The Half Way Point

      Six months already. Before I left, people continued to tell me how fast it would go, but I never thought it would feel this short. A year seems like a long time, but in this life of ours, a year such a quick span of time. Though it's gone fast, I have done many things and seen many places. Not every moment has been perfect, but every moment has been a learning experience and has taught me more about myself than I learned in all of high school and college.

    I realize I was going to continue my last blog with all the places I have gone, and it took me this long to get to it. Life gets busy! But outside of Phrae and Lampang here are some more places throughout Thailand that I have gone to and highly recommend!


Chiang Rai:
       I have now been to Chiang Rai twice, both of which were entirely different experiences. The first time was full of rain and exhaustion from jumping from temple to temple and attempting Phu Chi Fa for sunrise. The attempt was somewhat disheartening when the rain and clouds covered our views of the mountains and sunrise. We went back to town still damp from the rain and went straight to the white temple from there. The next day we also saw the Nine Story Pagoda, the big Buddah, the Blue Temple, and the monkey caves. I used the word "exhausting" earlier, but that was actually quite the understatement.
      The next time in Chiang Rai was mainly meant for the International Hot Air Balloon Festival, which was a fun experience mainly for awing over the balloons and hanging out with good friends. It was also in Singha Park, which is a beautiful park full of animals, flowers, and a green tea plantation. Two of my other friends and I decided we wanted to have a second chance at the sunrise on Phu Chi Fa. We did the short hike in the pitch black of the early morning with no rain this time! We got there early enough to get a good spot and star gaze before the sky lightened. It was a beautiful view and was worth trying for a second time!

 

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Chiang Mai:
      A long weekend in Chiang Mai spent doing all things touristy. I met a few friends I got close with at orientation and we did a Thai cooking class, went and hung out with the elephants, zip lined through the mountains, and lit off some Chinese Lanterns for New Years. On the last day I had the day to myself and just took a walk around the city with my Nikon, I found a couple of temples that were decorated full of lights and ribbons for the holiday. I plan to go back and get to know the city a little better.

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Khon Kaen:
         This was a 7 hour bus trip to meet a friend on a regular weekend, so it was pretty quick. But the city (yes, I was surprised to see an actual city after living in Phrae for 4 months) was full of dinosaurs, coffee shops, and temples. I have a pretty fun story about my trip back from Khon Kaen that I will write about in my next blog.



Petchabun:
Of all of the places I have been, Petchabun, surprisingly, rises to the top. It is a small town, with not a ton to do. Many people don't visit this town because it isn't known for anything very famous. The main attraction we went to see was the Mosaic Temple, aka Wat Prathat Phasornkaew. A friend had planned the trip and I went along for the ride not knowing why or really where we were going. And it was well worth it. The mosaic temple was one of the more unique temples I have found in Thailand, where the outside is more lavish and hand crafted with beautiful artwork, while the inside was a simple temple for worship. The rest of the trip was easy going with a random trip to one of the many strawberry fields that overlooked a river and the mountains. It was a trip full of great company and relaxation.

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Udon Thani:

       This town was on my list to visit before even leaving for Thailand. I saw amazing pictures of a lake filled to the brim with bright pink lotuses. Two friends and I decided to seek out the lake one weekend and took the 7 hour journey to Udon Thani from Phrae. The bus system only had certain times to get to and from this city though, so we had to decide whether we only wanted to go for one day and take two over night buses in a row, or stay there for a night and get back at 5 am on Monday morning before we all had work. We decided on a hurricane trip for convenience of time, and it was exhausting but worked out pretty perfectly. We got to the lake around 7 am which made for some amazing photos. It was gorgeous and I would highly recommend making the trip for this lake. The rest of our time there was spent wandering around town finding temples, the park with giant rubber ducks, and the luxury of a mall that we don't have in Phrae. Though it was short, this was one of my favorite trips and well worth the 7 hour ride.

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Pai:
         On my most recent trip, I made the trek out to Pai, Thailand. This trek for me was a 4 hour bus ride from Phrae to Chiang Mai, and then another 3 hour van ride full of twists and turns through the mountains to Pai. Pai is well-known by many foreign tourists, and though it's a fairly small town it caters well to it's Western company. It is known for being a very relaxed and simple town, which I definitely found it to be. I went there for about 5 days to meet 2 friends at different times. My favorite spot in Pai was Lod Cave, it was enormous and beautiful with a river filled with massive fish that you could take a bamboo boat through. Keep in mind, the trip to the cave was 45 minutes on a motorbike (I believe there are also songtow tours if this is something you are interested in), but both friends wanted to go to this cave, so I did the trip twice. The first one was a success, and it was my first time driving with someone else on the bike. The second time I was not so fortunate. I think I got a bit too cocky about my driving abilities and didn't make one of the pin-needle turns while on an incline. Luckily it was a slow and harmless fall. I walked away pretty scratched and bruised (but fine) and my friend only had one small cut. Besides going to the cave, I also went to Mae Yen Waterfalls, but the river was so low that the falls were more of a trickle. We also took a yoga course in Pai, which we would consider ourselves far from being "yogies", so it was a challenging and sweaty vinyasa class to say the least (but a great experience!). And I ended my trip at Pai Canyon, and maybe I am a bit of a canyon snob, having lived a lot of my life in Arizona, but Pai canyon wasn't quite what I expected. But, it still had beautiful views of the Thai mountains that surround it.

 

 

The One With The Last Day In Tak

    I remember hugging my mom at the train station and saying "it's only six months, it'll go by so quickly!!" I wanted to reassure her, I didn't want her to worry because in my head I had begun the process of freaking the F out. SIX MONTHS, SIX. MONTHS. in a foreign country, with people who don't speak my language, in a culture I know next to nothing about. There were so many moments right before I left where I thought "I don't think I can do this..." and now nearly six months have come and gone.

    I was right when I told my mom that it would go by quickly, at least now it feels that way, though there were definitely days when it felt like we had been in Thailand for YEARS and that we were never going home. I don't know how it's possible but after 5 months and one week, we are packed up and getting ready to leave Tak. The place we have called home since November. We still have 17 more days here in Thailand to travel and explore the islands (yay!) but this is out last day in our "hometown." It's unimaginable that we accomplished what we set out to do with only a few set backs along the way. All-in-all this was an adventure I will never forget.

    I'll be coming home in a couple weeks and I know a lot of changes are waiting for me when I get there, some I'm ready for and some I'm not. Some I welcome with open arms and some I'd rather lose my arms than face. But that's the thing about this trip, it's genuinely made me realize I can adapt to any situation or change. I came here with many things that I am not coming home with: the skin I left on the road in Chiang Mai after the motorbike accident, The wallet/passport I lost in Bangkok, a good chunk of my wardrobe that I decided I can really live without, the 20lbs of weight I realized I dropped and many other things that I did not expect to lose while I was over here. 

   I'm so thankful for everyone in my life that has stood by me during this insane period of my life. I am who I am because of your steadfast love and support. We're picking up our other best friend in Bangkok tomorrow night and then the next day we are flying to Phuket. We have so many exciting adventures coming up in the next few weeks and even more adventures when we get back to America. 

    I have been repeating Hagrid's words in my mind over and over since New Years and it's basically become my mantra: "what's coming will come, and we'll meet it when it does." See you soon, America!

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Singapore in all of its Glory

My first trip out of the country was quite successful – except for one small glitch, which I’ll get to later.

During a four-day weekend, I flew to Singapore for the first time. It is a beautiful city, super clean – I have never seen any place cleaner – with a lot of culture. There are small pockets of multiple ethnic groups, mostly Asian, dispersed throughout the city. These include Little India, Chinatown, Arabic Street, and others. Every neighborhood I went to had great food – it was some of the best Indian food I have ever had. There are also traditional events that showcase the variety of cultures that live together. For example, the first night I stumbled upon an Indian celebration. I am not sure what they were celebrating but everyone was having so much fun and the music was amazing.

            My hostel wasn’t the best I’ve ever been to, but I was able to make friends and we had fun exploring the city together. The glitch I mentioned earlier came when I had some stuff stolen from my room, and the people in charge weren’t very helpful. Fortunately it wasn’t anything vital, like my passport, but the lesson was invaluable: always ask for lockers or a safe. It wasn’t until after my stuff was taken that I was informed there were lockers for guests. Overall, I would say that The Blue Jazz Hostel is not worth staying at: It smelled and the photos on Booking didn’t represent what I saw.

 

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Treetop Walk


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            Aside from this unsettling experience, the weekend was amazing. Singapore is not like any city or country I’ve been in before: it’s an interesting combination of nature and city, with their beautiful bays, forests, and incredibly tall skyscrapers. The first day I was there I went on a Tree Top Walk with someone from the hostel. This “walk” is an awesome suspension bridge, hung in the trees, crossing through a spectacularly green nature reserve. We were able to see monkeys, hear animals, and enjoy beautiful views. The monkeys were super cute, adorable and seemingly friendly. I wanted to pet one, but I knew better. The last thing I needed was to go to hospital for a rabies shot! (Helpful hint: If you visit the area, don’t try to touch the wildlife.J) The rest of the walk around the reservoir was beautiful and extremely peaceful.

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Marina View from Level 33

 

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Gardens by the Bay


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Marina Bay Sands


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Merlion 

            The next day I spent time visiting other great sites, including the Gardens by the Bay, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Merlion statue. The Gardens by the Bay were amazing! There were so many flowers, trees, and creatures everywhere that you couldn’t figure out where to look first. I’d recommend going on their skywalk, too, with its breathtaking views encompassing the garden and the bay. What fascinated me was that the trees which held the skywalk were fake – you sure couldn’t tell by looking at them.

A visit to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel was also worth the time. You can take an elevator to the top floor for a fabulous view of the city – from the bay to the gardens to the skyscrapers. It’s interesting to note the contrast between the industrial side, with all the buildings, and the tourist-y side, with the gardens and bays. Both are noteworthy in their own way.

            The Merlion is cool-looking, but I thought there would be more to it than just a large white statue spitting water out of its mouth. It is beautiful, this sculpture of a half-mermaid, half-lion, but, for me, it was a bit disappointing. I just expected there would be more to see. However, I topped the day off at craft bar called Level 33 that overlooked the marina. Always a pleasant way to end a day.

 

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            I spent Saturday at Universal Studios and that was not disappointing at all. (After this visit, I spent part of my next week watching Universal movies, such as Shrek, Jurassic Park and Madagascar.) I love going on rollercoasters and spending time at amusement parks so being able to spend a day at Universal Studios was a delight. I went on all the rollercoasters (with minimal wait lines) and just acted like a kid again. Great day!

            I would recommend a visit to Singapore to anyone in the vicinity with the time. It is a beautiful city with amazing food. Plus, everything was super clean, people speak English, and there are fun things to do – both for city and nature lovers. It is a wonderful place to visit and you don’t need to stay there long to see great sites.

I Might Not Be Full Of Hot Air, But These Balloons Are!

If you are following my blog you already know that I have been to Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand, but that did not stop me from going again.

I went back to see the International Hot Air Balloon Festival the weekend of February 16-18. I stayed at the same hostel, Sook Jai, and would recommend it if you visit – clean, friendly, just a great place to stay. I walked around the weekend market, shopped, chatted with friends I haven’t seen in a while, ate great food, and listened to a local Thai band, who were quite good. As I did on my first visit, I ended the night with a massage. This could become a habit –massages at midnight make the night so much better. If you ever come to Thailand I would recommend trying to get a foot massage before you head to bed – you will NOT regret it.

Since the balloon festival didn’t begin until 4:00 p.m., a friend and I went to the Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park, which hosts some beautiful teak pieces and folk art from the Lanna culture. The park’s artifacts, architecture, and artwork are spectacular, especially against the backdrop of its beautifully landscaped grounds, stunning mountain views and nearby lakes. We also rented a motorbike and rode through some pretty scenery to see the mountains more clearly.

That night all of us went to the International Hot Air Balloon Festival. We ended up at the front of the line, giving us a clear view of the balloons floating by. The balloons were from around the world – how they were transported to Thailand would be interesting to know. The US had a few balloons featured; some were heart-shaped, as it was the Valentine’s Day weekend. My favorite was “The Great Pumpkin” from the Peanuts TV special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. My second favorite was the “Pirate Parrot with Wooden Leg.” The balloons had to compete in different competitions across the lake – some floated so high they looked like little dots in the clouds. They were beautiful.

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After the balloons powered down we walked around the food booths where delicious aromas wafted through the air. Choosing where to eat wasn’t easy, but in the end the food was only OK – not as good as the smells promised! As night fell, the balloons were re-filled and a light show began (called a “night glow”), accompanied by a Thai pop star. While the balloons remained tethered to the ground, their soft lights diffused the area with a lovely glow as music filled the air. We couldn’t identify the singer, but the music was good and the crowd seemed to know the song. Being it was in Thai, we didn’t sing along. 

 

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This was my first hot air balloon festival and I’ve since added going up in a balloon to my wish list of things to do. Watching multi-colored, multi-styled balloons float through the air at the same time is a must-see event.

This is probably my last trip to Chiang Rai and it was a success. I was able to see the Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park and the Hot Air Balloon Festival, which was in Singha Park so I was able to see that too. It was a great trip to Chiang Rai and I stand by the fact that it is a great city to visit.

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A Weekend Exploring the Past and Present!

Little behind on my blogs so I am going to be posting a lot in the next few days about my travels and the end of the school year.

Soon after my solo trip to Erawan National Falls (which was great), my friends and I booked rooms at a hostel in Bangkok and went to Ayutthaya – the former capital of Siam –

for a day. It turned out to be one of my favorite places to visit of all time. There was so much history everywhere you looked. I felt so peaceful surrounded by the Buddha’s, and I couldn’t believe the buildings were still in such good shape. As an archaeologist, ancient sites and landmarks always interest me. The ones in Ayutthaya were amazing, and I have seen some spectacular ancient places.

What made this place so distinctive, for me at least, were the lack of tourists (it was busy, but not super crowded), and the immeasurable feeling of peace and history that seemed to radiate from the bricks themselves. Being only a train ride away from Bangkok, I may go back often.

My friends and I arrived around noon and left around 4:30 p.m. Despite the short time, we were still able to see a lot of the history. That’s because the best way to get around Ayutthaya, especially in a group, is to rent a songthaew. (Kind of like a pickup truck that’s been modified with benches across the back). The cost is fixed for 4 hours and then you pay extra for any additional hours. Our driver took us to a great place for lunch, and knew the best sites to see. We did not know what we wanted to see, except the Buddha in the tree, so having the guide was helpful because she took us to beautiful temples and shared some of the history.

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As we arrived at lunchtime our guide took us to an amazing Thai restaurant where we shared everything and ate so much good food, it was some of the best Thai foods I have had so far. My face in the photo below shows how much I loved it and how good it all looked. After lunch our driver took us to Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. Built in the 1300’s as a Buddhist temple, this impressive monastery is still active today. The main area is bordered by seated Buddha’s and you are able to go inside to see the views from above and throw a wish into a Thai well. The temple also has a small reclining Buddha and we were able to see them change its wrappings. This was a beautiful ceremony and I was very grateful to have witnessed it.

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Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon

Next we headed over to Wat Mahathat, where the famous Buddha Head in the Tree is located. This temple is situated in the center of Ayutthaya but its date has not yet been established, although it was most likely built in the 14th century. The complex, which houses enshrined relics of the Buddha, was extremely important in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. It was the religious center of the city, and was in close proximity to the Grand Palace. Important royal ceremonies and celebrations were held there, and it has many different statues, temples, and buildings. The most famous of these is the Buddha Head in the Tree. How this image became entangled in the tree’s roots remains a mystery to archaeologists and historians, but the head is beautiful, breathtaking, and worth going to see. The Buddha looks peaceful, happy, and completely at ease at being part of the tree. No matter how it got there it looked like it belonged.

 

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Wat Mahathat

The last temple we had time to see was Wat Thammikarat, which is located next to a Grand Palace. This ancient place of worship was built by Phraya Thammikarat before Ayutthaya was firmly established as a city. Not as commonly visited by tourists – it’s a bit out of the way – makes it a very serene site. Lion statues stand guard, a multi-headed Nagas (a mythical serpent-type spirit) offer additional protection and rooster statues dot the landscape. The quietness of this ruin was a nice change to the busy-ness of the other temples.

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Wat Thammikarat

I loved all three of the temples, but my favorite image of all was the Buddha in the Tree at Wat Mahathat. If you ever go to Ayutthaya do not worry about seeing all of the many monasteries, but rather spend quality time at a few so you can soak up the history of these ancient, sacred sites.

After our day in Ayutthaya my friends and I took a train back to Bangkok and arrived in time for dinner. We went to the Wine Connection, a chain Italian restaurant in Thailand, and had a great time eating amazing foods and enjoying the good wine. After a day of touring and eating we were ready to walk around Bangkok and see what the area had to offer. While wandering around, we were asked if we wanted to see a show at a fixed rate. Once we arrived and spent about 30+ minutes we were told that the fixed rated didn’t exist – instead of the 300 Baht per person originally promised, they were trying to charge us 1000 Baht per person. We left. But it was a valuable reminder that we should always be on our guard no matter how comfortable we feel. In every country there will be some people who will try their hardest to rip off tourists. And large cities, like Bangkok, are often the worst places. The best part of the experience was that we decided to end the days with a massage. Massages after a day of traveling are always a good idea and make the day seem less long.

 

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Wat Mahathat
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Wat Thammikarat

I would recommend going to Ayutthaya one day if you love history, ruins, Buddhism, or just want to get out of Bangkok. It is totally worth it to get on a train and go to Ayutthaya; you only need a day if you have limited time.

 

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