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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.

 

Koh Phayam or Bust

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Koh Phayam-

Koh Phayam is an island off the coast of Ranong, where Myanmar and Thailand come together and share the sandbox. This once, uninhabited island is a well-known German get-away, and is slowly becoming more popular for travelers of all walks of life . Koh Phayam is a low-key beach paradise and should be on your radar if you are in or around Thailand. If you're not on a Thai journey, then I guess I can't really help you. 

Getting to the Island of Koh Phayam- 

From Chumphon, I took a small mini van to Rangong, about a two hour drive. From the pier you make a quick executive decision based on the following premise, do you want to be sea sick or do you want to move at a glacial pace? I chose the slower option. This ferry, calming as it was, took two hours from the Pier. The other option is a 45 minute speed boat, a little faster for those in a rush to be beach side as soon as possible!

However you decide to get here, get yourself a tablecloth, I mean wrap, and a sun hat because cancer, you have arrived. 

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This thing tops out at about 5 km per hour, but definitely buckle up for safety!

Rent The Bike-

Advice: Once you get to the docks, rent the motorbike, any motorbike. DO IT. There are no cars here, your only options in transportation are motorbike taxis, bicycles, and your own motorcycle rental. If you are on the fence about renting motorbikes, remember that you aren't Vin Diesel and this isn't Fast and the Furious. You will be fine. I didn't not rent the motorbike, I opted for the good old bicycle option. While the little 6 mile up-hill climb was certainly something, it didn't let me to explore the whole island. It really only allowed me to understand what it feels like to swallow bugs and bath in my own sweat, while in 100 degree weather. Not what I was looking for, but maybe that's just me. 

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Beaches-

Ao Yai Bay-

Ao Yai is on the southern facing side of the island. Although it is a bay, it has a larger opening and feels more like you are exposed to the open ocean. As the island starts to flatten out here, there is many more accommodations, a small strip with bars and restaurants, and of course a few travel companies ready to whisk you on all of the deep sea adventures. After speaking to the other non-parents on the island, this is the side to go if you are not a kid person. Although there are children here, there are less of them. In my experience, screaming, naked, babies like to hang 10 on Buffalo Bay instead.

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Buffalo Bay-

Buffalo Bay, also known as Ao Khao Kwai, is on the western side of the island and features a few bars, accommodations, a mangrove forest, and some top-notch views of the descending sun. The water is still and shallow, so float on Modest Mouse, you aren't going anywhere. When the tide is high, you have an insta-ocean backyard. When the tide is low, there’s about 200 meters of uncovered sand exploration to be had. On this beach, there are also frat parties, I mean full moon parties every month for the neon-paint, party seekers at a bar made into a ship called, Hippie Bar.  

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When the tide is low, you hunt crab, or just mess with them...either way.

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The children of Buffalo Bay, doing children things.

Just So You Know-

There is a bug on this island that sounds like Jimmy forgot to unplug the amp after sound check. I believe is it’s a larger, louder version of a cicada. If you have the misfortune of crossing paths with a pack of these bugs in mid-transit, duck and cover because they will mess you up. 

Another thing to be aware of is the fact that this island is inhabited by 20% humans 80% jungle. While humans have found inhabitants along the shore, the core of this island is all the the jungle book entails. There is limited drinking water, bottled water is still shipped daily from the mainland. Electricity is powered by generators and in the heat of the night keep your water close, there’s no ac. Even though I definitely just made that statistic up, hopefully you get the point: more jungle, less humans.

The pier is on the eastern most side of the island. Although there are accommodations on this side, it is not the preferred side to be on. When the tide is out, you can get a glimpse of all the things that people like to pretend aren't happening, like seeing the human dumping ground that we sometimes call the ocean. 

As far as accommodations go, you have a choice between a bungalow on the beach or a bungalow behind the bungalow on the beach. Tough call. These lovely sheds, are the perfect way to enjoy the ocean views and relax after a day of fun in the sun. Bring your bug spray and mosquito net because creatures of the nights may feel the need to co-habitat your bed while you are alseep.

Recommendations-

JJ Seafood and Bungalo-

This place was amazing. JJ and his wife are very welcoming and accommodating and will do anything to get that good rating, I mean make your stay more comfortable.

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A beach bungalow complete with three decks. One in the front, one in the back, and one on the roof. 

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Koh Phayam Market-

A place situated between the two main beaches where you can find locally made goods, food, and all coconut everything. 

Mangrove Forest- 

This is a forest where mosquitoes like to party, with a river that converges with Ao Khao Kwai (Buffalo Bay). Many accommodations  have kayak or canoe rentals and allow you to paddle up this secluded wonderland. Go forth and find your center and such.

Rasta Baby Bar-

A place where Bob Marley's memory remains celebrated. Here you will find good food, good music, and that chill island vibe.

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Water Activities-

At the resorts there is plenty of gear to rent and try out. I was able to try kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkeling for less than 3 US dollars. The only advice I was given was, "just get past the break, man." So hopefully that helps when you are carrying a large plastic boat, trying to get over the oncoming waves. Or you can be like me, and get Shack-style rejected multiple times in front of many concerned observers. Either way, if you succeed, the ocean sports are a good time to be had.


Hippie Bar-

This bar hosts full moon parties and was made by the owner completely out of washed up drift wood. It is also the "unofficial" best place to watch a sunset or so I am told. 

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If You Don't Know, Now You Know-

As always, this is a little bit of me mixed with some cheap, unsolicited, non-credible advice. Take what you need and leave what you don’t.

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A visual representation of what I mostly did while on this island!

Jai Dee

There are some things that one should always say no to: fedoras, going to the DMV, watermelon flavored Oreos, Abercrombie, etc. - authentic experiences with locals is not one of them. So, when one of our friends shot us a message saying her school coordinator had invited us to camp on her family’s property for the Buddha festival a few provinces away – it was a no brainer. As we approached the small town, it became clear that this festival had attracted unprecedented masses. We swerved through traffic and construction until finally conceding that we were lost and haphazardly perched our bikes on a curb to orient ourselves. **edit: haphazardly perched our bikes on a curb for Emily to orient herself as I sat idly, and directionless-ly, by. A pack of interested Thai locals, shocked to see white women traveling alone in the Isan region, promptly ambled over to us. After using their phones to help us find directions and getting to know us, they invited us in for drinks and dinner. In Thai, they do not have a word that literally translates to ‘kind’; instead they said ‘jai dee’ meaning ‘good heart’ which is perhaps the most apt phrasing considering the sheer humanity and compassion we have received from total strangers in this country. And this was simply the beginning! When we arrived to the family property where we would be camping, we were warmly greeted and introduced around. The beers started circling and a fire was built where we roasted mystery tentacles on an open fire (I smell a new hit Christmas single) over the only rudimentary conversation points we could manage. The next morning our host made us coffee while we watched the sun rising over the picturesque rice paddies and oxen awkwardly sauntering by. Seriously – have you ever seen an ox run before? For some reason the word hutzpah comes to mind – so yeah, they run with some serious hutzpah.

We were lulled into deceptive comfort by the serenity of it all just in time for an assaulting group of Thai radio hosts to arrive on the scene. The boisterous men wasted no time capitalizing on how excruciatingly out of place we were (and are… literally always), whipping out multiple go pros, microphones and cameras. Things got away from us rapidly and suddenly we were holding skewered, and still slightly living fish, while butchering Thai words on a live broadcast and video feed. When we thought we’d had all the jesting at our expense that we could endure, the other shoe dropped. “We fish now”, they asserted. Now this was a confusing prompt because as we looked around, there was not a fishing pole to be found. In fact, the only equipment (a word I use lightly) they had brought was a blue curly wig, and a plaid diaper-like ensemble that the boldest among them fashioned into a loin cloth while telling us that he loved us. My impaled fish and I exchanged glances and twitched uneasily in unison. Just when I thought I had reached the apogee of my discomfiture, it was disclosed that our fishing equipment was our hands. And only our hands. I looked to my speared aquatic friend for guidance. He was dead. So, with nothing left to lose, we stripped down to our spandex shorts and descended into the thigh-deep mud. With cameras assaultingly close to our faces, Thai men screamed directions at us and fish writhed around under our feet. With the inaugural warning that some fish had spikes, though there was no way to tell which ones until they were already caught, it was off to the races. This is what separates the boys from the men, I thought as I plunged my hands into the murky water with reckless abandon. What a thrill! What a rush! What a horrifyingly slimy and thrashy pursuit! Our first catch merited lots of squealing and accolades, we were now seasoned professionals though that by no means slowed the radio host hazing. They continued to film us and, as we are confident, make fun of us on a live stream that was watched by 23,000 people and shared by several hundred more. In my life up to that point, I was convinced that the pinnacle of awkwardness was accidentally calling your teacher mom, or saying ‘you too’ to a ticket clerk telling you to enjoy your movie. I humbly stand corrected.

A few weekends later Emily and I found ourselves at a rugby tournament in Bangkok. The path leading us there had been chance encounter with a tournament organizer I had reached out to online that, as usual for our Thai life, escalated rapidly. A week before the tournament, we had our night bus tickets booked and rostered substitute spots on a local team for a weekend of some casual and intermittent play. Wrong. A different team backed out at the last moment creating a hole in the bracket and the organizers suddenly needed me to create a team using all zero women rugby players I knew in Bangkok – awesome. By the time we arrived in Bangkok I had assembled a team with a grant total six players, all with minimal playing experience and all meeting for the first time that day. To play, you need ten players. We strapped on our boots and prepared to be internationally whaled on by teams from Laos, Vietnam, Australia, and the likes. And whale they did. By day two of the tournament, after injuries had taken their toll, we were down to four functional, disheartened players. We implored other teams to loan us players and our dysfunctional squad of four successfully became ten with once problematic caveat – we all spoke different languages. We recruited some multi-lingual passers-by to help us translate in the literal minutes we were given to organize. The attempts were fruitless; introducing: the slaughter part two. It was clear as soon as the first play commenced that none of us knew which positions we were playing much less each others names. The well-organized lady beasts we were opposing showed no pity or mercy, and the blood bath dragged on for what felt like forever. The punishing Bangkok heat and the more punishing full body tackles left us defeated by all definitions of the word: emotionally, physically, spiritually. The shared pitchers after were practically medicine. We shared some laughs with new pals and, unfortunately, practically agreed to do it all again. Oh, how quickly they forget.

Until next time!

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A Quiet and Dignified New Years

Since the end of the Thai semester approach-eth and my chronicling indolence increase-eth, the material you’re about to feast your eyes on is definitively old news. Several lifetimes ago (rounding up), I had the pleasure of visiting one of Thailand’s most widely renown National Park’s with three of my best pals in the world. Should you ever find yourself aimlessly wandering around Thailand, as I accidentally appear to have, make sure you short list Kao Yai! After an hour and a half motorbike ride coupled with a paralyzing 8-hour train voyage, we found our way to Pak Chang, the closest town to the park. From there our well-organized plan was executed without a hitch. That was a test. If you have been a loyal blog follower you would already know that there is no such thing as a “plan” in Thailand much less a successful one. We lumbered off the train, sea legs cramping and splaying every which way, and set off to find motorbikes to rent for our sojourn into the park. Thailand, sensing our utter exhaustion, must have sent out a country-wide memo at this point rendering each of the 20,289,721 motorbikes (keep doing what you’re doing out there Google) in this country unavailable. We unabashedly begged for bikes, taxis, songthaews and piggyback rides at every juncture for the subsequent three hours but the only success to be found was successfully missing the local winery tour we had booked for that day. By the time our humble quartet of beggars found a ride, we had barred every right to complain regarding the 5-foot clearance, standing-room only lorry. We eventually stumbled into the National Park looking like attractions ourselves: vaguely human but entirely too decrepit to not be at least partially monkey. Throwing caution as well as social decency to the wind, we all but moshed our way into the first truck that drove by, pleading in broken Thai that they take us to our campsite.

As luck would have it, we had aggressively underestimated the vastness of the park. After twenty minutes of driving, we were discarded at a point that we deduced to be more than 5 kilometers away from our site still. It was now dark; bloodthirsty bugs careened recklessly down at us, I internally commended my genius foresight for skimping on Malaria pills, monkeys howled distantly, and stomachs gurgled as we dejectedly began our trudge through the dense forest. When our foursome of formerly human creatins stumbled into the campsite, we were surprised to find that it was not a campsite at all – at least not in the traditional sense. Voices boomed from the extravagant, oasis-like cafeteria in the center of the site and a sea of Thai people reclined on luxurious feather-down beanbags under expertly hung twinkly lights while tending to tantalizing meats searing on their state of the art grills. As we fumbled with our comparatively pitiable tent in the blackness, several silent, local angels approached us with lights and general solidarity to help us (put simply yet eloquently) get our shit together. We awoke the next day feeling thankful, refreshed, and eager for an adventure free of transportation hurdles. The prophecy was self-fulfilling. Since we had already violently ripped off the hitchhiking Band-Aid the previous day we had no qualms with jumping into every passing vehicle despite unknown destinations. To our dismay, many of the natural attractions were overflowing with Thai tourists due to the long weekend. Predictably, we decided off-roading would be the only way to satiate our desire for an authentic adventure. We dodged thorns, clung to vines on the faces of drop-offs, hurdled over gullies and waded through rapids aimlessly until we were sufficiently scraped up and at the foot of the largest deserted waterfall I have ever seen. Swimming in the pristine waters with friends while reflecting on the kindness of strangers that made it possible made me acutely aware of how lucky I am to be able to make my own adventure every day. All days are not without setback, in fact most aren’t, but overcoming the challenges and unpredictability offers the biggest payoff I could have hoped for: unrestrained exploration and learning.

Traveling from my sequestered province is significantly taxing on my time and money. To travel most anywhere I have to ride my motorbike an hour and a half to the nearest overpriced airport. From there it will take at least one connecting flight through Bangkok and several ancillary trains, vans or buses to reach any major hubs. And these are only the known travel complications. The farthest we have travelled yet was a trip to the islands to meet up with friends and celebrate the holidays. If you know me, you know my fervent devotion to living and dying for the joke, but the world famous full moon New Years party was perhaps my most sadistic yet. Koh Phangan is a small, notorious party island off the Southern coast of Thailand and a stark departure from the ornate temples and pastoral nature scenes I have been traveling to see. Koh Phangan is the kind of place that gets parents’ spidey senses tingling and anxiety raging all over the world at its mere mention. The kind of place where an entire two liter bucket of alcohol with a single straw is perceived as an under commitment. The kind of place where 5 hours of sleep is more valuable than all the recognizable food in Thailand put together. The kind of place where, had I not been living the life of a rural Thai school teacher only days prior, I would not believe in the existence of sobriety as an abstract concept. You get the point: the island was a living manifestation of ‘no parents, no rules’, but the absolute lunacy in no way detracts from the indescribable fun of it all. People come from all over the world to enjoy a few uninhibited days in this beautiful beachscape. All ages and walks of life were more benevolent and approachable than any mass crowd I had ever seen, perhaps because they recognized that their counterparts were also just looking to have some fun! Our days and nights in Koh Phangan blend together on a canvas of confusion and inebriation (THERE I SAID IT, MOM AND DAD DON’T SHOOT) that includes but is not limited to: body paint, dancing in the downpour of a tropical storm, breakfast burritos, body paint in my hair, snuggling with reunited friends, body paint stinging all my facial orifices, people jumping rope with literal fire, some of the most fun of my entire life, and being forcefully dyed by strangers with, you guessed it, more body paint. I was hardly a collegiate economist, but I imagine New Years would be a great time to invest in some body paint stock if you’re looking to expand your portfolio.

The morning of New Years Day, our motley crew gathered around a generous breakfast feast with a heaping side of head-splitting hangover and self-pity. We swapped stories from the madness of the night before and laughed at the abject ridiculousness of it all, agreeing that this strange party haven was completely disconnected from reality. We all concluded reality might as well be a stranger we met once at a corporate cocktail party. Reality files my taxes once a year. Reality details my car. Etc. In an attempt to reacquaint ourselves with the ever-evasive ‘reality’ we’d heard of, we headed to the beach for a final bout of cool water and ocean air. We settled for a trash-riddled beach covered in empty handles and hung-over travelers napping. We waded into the water where the tumultuous tropical storm induced waves had their way with us as well as certainly a good laugh at our expense. As we wandered along the beach toward our hostel, water-logged and more than a little dilapidated, we passed a blatantly mocking billboard asserting “KOH PHANGAN NEW YEARS – SEE YOU NEXT YEAR”. We couldn’t help but laugh. On the ferry ride back to the mainland, despite feeling like congealed, day-old, overcooked noodles, we were overcome by nostalgic thankfulness for the friends we’ve accumulated here that feel like family after an impossibly short amount of time. The thankfulness, though still abundantly relevant, dissipated quickly when our ferry and van ride were late, causing us to miss not one, but TWO subsequent flights. We had to buy two more flights on the fly (with a Thai teacher's salary) to board a plane just in time for the fever to hit - the universe’s apt punishment for a weekend of debauchery and an esteemed stepping-stone on the path to achieving my lofty goal of contracting the flu in every country I’ve ever travelled to. Thanks for the amazing time and the incredibly blog worthy material Koh Phangan, but see you next year my ass.

Until next time!

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The One With The Field Trip To Chonburi

    I won't lie to you guys, I did not want to go on this trip. At first it sounded pretty cool but then as the preparation meetings began we felt like it was not going to be what we expected. I knew this because this was the first line of the schedule we got:

    Saturday 10pm- DRIVE  OVERNIGHT FOR 9 HOURS WITH 40 STUDENTS AGED 15-17 (lol kill me)

    We worked together (4 other foreign, English teachers and myself) to come up with as many activities and lessons as we could because the whole point of the trip was it was an English camp. By the time we actually left we had it basically figured out. I popped a couple dramamine and slept through the whole ride down. 

    We were very pleasantly surprised by the entire field trip so I'll be the first to say I was wrong to assume it would suck. We checked into a Naval base which also had a sea turtle conservation on it Sea Turtle Conservation Center Royal Thai Navy This honestly might have been the best part of the trip for me. My favorite animals are turtles so getting to see hundreds of them- of all various ages, sizes and species was really incredible. I absolutely had more fun than any of the kids. 

    We then went to a Mangrove forest and got to walk along a wooden bridge and see where mudskippers live, we didn't get to learn as much as we hoped because the guide spoke only in Thai and despite being here nearly 6 months, I still barely speak the language, let alone understand it. 

    Afterwards we checked into our accommodations on the base and then changed to head off to the beach. We played a bunch of games geared towards English speaking and listening and the kids loved getting to play them on the beach (as did the chaperones). After we played some games, we were allowed a couple hours of free time at the ocean which was really nice considering most field trips in America only give you a half hour or so. 

    We then returned to the base to continue with the camp and did some more activities and after all of that we basically crashed into our beds. 

    In the morning we woke up early and caught a ferry to an island called Koh Samae San. What's interesting about this island is that the Royal Thai Navy is in complete control over how it is maintained and cared for which becomes obvious when you see the pristine beaches and crystal clear water. We paid 50 Baht (1.50 USD) to use snorkel gear and be taken by boat out to a roped off area of coral reef where we got to dive and see lots of different sea life, some of the fish are so unafraid that they swim close enough to touch, though of course we didn't touch them. It was awesome, and the fact that the school trip included this blows my mind. We relaxed on the beach the majority of the day and then bussed to Pattaya, another province in Thailand. 

    We stayed right across from the beach and that night the kids put on a gala which consisted of lots of singing, dancing, games, skits and other impressive talents. It was conducted as a competition because throughout the trip the students were split into 6 teams and were earning points for every activity. The English teachers were judges and I genuinely felt like Simon Cowell at some points. Microphones and misplaced responsibilities go straight to my head and I immediately think I am more powerful/important than I am. But we had lots of fun and the kids really enjoyed it. 

    The next day we bopped around Pattaya a little more and then headed back to our province. Aside from the 2hour long karaoke session that took place on the bus on the way home, it was an awesome field trip and I am so glad my assumptions were completely wrong. 

    I attached only pictures of myself and other chaperones because I did not get the permission of the students to post pictures of them on my blog.
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