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Adapt or Die

Many of my posts so far have focused on school content, and while whirling Thai dervishes fully consume my weekdays, my weekends have been equally as exciting. Locally, there is not much to do on the weekends. In fact, there is about one bar in town. I say about, because calling it a whole bar is probably optimistically rounding up. Our band of merry co-teachers took us one night for a few beers and it may as well have been front-page news. As the only white faces in town, we could reach down to tie our shoes and it would be PSA worthy. This illustriousness has its obvious drawbacks. The combination of negative Thai societal connotations surrounding women drinking and the local notoriety is not a recipe for a wild, face-melting night on the town. At best, you are doomed to run into some judgmental parents, be the subject of the band’s public jeering in unfamiliar vernacular, and the victim of unwanted set-ups from every acquaintance you’ve ever made. Understandably, when Emily and I were invited to a coworker's wedding the next weekend, we expected a similar ambiance. To make matters worse, I hadn’t met the bride or the groom until the day of the wedding - we were merely invited because of the status symbol elicited by having foreigners at your wedding. I haven’t been above pity invites for my last 22 years of existence, why start now?

When we first walked in and found our table, we found that another guest had already been seated with us. The guest, who is generally tolerable, is significantly less welcome in the morning hours. If you can’t see where this is going, you had a more honorable collegiate experience than I did – I salute you. Our tablemate was none other than Johnny Walker, served with a mixer of intense host peer pressure…at 8:30 am. To make matters worse, ours was the only table with this festive adornment. All eyes were on us as we tried to discern whether neighboring tables were eagerly waiting for us to drink, or misconstruing us as alcoholic farangs. There wasn’t much time to debate. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. The word greatness must be switched with ‘whiskey’ at this juncture. But either way, Shakespeare’s words ring true. We had whiskey/greatness thrust upon us, and as people raised to be polite guests, we answered the call.

An indiscernible amount of drinks after our unsolicited whiskey wake-up call, we began wondering if we had missed the ceremony. Food and beers had begun arriving surreptitiously and the inebriated proceedings showed no sign of taking a turn for the ceremonial. Just when we had resigned to our fates of an eternal purgatory coupled with Johnny, we were ushered from our seats and pushed out into the street. We stumbled along the road with a mass migration of other wedding attendees, unsure of our destination and melting in the punishing Thai heat. Soon the staggered masses coalesced into a procession headed by the bride and groom, an authentic Thai band, and a gaggle of bridesmaid equivalents in traditional garb. As far as I could tell, the bridesmaids have one very serious obligation: get the entire wedding comfortably trashed. They weave throughout the procession with buckets full of alcohol and a single cup, sporadically thrusting libations upon unsuspecting parade participants and waiting for them to finish it before moving on to their next hazing victim. When bridesmaids handed me a cup, bummer - I had no idea how to communicate or refuse it, so this soldier fell deeper into the trenches.

When the parade finally reached the wedding, we were shepherded in to take a picture with the bride and groom, both absolute strangers. We awkwardly fumbled around trying to get out of the way when we realized a line, impatient to capture pictures, had formed. We were promptly moshed back into the frame as the realization hit – these people were waiting to take pictures with us. Now this made us incredibly uncomfortable, as we were hyperaware of taking attention away from the happy couple. Luckily, one quick glance clarified that they were not only ecstatic that people were capturing us in their pictures, but were in fact the ones provoking the mosh pit to do so. In true backwards Thai fashion, we proceeded to the ceremony after the prolific drinking. Perhaps that made me appreciate the ornate, authentic ceremony even more. The day culminated with dancing and Thai karaoke where we twirled many old Thai women. As it turns out local music is not well suited for the white and rhythmically challenged among us. Adapt or die.

On other weekends we have set out to explore Ubon, the closest large city to our small province, with varied success. On our first expedition, the intent was to explore a local temple. We didn’t. But in a similarly cultural experience, we did get rather familiar with a mall. Yes, a real mall. I could have wept. As everything I currently own in Thailand could fit in a backpack, we decided to set out in search of more teaching appropriate clothing. This task proved difficult because compared to the Thai people, who are naturally short and svelte, I am a literal giant cracken from the deep-eth. Most stores do not have fitting rooms and don’t let you try on potential purchases but instead insist on watching as you hold skirts up to your body and wonder if they will fit around your wrist, much less your waist. The day seemed like a bust, that is, until the next day when a coworker said he saw Emily and I making the motor-bike journey home from Ubon (about an hour and a half). Thai people, who don’t travel much, have a very skewed perception of what delineates a “long drive”. The man, in awed stupor, acted as if he had watched us trek to Mars. He proceeded, in incredibly broken English and creative charades, to invite us to join his literal Thai biker gang. I fully expect my street cred to double from this development. All it took to adapt to the swerving with locals was to finally accept that the only rule of the road is that I have to be okay with other drivers doing whatever the hell they want. Conversely, other drivers have to be okay with this inexperienced farang doing whatever the hell she wants. I still think I got the better end of the deal.

Until next time!

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Traveling: Alone, Together, or Both?

         I have been in Thailand over a month and in that time I have traveled both alone and with friends. Both experiences have pros and cons and I would recommend trying both to determine which best fits your personality and needs. I am going to start by talking about my experiences traveling alone – and by alone I mean going to places by myself vs. traveling alone to meet up with friends.        

          I live near Bangkok and have spent many hours traveling around the city and surrounding regions. There area is filled with a variety of must-see attractions, such as ancient temples, beautiful palaces, and vibrant street life. Sometimes, other people aren’t available to travel with me. I believe it would be shame to not sightsee simply because of that, especially since the city can be easy to get around and people are friendly and helpful.

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       For example, one weekend I traveled into the city to visit Wat Pho by myself because no one was able to come down that weekend. Visiting this remarkable temple, which houses the stunning Reclining Buddha (pictured here) was a great experience, and being alone didn’t deter me from enjoying myself. It was actually rather nice because I was able to leave and head out when I wanted, spend as much or as little time at the site as I wanted, and make spur-of-the-moment decisions about what I wanted or didn’t want to see. In fact, being by myself led to another adventure that day. After seeing Wat Pho I walked around the area and came across a little outdoor market and some water taxis. These, I learned, would take me from Wat Pho to Wat Arun – another temple I had wanted to see. Not being constrained by the needs or schedules of others made the decision to visit Wat Arun an easy one, and I had a great time seeing both temples in one day.

           For me, one downside of traveling alone is the need to ask strangers to take my photo. While selfies are nice, they don’t always capture the interesting aspects of a tourist site. Asking someone to do this isn’t terribly difficult in Thailand, as the people are generally kind and helpful, but if you are shy or have difficulty getting your point across, it can be awkward. Another downside is, quite frankly, that you are alone. There is no one else to offer advice, provide directions, or speak the language. When I travel alone, I need to rely on myself to get from point A to point B. At first, this was daunting, but it has become easier. Over the past few weeks I have learned to travel around the Bangkok district without getting hopelessly lost. I am now confident in my ability to find key locations, call taxis, and get myself around without too many issues. Sometimes it can be hard to get back to my home from another area, but it does become easier each time I try.

            Another travel opportunity came during the American Thanksgiving holiday. I flew to Chiang Rai – a city in northern Thailand – to celebrate with friends that I met through OEG. This was an occasion when I was grateful to be traveling with other people because when we arrived we learned that our Airbnb was located two hours from the city, and not in Chiang Rai as we had all believed. Having others to share this burden made the experience much more enjoyable. Realizing we needed to stay in the city, we began walking through the streets of Chiang Rai, towing our luggage, on the hunt to find a place to stay. After the 4th hostel did not have enough room, we found one down a slightly creepy alley that fit all of us. Despite the initial vibe, this hostel was great: it was perfectly situated in the city and even had hammocks to relax in. After much struggle, made bearable because we were all in it together, we had a roof over our heads for the weekend. Now we were ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, which we did with great Indian food! Not ‘traditional’ but delicious.

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Friendsgiving

         Our takeaway from the weekend, besides some very memorable experiences and strengthened friendships, was the reinforcement of the Thai saying, “Mai Pen Rai.” It’s difficult to translate, but it basically means, ‘don’t worry, be happy’ – as in, a situation may seem difficult, but you shouldn’t stress out too much because it will all work out in the end. In this instance, we embraced the saying. No one panicked about the Airbnb situation, because we were all together and could figure out a new plan. Traveling with these new friends was great because I had people to go to the temples with, to eat with, and to talk about our schools and the experiences we are having.

        My last major travel trip, so far, has been to Pattaya to go scuba diving. For this one I traveled with someone the whole time. I met a friend at one of the many bus stations in Bangkok and together we navigated the bus station and hopped on a bus to Pattaya. It was nice traveling with another person because I had someone to talk with, get lost with, and work with on checking itineraries, schedules and maps. We were fortunate and ran into no travel issues on our way down to Pattaya or back to Bangkok. We were there to go scuba diving so the dive shops picked us up in the morning and dropped us back off in the evenings at our hostel. As we were diving we didn’t have much flexibility on what to do when we got back to the hostel because most of the tourist attractions were closed by then and diving makes you hungry. One thing that is hard to do when traveling with others is deciding on a place to eat, or even what type of food to eat. With hungry divers it is not any easier, but after a bit we were able to find a place that we all enjoyed.

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       The benefit of traveling alone is the flexibility it allows. You do not have to take into account anyone else’s plans, budget, or opinions as you can decide what you, and only you, wish to do. You can get a little lonely, but it is easy to start conversations and make friends. I have made friends at every hostel I have stayed at. However, traveling with friends has benefits, too. There is always someone to do things with, to talk to, and to help deal with issues that can pop up (usually trying to find your way somewhere…it’s easier than you imagine to get lost). Another person may also encourage you to visit a site or try an experience you may not have done on your own, which can be a great benefit.

       If no one is able to travel with me every weekend than I know that I am okay because I have gained experience with the language, the foods and the various forms of transportation. Plus, it is easy to make friends. I can now get myself around much of Bangkok, which gives me confidence about traveling to other cities, so I believe I will have the opportunity to see everything I want. Thailand and Southeast Asia have a lot to offer and I want to see it all – with people or without.  

 

Follow me on Instagram for more about my travels: kat_byrnes06  

4 Days, 3 Foot Injuries, 2 Hostels, 1 Amazing Weekend

Since coming to Thailand, several people have told me that one of the best places to visit is Krabi, which is several hours south of Bangkok on the "tail" of Thailand. I took their word for it and booked a long weekend away with Kaitlin, Emily and Laura. Luckily, our school had a field trip up to Chiang Rai on Friday December 8th until the following Monday, which was a holiday, so we had ourselves a few days off from school. Emily and Laura only had Monday off and were flying in Friday night (or so we thought), but a 3 day weekend is better than nothing!

So on Thursday Kaitlin and I packed our bags and took a late night flight to Krabi. BTW, if you're ever in Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok...bring a sweatshirt. We learned this the hard way when we were forced to huddle for warmth under our towels and sarongs.

We had booked 3 nights at Slumber Party, which is a very popular party (clearly) hostel, but they didn't have late night check-ins, so Kaitlin and I booked our first night at Pak-Up hostel in Krabi Town.

Bright and early Friday morning, we set out for Railay beach. This is one of, if not the most, popular beaches in Krabi. You can only get to it by long tail boats because of the high limestone rocks that cut it off from the town. As soon as those rocks came into view, our amazing weekend had officially begun.

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We spent the day taking too many pictures of the perfect backdrop (sue me), drinking banana smoothies (mostly just me...or only me because I had two and Kaitlin had zero), and getting slowly burned by the sun (my favorite pastime).

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For most of the day we were on the west side of the beach, but a couple hours before leaving we headed to the east side to check it out. Almost instantly after getting there we were bummed we hadn't come sooner. It was smaller, less crowded, and had some really cool caves and rock formations.

A couple of guys were jumping off a 10 foot rock which looked like a lot of fun, so I decided to join in and try it out. I've jumped off of rocks/cliffs before in Maine (not in a weird way but in a fun recreational kinda way yk?) so this was pretty normal. The rocks were kinda rough, but I made it up and easily jumped in. However, I didn't know how deep it was, and my foot ended up getting scraped on some sharp rocks down below the water. It took a nice little chunk out of the right side of my left foot, nothing too crazy, but this is where foot injury #1 comes in (see blog title again).

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After getting back into town, we checked out of Pak-Up and headed to Slumber Party. We took a 30 minute ride on the back of a Songthaew (pronounced like song tao), and when I say "back" I literally mean standing on the outside of the truck on the metal platform used to hold extra passengers. Again, what's normal in Thailand could be considered crazy anywhere else, but this has quickly become one of my favorite ways to get around. I love standing on the outside with a nice breeze, and the amazing scenery wasn't too bad either. The fact that the driver was going 40 mph down some winding roads was a bit concerning. Either he didn't know we were there or he didn't care (I believe it's the latter), but I'm still alive so it's all good (*nervous laugh*).

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Slumber Party is known as being the biggest party hostel in town, and it did not disappoint. I was slightly worried that I wouldn't be able to rally after the beach but the atmosphere and the people who work there, not to mention all the ~free~ food and alcohol, did a good job of getting everyone excited for the night to come. Every other night they host a pub crawl, Friday being one of them, but honestly we had the most fun downstairs at their bar before going out. Their pre-game was pretty on point when it started off with free barbecue followed by drinking games and awesome music.

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Unfortunately, Emily and Laura couldn't join us that night because they missed their flight out of Bangkok, but they'd be joining us the following morning. A perfect mai pen rai moment.

Saturday morning was a bit very rough for me...need to do better with drinking water and also maybe drinking less alcohol, but we'll see. Emily and Laura got in early and we decided to island hop that day. Isn't it nice that I can just say that in a super casual way? Like that's my life right now. CHOOSING to go island hopping. Ugh luv u Thailand.

So we rented out a long tail boat for the afternoon that would take us to two islands and bring us back around 3 pm.

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First we headed off to Chicken Island (lol) about 15-20 minutes away and it was basically right out of a postcard. The name really doesn't do it justice. There were very few people on the beach so it felt like we had our own private island. For the record, there were no actual chickens on the island (that I was aware of).

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And here is where foot injury #2 comes in. Our boat driver anchored off to the side of the island, so we had to either walk through the water or over some rocks to get to the beach. Regrettably...we chose the water. There were sharp and slippery rocks along the way, and of course, I cut my left foot AGAIN after being in the water only a couple minutes. Once on the beach Laura had to literally pull a piece of rock out of my foot. Luckily, some nice Thai men working there helped me out and cleaned both of my cuts and bandaged me up.

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"How many girls does it take to get a rock out of someones foot?"

A couple hours later I limped my way over to the boat and we were off to Poda Island not too far away. Poda was much more crowded and touristy, but it had great views of some limestone rocks in the distance.

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Saturday at the hostel was free vodka night (how could it get any better?) with the same fun games and music downstairs. One of the funnest games involved plastic clothes pins that people would try and pin onto your clothing without you noticing. Once they do, they count loudly down from 5 to 1 and if you don't find and remove the pin in that time then you're supposed to finish whatever drink you had in your hand. It was super entertaining but also created a lot of paranoia, as anyone at the bar or with a bucket was an easy target. Basically trust no one.

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The next day we slept in and decided to join the hostel on their "secret kayaking tour" where we weren't allowed phones, cameras, or even to know where we were going. Sounds sketchy af I know but again I'm still alive so we good.

This was the perfect day activity, as I didn't need to do much walking (my limping was pretty pathetic) and my foot didn't have to get wet for most of the day (like really I was just becoming a burden on my friends so sorry plz don't hate me).

A big group of us drove to this ~*secret*~ spot which turned out to be a really cool pond that also had some serious swamp vibes. Luckily, we didn't swim in that area, but we paddled through it and then through some tighter spots until it felt like we were seriously in a jungle. Obvs didn't have my camera, so plz enjoy some pics I took from the hostels Facebook page lol.

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If you squint you can see my teeny tiny head in the far back left!

We laid low that night, as we wanted to get up bright and early the next morning for our last day in Krabi, so we enjoyed dinner on the beach with a sunset view, one or two drinks at the hostel (how could we not?), and then off to bed.

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Monday we planned on taking the long tail boat to Railay where we could chill on the beach for the day. Oh and on our way to Ao Nang beach to get the boat, Kaitlin tripped and twisted her ankle, JUST as my foot was feeling better. Hello foot injury #3.

Luckily she was alright, because before we plopped ourselves on the beach we wanted to hike a trail that we had walked passed on East Railay on Friday. Some friends from Saraburi had suggested it to us before we left, and their description was literally that "you hike up a dirty ass wall with a vintage rope through Jurassic Park" and I shit you not, that was about as accurate as it could have been.

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We were expecting to get muddy, since Kaitlin and I had seen people coming back down from the hike before, so we were well prepared. The majority of the hike was up and down muddy parts of the mountain, but there were tons of places to put your feet and grip onto so it was pretty safe (granted, you could have easily slipped and fell, but this is Thailand so no worries). There was also the huge old af vintage, and unsurprisingly very dirty, rope that was always available to grab ahold of. First we climbed up and around to a viewpoint of the beach below.

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Then we walked around and down through the legit jungle towards a little lagoon. This was where the real mud came in as we slid down dirt walls, slipped on rocks, and climbed down bamboo ladders (v unstable but there were tons of people doing it so heh heh it was fine), and eventually we made it to the water. It didn't take us long to climb our way back out, and the total hike took about an hour and a half. It was honestly one of my favorite parts of the whole trip, so I highly recommend doing it if you go to East Railay beach! Start early and it'll be easier with less people on the trail.

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The rest of the day was spent lounging on the beach and enjoying the crystal clear waters. So basically, perfection.

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Krabi was a dream, and no amount of foot injuries could stop us from having a great weekend. And good news!!! Kaitlin and I were supposed to be teaching for the next two Saturdays, the 16th and 23rd, but we were just informed that they've decided to cancel those classes, so we're free from 6 day work weeks!! Looking forward to the next getaway.

Check out my personal blog for even more posts on weekend trips and what life is like in Thailand: https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com

 

 

The One With The Trip To Pai

    I don't normally give advice about Thailand because everyone experiences it differently but there is one piece of advice that I know to be absolutely valid- EVERYONE SHOULD GO TO PAI.

    There is no other place in Thailand that is quite like Pai. It's a popular area but not over-crowded. It's a city but it's doesn't have insane traffic, unless you count the reckless driving that takes place on the 762 hairpin turns in the road you take to get to and from Pai. There is so much to see and do there that you need at least a 3 day weekend to really take it all in. We will definitely be back before we leave. 

    Pai is notorious for it's laid-back atmosphere and hippy vibes. After working for a month and a half we were ready for a mini vacation, so we took an extra day off and spent 4 days there, best decision so far. 

    We rode our bikes to the bus station in Tak at 11:30pm, took the midnight bus to Chiang Mai and arrived at 4:30. We then took a 6am van from Chiang Mai and after the many twists and turns we arrived smack dab in the middle of Pai's famous "walking street." It didn't take us long to find all the different foods Pai offers that our province doesn't (Mexican food)...(so much Mexican food). We then dropped our bags off at our hostel and began walking around and getting accustomed to the new area. 

    We stumbled on a booth selling tours and since we knew it would be a very expensive and probably unsuccessful journey trying to seeing the hot spots ourselves, we decided to sign up for the full day tour. The tour was of 5 different locations, it covered transportation and lunch and the company picks you up at your hostel the day off. We left at 10am and were gone until 6pm and it was so beyond worth it. It cost 500 Baht (15 USD) to see a view point at the top of Pai, a guided cave tour which included a bamboo raft ride through the river inside, a stop at the hot spring, followed by a waterfall and last but absolutely not least the Pai canyon at sunset (which may be my favorite thing we've seen in Thailand so far). 

    It would have been incredible if the tour was just that, but the group of people we spent the day with were the most awesome, genuine, hilarious and fun people to ever be grouped with. We got off the tour truck, looked around at each other and decided we weren't done hanging out. We found an amazing restaurant with delicious food and a rooftop setting and ate lunch followed by a few drinks around Pai. We made plans to hang out the next day with everyone and got each other's contact info so we could keep in touch.

    That's the amazing thing about the backpacker community, you meet so many awesome people. We met another girl at our hostel who we also loved and went to dinner with and honestly by the time it was time to go we were having a really hard time saying goodbye to both Pai and the people we met there. 

    So for those reasons and about a billion others, I fully stand by my opinion that if you come to Thailand YOU HAVE TO GO TO PAI. Trust me. 

Tour: Pai Let's Go Tour (pailetsgo.com) 

Restaurants worth trying: Moonshine, The Wine Bar, Bom Bowls, Earth Tone...plus all the street food vendors

Bars worth going to: Sunset bar, Paradise Bar, Yellow Sun

Hostel we stayed in: Pai Circus Hostel and School 

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First Birthday Away From Home

Thanksgiving

I never would have thought that spending a holiday away from home would have been THIS hard. Thanksgiving was not the same this year. There was no turkey, no mashed potatoes, no green beans, or even pumpkin pie. Instead, I ate rice (what else is new?) and broccoli. It didn't feel right. But I made the most of the situation. I decided to at least teach about the wonderful holiday. Many of my P1 and P2 students had never heard of the holiday. I showed them pictures of the different types of foods that we eat and explained how it's a day to share all the things you are thankful for. What I didn't expect was how difficult it would be to explain the word thankful. None of the kids got it. So instead, I told them it's a day to share all the things you love. Immediately, they started shouting out all of the things they loved. We quickly brainstormed on the board about the things my students were thankful for. They then colored their own turkeys and wrote down a list of things they were thankful for. This year, I am thankful for my students and this incredible experience that is teaching me so much about life. I may have missed out on the turkey and pumpkin pie, but my students made up for it.  TempImageForSave
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School Duty

Every other Thursday, I have school duty. This means I have to get to school at 6:30 am and roam around the basketball court and watch the students who play and run around, making sure that no one gets hurt. The morning shift lasts until about 8:00am, when assembly starts. School duty picks back up around 3:30, when school ends. Some students go home, but many stay. They start to head home around 5:30 and most are gone by 6/6:15, when I finally get to go home. At first, I wasn't too happy about this added responsibility. But as I thought about the positivity in school duty, I realized that it was more time that I got to spend with these wonderful kids. It's more time that I get to learn about them as individuals. I cherish these moments with my students. It allows me to get to know them on a deeper level. I even get to meet kids who I don't have in my classroom. Last week, my students joined me and made me beautiful pictures. I was able to give them some words to spell to practice their English - they absolutely love learning about this language and the American culture. 

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School Fair

My students just finished their school fair performance. It was my job to pick a song and choreograph and dance to teach my P1/1 students. So of course, what did I pick? Let It Go, from Frozen!! To my surprise, some of the students had heard of the song, but didn't know the lyrics. Then there were others who had absolutely no idea what they were listening to. We spent the first few classes learning the song. Before our English lesson, students would practice singing the song. Once they mastered the lyrics, it was time to learn the dance. This was the biggest challenge. To teach students lyrics and a dance? Nearly impossible. BUT we did it! After weeks and weeks of practice, it was show time! One student gave an introduction, and another a closing statement. I was so proud of my students. Not only was I proud of them, but they were proud of themselves! Some pictures from rehearsal and the day of the performance!

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Weekend Travels

Koh Samet by Day

Koh Samet is a beautiful island off of Rayong, about 3 hours south of Samut Prakan. It was worth every minute. Mandy and I met up with our friends Ariana and Kathryn in Bangkok and took a 12 person van down to Rayong. From Rayong, we took a songthaew to the ferry! Before hopping on the ferry, we stopped at the cutest coffee shop for iced lattes and nutella toast! We then made our way to the ferry and enjoyed the beautiful 30 minute ride to Koh Samet. From the dock, we took another songthaew to our hostel, Sabai Sabai. What attracted me to this hostel? The name. Sabai means happy, a time when everything is relaxed and meant to be enjoyed. The definition of the Thai culture. We immediately dropped off our bags in the room and changed for the beach. Because Koh Samet is a national park. we had to pay a 200Baht fee to enter the beach. Man, this place was BEAUTIFUL and by far my favorite place so far. Everything was so tranquil and slow moving. We adventured through two difference beaches via songthaews. Dinner was on the beach. I enjoyed some som tam and pad thai, while listening to the ocean waves crashing along the shore. 

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 Koh Samet by Night

After dinner, we made our way back to Sabai Sabai to freshen up. We started the night by going to a fire show on the beach. Hundreds and hundreds of people gathered around and watched two men spin fire torches around in circles. The result was beautiful and so incredibly magical. The show lasted about 15 minutes. After the show, we were making our way to meet up with a few more friends. On our way, we made a slight detour and ended up singing karaoke in front of about 50/60 Thai people. They were cheering us on, some even joining us up on the stage. Safe to say, we were a hit!!  We ended the night with a neon party at a local bar! Oh yes, and my shoe broke. What fun! 

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Koh Samet by Morning

After only a few hours of sleep, I made my way to the beach to see the sunrise. I spent this quiet time to myself, truly learning to appreciate everything life has to offer. The good, the bad, the bright and the dark. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, "His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning." Man, God is SO good. Look at this beautiful sunrise in Koh Samet! 

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Birthday Weekend

I spent Friday morning sulking around school. This was my first birthday away from home. Away from my friends. Away from my family. And I was feeling the distance. I was so sad. But to my surprise, my co-teacher showered me with love. She pulled some of my students aside to sing me happy birthday while dancing around with balloons, bought me an ice cream cake, and even a small gift. This instantly turned my mood around. The love in Thailand is so strong. My birthday weekend was off to a great start! 

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Lopburi

Immediately after school, Mandy, Shane, Adriana and I made our way to the Bangkok Bus Terminal, where we then made our way to Lopburi, about 2.5 hours north of Bangkok. Once we got to Lopburi, this truck offered to drive us to our hostel. So we did it! Oops, sorry mom! We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and walked around to find food, but everything was closed. So what do you do when there's nothing to eat? You go to 7/11 and get toasties!! Basically a grilled cheese with ham - so yummy! We woke up the next morning and met up with more friends, Ariana, Emily, and Kathryn. Crazy, crazy us decided that rather than taking taxis around Lopburi, we should drive ourselves... VIA MOTOR BIKES! Again, sorry mom! BUT I did wear a helmet. We rented the bikes, and drove about 40 minutes to the sunflower fields! Man, these flowers were huge and so so beautiful! We snacked on some sticky rice and enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day surrounded by sunflowers. Night time, I was showered in more love! My friends got me some cake and champagne! We ate a yummy dinner and finished the night off in a night market! The next morning, we visited some monkey friends! Thankfully, none attacked me! Lopburi, you were a huge success and made my birthday weekend one to remember! Here's to 24 and an amazing year to come! 

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Courtney's View #3: Make a Curious Leap

I realized I was going to travel when, during an early morning shift at the coffee shop, my friend flung out a wildly broad question, “What are you going to do now?”

As a playful act of improvisation, I replied, “I’m going to walk amongst the fjords of Norway, then the mushy green hills of Ireland and then I will purvey the glitz and poshness of London….uhhhh then I’m going to work on a farm or teach English or something.”

“Cool!”, my friend said.

“Yeah…yeah, that’s what I’ll do!”

My decision to teach English abroad was fueled by great personal stagnancy. Basically, I knew that I had to do something, anything to stir things up. I wanted to practice self-confidence, recognize my potential and feel excited about life. So, I made a Classic Big Leap.

First, I signed up for my dream trail race in Norway without a plan or a plane ticket.

Then I was like, “Man, I really need a plan.”

Then my best friend Brant was like, “Here, read this book called Vagabonding by Rolf Potts.”

So I read that and was like, “Wow, I can travel sustainably! You wanna come with me?”

Best friend Brant said, “Uh…..(few days pass)….Sure!!”

Then I became We. We decided that to achieve the wholesome travel experience we wanted, we had to find a job abroad. Enter CIEE. We applied, sold a bunch of stuff, quit our jobs, and left the U.S.A.

I am coming to think that when a person feels severely stagnant in their life, any Curious Leap will benefit them. Though my Classic Big Leap story isn’t over, I’m thinking that coming to Thailand to teach English was a really effective decision. I am alive with purpose. I am gaining a real skill. When I go to the classroom, I step into a self-confidence I never had before. 40 pairs of staring eyes will encourage this if only as the most direct route to self preservation.

If you are looking for inspiration, the ideas of the people below have truly helped me to find freshness and courage. Check it out.

Hunter S. Thompson's Letter to a Friend

Time=Wealth - Rolf Potts or if you have more time: Tim Ferriss Show with Rolf Potts

The Minimalists

Below: At Tromso Skyrace in Norway. Brant and I wowed to be in London. Experiencing the best coffee of my life from a hill tribe in Chiang Mai.

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We’re Doing It: Krabi Weekend Getaway

This weekend was a weekend of, “We’re doing it.”

At the beginning of last week we learned that the following Tuesday was a holiday; as it was the late king’s birthday, it is now celebrated as Thai Father’s Day and school would be cancelled in observance of it. This sounded like the perfect time to take Monday off and go on my first Thai getaway weekend. I texted Melissa, a teacher from Wisconsin who works at the primary school next to mine whom I had met by chance and hit it off with. She had, hours before, come to the same conclusion as I had: let’s do it!

After a handful of Google searches, we landed on Krabi as our destination of choice; three days before we fled Surin, we booked our bus and train tickets. Uncharacteristic of both Melissa and myself, the rest of our trip remained unplanned. We adopted an “it will all work out” attitude: things have a way of just working out in Thailand.

We debated different housing options, and ultimately faced the decision of hostel or hut (isn’t that always the question?). We had found a hostel that looked like it would suffice for what we needed: reasonably priced; reasonably clean; reasonably well-located. Meh. We had also found an alternative housing option on Airbnb—a collection of beachfront huts called Dawn of Happiness. The pictures made it look pretty neat, but we grappled with the overthought questions of American tourists: were the pictures doing it justice? When they said “bungalow” did they really mean “shanty?” Might this place resemble the set of a horror movie featuring two girls alone in the jungle? Ultimately, the risk was enticing enough. “We’re doing it,” we said, unbeknownst to us at the time that this would soon become our motto. So we booked the hut and jumped on our night bus.

And, like I said, things in Thailand have a way of working out! Dawn of Happiness was a quiet and authentic little Thai paradise. We had the best hut on the beach (and it was, quite literally, on the beach). Besides one mild calamity on the first night that started with a cockroach spotting, escalated with the discovery that cockroaches can fly, and ended with a smashed cockroach under my running shoe and Melissa and I nearly in tears from equal parts laughter and fear huddled under our mosquito net for safety, our stay went off without a hitch!


AA75F906-5307-42AE-9F82-E3FC76FDC178Our perfect hut!! 

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AA75F906-5307-42AE-9F82-E3FC76FDC178The view from our front door. 


With three days in Krabi and no plan, we looked to others for suggestions. After talking to friends who had traveled to Krabi before, some backpackers staying in another hut, and a few locals running the place, we decided we wanted to take a trip 30 minutes north to the Tiger Cave Temple. That is when Melissa proposed the next crazy idea: let’s rent a motorbike. 

I was initially against the idea, mostly out of fear for my life. Motorbikes are commonplace here; it’s a daily occurrence to see one laden with with 2, 3, 4 members of a family—small toddlers and/or family dogs included—zooming down the road. However, we had been warned by many that motorbikes can be quite dangerous. In time, the risky option won again: “We’re doing it,” we said.

And we did it! Or, more accurately, Melissa did it while I held on behind her, backseat driving and cheering her on. The apprehension subsided and was slowly replaced with heart pumping adrenaline and the sweet taste of freedom as we cruised through the streets of Krabi towards Tiger Temple. The wondrous thing about having no plans is that you also have no expectations. We had read only enough about the Tiger Cave Temple to know we would need to dress modestly and be prepared to climb a lot of steps to earn our view. And oh man, did we earn our view. 1,237 crudely built steps later—we did it!!—we reached the top and shrank in awe at the breathtaking beauty that surrounded us. Perching ourselves on a ledge, we settled in to enjoy the peaceful calm that comes with being on top of the world (both literally and figuratively; we were feeling pretty hyped on life at this point).

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062B0B84-70EF-4E0F-851D-88710437A5AFTaking in the view from the top. 

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69ECA386-9A81-4192-9786-03722B4DEC2EA couple of very happy travelers.  

After some more fun on the motorbike, a night market where we practiced our Thai with a few locals, a meal we cooked entirely at our own table, and time spent relaxing on the beach, we enjoyed our last night watching the sunset, devouring mango sticky rice, and reflecting on our trip and our lives. How lucky we are to be able to call this fascinating country home. I returned to Surin with a slightly more broadened mindset. Living here, it is easy to classify the things I encounter daily as generalizable across Thailand; however, this one quick trip gave me a taste of the diverse richness I have yet to experience. I guess I’ll have to do some more exploring.
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The One With The Nightly Dinner Routine

    I honestly didn't know what to expect when it came to what meals would be like in Thailand. I knew markets and stands were common and that pad thai was probably abundant in the country. I didn't know that when I got placed in my apartment I would not have a kitchen of any kind, aside from a refrigerator. When I first heard this I won't lie, I sort of freaked out. My inner monologue went something like this "HOW THE F AM I SUPPOSED TO FEED MYSELF WHEN I DON'T HAVE ANY WAY TO MAKE FOOD?!" Except in my head "F" was very clearly spelled out. 

    After the first few days here we realized we weren't going to be able to survive with just a fridge, so we rode our bikes to the nearby store and purchased a water heater, which is essentially just an electric tea pot- we have them in America too and I'm obsessed with mine. We use that to make a lot of different things so we can theoretically survive without buying every single meal outside of our apartments. 

    The great thing about Thailand is that every. damn. thing. is cheap. Meals are rarely more than 300baht, the equivalent of 10USD and that's honestly when you're splurging or in a more urban area. Where we live has significantly lower prices than say Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Our average meal is between 30 and 60Baht (1-2USD). 

    We have been here for about a month and a half now so we officially have our "spots" and are on a first name basis with some of our favorite vendors. In fact at one of our favorite restaurants in Tak, the cook brought our rice out in the shape of a heart the other night. We knew we had officially been promoted to "regulars," which is a pretty awesome feeling. 

    While we do love that restaurant, our go-to meal is Pad Thai (how cliche, I know) and a papaya salad. Our nightly routine looks something like this: 

    Around 6:50pm one of us texts the group and says "night market in 10?" 

    7:00pm we ride our bikes about a mile to the river where several vendors set up stands to sell various amazing foods

    7:10pm we stop at the pad thai stand and get a serving to go

    7:15pm we go to the papaya salad stand and get an order to go and say "mai phet" meaning "not spicy" -I will never be able to put into words how DELICIOUS  papaya salad is, if I am able to recreate it when I get back to the U.S. I will cry tears of joy. 

    7:20pm we ride our bikes back to our apartments with our food in our baskets 

    7:30pm stage dive into a pile of bomb pad thai and papaya salad while constantly saying "I can't believe I'm not sick of this yet!" 

The convenience aspect is slightly missing because we do have to ride to the river to get the food, but the meal is always so, SO worth the effort it takes to obtain it. 

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Courtney's View #2

The wonderful hotel I’m staying at while I get my Non B Visa provides free breakfast. It’s not your average continental breakfast of Ho-hos and Ding Dongs. There’s a big pan of fried rice, plates of papaya and dragon fruit, pancakes, eggs, cucumbers, shredded carrots, and small sausages. There’s even a coffee maker that spits out Americanos which I return to in a sneaky tip-toe three or four times a morning. I go noticed 100% of the time.

The employees are very kind and helpful. One might say that they are unwavering and ever present in these respects. They are instantly available to get you a plate and gesture at the buffet. They are the quiet, smiling sentinels of breakfast.

My wallflowerishness sadly makes me unappreciative of this immaculate watchfulness. To me it just equals intentional, paid staring. As I approach the buffet, I feel a cruel combination of skittishness and hunger. I try to move along the buffet in a way that conceals the quantities of food I’m taking. I’m not sure what is acceptable and I don’t want to be disgustedly judged. The water glasses are rather small and I’m thirsty so I loiter by the drinks and down three waters in row. The concierge stands steady, watching. A bug manages to fly into my fourth glass. The concierge stares. I want to fish out the bug but he’s watching. I don’t want to look even more slobbish. I drink the bug with a twitchy swallow.

Hastily, I walk to my table with a plate of pancakes and a bowl of fruit. Blast, I forgot to put syrup on my pancakes. I dread returning to the surveilled buffet to get the syrup. Surely, I will look like a fool. I will have to wait at least 15 minutes to avoid this, hopefully enough time for the concierge to have forgotten my stumbling performance. Wait I do. With my perceived clean slate, I assume a casual air as my curiously still-existing pancakes accompany me back to their mecca. The concierge raises his eyebrows. I slouch a little and spoon my syrup. He must have thought I took my pancakes for a walk to gently break the news that they’d be eaten and inquire about their last wishes. Oh you’d like Syrup to accompany you to the Grey Havens? As you wish. 

When I return to my room, I flop face down on to the cloud-like bed in a despondent heap, run through by the force of a thousand imagined judgements.                                                                                                             

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.... P.S. If you want to avoid major Visa stress, do as CIEE recommends and don't travel before the teaching program starts! I was stuck in Vientiane, Laos for almost 3 weeks and came out of it with a big fat "VOID WITHOUT PREDJUDICE" stamp in my passport and no Visa. I had to travel back to Laos to try again and was thankfully successful! If you do travel beforehand, Savannakhet, Laos is the absolute best place to get your Non B Visa. There was a total of 20 people getting processed on the day I went, as opposed to nearly 1000 in Vientiane. That being said, I loved traveling beforehand and would do it again - I just underestimated the Visa scene!

Below: A picture of me over-thinking stuff and knowing it. 

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The Infamous Sports Day

As promised, this next blog post is about Sports Day and all the craziness that overtook our school for 5 days. The activities took place about 2 weeks ago, but since I have a million and one pictures on my phone of students dressed in crazy and extravagant outfits, I felt I'd be doing them an injustice if I didn't write a poorly timed blog about it, you know?

On Tuesday November 14th, Kaitlin and I showed up to school to find hundreds of students decked out in Traditional Thai costumes with faces full of makeup and heavy hair accessories atop their heads. One teacher said that some students got to the school at midnight to start to prepare. Meanwhile, we rolled out of bed at 6:50 am and showed up wearing our Sports Day polos and workout pants looking like sweaty trash cans next to them.

We were told there was a big parade through the school that would end at the sports field, where everyone else would be watching the competitions throughout the day. All five color groups (blue, green, pink, yellow, purple) had their own separate theme and story to tell in their parade, and each section of the parade took about 15-30 minutes. 

Our high school has a pretty strict dress code for students. Uniforms, haircuts, etc are all determined by the school (or the government? idk). But either way, all of that went out the window for this occasion. Girls were wearing platform heels and dresses you would never expect to see in a school setting.The Thai school system will never cease to confuse me.

In the parade, some people were carrying simple items, while others were actually carrying other people (as seen in my previous blog post). The students looked so glamorous, and it was really cool to see so many different cultural outfits, accessories, and props in one place. I felt really bad for the girls casually wearing 6 inch platform heels however, because they had to stand and wait for the parade to start, and then they had to walk a long way to the sports field, around the track, and had to wait again for the parade end. So without further ado, here's a small selection (literally I have so many pics on my phone) from Sports Day.

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To say that Sports Day was not what we expected it to be is definitely an understatement. How naive we were to think that they would simply be playing sports for a day or two!? We were really in awe of the creativity, time, hard work and overall beauty that must have taken place to create that parade. It was definitely a pleasure to get to experience it!

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