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New Years: A Time for Friends and Spontaneous Adventures

While Christmas is not celebrated by most in Thailand, New Years is full of festivities.  In Chanthaburi where I teach, there is a big New Years market where people from all over the Chanthaburi province come and sell goods such as furniture, plants, clothes, and food.  For about a week this market went on, and it was constantly bustling with people, filled with aromas, and with the sounds of live music that went on until late at night.  

For New Years I went to Chiang Mai again, which was really fun.  I met up with some friends I met at orientation, and we had a great time exploring the city, eating delicious food, and bringing in the New Year by releasing paper lanterns into the sky and dancing the night away.  Chiang Mai is definitely one of my favorite places I've been in Thailand thus far.  There is a lot to do and see, but the city is pretty relaxed and not far from many natural attractions.  

On my way back home I took the overnight train from Chiang Mai, which got me into Bangkok early Monday morning.  Initially I thought I would grab breakfast and maybe walk around Bangkok for a while, but it was still so early, and Bangkok is so big that I did not know where to start.  I asked someone at the train station if he had any recommendations of places to go, and he suggested Ayutthaya.  Ayutthaya is the old capital of Thailand, and is a place I had been wanting to visit anyways, so I took his suggestion and went to Ayutthaya!  Ayuthaya is is about two hours by train from Bangkok, and costed just 20 baht ($0.56)!  When I arrived I got lunch and then found a hostel with an open bed.  The hostel I stayed at is called Allsum Hostel, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone traveling to Ayutthaya!  It is very nice and not expensive either.  Oh my, I am so glad I took this impromptu trip!  Ayutthaya is so beautiful and rich with history.  There are so many ruins to explore, which is especially nice if you rent a bike for the day since the sites are somewhat spread out.  

Here is an anecdote from my travels in Ayuthaya:

I am walking around one of the ruins, and approach one large structure timidly, because I am not sure if I am allowed to climb up or not.  A group of monks walk up from the other side, and encourage me to come up as well.  When I get up we greet each other, and then the monks ask to take pictures with me.  First, each monk takes out their iPad, and takes an individual photo with me, and then we take a couple of group pictures.  And the whole while I am just laughing, because yet again my preconceived notions of monks is different than reality.  Yes, some monks have iPads and like to take pictures with farangs, some may friend you on Facebook, and just in general they are a lot more approachable to everyday people than I thought they would be.  I've had some very normal conversations with monks since I've been in Thailand, which I really did not expect.  Of course, it is important to always be respectful around monks as they are highly revered in Thai society.  Some may just surprise you with their willingness to talk to you.  If you do get the opportunity to speak to a monk, definitely do.  Its a great way to learn more about their lives, and about buddhism in general.  

Well that is it for now!  Much love and courage to do something you've never done before!

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My Reasons

I've been in Thailand for almost 4 months now. Everything about it has been a wild experience (some great, and some not so great). Although I am supposed to go home next month, I have decided to push my return date back until (at least) April. 

Why?

1) My students

First and foremost, my students are the reason that I am extending my stay here. They are the light of my life. There are few things that I enjoy more than  walking into the classroom or to the cafeteria or even home for the day and seeing their smiling faces. I have begun to develop relationships and even inside jokes with a number of them. And yes, while they can be annoying and noisy at times, the times that they've made me laugh far outweigh the times they have made me angry.

The young men (and few young women) that I teach are my heart, my soul, and the number one reason I'm staying in Thailand. 

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2) The relaxed, "mai pen rai" lifestyle. 

Being in Thailand has made me realize how far too often Americans worry about things that are unnecessary. We worry about things that are beyond our control or blow things out of proportion.

This lifestyle can be difficult to understand unless you experience it. 

One night a few of us were getting dinner at the town next to us. While we were walking down the sidewalk, we saw a baby taking a  bath in a little bucket on the sidewalk. It was an adorable sight. We started taking pictures. That's when the mother walked up and asked us about our lives, where we're from, what we're doing here, etc. When we went to leave, she leaned down next to her baby, grabbed his hand, and made a waving motion at us as if to say bye. 

As we were walking away, we realized that no parent would EVER have let us say hi to their baby back home. We would've gotten the cops called on us. But here, the parents know when something is harmless and when something is a cause for concern.

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**also the children here are out of this world cute

3) There's no rush in settling down.

Before I came here, I felt unfulfilled. Almost everyone I knew was getting prepared to start their full-time job and move to a city that they might never leave. Was I making a mistake not following suit? After being here, I have realized that there is plenty of time to get a job and settle down. What's the rush? This is the perfect time in my life to try a new adventure. Even if I found that it wasn't for me, it would've been a great learning experience. 

4) I am constantly exploring new, beautiful, exciting places.

One weekend I'm exploring ancient ruins the next I'm climbing a mountain; the possibilities of this country are absolutely endless. Traveling around Thailand is so easy and offers so much more than any other country I've been to thus far. Thailand is such a diverse country with a deep cultural history. Whether it's near or far, there's always somewhere breathtaking to discover.

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5) I've made amazing friends and have started to establish my life here.

My friends that I have made here are some of the best people I have ever met. We share a bond over this incredible adventure that we're all on together. But I've also been able to make some Thai friends. Friends that can show me around my town and give me a deeper insight into their culture. 

Additionally, I have joined a gym, decorated my apartment, and have begun to make this town feel like home. At the end of the weekend, no matter where I am, I'm always eager to get back to my apartment. It may have a hard bed and no hot water, but it is my space. I have began to establish my life here. 

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Sometimes it is still hard to believe that this is my life. I am beyond blessed to have this opportunity and to have loved it as much as I have. 

By staying here, I'm not putting off real life or running away from anything; I'm finding my purpose.

Want to see more pictures from my adventures abroad? Follow me on Instagram!

@pinnella_ice

Sand In Our Hair

About 6 weeks ago, I pulled a bonehead move and booked the wrong flight for a long weekend to Chiang Mai. Since I couldn't get a refund, I just rerouted my flight for a different weekend. The weekend finally came and I was on my way to Phuket. 

After sleeping in the airport to catch our 7am flight from Bangkok, we finally landed in Phuket around 8:15am. We were able to get a van directly to our hotel in Patong for 180 baht each. It was about an hour long ride from the airport to Sukcheewa Place (the hotel we were staying at). A private room with a double bed ran us 600 baht total. Man, was it worth it. It was a beautiful room with AC, hot water, free (amazing) breakfast, and very good location. 

Once we got to the hotel, we ate breakfast, changed into our bathing suits, and headed to a place called Freedom Beach. When we mapped it, it said it was only about 2 miles away. We didn't mind walking! After all, we had been sitting in airports for the past 12 hours. Little did we know, it was uphill the entire way. The majority of the journey was on a backroad with small houses few and far between. When we were about halfway up, a Thai man called out to us. He offered us a ride to the beach for 100 baht. At that point, we were so exhausted we decided to say yes. We started talking to the man, who also offered us bananas from his garden. His name was Yew. He went on and on about how badly he wants to visit America and how he would love to help us in any way that he can. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met. 

After some time talking to Yew, he took us in his old truck to the entrance of Freedom Beach. Because it is a privately owned beach, we each had to pay 200 baht to go. It turns out that the 2 miles we walked uphill went back to sea level in about a half a mile; it was a walk straight downhill through the jungle. They even had a rope for us to hold on to so we didn't fall. 

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The beach was gorgeous. Turquoise water and plush white sand with rocks and mountains surrounding it. 

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One downside is that there weren't any chairs that you could rent like on other Thai beaches. So Deanna and I decided to lay down right in the surf. It was a good idea until sand got into my one piece. 

After about 3 hours, we decided to leave. 

When we passed Yew's house again, he gave us water and more bananas from his garden. We sat down for a good 30 minutes and talked to him about his life on Phuket. He even showed us his 7th place trophy from a race he ran the weekend before. He then drove us back to our hotel for 200 baht. 

After he dropped us off, he offered to take us to the airport the next day for 300 baht. We accepted. 

We then went back to our hotel room, rinsed the sand off, changed bathing suits, and headed to Patong Beach, only a 5 minute walk away (and luckily on flat ground). Unfortunately, the chair rental places were only open until 5pm so we only had an hour to enjoy them. We paid 100 baht and took full advantage of that hour. 

After returning to our hotel that night, we showered, napped, and then headed to dinner. After dinner, we went to Bangla Road, the road infamous in Phuket for its nightlife. We walked up and down the street and then headed back to the hotel. We were too tired and poor to completely enjoy it. 

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The next morning, we woke up and enjoyed our free breakfast at the hotel. We then packed up our stuff, stored it in the lobby, and were on our way to Patong Beach. 

We found chairs a little further down the beach, away from all the people. We stayed at the beach playing in the ocean, basking in the sun, and enjoying some brews from 10:30 until 4pm. 

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Towards the end of our day at the beach, we noticed something in the water. It was one of the young Thai men who rented the chairs to us playing in the ocean with either his little brother or his son. They were having so much fun together it made my heart melt with happiness. 

Later when we went into the ocean, the young man began talking to us about our time here. People here are so friendly and eager to learn about different cultures. It is such a refreshing feeling. 

We changed, picked up our stuff, and called Yew to head to the airport. 

We got back to Bangkok around 12:30pm. At that point, I went straight to the Ekkamai bus station to wait for the 4:30am van. I got back to my apartment around 6am to an ant infestation in my bathroom. I took care of that, took a shower, then went straight to school; it was back to reality. 

Want to see more pictures from my adventures abroad? Follow me on Instagram!

@pinnella_ice

The Odd One Out

About a month ago, teachers at my school were given the opportunity to go on a school trip up to the northern part of Thailand and to Laos. When asked if I wanted to join, of course I said yes. A free trip to Laos? You can't beat that! However, many of the other teachers in the EP department did not have the same mindset. Yep, I was the only one I knew that was going. 

This past week the trip finally came. I met at the school at 5:30pm on Wednesday having no idea what to expect (the itinerary that was sent to us was all in Thai). We got on the bus and were on our way around 7. 

After a few pit stops, we got to our first destination, Udon Thani, around 5am Thursday. We got hotel rooms long enough to get a shower and change for the days activities then it was off to breakfast. 

How (I think) it worked is we all got a travel buddy. My travel buddy was one of the older teachers whom I've never met, or even seen, before. There was little communication due to the language barrier, but I like to think that we had a mutual liking and respect for each other. 

My travel buddy and I were the first people to arrive to breakfast at a restaurant near the hotel. After a few minutes, two younger men walked in and sat at our table with us. They were P.E. teachers. As it turns out, one of them I had met before. When my mom was here, I took her on a walk around the school's campus. When we walked past the gym, two guys called out to us. One mentioned that he didn't know english very well and wanted to practice his conversation skills. I didn't notice that it was him until he asked if my mom was here the other week. 

After we finished breakfast, the four of us went to a small temple. 

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**Not nearly camera ready after a long bus ride. But the PE teachers insisted on taking photos of and with me.

After everyone got back onto the buses, we made our way to a school in Udon Thani, Udonpittayanukoon School (try saying that 3 times fast...or even once). We were welcomed with a group picture and then made our way into a room where we heard multiple people, including the director of UdonPit, speak. Again, I wish I could tell you more but it was all in Thai. 

After the presentation, we took a short tour of the school. It was very interesting seeing what other schools look like compared to ours. 

The school was also having some sort of cultural festival. One part was where students had a booth and made a sample dish from different Asian countries. Yep, FREE FOOD!! I had samples of foods from Thailand, Japan, China, etc. 

When it was done, we were back on the bus and headed to Wat Pa Phu Kon, a temple in Udon Thani. We had to take pickup trucks to get up the mountain because the charter buses wouldn't have made it. It was a beautiful temple high in the sky with a 360 degree mountain view. On the inside was a giant reclining Buddha. 

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**I didn't get the pants memo.

Then once again, we were on the bus headed to our next destination: Nong Khai. 

We only staying in Nong Khai for one night before heading up to Laos. 

After breakfast in Nong Khai, we headed for the border. Of course being the only foreigner, I held up the buses so I could get my re-entry permit (that way my work permit wouldn't become expired). Sorry guys!!

When we got across the border, we changed onto tour buses, complete with guides and all. To be quite honest, I did not catch the names of the first two temples that we visited. But they certainly were beautiful!

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**One of the PE teachers from the day before saw me walking out of the temple and snapped this picture of me.

Later that day, we also went to Patuxai. Patuxai is a war monument that is dedicated to those who fought for independence from France. 

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**The breathtaking ceiling of the monument.

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**My travel buddy and I!

After spending about 8 hours in Laos, we went back to Nong Khai and checked into our hotel. 

That night, we had a final dinner in the ballroom. There was live performances from some of the teachers, food, dancing, and even a ladyboy show. At one point there was a Thai version of a conga line. Of course being the only foreigner there, I was picked up two different times to join. It was so much fun! I even got a compliment that I'm a beautiful Thai dancer (lol good joke).

Finally the next day, it was time to head home. But not before a few more pit stops! We went to the skywalk in Nong Khai. It was a beautiful view! 

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After that, we were on our way back home. We arrived back at the school around 3:30am. After hitching a ride from one of the Thai teachers in the EP department, I got back to my apartment around 4:30. 

This week really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Never in my life have I been the odd one out - not even being able to speak the same language. It was uncomfortable at times, but overall I am so happy that I went. I got to meet so many great people. People with whom I hope to form friendships with over the next few months. 

A Step into History

This weekend Deanna, Kathleen, and I went to Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is the historic capital of Thailand that sits about 60 miles north of Bangkok. 

Deanna and I hit the road from Chonburi to Bangkok bright and early at 5:30am. Once we got to the Mo Chit bus terminal, we met up with Kathleen. We then all hopped on a van to Ayutthaya. 

When we were on the van, the driver opened the door and set a box on the front row of seats. This box wasn't any ordinary box...it had holes all over it. We tried to ask the driver what was in the box, but our languages didn't quite match up.

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Once we got to another stop to pick up more people, we heard clucking. Yep, it was a chicken taking a cruise up to Ayutthaya in our van. 

We got to Ayutthaya, went to our hostel, 1301 Hostels, changed, and checked in. We then found a cafe called Malako Restaurant which was only 1/3 of a mile away from our hostel. 

After eating our delicious meals, we rented bikes and then made our way to our first temple, Wat Ratchaburana. It was absolutely beautiful. We walked up to the top of the main prang to get a better view of the ruins. Once we were up there, we noticed a very steep staircase. A little boy told us that although it was a difficult staircase to climb, there was a beautiful painting at the bottom. So we made our way down the steep and narrow staircase into a small vault like room where the mural was. This mural depicts the previous lives of Buddha. Although it is mostly deteriorated, it was still a very neat thing to see.

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We then made our way on our bikes to Wat Mahathat. This was number one on Deanna's list as this is the home to the famous Buddha head imbedded in a tree. 

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If anyone remembers The Andy Milonakis Show, I had a slight remix of the theme song that I kept singing over and over in my head; "I got trees on my head but don't call me a tree head." That was stuck in my head the rest of the day.

As we continued walking around, we found many more incredible parts of these ruins. 

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We then went to Wat Phra Si Sanphet. This was by far the most crowded. When we first arrived, a group of girls that were there on a field trip came up and asked for a picture with us. Was this part of some scavenger hunt...Find a Farang? We still aren't sure. But a few pictures later, we continued on our way. 

**Farang = "Foreigner" in Thai

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As we were leaving, I noticed a map of the temples at the tourist police stand. I decided to go up and grab one. At that moment, the tourist police came up and started talking to us. They gave us a book full of Ayutthaya post cards (fo' free), asked us about our time in Thailand, took a picture with us, and we were on our way. 

Next stop: Wat Lokayasutgaram, or the Reclining Buddha. This was nice because it was less crowded and free entry, not to mention gorgeous!

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Once we were done, we got ice cream and made the executive decision to return our bikes and go back to our hostel. 

After showering and taking a short nap, we made our way back out to see one last temple at sunset: Wat Chaiwatthanaram. Since it is a little far out of the way, we had to take motorbike taxis. We arrived right around 6:15, perfect timing to watch the sunset. 

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The temple was magnificent. The way the sun was setting behind the brick and stone was like something out of a dream. 

 

I definitely recommend Ayutthaya for the perfect weekend getaway. The costs break down like this:

Roundtrip Van from/to Bangkok: 120 baht

Entry into Temples: 50 baht each 

1301 Hostel, bed in a mixed dorm: 200 baht

 

Want to see more pictures from my adventures abroad? Follow me on Instagram!

@pinnella_ice

Life with a Bike

Hello everyone, it's been a while!

I am nearing the end of my second semester teaching English in Thailand - time is truly flying! This semester I've been kept quite busy, teaching grades 2-6, instead of just grades 5 and 6 like a taught last semester, and tutoring English after school. But I've definitely still had time to enjoy my time here! Being the rainy season though I haven't travelled as much as I did last semester, but I have met a good group of other foreign teachers in my town, and have spent a lot of weekends with them in Chanthaburi, though also sometimes on weekend trips. One of my favorite trips this semester has been to Koh Mak - an island not far from my town, where my friends and I rented an airbnb and relaxed and snorklned for one of our holiday weekends. My mom also just came to Thailand for a visit, and that was so much fun being able to explore some of Thailand with her, and also show her around my town.

And just as time has been flying this semester, so have I, on my new motorbike! I can't even explain how much this has affected my quality of life. Not having a bike was fine for one semester, since I live near my school, the park where I run and to some restaurants as well. But getting anywhere else not very closeby or at night was often difficult. Beforehand I would need to walk to the bus station to get a motor taxi or songtao, try to explain for about 10 minutes where I was trying to go (oftentimes pictures and maps didn't help) and then finally after the taxi drivers had discussed amongst themselves where they thought I was trying to go, I was sent on my way. Thankfully this whole dance became easier as I become more familiar with the town and could direct the taxi drivers as they drove. I have discovered so many new places since I got a bike , and simply having the freedom to go wherever and whenever I want has been wonderful. Nothing beats an afternoon drive to a nearby waterfall or to the coast, wind in hair, taking in the beautiful scenery on the way!

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An Underrated Wonder

Kanchanaburi isn't on the top of many travelers lists when they come to Thailand and man is that an epic mistake.

My mom came to visit me this past week. We spent some time in Bangkok, Chonburi, Pattaya, and then made our way to Kanchanaburi. We came to Kanchanaburi for one specific reason: elephants. But we found so much more in this town than we ever imagined.

We got in late Thursday night, checked into our hotel, and then went to sleep. The next day, we made our way to Erawan Falls. 

Erawan Falls is on the outskirts of Kanchanaburi. There are 7 levels of waterfalls and you can hike up to each and every one. The first 3 or 4 are quite crowded as they are astoundingly beautiful and an easy hike to get to.  IMG_4575

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However, the real magic came at the 5th level. There were two smaller parts to the fall with crystal clear blue water and surroundings that made you realize you were in the middle of the rainforest. In the waters were huge fish that would nip at your feet (that explains why nobody really swam in the waters). Although it was tougher terrain to hike, it was one of the most gorgeous views I've ever seen. 

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We continued hiking all the way up to the 7th level. It was like something out of a fairytale.

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Want to go to Erawan Falls? Go to the Kanchanaburi bus station and catch the bus that goes directly there. It's 50 baht per person for a bus ticket and 300 baht entry to the park. 

After a day like this, how could we top it? Why not take a trip to Elephants World? Elephants World is a sanctuary that takes care of and houses old, sick, and rescued elephants. 

They arranged a pickup for us around 9am Saturday and took us to Elephants World. There, we were greeted and told about the days activities. 

Throughout the day we prepared food for the elephants, fed them, and even helped the mahouts bathe them!

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At one point during the day, a mahout saw my Sak Yant. He commented on it and then had the other mahouts come look at it. They were complimenting it and asking me about my experience getting it. Yeah, I felt pretty cool.

Because just one day wasn't long enough with the elephants, we decided to go for the overnight package. With this, it included the day program, 4 meals, lodging, and transportation to/from Elephants World. 

When the rest of the people got into their taxis and headed home, we were able to walk the elephants out to the rainforest with the mahouts. During the rainy season,  this is where they sleep at night. 

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After getting into our bungalow (which was nicer than any hotel I've stayed in in a while) and getting some sleep, we woke up at 6am the next morning to hike up the mountain.

If you visit Elephants World and decide to do the hike, be warned, it's a VERY difficult climb. It qualifies more as rock climbing than hiking. 

We saw some pretty views and then headed back down the mountain. One of the mahout guides started talking to my mom and I. Asked how old I was, if I had a boyfriend, etc. Of course none of these are weird or invasive questions in the Thai culture. He also asked if I wanted to stay in Thailand after I'm done teaching here. The solution he came up with; marry a Thai man. He also kept calling me beautiful. Hmmm marrying a cute mahout and hanging out with elephants for the rest of my life? That doesn't sound too shabby. 

(I'm joking...kind of)

Once we were back and ate, we were able to take three of the elephants down to a more secluded part of the river and bathe them. This time, it was more private and much more relaxing because it was with a much smaller group. 

Throughout the rest of the day, we watched the elephants, floated down the river, and then headed back to Elephants World to catch our taxi back to the bus station.

Interested in staying at Elephants World? Visit their website at www.elephantsworld.org! A day program is 2500 baht for an adult while the overnight program is 4500 baht. 

All in all, it was one of the most amazing weekends. I'm so happy I got to spend it with my incredible mom.

Sorry Pattaya, Kanchanaburi took the cake as my favorite place in Thailand. 

Want to see more of my pictures from my adventures abroad? Follow me on Instagram!

@pinnella_ice

First Waves of FOMO in Phetchabun

Guys, a participant who is taking my place next semester emailed me today to ask me questions about my school and city, and I am not ok. HOW? How did I get here? I was just emailing a girl who taught before me asking the same questions.

And so begins the waves of FOMO.

Someone else will soon tell First to stop staring at her lips in her compact mirror and go literally insane over a 60 pound kid flipping a water bottle. He'll put on a stern face when EP2 starts another fire in the classroom. He'll order my favorite drink from Sunni and hear the two suns theory from a Australian man wearing camouflage shorts and a wolf tank.

And I'll be gone. I'm painfully aware that this year is probably one of the best years of my life. My heart aches for home, and I'm confident in my choice to leave in October, but once I'm home, what I've experienced will only exist in my mind and in the minds of a handful of wonderful, dear friends I've made along the way.

Leaving, even thinking about leaving, feels very serious because I know that once I leave, I can't come back. Students graduate, coworkers change jobs, shop owners retire. It won't be the same, ever. It's now and a few more weeks, and then it's over.

To participants preparing to move to Thailand reading this blog, you have no idea what's coming, but it's better and stranger than anything you can imagine. Screw coconuts on the beach and cute poses next to elephants. When you come, soak up as much time as you can from your students. Drink as much Chang as you can with your coworkers. And burn into your mind the shade of pink the air in front of your face turns when the sun sets.

It's incredible, and yes, you are the only one who will remember a lot of what you experience, but that's the price you pay for living in two different worlds. Loving people in two worlds. Feeling time fly past you in two worlds.

And believe me when I say that when you get to the end like me, you'll wish you could do it all over again.

 

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Waterfalls in Kanchanaburi

 

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Sunset in Bangkok

 

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When you're too cheap to rent two bikes

 

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Rainy season photo op

 

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He can read and write in Thai and he ran a marathon with almost no prep

 

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EP2 advisor job desc--"You're like their mom now"

 

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You'll only get it if you've lived in Thailand



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Ferry to Koh Chang for a solo weekend trip
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Every 00 girl's dream--Britney Spears in Bangkok



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Maybe I'll name my son Pong or Nut. Middle name at least.

 

 

 

A Weekend in the (Phetcha)boonies

This weekend was one of our three long weekends that we have this semester. Where to go...the islands? Too expensive. Chiang Mai? Been there done that. How about some camping and trekking in Phetchabun

Laura, Deanna, and I set off for our weekend adventure at 4:45am on Friday. We caught the first bus to Bangkok from Chonburi. Once we were in Chonburi, we caught the 11am bus to Lom Sak (we wanted the 9am bus but it was full). Once we were in Lom Sak, we caught a bus to Nom Nao National Park. Once we were at Nam Nao Park, we got a ride in the back of a truck to the campground. And finally, at 9pm, 16 hours after our initial departure, we arrived at our destination of Nam Nao National Park.

Nam Nao nat park
 

Unfortunately, once we got to the campsite it was dark out. We were having a difficult time setting up the tent that we rented. Seeing us struggle, one of the campers near us asked if we wanted help. Of course we wouldn't turn down an extra set of hands. As soon as we said yes, 6 other people came and helped (when I say helped I mean they set it up for us). They asked us how long we've been in Thailand, why we're here, etc, etc. After about 10 minutes, they had it all set up, including our sleeping bags laid out inside the tent. We thanked them and they went back to their tents. 

Thai people really are the best people on this planet. They are so nice, helpful, and eager to learn about your culture. 

The next morning, we woke up at 5am. We wanted to go to a place in the park called the Sunrise Viewpoint. Unfortunately, we didn't wake up quite early enough so we didn't make it for the sunrise. However, we still trekked the 3ish miles to the viewpoint. We might not have seen the sunrise, but the view was far from disappointing. You could see the fog rising over the lush green mountains. Pictures don't even come close to doing it justice. 

Viewpoints 2

After spending some time at the viewpoint, we decided to walk to a cave that we saw was nearby. It was only about 8 kilometers from the viewpoint so we figured we would walk along the main street to the cave. After about 4 kilometers, we got tired and lost so we decided to hitch a ride in the back of a truck to the cave. 

The man dropped us off at the Sunset Viewpoint. However, according to the map we saw it was still about 2 more kilometers away. The man seemed confused when he picked us up, so we figured he misunderstood where we wanted to go (that tends to happen when you speak two completely different languages). We kept walking and walking. Finally, after 30 minutes of walking and still not seeing any signs for the cave, we decided to map it. I saw that it was only another 2 kilometers away. We were almost there! Then...we weren't. After walking way more than 2 kilometers, I decided to check the map again. I realized that it was 2 kilometers from where we started...the opposite way of where we were headed. At that point we decided to give up and hitch a ride back to the campsite.

Elephant crossing

After about 10 minutes, a nice group of young Thai friends stopped and were able to squeeze us in there car. We passed by the Sunset Viewpoint again and saw a sign for the cave...the first person we got a ride from was right. At this point it was too late and we too little energy to stop. Moral of the story: always listen to Thai people - they know what they're doing. 

The drivers decided to stop off at the Sunrise Viewpoint. Once we were up there, the driver picked a leaf off a tree and started eating it. I'm enjoying the view and all I hear is Laura say, "Uhm is he eating a tree?" I looked over and sure enough, that's exactly what he was doing. Him and his friends pointed to a sign on the tree that was in Thai and said that it was good to eat. So we all decided to pick a leaf and try it. The flavor was like a strong mint mixed with sap. Basically, it tasted like you would expect a leaf to taste. We still aren't sure if it was actually a thing to eat this type of tree or if they were just messing with us stupid Americans. 

Once we were back at the campsite, we packed up our stuff, returned the tent, and waited for the bus back to Lom Sak. 

After an hour bus ride, we were back at the Lom Sak bus station. There, we found out that there is a bus that you can hop on for 40 baht that would take you to the bottom of the mountain where the magnificent temple Wat Pha Sorn Kaew is. 

After we got on the bus, we were on our way to Wat Pha Sorn Kaew. We drove down a twisty highway through the mountains. It was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever seen.

About an hour later (there was some confusion with our songthaew driver that took us up the mountain to the temple), we were there. 

We were starving and getting hangry, so we went to a little cafe right next to the temple called Piney. They had great food and tables on a picturesque patio overlooking the mountains. 

Piney

Once we ate, we went to the temple. 

The temple was absolutely breathtaking. Between the cloud covered mountains in the background, the white Buddha temple, and the mosaics,  it was a unique sight that left me speechless. 

Temple
Temple
Temple
Temple
Temple

After the temple, we went back to the Lom Sak bus station (yes for the fourth time in 24 hours) and caught a bus back to Bangkok. 

It was a long and tiring weekend, but the things I saw were one of a kind. While we spent most of the time on transportation of some kind, it was all worth it. The air was fresh, the people were nice, and the views were beautiful. 10 out of 10 would recommend Phetchabun.

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A Religious Experience

Ever since I knew that I'd be coming to Thailand, I've wanted to get a Sak Yant tattoo. This weekend, my dream finally became a reality. 

What is a Sak Yant? Sak Yants are ancient Buddhist designs and prayers that are traditionally tattooed by an expert monk using a long bamboo rod. Now monks typically use a steel needle tip or a typical tattoo machine. These tattoos date back thousands of years. Each design is believed to offer different protections and blessings. The monk reads your aura and decides which protections that you need. From there, they decide the placement and design. There is a particular order that tattoos need to go in. For example, for your first tattoo there are only three design options. The most common is the Five Lines design. 

Deanna, Laura and I decided to go to the most famous Sak Yant temple, Wat Bang Phra, which is about an hour west of Bangkok. Although Laura didn't want a tattoo, she still wanted to come and experience what it was like. Because we wanted to get to the temple early Saturday morning, we stayed in the Nakhon Pathom Province at a little place called the Hidden Holiday House. It was off the beaten path but one of the most beautiful places I've seen in Thailand so far. 

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On Friday, we took a bus to Bangkok and then took a bus from Victory Monument to Salaya, which cost us 23 baht. Once we were dropped off, we got a taxi which took us the 15 kilometers to Hidden Holiday House. There, we were greeted by the amazing couple that own it and their adorable dog, Susie. Because we didn't get there until about 10:30pm, we went to bed shortly after arriving. 

The small hut we stayed in didn't have AC, only a fan, had a disconnected bathroom, and was right on the river. It almost felt like luxorious camping.

Saturday, we woke up at 5:45am to watch the sunrise. It was an early wake up call but, man, was it worth it.  IMG_4075 IMG_4081

After showering, drinking coffee, and talking to the couple, we were on our way to Wat Bang Phra. Luckily, the owners of Hidden Holiday House arranged a tuk tuk to take us there. 

*If you decide to get a Sak Yant at Wat Bang Phra and need a place to stay, we highly recommend Hidden Holiday House!*

We finally arrived around 7:15am. There were already several people waiting to be tattooed. We bought the offering outside of the temple which consisted of flowers, sticks of incense, and a carton of cigarettes. It cost us each 75 baht. Once we entered the temple, we set the offering and an additional 20 baht down for the monk to accept.

We sat on the temple floor and waited for the monk to arrive to begin tattooing. He arrived around 8:15, blessed our offerings, and began to tattoo visitors. After about an hour, it was our turn. 

We were tattooed and blessed by Luang Phi Nunn, who is currently the most well known monk at the temple. One difference about him is that he uses a standard tattoo gun machine rather than the traditional bamboo rod. 

Deanna and I both received the five lines design. Each line stands for the following:

1. The first row prevents unjust punishment and leans in your favor when the area is grey, cleans out unwanted spirits and protects the place you live in.

2. The second row reverses and protects against bad horoscope constellations and bad fortune.

3. The third row protects you from the use of black magic and anyone who tries to put a curse on you.

4. The fourth row energizes your good luck, success and fortune in your future ambitions and life style.

5. The fifth row is to gain charisma and attraction to the opposite sex. It also is a boost to the fourth row.

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It was such an incredible honor to receive this tattoo and blessing. 

NOTE: Because it was a religious process, pictures inside the temple of the tattooing was not allowed. 

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Reflections

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

– Gustave Flaubert

I have now been in Thailand for about six weeks - 

        by this time three years ago I had already completed my study abroad in Italy,

        I was wrapping up my last two weeks of work in London by this time last summer

- and I'm not even close to being halfway done here.

The past six weeks have flown by. Some have been a breeze, and some not so much. 

I have seen some of the most beautiful places, but many came with discomfort and confusion along the way.

I am having the time of my life, but there's also a constant pang of missing my family and home comforts. A pesky pang like a minor headache that you can never quite get rid of. And sometimes when I'm walking down the street and getting stared at for looking different, I miss the life that I expected to live up until February; a life working at a familiar company, in a familiar community, with familiar people in London. 

But then I walk into the classroom and see my students. Or I get off whatever plane, train, or automobile I took that weekend and see a new, spectacular place. Or even the small things like when I am awoken by the crow of the roosters outside of Suporn Place every morning. In those moments I realize it is all worth it. 

I am extremely blessed to have this opportunity. I know that when I get on the plane to come home I will never be the same. I have seen and experienced such a variety of people and cultures. I have been welcomed with open arms and have found people who have similar values and goals as me. 

Before I came here, I thought of myself as an experienced traveler. I had been to 11 countries in my life. That sounds impressive, right? That's a mere 5.6% of the world's countries. All of the countries had been in Europe and North America - 28.6% of the world's continents. There is still a lot of the world for me to discover. More importantly, that's a lot of cultures for me to learn about. When I came here, I realized how little experience I have and how little I actually know about the world. I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list. 

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am so grateful that I am lucky enough to take part in it. Even through the good, the bad, and the ugly I know that I am constantly growing into a more well-rounded, aware individual. 

If you have a similar opportunity, don't let fear or nerves hold you back. There will be tears. There will be hard times. And more than likely, there will be a stomach bug or two. But in the end, it is more than worth it.

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