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Erawan National "fails" I mean Fall’s

        Let me start by saying that the falls at Erawan National Park are beautiful – it was the trip that was the failure; not the park.

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            This was my first 100% solo trip and I will not lie. It was not smooth sailing at all. I woke up later than planned on Saturday morning; not a good beginning as I had to get across Bangkok by 7am to catch a bus to Kanchanaburi. And, yes, even on a Saturday morning the traffic was terrible. I ended up missing the bus and had to wait about 30 minutes to catch the next one, which pushed my time frame back. After about a 2.5 hour bus ride I reached my destination – Kanchanaburi. As my hostel was next to Erawan National Park I ended up on a bus that took me to the park, where I assumed I would be able to get a cab from there to my hostel. NO, THAT DID NOT WORK OUT!! Instead some taxi drivers laughed at me and told me to head back to Kanchanaburi. After a day of traveling, and the frustration of arriving at the park when it was about to close so I couldn’t go in, although what I did see of it was beautiful, So, I was heading back to Kanchanaburi after about thirty minutes.

            Once back in the city I was told that my hostel was too far away and no one was going to take me unless I paid them an arm and a leg. (Totally did not happen.) Food always makes things better and after getting something delicious) I went hunting for a new hostel, because, obviously, the other one was not going to work out. During my search, I encountered dark alleys and several dogs. I love dogs, but when seven of them stood up, faced me, and started barking, I quickly backed out of that street. They didn’t chase me more than a few feet, but it was scary.

            Fortunately, I soon found a hostel I liked. The owners were a married couple who were super kind and nice. I had my own room, hot water, and a very comfortable bed. The end of the day was looking up after my long travels and having things go wrong. The night got better and Sunday made up for all of the fails and learning experiences that happened to me on Saturday.

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            I woke up Sunday with new determination to not let Saturday bother me and to make the most of my time in the area. The hostel owners were so nice that in the morning they drove me to the bus station to catch the bus to Erawan National Falls. Once I arrived I hiked all the way to the 7th tier, which is the top of the falls and takes about 45 minutes. The park is an amazing experience. You can stick your feet in the water to have fish eat your dead skin (it feels better than it sounds), see amazing sights, and play in the falls. Although I didn’t have time, there are also several caves in the area to explore. I was busy chasing waterfalls, enjoying the beautiful landscape, and being content with life. It was a lovely day.

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            On my back down, I stopped along the way to enjoy other part of the park and falls. I spent a good amount of time at the 2nd tier fall. It felt like a small lake and I could sit under the falls. The fish were still eating my dead skin as I floated on the water with the falls hitting me. It was wonderful.

            My way back to Bangkok was much easier than my way to the park had been. After a few hours I arrived safely back in my apartment thinking of waterfalls, fish, and how beautiful the world is around us. Although I had setbacks, I would travel alone again. I learned a few things about how to handle situations, such as barking dogs, and had a glorious time exploring a new place.

Kanchanaburi Round 2

The second weekend in January me and the usual crew decided we were finally going to go back to Kanchanaburi to see the Erawan waterfalls. We had briefly visited the provence during orientation back in October, and while there we went to the bridge over the river Kwai and had a sunset dinner cruise on a boat. We knew that we'd want to go back to Kanchanaburi eventually, as we hadn't been able to see one of the biggest tourist attractions on our first visit.

Oddly enough, Kaitlin and I had a work party on Friday night, and so did Laura and Emily, which made planning pretty simple. Side note, our work party had a very interesting floral/50's/60's/70's/made-up Thai theme to it, even though the purpose of it was to celebrate New Years (two weeks late I might add). Kaitlin and I had no idea how to dress, so we tried to be as colorful and floral as possible. The party was on a courtyard at our school and consisted of a lot of singing, dancing, celebrating, and gift giving! Generally, we had no idea what was going on most of the time, but it was still fun, as I'll never turn down free food and drinks.


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Since we all had the same schedule, planning the weekend was pretty simple. We would meet in Bangkok in the afternoon and take a ferry across the river and walk to the Thonburi train station. From there we would get on the 3:00 pm train and make the 3 hour journey to Kanchanaburi, stay the night, head to the falls Sunday morning, and then take a van back to Bangkok.

The funny thing about Thailand is there are always a million and one ways to get around. Whether you choose to take a motorbike taxi, van, bus, train, walk, regular taxi, tuk tuk, songthaew, boat, ferry, the BTS (Bangkok's skytrain), or the MRT (Bangkok's subway) is up to you! I use several of these modes of transportation on a regular basis, and of course we knew this weekend would be no different.

First, we took a van from Saraburi to Bangkok, where we got off at the Mochit BTS station and took it a few stops into the city. From there the plan was to taxi to the ferry pier, ride over and then walk to the train station. While researching how to get to Kanchanaburi, we had found out that there are only two trains a day that leave out of Bangkok. One at 7:50 am and one at 3:00 pm (or so we thought). But once we stepped out of the BTS, Laura and Emily texted us and said they were already at the station and the train was actually at 1:45, not 3. At that point it was about 1:15, and the station was about 25 minutes away. Bangkok traffic is a literal nightmare, so we quickly hailed a taxi and prayed that our driver could get us there on time. That man turned out to be a godsend because he managed to get us there in 20 minutes on an empty tank of gas.

The train ride there was pretty slow moving, but all the windows were open in the cars so the nice breeze, combined with the scenery, made for a pretty relaxing ride. Around 4:30 we checked into our hostel, got dinner, and wandered around the night market nearby. We stayed at Asleep Hostel, which was pretty basic, nothing special, but it was in the perfect location to get to Erawan National Park. A bus picked us up outside a 7/11 at 8:00 am Sunday morning, and we got to the falls about an hour and a half later.

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Erawan consisted of 7 waterfall levels, the first four or five being very easy to get to. Once you get past the fifth one, the perfect dirt path kind of disappears, and instead you have to walk through water and over rocks to get to the top. We met a couple girls from Canada on the bus ride there, so we hiked up with them and the six of us made it all the way to the 7th fall before stopping and jumping in! That was honestly the hardest part about the hike, as every fall and the beautiful blue waters were so inviting. Also, once you jumped in, there were fish in the waters that would come up to you and nibble on your skin. Some fish were pretty small, and others were much much bigger - definitely stayed away from those ones. It was the weirdest feeling ever, but after awhile I definitely enjoyed it - not going to say no to a free pedicure?

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Around 2 pm we got on the bus back to Kanchanaburi, took a songthaew to the bus station, and got a van back to Bangkok. The ride home ended up taking four hours, and we didn't get to the Mochit bus terminal until 8 pm. Then the bus that Kaitlin and I were taking home didn't end up leaving until 9:30, so we got home around 11:30 pm. The crazy thing is that Saraburi is only 3 hours away from Kanchanaburi, but because there are no direct forms of transportation to and from, we had to go to Bangkok in order to get there. So basically, Thailand transportation can be a real bitch, but sooner or later you just have to accept it. I'm pretty sure all of SE Asia is this way, so really I'm just preparing myself for the two months of backpacking that I'll be doing after our semester ends! Which at this point is a month away!!! And needless to say, the 24 hours that we spent in Kanchanaburi were definitely worth it.

Next stop: Khao Yai National Park!

A Lot of Lotuses

This weekend I checked an item off my bucket list. Just in time for Valentine’s day, I made a getaway to a romantic spot up in Northern Thailand: The Red Lotus Sea. Online reviews rave about the endless sea of pink casting the perfect backdrop for a marriage proposal. So naturally, me and some gals decided we needed to go see it for ourselves. I wasn’t expecting much, but let me tell you—WOW!—I was wrong.

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I’ll backup. Experiencing this beauty has been on my bucket list for a while now, ever since seeing it on Pinterest before I came to Thailand. However, the peak season (early-December to late-February) was almost over and I had yet to make the trek because there were no direct buses to Udon Thani (the town it is located in) from Surin. So, when Becky, an English teacher who I was introduced to through Melissa, mentioned that there was a direct bus from her town, I jumped at the idea and we made plans to go.

No matter how many trips I take around this country, I am perpetually surprised with how well things work out. I arrived at the bus station at 7:30 and hopped on the 8am bus; 4 hours into my journey, I met up with the 2 girls I was taking the trip with, transferred buses, and we traveled the final 4 hours together.

We arrived at our hostel a man short, as Melissa (who was planning on coming with us) had gotten sick. Our host assured us that this was no problem; instead of the two double-rooms we had reserved, she could get us situated in a triple-room for the same price, no problem. I’m telling you: things work out in Thailand.  I have to give credit to Becky for booking this awesome hostel. From the pictures, it was not something that I would typically book; however,  the staff was incredibly accommodating, the beds were so cozy, and the room was huge. We went out Saturday night for dinner and came home to find that our host had left some tea outside our door. We sat in our room, drinking jasmine tea from the most adorable tea set and watching Thai music videos; we fell asleep to the Karate Kid. I forgot what a luxury it is to have a TV—to not pick what you’re watching, but rather fall to the mercy of the TV gods and enjoy whatever they bless you with, in our case a young Jaden Smith navigating culture shock in an Asian country (relatable).

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Sunday morning came time for the main event, our reason for making the trip up to Udon Thani: The Red Lotus Sea. Now like I said, I wasn’t expecting much. Pictures online were awesome, but pictures online are often deceiving. What we had read told us to get there early, as the lotuses on the lake are open from around 6am to noon: this is the time to go. On top of having a stellar hostel, our host also offered private transportation and assistance hiring a boat. Did I mention that things work out in Thailand?

We took off at 7am, cruising down country backroads past brightly painted pink and blue and orange houses as the sun was rising. It reminded me of Oregon, driving through Estacada in late spring—except with a lot more chickens and street dogs wandering about, and the occasional man walking his cow down the road as a steady stream of motorbikes sped by. Other than that, nearly identical to Oregon.

By 8:05 we were on the water. Our boat set out for a short while, passing the occasional lone lotus: is this it? we wondered aloud, a little weary. We turned a corner and—BAM—the lotuses stretched before us endlessly, creating the illusion of a pink lake. The phrase “as far as the eye can see” was invented for places like the Red Lotus Sea, where the pink flowers spread before you forever, beyond the horizon. I was startled by the beauty, initially taking pictures but soon realizing the scene was something that photos simply could not capture. After a while, we put our phones away and sat, soaking in the peace and the stillness and the utter unreal beauty surrounding us in our little boat.

We spent about an hour an a half cruising around the lake, our driver stopping the boat periodically for photo-ops. We sat and soaked in the stillness. While there were quite a few other visitors in boats around us, it was not overwhelmingly filled with tourists like other beaches and towns I have been to in Thailand. Overall, I would highly recommend. 

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 Thailand friends: If you’re looking to make a trip to Udon Thani before the season ends, I would definitely recommend checking out ThaiChaba Backpackers

 

The One With the Thai Date

Normalizing life in a place that so aggressively deviates from what my last twenty-two years have established to be the ‘status quo’ is undeniably difficult. Breaking the cast and making the unknown, known requires an indefatigable intentionality. In Thailand, I have challenged myself to enter every day with an open mind to an extent that it has become reflexive, even systematic. However, every time I think the largest hurdles are in my rearview mirror, a new discomfort or confusion arises and reminding me that my comfort zone and I are all but estranged frenemies. As I work to establish more and more common ground between my students and I, the results are comical. I sit on the ground tangled between the limbs of a gaggle of young girls. Having conversations outside of the classroom is challenging because the topics aren’t scripted. It takes work to find a subject that either my Thai vocabulary or their English vocabulary can accommodate. Today’s topic: hair. They grabbed at my locks and muddled through a slew of questions before I finally identified the vernacular speed bump – they didn’t know that stringy stuff attached to my scalp was technically hair. The event calls to mind a toddler with a Barbie in tow that I encountered in the bus station a few weeks ago. She affectionately looked down at her Barbie, swimming in a pool of her own golden mane, before noticing me. When our eyes finally locked, she looked up at me with the reverence of some dad somewhere looking at the grill section of a Target superstore. She took, what I dare call, an unprecedented quadruple take as she tried to deduce whether or not the plot of “Supersize” was manifesting itself before her very eyes. Eyes darted down to the toy, back at me, down to the toy, back at me again, with increasing concern each time. I understand, that movie is confusing enough considering the acting cameo by Tyra Banks herself, but the potential of a real life expression was too much for this small thing, who gasped and buried herself in her mother’s arms.

My own students’ reaction was far less polite. After they finally concurred that I do, in fact, grow hair from my head as opposed to straw or instant noodles, they moved on to my arms. “WHAT IS THIS?” they shrieked as they performed Indian rug burns up and down my arm – all part of their formulaic diagnosis I suppose. “It’s hair!” One of the braver ones suggests. They huddle up to fervently discuss whether or not a woman could grow arm hair. Or, more specifically, if a woman could grow arm without being Chewbacca himself. When the huddle diffused it was clear that they had not reached a unanimous supposition. The unsettled troop of tiny Thais could agree on one thing however. The brave one stepped forward again and asserted, “Teacher, I no like it” before plopping herself securely back in my lap. I guess that is my cross to bear in this life. Let’s just hope they never see my legs.

Buckle in readers, the confusion of this next anecdote renders the Great Arm Hair Incident of 2018 nearly insignificant. This is a little number I like to call: Emily goes on a date with a Thai man. Let me set the scene. My biggest fears in Thailand are not the minivan-sized insects, or the motorbike accidents, the tourist scams or even the brain decaying mosquito-transmitted diseases. No, the thoughts that provoke my cold sweats in the middle of the night are always the gym, and the technology section at our town’s Wal-Mart equivalent. In Thailand we have had to become accustomed to a certain amount of public attention in our daily lives. But the tsunami of unsolicited testosterone attached to the exacerbated gazes at these male watering holes leaves me desperate to melt into an awkward puddle and drip away. The only exposure that the people here (who seldom see tourists much less female ones) have to western women is the overtly sexualized media portrayal. White women on storefront advertisements puff out their chests and smirk beguilingly. On the packaging of skin whitening treatments, blonde women seductively stroke their desirable pale cheeks. The inundation of material objectifying an entire subset of people, while uncomfortable for me, is irreversibly damaging to the beauty standards amongst the people here. But the time for soapboxes is later, back to Emily’s exhilarating love life.

The gym is an exhausting experience where Thai meatheads with sordid intentions jeer loudly and stare assiduously. Keep in mind, this is a gym. Full of sweaty people. In Thailand. With no air-conditioning. Yet somehow the staring is more suffocating than the sweltering 92 degree heat. One day, a particularly emboldened pile of muscles with a haphazardly attached human neck and head approached our friend to inquire about us. This began to happen every time our male friend accompanied us to the gym, who would then express interest on the muscle monster’s behalves. Several nights later, in a conversation about how romantically, Thailand is directly comparable to middle school, Emily made THE mistake of her young life. She conceded that she was attracted to one of our unrelenting courters. I smelled her weakness and immediately engaged my most disarming carpe diem motivational speech (patent pending). I knew I had her, how could we culminate our time in rural Thailand without garnering the most authentic experience living in a new place has to offer – feeling ragingly uncomfortable on a date of course. The wheels were in motion the next day and our friend/wingman gave Emily’s number to her meathead of choice. Imagine the hilarity when he texts her later only to find that Emily’s Thai vocabulary is limited to about 20 words. His English vocabulary was even smaller. By smaller, I mean he knows how to say “hello”, but wouldn’t stand a chance of passing a quiz on it’s meaning. This is what nightmares are made of folks. Emily was the unsung hero of their rocky communications. She labored over the messages he sent in Thai characters and used two different translators cooperatively to compose messages back to him in his language.

After some aggressively laborious conversational mix-ups, it was decided that they would go to dinner with a translating third wheel, a man named ‘Cake’ that we recognized from the herd of gentleman callers at the gym. It was all fun and games as the puppet master, but Emily’s hot seat expanded from a single to a double when Cake entered the equation, and my fun was over. A double date. Hooray. Under the pressure of the impending outing, my cunning mind worked overtime surveying for escape routes. I sat down with Emily to deliver the news gently – the double date was a nonstarter. If all of us went, the English conversation between her, Cake and I would be inaccessible for her date, named, I shit you not, ‘Bae’. I would simply be a wrench in the connection potential, so I, being an exhaustingly heroic and selfless friend, would stay home to conveniently eat snacks and watch movies while Emily squirmed under the magnifying glass that my peer pressure had created in the first place. When the date finally arrived, Emily brazenly approached his idled truck and hopped in. “Wait, just you? Where’s your friend?” they asked as Emily texted me live updates. Sorry I can’t hear you over the reverberating shame of my Gilmore Girls binging. The date was rife with conversational breakthroughs and set-backs alike but from Emily’s re-telling of the event, Cake was a fairly reliable translator. He even reassured Emily, giggling, that he wouldn’t tell Bae what his name meant in English slang because of his crippling anxiety. Ultimately, even Bae’s nerves couldn’t extinguish his willpower to show off his white date to everyone he’s ever known. DURING the dinner he posted a selfie of him and Emily to Facebook. The post was undoubtedly the talk of the town and amassed hundreds of likes and comments. When Emily and I shamelessly trolled through the comments later, Facebook text translations yielded the mention of knives, roosters, and many, MANY ‘lols’. I can only assume it went well. Outcome disregarded, Emily’s discomfort was totally worth it for the resulting joke material. On an unrelated side note: can someone accept my friend of the year award on my behalf in case I’m not home in time for the ceremony? Thanks!

Until next time!

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The One Where I Got My Wisdom Tooth Pulled For 15 Dollars

    I have been bitching about my wisdom tooth for weeks. Just ask anyone in our office at the school and they'll tell you that it's basically all I could talk or think about at work. I'm one of those unlucky people whose wisdom teeth came in late and came in completely effing sideways.

    A few weeks into arriving in Thailand (by the way, great timing on that one God) I started the unmistakable process of cutting one of my wisdom teeth. I will never be bother by a teething baby again- that shit sucks. Leading up until the last week or so it honestly wasn't too terrible. Then the rest of the tooth came through and decided to point itself directly into my cheek and gums. I felt like I had braces all over again and as much fun as that was the first time around, I really wasn't interested in experiencing pain like that again.

    I wanted to check out the really nice looking dentist's office right across from the school. All the kids where I teach who have braces said that's where they get them. I figured they must be pretty good then. Finally after withstanding another horrible day of tooth; cheek, gum and jaw pain I decided to walk over and see what the price of getting a tooth out would be. I waited maybe 20min to see a dentist, she X-rayed the tooth and said "do you want to pull it today?" I said that depends, "how much will it cost?" She replied "500 Baht." I almost cried. 500 Baht is roughly 16 U.S. dollars. I smiled and said "let's do this."FUN FACT: the name of the clinic translated means "happiness clinic," nailed that one. 

    PSA: I am a huge, huge wimp when it comes to dentist procedures. Once when I was young I had 2 teeth pulled by a dentist who chose to ignore my cries as I was telling him I wasn't numb and could feel him ripping my tooth from my gums. So needless to say, I'm terrified of the dentist. The Thai dentist here was a phenomenal woman, who was incredibly patient, calm and comforting. She asked how I was feeling multiple times and answered all my paranoid questions without getting frustrated at all.

    The whole process was done and over in 20 minutes- including numbing me, waiting 10min for it to kick in, pulling the tooth and placing the gauze. I literally hugged this woman after it was over because it was such an easy and comfortable process. She laughed pretty hard cause Thai people don't really hug each other. I joked and told her I was going to fly back to Thailand for all my future dentistry needs. I was given extra gauze, pain medication, and directions for after care for the next few hours. The grand total came to 650 THB (20 USD).

    The process was no different than it would have been in America except that my Thai dentist actually provided better quality care than my past American dentist. I can't even think about the bill I would have received for this in the U.S.

    So anywho, that's the most excitement I've experienced in a hot minute since we aren't traveling right now in order to save money for the end of the semester to explore with. MORAL OF THE STORY: Come to Thailand to get your wisdom teeth out.

NAME OF THE CLINIC: PasoOk Dental Clinic (พาสุข เดนทอล คลินิก)

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One Part Chiles, Two Parts Kindness

When I told people I was moving to Thailand, a common reaction (after the confused surprise) was, “You are going to eat such good food over there!” Let me just say: Thailand has not disappointed. There is so much good food here—but there’s one catch that I forgot to think about: in a land where you do not know the local cuisine, and you hardly know the language, how do you order the good food?

Some restaurants offer an English menu and others offer a menu in Thai that includes a few photos, so you can point to what you want from a limited selection. Often, however, there is an exclusively Thai menu and you resort to ordering one of your go-to dishes—for me, Tom Yum Kung or Pad See Ew.  I will say that when I first got here, I was really hesitant to order the Thai dishes that Americans over-generalize as Thai food: Pad Thai, Fried Rice, and what have you. While I still stand by this, I would like to note that the Pad Thai here is a holy creation that American Pad Thai hardly does justice to. So yeah, sometimes I order Pad Thai: sue me.

However, on the days that I am able to try new things, I am consistently shocked by the complex flavors and heat that traditional Thai dishes pack. I’ve gained an appreciation for new dishes that were previously unknown to me: Som Tam, for example, is a spicy papaya salad native to Isaan (northeastern Thailand, where I live), that, for 25 baht, is made to order right in front of you on the street. I was lucky enough to learn how to make this dish at the home of a sweet and hospitable Thai teacher. 

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Another result of the struggle to order new foods at restaurants is my food kick habit; when I find something I like, I get these little food kicks, and for about a week straight I obsessively eat this new food every day. In my defense, it’s usually a combination of equal parts loving the food itself and loving the Thai people who make it.

Last month, my favorite spot was a little open air restaurant run by the kindest Thai couple. I still go there often, but for about 2 weeks straight I went there nearly every day for lunch or dinner or both. When there, you are literally sitting in the house of the husband and wife who run the shop, as you are in many restaurants in Thailand. Their washing machine is setup in the back, and laundry hangs to divide the restaurant from the home; a TV in situated in a corner of the restaurant, and the owners sit back there and watch game shows at night, occasionally getting up when customers wander in for dinner. Sometimes one of them is reading the paper, or checking emails. They remind me of my parents with their shows that they watch and the time that they spend together in the evenings. The only difference is that their kitchen is open for business until they decide to close up shop and go to bed.

The first time I went there, I ordered Pad See Ew; the next day when I returned, when taking my order the man eagerly asked, “Same same?” My heart melted; he remembered my order. Since going so many times, I have tried a variety of things on their menu. The husband makes my favorite Pad Thai in Surin, but Pad See Ew is still my go-to. Every time I pass the restaurant without stopping to eat, he gives an energetic wave and friendly smile from where he stands behind his grill. The wife only refers to me as, “Teacha,” and treats me with the utmost respect. One time, in another part of town, she rode past me on her motorbike; upon recognizing who I was, she stopped, waited for me to catch up, and then offered me a ride. I frequent their shop often—the food is great, but these two kind souls make the experience.

This week, I’m on a “pick up food from the market” kick, specifically the vegetables and soups from a woman at one food stand in particular. She sits behind her table that holds the day’s prepared meals: plastic bags (there is no shortage of plastic bags in Thailand), each filled with something different—fried pork, cooked vegetables, krapow moo (which is basically minced pork cooked with basil and chiles and other seasonings), clear soups and red soups and white soups. On any given day, there are 8-10 options to pick from, all pre-bagged and ready to go. I can get a meal for two (which I proceed to eat in its entirety on my own, because your girl’s gotta eat) for just under a dollar.

The woman herself is older, and speaks no English; a 2- or 3-year-old child is sometimes with her, sitting on the table with the food, giggling and chattering, taking money from customers and diligently picking out the coins the old woman instructs her to hand back for change. Each day, the woman suggests something new for me to try, assuring, “mai ped,”—not spicy—because she sees my skin tone and knows I’m a wimp. Sometimes I take her up on her suggestion; other times I grab my veggies and rice as a comforting safe option, and then select something new to try from one of the other food stalls. I have no idea what I got last night—a common phenomenon. It appeared to be banana that had been marinating in some sort of sweet, red juice, served with mild coconut milk on the side. Whatever it was, it was delicious. Tonight, I found a woman serving chicken satay! I got a hefty bag of skewered chicken, served with another bag of cucumbers, onions, and green chiles, and a third bag of peanut sauce; like I said, there’s no shortage of plastic bags in Thailand.

From the sister-duo that tells me how beautiful I am every time I come in for lunch, to the kabob-man who always insists I sit on a fold-out chair he has next to his stand while I wait for my order, there are a handful of big-hearted individuals all over town who are responsible for keeping me well-fed. I used to feel a little weird about frequenting the same places day after day, but I realized it’s normal for a girl who has no kitchen. The smile of recognition I get when I arrive at one of my favorite spots makes the food taste better anyways.

60CE0B06-9935-4C42-AD15-9E2444E64A5EDat Tuesday chicken satay bag. Mm. 

Easy as Pai

It has now officially been over a month since I visited Pai back in December, so clearly this blog post is coming later than planned. This last month has been busy, stressful, wonderful, and eye-opening. However, just thinking about writing this blog and all the others I've neglected to keep up with has me wanting to throw my laptop out the window. Dramatic enough?

Let me start by saying that Pai is a MAGICAL hippy-town that everyone has to visit if they're going to be in Thailand for an extended period of time. I had heard of and seen pictures of it before coming to teach here, so I knew it was going to be up at the top of my bucket list. My school had finals at the end of December, which we had to attend to help proctor for the tests. Luckily, we only had to proctor for three days out of the week, so I took off Monday the 25th, as it was also Christmas, and Tuesday the 26th to have a nice 4 day weekend.

The only way to get there is by flying North to Chiang Mai and then taking a three hour bus or van even farther North to Pai. The plan was for me to meet Emily, Laura, and Amy, who is another teacher at their school from OEG, in Chiang Mai on Saturday morning. I was flying out of Don Mueang on Friday night and had booked a hostel about 5-10 minutes from the airport. The three of them had a work party on Friday, so they were flying out of BKK super early Saturday morning. My flight was supposed to leave around 10:30 pm and get in around 11:30, but it ended up being delayed and I didn't get to Chiang Mai until after midnight.

The hostel I booked was supposed to be open 24 hours, but when I arrived it was totally closed. Like lights off, door locked, not a soul in sight. Thank god my taxi driver gave a shit about my well-being rather than just driving off and leaving me stranded. He so graciously helped me to knock on the door and even call the hostel. Turns out See Hostel in Chiang Mai is NOT open 24 hours. I reluctantly got back into the taxi and returned to the airport. Dejected, I asked the airport workers if there were any other 24 hour hostels...they laughed at me and said "no, but you can sleep over there" as they pointed to some extremely uncomfortable looking airport chairs. There were about 10 other people who were doing the same thing as me, and man we were a sad looking bunch.

It happened to be super cold in Chiang Mai that night, and of course I didn't bring anything thicker than a flannel. I ended up having to cover myself with a dress, put on my leggings, jeans, and flowy pants, and curl up on some chairs for the next 7 hours until my friends arrived. I was also getting through a really bad cold, so basically my night blew. To make matters worse, when Laura and Emily got to BKK, they said that Laura's flight had been booked for the night before (even though she clearly bought the same flight as Emily). She then had to go to DMK and wait a couple hours for the next flight out. This meant Laura was 0-2 for flights out of BKK (lol refer back to my Krabi blog...). Mai pen rai amiright?

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my sad sad sad bed for the night

Around 7:30, Emily, Amy, and I eventually got to the Chiang Mai bus station and got tickets for a 9:30 am van. Another thing you should know about Pai is that the roads to get there are extremely winding. You're basically constantly taking huge turns left and right up a mountain the whole way there. And if you get car-sick, I HIGHLY suggest taking some Dramamine. I was sitting in the very front seat of the van and, after one Dramamine, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the ride. It was really interesting to see drivers expertly curve around the mountain road and zoom past people going too slow. The views weren't terrible either.

When we finally got there, I immediately could tell that Pai was the absolute cutest little town. We walked along the main "walking street" that had tons of adorable shops and plenty of cafes offering avocado toast. We took a songthaew to our hostel, Deejai Backpackers, which was about 10ish minutes out of town. The hostel overlooked a rice farm and had a great view of the mountains and a really cool vibe with outdoor seating, hammocks, and music.

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That first day we just chilled at the hostel, headed into town for dinner, and made our way down the walking street to check out all the night vendors. The next day we got breakfast at the most amazing vegetarian/vegan restaurant right next to our hostel called Earth Tone. They had amazing smoothie bowls, guacamole, waffles, and so much more. This would be our first of many visits (no shame).

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Since everything in Pai is kind of spread out, renting motorbikes is the best option to get around. If you book a tour, then that can cover a lot of ground, but we wanted to see things on our own. So we rented two for the day through the hostel for 300 baht per bike. If anyone remembers reading about my experience riding around the Green Lung in Bangkok, you'd know that bikes are not my specialty (https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/06/boats-bikes-and-bangkok/). So imagine my shock when I realized that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to drive a motorbike (like no shit). So Emily drove with Laura and Amy drove me, and our first stop was a hot spring about 15 minutes away in a resort. There are a couple hot springs in Pai, but they were each about 20-30 minutes away and harder to get to due to our inexperience on motorbikes. Our goal was really to just avoid dying. On our way there we passed some rescued elephants, and saw one being taken for a casual stroll down the street. It was a nice sneak peek of the elephants we would be visiting the following week in Chiang Mai! (Didn't love that the guy was riding it, but at least it was getting some exercise).

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After the hot spring, we went back to the hostel and prepared to get back on the bikes and drive to Pai Canyon for the sunset, which wasn't too far away. We wanted some time to explore and walk around the canyon before sunset, so we went around 3:00 pm. This was another landmark that I had heard plenty about before, and it definitely didn't disappoint! And for future reference, the dirt on the paths is super slippery, so definitely wear some footwear that has traction! Or even go barefoot.

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That night we had dinner on the walking street, and then it was early to bed for us because the next morning we were planning on waking up around 5 am to go to the Yun Lai Viewpoint to see the sunrise!

Yun Lai was about a 20-30 minute motorbike ride away in a Chinese village. Amy was going on a tour during the day that would take her to the viewpoint so she didn't come with us. And since neither Laura nor myself could drive the motorbike, Emily agreed to drive all three of us there. We grabbed some blankets, made sure no one was going to fall off, and made our way in the dark to the viewpoint. Fitting three grown women onto a motorbike was probably the most Thai thing we've ever done (apologies to Emily).

Once we got to the village, we noticed that there were a ton of other vans and songthaews taking tour groups up to the top of the hill. We sped past them and attempted to go up the very steep roads to get there. Unfortunately, a car came down the narrow road at the same time as us, so we had to pull to the side and stop, and with the weight of all three of us on the bike...we tipped over. Thankfully we weren't moving when it happened! So instead we decided to park the bike and walk the rest of the way up.

Aaaaaannnddd so. many. regrets. It was the steepest hill I have ever walked up. We really had no other choice because the bike definitely wouldn't have made it with all three of us, but I seriously have never felt so out of shape in my life. Damn you pad thai.

Once at the top, we waited with a large group of other tourists as the fog spread over the mountains and the sun eventually rose. It was such a cool experience getting there when it was still pitch black out. Even though you're with a bunch of other people, it wasn't hard to feel serene and at peace up there. Yun Lai is definitely worth the early wake up call.

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^ the struggle of pushing the bike back up the hill


Afterwards, we got breakfast (Earth Tone again obviously), walked up to see a White Buddha statue, and saw more touristy things around town. Today also happened to be Christmas, but because we had a jam packed schedule of activities I honestly forgot about it for most of the day. Every so often another tourist would walk by and say "Merry Christmas" to us, and I'd have the same reaction every time, which was generally something like "oh shit, yeah Merry Christmas..."

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Before dinner that night, we met another girl named Amy who was staying in my room at the hostel. She was solo traveling so I invited her to dinner and we all went to this amazing restaurant that someone had recommended called Pens Kitchen. We ordered family-style and everything was amazing! I highly recommend their Khao Soi, which is a Northern yellow curry dish with noodles. I had never heard of it before, as I don't live up North, but I quickly became obsessed with it. Literally, I wouldn't shut up about the amazingness that is Khao Soi to Kaitlin and Kat and anyone else who would listen to me when I went back home to Saraburi. It is that delicious.

The next day I headed into town and got on my 11:00 am van to make the three hour journey back to Chiang Mai. From there I flew to Bangkok and had to wait for a 10:15 pm train outside of Don Mueang airport to go back to Saraburi. Overall I was traveling for about 11 hours. Because I live so far away, going to Pai definitely required a long weekend. But it was totally worth it.

The town itself feels so quaint and it has the cutest stores, the nicest people, and there are so many beautiful things to see, and we didn't even get to all of it. Added bonus, avocados are EVERYWHERE, unlike the rest of Thailand. If you want to go to Pai and see as many things as possible, I suggest getting a motorbike or doing a tour. The tours were only about 500 baht and brought you to a ton of different places.

Our hostel ended up being really cool and chill, but it was out of town which was a bit inconvenient. So, next time I would probably stay at a different hostel that's a shorter walk to town. And I really do hope there is a next time!

Make sure to check out my personal blog for more posts. Next up is Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi, and Khao Yai National Park!

https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com

 

Courtney's View #8: Teacha Try!

Just when I thought my students had enough of me, they eagerly presented me with a bag of mysterious pods...

"Teacha try, Teacha try!", Eye, You, March, Kempow, and Pooh Bear cried. 

I proceeded with apprehension because I had just taught a rather dry grammar point. Pooh Bear cracked open a pod to reveal a sticky brown protrusion, that looked rather turd-ish. 

I pinched off a gooey bit of the mystery-pod-innard and did not fail to notice that Eye and Kempow had whipped out their phones to snap a quick video. All five girls were giggling going on cackling. I consumed the pod-goo anyway and instead of dying, my tongue was blasted with a fit of tangy and sweet flavors. "Makhon Teachah Makhon!", March said. "Makhon is awesome!", I replied.

Later I discovered that Makhon is Tamarind, a thing I had only ever seen accompanying the desciption of ritzy salad dressings...

Tamarind aside, it was just really nice to sit in those cramped wooden desks and be a student to my students.

Below: Tamarind!

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Courtney's View #7: Jokes & Quotes

I have a page in my journal just for jokes that seem to be common amongst my fellow staff! Anthropological work. Farangs, feel free to add to my cache with any local humor trends you've noticed!

1.) Man or woman typically being introduced, good-naturedly cracks a joke to break the ice. While pointing at many people, the person says, "He is my wife, she is my wife, he is also my wife....", until the laughter drowns he or she out. :)

2.) In a similar vein, my male coworkers like to point at each other saying, "He is having a baby."

3.) One of my coworkers gets called "Superstar" a lot, to everyone's immense delight. On a side note, I think this coworker is real close to achieving Nirvana; he is so chill, always calm, always more than kind. Anyway, at the flagpole ceremony each morning, someone will usually walk up to him, slap a chummy hand on his back and say, "He is superstar." Heads explode. I solemnly agree!

4.) When I do games that involve teams in class, students like to name the other team "Buffalo". The class erupts in cackles every time. I always thought Buffalo was a cool team name. But I recently found out it is a way to call someone superbly stupid. Oops!

5.)  I have a Polish coworker. Every time the weather gets cold enough that she wears a jacket, the other teachers endlessly make fun of her for being simultaneously cold and Polish. "Why you wear this?? You Polish!!!! hehehehehe" 

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I partly wanted to write about the above, so that I could write about what I'm about to write about...

Another of my fellow teachers is the most classic British chap you could imagine. A real countryman, like on a PBS drama. He's awesome. If I was going to make a Thai joke list, I had to make a British slang list...

My future job is to be a translator of British to American.

1.) Cigarette = Stick of nonesense

2.) Whiskey = Glass of madness

3.) "You're a Lazarus!!" = A person who has recovered from being ill.

4.) "Did you hear any joy?" = Did you receive any good news?

5.) Faffing about = Frivolously fussing around, not getting much done. Context: Whatever is trying to be done is probably pointless anyway.

6.) "Let's have a good nose bag." = Let's eat some food.

7.) "Let's leg it." = Irish Goodbye

8.) Discreetly say, "Do one" while pointing your thumb towards the door. = Irish Goodbye

9.) "Come and play your bagpipes in my class, Teacher Xubin(Chinese teacher)." = "Come and play your traditional Chinese flutes in my class, Teacher Xubin."

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Courtney's View #6: Rock the Lonely Planet Book Often

 

One thing that is enhancing my travel experience is research. I noticed that ignorance can sometimes breed pessimism and confusion. For me, my longterm travel experience has become more fun once I turn an observant and curious eye upon my surroundings. The Lonely Planet book that CIEE gave us all is great place to start! Reading it while you're in the thick of Thailand sheds so much light and gives to-the-point commentary. Re-visiting the information as you're surrounded by it makes everything hop off the page as it dovetails with your own experience. It explains so much of the country's inner-workings. Researching has allowed me to simply observe and identify and understand. Often, things I thought were very strange suddenly make a lot of sense! My people watching game is on fire because of it. I highly recommend the "Understand Thailand" section in the back of Lonely Planet Thailand guide.

Among the fun things you will find:

- No, you're students aren't being mean when they laugh every single class as you butcher their name, they're helping you save face.

- Yes, that kid is named "Phone" after an actual phone.

- No, the students aren't showing zilch initiative because they suck, it's because they're specifically taught to not be assertive in the presence of a Poo Yai (an elder).

- That dump truck is painted crazy awesome to ward of bad luck!

- Thai men can enter a temple (take up robe and bowl) for as short as a week to gain the high respect afforded monks.

 

 

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