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8 posts categorized "Elizabeth Feroze"

10 Reasons to Explore Thailand in 2017

If you’re like me, traveling is at the top of your list of New Years Resolutions. Obviously, there are so many reasons that Thailand is arguably the most magical place on earth, but in case you need more convincing, here are my top 10 reasons to get yourself on a plane to Thailand this year:

  1. To hop from place to place without needing more than the contents of your backpack. The year-round mild weather makes packing for spontaneous trips super easy. Whether you’re headed north to the mountains, or south to the beaches, deciding what you need is a breeze. Check out my go-to packing list for ThailandImage
  2. To get the most for your money. This is the most practical reason on my list. Simply put, your money can go incredibly far. I typically spend 30 -50 Baht on a full (delicious) Thai meal. That’s around $1 USD! The hostels that my friends and I stay at range from $4-8 USD per night, and the train from my city to Bangkok costs 12-20 Baht (around 50 cents) each way. If you want to travel to a new place, and you’re worried about money, know that you will be able to see and do much more here in Thailand than anywhere in Europe, for example.  Image
  3. To venture beyond the tourist spots and find the hidden gems. It’s easy to get sucked into tourist traps like Khao San Road and Patong Beach. Those are great places to start, but if you look hard enough (and get to know the locals), your efforts will be rewarded in hidden Thai tea houses, breathtaking views, forgotten temples, and instagram-worthy train rides. Image
  4. To feel the magic of a Thai music festival. This weekend, my friends and I went to a semi-obscure indie music festival in Saraburi. It was unlike any festival I’ve been to in the US. Think Christmas lights, camping, and chilled out Thai acoustic bands… all in a green valley surrounded by mountains! Image
  5. To savor the sunsets. As you can probably tell, I’m a sucker for sunsets (and sunrises, for that matter). In true Thai “mai pen rai” style, pressing pause for an hour, sitting down, and taking the time appreciate a sunset will never disappoint you here in Thailand.​ IMG_0514
  6. To experience the pure kindness of the Thai people. This one goes out tco the many locals who have flagged down buses for us, the amazing family who helped us push our motorbikes up a steep hill, and the countless people who have pointed me in the right direction. These type of stories are not rare in Thailand! The kindness of the Thai people cannot be overstated. Image

  7. To witness every type of landscape you can imagine, all in one country. I live for the views, and the more variety the better. In Thailand you’ll find city life, chilly mountainous terrain, sprawling rice fields, ancient temples, sandy beaches, and literally everything in between. The sheer variety of landscapes was one of the main reasons I decided to move here… And everything is only a train ride away! ​ IMG_2218
  8. To taste the food. Everybody goes on and on about authentic Thai food, and for good reason. I’m not going to try to explain the deliciousness… you’ll have to come try it yourself! Image

  9. To make a difference. I came here to teach, and I have never felt so valued in a job position. My coworkers and students are incredibly determined to learn English, and their energy is contagious. My job has turned into so much more just a job! English is becoming an increasingly important skill for Thai students. You have the skills they need. So why not come here and change lives for a semester? Image
  10. For the friends you make along the way. Nothing brings people together like sweating side by side on a crowded train, enduring smelly hostel roommates together, or getting lost following each other on motorbikes (especially when you have no motorbike experience). Whether you’re coming here with your best friend, your partner, or diving in solo like I did, prepare to meet your soul sisters (or brothers) and create lasting friendships. ​ IMG_0831

So that’s my list… and believe me, I could go on forever. A bunch of people have contacted me since I’ve moved here, asking how I did it and if it’s something they could do. The answer is YES. Once you make the decision to do it, it’s easier than you think.

Next stop: Lopburi!

Snakes, Gibbons & Elephants… Oh My

 

This weekend we almost got pummeled by a herd of wild elephants! ​​​​​Watch the video here!

…I’m getting ahead of myself. This weekend was another three day weekend. We took a 4 hour bus ride to Pak Chong, and from there rode in the back of a truck to Khao Yai National Park

A friend recommended Greenleaf Guesthouse, so we booked a room for two nights and a full day tour of the park for Saturday. 


Normally we are so not the type of people who take guided tours, but after extensive research we realized that the park was absolutely massive, and seeing it all would involve A) renting a motorbike, which we’re still scared to do, or B) a lot of hitch hiking, which we’re clearly not opposed to, but we were kind of on a time crunch. 


So Saturday morning we woke up at the crack of dawn and ate some toast and coffee at the guesthouse canteen. Then we hopped in the back of a truck-turned-songteow and headed to Khao Yai. 

It was the first time we’d been cold since getting to Thailand back in October! It was a refreshing kind of cold, though, and I didn’t even care too much that I didn’t bring more than a flannel. 

Our guide’s name was Lek, and he was so knowledgeable and amazing. Our first stop was at a sweet view point, where we got to soak in nature a bit, and also watch monkeys steal food from other cars! 

Then we went trekking (which, I found out, is hiking but without following a trail) in search of gibbons and other wildlife. Lek pulled out all these weird but effective animal-tracking techniques… like snapping three times and then listening to the wind. At one point he stuck his hand into the hollow of a tree, whistled, and then led us to a rare species of spider. We weren’t sure what he was doing half the time, but his English was great and he pointed out so much wildlife that we definitely wouldn’t have seen without him, and he told us all about it. 


We saw monkeys and gibbons and learned about their different calls. About an hour into our trek, Lek stopped dead in his tracks (something he did every time he sensed something around us), told us he found something green, and asked us if we were ready. Then he snapped his fingers and pointed to a pit viper. Supposedly, this kind of snake is one of the most poisonous in the world, and if a green one bites you, you have 12 hours to get to a hospital before you die. Fearless Lek took my camera and snapped this close-up! 


We saw so many weird plants. Some of them we even tasted… like Bread Fruit, which numbs your mouth for 15 minutes! 


One common theme during our trek was trees wrapping around other trees. I was so mesmerized by these! 


Lots and lots of towering fig trees loomed above us. I’m allergic, but couldn’t help but climb on them (and then use a ton of hand sanitizer). 

By the way, those nerdy white things on our legs are leech socks. We put them over our regular socks and pants since land leeches (and ticks!) are apparently a thing here. 


We even got to see a few waterfalls… 


After a full day of hiking and trekking, we piled back onto the truck, began the drive back to the guesthouse, and that’s where we ran into the wild elephants. They were angry- kicking and charging at the car ahead of us. We were really scared… not an emotion I thought I’d feel while encountering wild elephants for the first time! Eventually we sped around them, drove home, and watched the sunset as we shivered in the back of the truck. 

When we got back to Greenleaf, we had an amazing dinner, and hit the hay. 


We also spent some time planning out our winter break, which we’re spending in Chiang Mai & Pai. The cold was a good indicator of what the weather will be like up there! 

Next stop: A chill weekend in Bangkok to prepare for our Northern Thailand adventures!

Camping in Paradise

Another amazing weekend.

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On Saturday, I took the train to Hua Hin, a beachy town right on the gulf, and met up with the usual crew (Lauren + Steph). The weather was a little drizzly, so after looking around a bit, we stumbled upon a Western style grocery store and bought all the fixings for tacos. Back at our Airbnb, we cooked up a feast of tacos/ nachos with what we were able to find. We made the best of our hodgepodge of ingredients, and enjoyed our interesting dinner on the balcony as the sun set.

Later that night, we went to the night market in town, which was super lively and filled with stands selling our favorite Thai dessert, known as roti (sweet crepes filled with banana and egg)!

In the morning, we hopped on a bright orange bus that brought us about an hour away to a town called Pranburi.

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From Pranburi we persuaded a taxi to take us all the way to the beautiful Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. As we were nearing our destination, the mountains came into view and I was so glad that we all share the same passion for and awe of the outdoors. 

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Then we were there. We followed signs and began the 4 km hike to Laem Sala Beach and Phraya Nakhon Cave. The trail was really steep and rocky, but the views along the way made it so worth it.

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We stopped at the beach to attempt to take a cool (but poorly timed) handstand picture, and also to inquire about renting a tent for the night.

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After a quick rest we began the steep ascent to Phraya Nakhon Cave. On our way, we saw monkeys! They were swinging on the trees above our heads as we hiked up and up. Then, at the top, we hiked down into the caves. Once we made it inside, it was clear to me that this would be one of the highlights of my time in Thailand. The temple inside the cave was illuminated by the light coming through the hole overhead. Despite its remote location, the whole chamber smelled of incense.

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We sat and stared at the temple, and refueled with some snacks before heading back down to the beach. We were happy to find that the tent we had rented (for 150 baht) was already set up for us under a shady patch of trees right by the beach. For some reason, we were the only people camping that night, so we had the place all to ourselves! We kicked off our hiking shoes, headed to the park restaurant, and ended the evening on the beach, swapping stories while watching the sunset.

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The ground was hard, and we didn’t have pillows or blankets, but we managed to catch some z’s. (Side note: I’m currently reading a book about the Dytlov Pass incident, so sleeping in a tent was creeping me out a little!)

We got up early the next morning to watch the sunrise, then packed up and began our hike back to the visitors center. We were the first customers of the day, and we ate a colorful breakfast of pineapple fried rice.

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A nice lady called us a “taxi,” (actually just a teenage Thai boy with a truck), and we insisted on sitting in the back. The views on the way back to Pranburi were stunning.

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After a bus, a train and the trusty old songteow, I found myself back in Don Tum, ready to start another week of teaching.

That’s one more national park in the books, and another place checked off my bucket list.

Next stop: Khao Yai National Park!





Phuket, Let’s Go To the Beach!

What a weekend.

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I met up with the rest of my traveling trio in Bangkok, and we caught a one and a half hour plane ride to Phuket. We met up with Steph’s friend Peter and his friend Jiwon, and then hit the town. The nightlife was so crazy! Maybe it was because I didn’t really research that aspect of Phuket, but I definitely did not expect to be out dancing and drinking until 5AM. We had a great time, and it was an especially nice change of pace since I’m usually in bed by 8:30 like a grandma.

The next morning we woke up (relatively) early and went on a mission. My personal goals for the day were as follows:

1. To have fresh fruit for breakfast, (very easy goal to reach here in Thailand, but important nonetheless). We ended up finding a cool little spot down the street from our Airbnb that had waffles and espresso. I got mine with fresh banana and pineapple… Mission #1 accomplished. 

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2. To find a beach that wasn’t as crowded/ touristy as Patong Beach. After fueling up, we walked along the beach and eventually took a cab to Kamala Beach, and it was everything I could have hoped for. Much less crowded, crystal clear water, and plenty of space for Jiwon to practice his yoga.

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3. To drink some fresh coconut water while relaxing on the beach. This one was really easy, since coconut stands are everywhere! There’s nothing like sipping cold, fresh coconut water on a Thai beach. 

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We also had an amazing lunch at a Bob Marley-themed restaurant right on the beach. I don’t know why I’m still so surprised at how good all the food is at every meal. I wonder if I’ll ever get used to it!

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It was a perfect beach day. That night we played card games on the porch while watching the sunset. Then we wandered into to a night market and got some bomb Thai food. 

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The next day we sucked it up and went to Patong Beach for the morning, since we had limited time before our flight. We worked on our tans (ahem, sunburns) for a bit before cabbing back to the airport. 

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On the airplane, I found myself giving travel advice to a couple who were headed to Bangkok for the first time. It’s was a great/ surreal feeling to finally be the person giving directions and recommending all the cool spots, instead of the one asking! 

Needless to say, we stopped at the Chatuchak Weekend Market yet again on our way back. We got the same lunch as last week (garlic chicken on rice), followed by coconut/ Thai tea ice cream + sticky rice, of course. It’s becoming a Sunday tradition and I am so okay with it! 

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The weekend really flew by, but I think we squeezed every last drop out of it. It was spent with good food, great views, and even better people. 

Next stop: We made the executive decision that one beach weekend wasn’t enough, so Hua Hin here we come! 

Temples & Tuk Tuks

This weekend was awesome. On Saturday I woke up before the sun and hitched a ride on a songteow headed to Nakhon Pathom. From there I took the all too familiar bus straight to Bangkok to meet up with Lauren. Then we were all set to depart for Ayutthaya, which is only about an hour North of Bangkok! One taxi and one (very crowded) van ride later, we had arrived. Traveling is getting way easier as I’m learning my way around… And it doesn’t hurt to have amazing coworkers to draw you maps before every trip!

Unfortunately, our third musketeer (Steph) had gotten really sick last week and had to miss out on the temple-ing. Steve, (who was meeting us in Ayutthaya but had gotten there the day before), also came down with a nasty bug right before we got there. Summed up in one sentence: extreme food poisoning in a hostel with no A/C and a shared bathroom! (Check out ShutupSteve.com for a good laugh).

Anyway, Lauren and I checked up on Steve, got a room at a hostel (Tony’s), and rented bikes for the day! There were too many temples and ruins to count. The city of Ayutthaya was, at one point, the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. It was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. All that remains of the old city are ruins and temples, and it seems like you can feel the air change as you enter the sacred spaces. Here are some highlights…

1. Ayutthaya Historical Park – Larger than life temples!

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2. Wat Maha That – The famous Buddha head engulfed in tree roots. Nobody knows how it got there, but there are a few theories.

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3. Wat Ratchaburana – We got to climb to the top from inside! Steep & a little claustrophobic but worth it.

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4. Wat Lokayasutharam (aka a giant reclining Buddha) – Definitely awe-inspiring. We lit some incense and left a few flowers as an offering.

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5. Wat Chaiwatthanaram at sunset –We met up with a two other gals from our program that evening. The five of us caught an amazing sunset, which led to many OMG-I’m-actually-in-Thailand moments.

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That night we headed back to Soi 2 (the street our hostel was on, very popular with backpackers!) and grabbed dinner/ dessert at a local restaurant. After that, we got hour-long Thai massages on an outdoor loft overlooking a music venue, and listened to acoustic renditions of Western music. In such a foreign place it’s always comforting to hear familiar music. It was so relaxing, in fact, that Lauren and I both fell asleep during our massages, and our Thai masseuses thought it was hilarious. 

The next morning we woke up early and had – dare I say it – the best breakfast I’ve had in Thailand. I know, I say that about every meal, but I’ve been missing real coffee so much. Here, everybody drinks instant (powdered) coffee, and it’s rare to find espresso! So I was in heaven eating my local fresh fruit with yogurt/ granola, and real coffee on the side. 

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We visited a few more beautiful temples after that, and beat all the crowds. Eventually we caught a van back to Bangkok and made a pitstop at Chatuchak Weekend Market. I think that’s becoming one of our favorite places, especially since it’s located right off the Mo Chit sky train station. We had a delicious lunch of garlic chicken on rice.

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But the weekend wouldn’t be complete without, you guessed it – coconut ice cream. This time I tried coconut with Thai iced tea flavor, plus sticky rice (obviously). 

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I can’t help but feel so lucky to be here and to experience this culture, history, food, and of course the amazing people. Everybody I’ve met on my travels is so helpful and patient with me when I ask for directions in incomprehensible Thai, and for that I am eternally grateful! They make it not-so-scary to travel solo. As Cheryl Strayed put it, “The world and its people had opened their arms to me at every turn.”

Next stop: Phuket! 

See more at thaiandstopmenow.wordpress.com 




Life in a Thai School

Hello again!

This weekend’s adventures led me to Bangkok, where I met up with my travel squad. We explored the legendary Khao San road, revisited the Chatuchak Weekend Market, and visited colorful Chinatown. On my journey home, I found myself reflecting on the similarities and differences that I’ve noticed between Thailand and the US, and how my Thai school compares to schools in the states.

Background information: My Thai school is a small, private, Christian school for grades Kinder through Eighth. We’re located in a little town called Don Tum, about 30 minutes north of Nakhon Pathom.

School is a truly positive place for Thai students, or at least my school is. I can tell because the kids run around with huge smiles on their faces before school and in between classes, and often voluntarily stay late to practice musical instruments, get tutored or just hang with friends. They are so playful and love joking around with their teachers. They have much more unstructured time than students in the US. Personally, I think this is awesome because it allows them to learn how to entertain and take care of themselves. Oh, and they care about their campus! Each grade is assigned an area and the students get there early and stay late to sweep and clean their areas.

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The school gives them responsibility, holds them to high standards, and most importantly, gives students the space they need to play and grow.

Something else that stands out to me is the reverence that the Thai students and staff hold for tradition. We have our holidays in the states, but never has an American school day been cancelled so that students could intricately craft floating arrangements of banana leaves and orchids.

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Let me backtrack. Yesterday was the festival of Loi Krathong. This Thai holiday is determined by the lunar calendar, and this year it coincided with the Super Moon. I barely noticed the moon during Loi Krathong, as the floating flowers stole the show. The Thai people build these incredibly elaborate arrangements and float them down the nearest river, as a sort of thank you to their water sources. It’s also a time to let go of negativity and petition the universe for good luck!

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I was fortunate enough to be able to make my own Krathong (thanks Teacher Mildred!), even though mine totally paled in comparison to the students’ work. We had the afternoon to work on our creations. Their technique and ingenuity totally blew my mind.

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I mean, come on. These are works of art. How each and every Thai student inherited these insane creativity and craftsmanship genes is beyond me.

That night, my coworkers and I walked to Wat Samngam, lit our krathongs, and floated them away.

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As I watched my flowers drift off with all the others, I felt so lucky to be part of my new community.

See more at https://thaiandstopmenow.wordpress.com/

Will Work for Travel

My first week of teaching was a blur of big smiles, trial and error lesson planning and a million students greeting me each passing period with “hello teacha!” It was awesome and stressful and incredibly eye opening. By Friday, I was so ready for an adventure! 

Traveling in Thailand is very different from traveling in the US. Back in the states, if I wanted to go somewhere I’d research online a little, buy a plane ticket or use google maps to drive there. Easy! In Thailand, however, I quickly found out that planning for travel is much more complicated (but that much more rewarding)! After realizing that googling train times and bus schedules was absolutely pointless, I turned to my local coworkers for advice. I got about a dozen different suggestions and kind of just rolled the dice and picked what seemed to be the simplest route.

I ended up hitching a ride on a songteow into Nakhon Pathom early Saturday AM, where I had a few hours to wander and explore on my own before meeting up with Lauren at the train station. From there we rode the train to Kanchanaburi, got on another songteow, miraculously met up with Steph & Mikayla, hopped on a (very crowded) bus to Erawan park, then jumped into the back of a truck to get to our home for the weekend.

We stayed at an Airbnb at Shanti Farm, where Mr. Hey and his wife put us up in an adorable bungalow and made us an incredible dinner (fresh homegrown pumpkin and tofu pad Thai!) and breakfast (eggs and bananas from the farm & French toast).

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On Saturday night we got to explore the Prathat caves, and they didn’t disappoint. They were massive inside, and I only felt claustrophobic when we had to duck and squeeze through the initial opening in the rocks. Our guide did us a solid and didn’t shine his lantern on the thousands of bats until the end of the tour.

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That night we slept two to a bed under one big mosquito net. It felt like a mix of slumber party and camp out. It’s crazy how quickly travel and shared experiences can create friendships. We woke up before the sun the next morning, and made our way to Erawan Falls.

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We hiked straight up to the top, and didn’t let ourselves jump in till the seventh fall. The seven waterfalls were so beautiful that the pictures don’t do them justice. On the way down we swam in the crystal blue water, got “fish pedicures,” and slid down a natural water slide.

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And that’s one national park off my bucket list! Relying on word of mouth while traveling is frustrating and liberating at the same time. Surprisingly, letting go of some control felt good. It also felt so cool knowing that I had literally everything I needed in my backpack, and that I was able to successfully go from point A to point B in a foreign country.

Less than three weeks ago, the four of us were in the US, wondering how we would make friends, if we were going to be okay, and worrying about what it would be like here in Thailand. If I could go back and tell myself one thing, I would tell myself that everything’s easier than you think! Oh, and maybe also to bring towels and granola bars. 

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Next up: Loi Krathong in Bangkok this weekend!

See more at https://thaiandstopmenow.wordpress.com/ 

 

My First Week in Thailand

Sawatdee-kha (Hello)!

Welcome to my blog. I've only been in Thailand for one whole week now, but I have already learned a lot. This past week has been a crash course in everything Thai.

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My journey began when I touched down in Tokyo, where I was able to meet up with Stephanie & Pa Ger via the CIEE Facebook group. I thought that we would just fly to Bangkok and ride to the hotel together, but they quickly became my "orientation BFFs".

We had one day to adventure on our own, and we totally took advantage of it. In Bangkok, we took a taxi to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, Thailand's busiest and largest outdoor market. We ate fresh coconut ice cream and had our first authentic Thai meal. Then we hitched a ride on a tuk tuk and made our way onto a private little boat to explore the Chao Phraya river and its canals. For the next five days of orientation, we took classes about the Thai language, classroom management and Thai culture.

At the end of the week, we took an overnight trip to Kanchanaburi. I got to see mountains and greenery and have dinner while floating on a raft down the Kwai River.

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Here are a few crucial things I learned in the past week, in no particular order:

1. I'm not in this alone. At my orientation, there were over 150 other teachers. Everybody had the same mindset, and I wish I had known that making friends would be so incredibly easy. It was comforting for me to be in the same place as 150 other people who had quit their jobs, moved out of their houses and said goodbye to their friends and family to set off on this adventure just like me.
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2. There are a million ways to get around. Boat, tuk tuk, taxi, elephants, you name it. Drivers here are totally insane, and every time I'm riding in a car I'm scared for my life.

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3. Seat belts and other safety measures are just a suggestion.

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4. It's only a little bit scary to attempt to speak Thai to the locals. Even when I butcher every single word, they smile and appreciate the effort... or just laugh at me. The language is totally intimidating at first, but after taking a few lessons during orientation, I can almost hold a casual conversation, as long as it doesn't go beyond "How are you?" and "What is your name?"

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5. My favorite word is "Na Rak." It means cute, and it's the perfect word to use when referring to the many dogs and cats you see on the streets.

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6. Breakfast food is essentially lunch or dinner food. This was a surprise to me... and it is taking some getting used to.

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7. Coconut is EVERYWHERE and it is amazing. Coconut ice cream, coconut pudding, coconut everything.

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8. Thai people are super welcoming. Yesterday, I was greeted in Bangkok by my school's computer teacher, and taken to my house in Don Tum, Nakhon Pathom. When we got there, a bunch of Thai and Filipino teachers were waiting for me. Luckily, a few of them can speak amazing English. After taking me to dinner, two of them came over to my house and we talked for hours. I immediately felt at home. Even though I am an hour away from any of the other English teachers in my program, I don't feel isolated at all.

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This is the beginning of a very big adventure. I'm totally nervous for Monday, which will be my first day of teaching. My director at the school (who woke me up this morning and insisted on meeting with me right then, pajamas and all) informed me that I'll be teaching 1st-5th graders, four classes per day. I'll also be the captain of an intramural sports team (I requested purple team). Apparently I'm also expected to sing in the choir. She also stressed to me that I was chosen because of my background in Art, and that they would really like me to incorporate art projects into my English lesson plans, which I will so gladly do.

Right now, I'm sitting in a coffee shop in my little town by myself, and I just successfully ordered an iced green tea. It's funny that doing this in the US would feel totally normal, but right now it feels like a massive accomplishment. Baby steps!

See more at https://thaiandstopmenow.wordpress.com/ 

 

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