Explore
Questions/Comments?Contact Us

11 posts categorized "Katheryn Byrnes"

Teaching … Traveling … Always Learning

I’ve been in Thailand for six months and while many colleagues are heading back to their home countries, I’m staying on for another half year. I will miss the friends I have made, but am looking forward to meeting new ones.

My teaching is going very well. An unexpected boost has been the improvement in my public speaking skills. To help ensure the students understand each lesson, I’ve learned to slow down (I can be a very rapid speaker), be well prepared, think thoughts out fully before speaking, and paint stories out of words. Over the last few months, I’ve made a lot of improvement in how I connect with the students and in my ability to speak more slowly and thoughtfully. These little changes are helping students understand the lessons better, and helping me add more passion to my teaching. I love seeing their eyes light up when they understand a lesson. It’s one of the great joys of teaching.

Another great benefit of this job is the opportunity to travel. I have trekked over parts of Northern Thailand and into other countries. Sometimes I journeyed alone and sometimes I traveled or met up with others; regardless, each trip has taught me new things. Here are some universal findings:

  1. Public transportation is not that difficult to use even if you don’t speak, read, or understand the local language. (Although it is fun to get lost sometimes.)
  2. People are very nice and willing to help; even willing to go out of their way to provide assistance.
  3. Real Asian food is so much better than the Americanized versions.
  4. Almost every city has its own culture!
  5. Nature is spectacular. The sunsets over mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, cities, are amazing each time. (It even makes those 4 am wake up calls worthwhile).

My majors in college were Archaelogy and Anthropology, which helped fulfill my natural curiousity about history and people. So, during each excursion, I’ve made it a point to explore local cultures. Every new city I’ve visited in Thailand showed me more about how Thai’s lived, their traditions and customs, and the differing dialects and foods that still exist. Each temple I stepped inside taught me more about Buddhism, why some monks joined, why they collect food and offerings every day, and how respected they are by the people. It’s been fascinating.

Some trips taught me more than others and not all learnings were historical in nature. For example, I’ve found I can handle a crisis in a foreign country (between things going missing and possible bed bugs) and figure out confusing directions. But the best part is simply the delight to be found in meeting people and exploring off-the-path sites. I’ve learned so much and have enjoyed it all.

A favorite trip was week-long vacation traveling around Laos. Along the way I met new friends who joined me for tubing, bowling, eating and exploring. Here’s a tip: If you want to meet people bring a deck of playing cards. A couple did this at a bar and we ended up closing down the place and then going bowling until 1:00 a.m. One of the pleasures of traveling alone is having the freedom to set – and change – one’s own schedule. I could leave the cities when I wished to, see what I wanted, eat wherever looked interesting, and travel where I wished. It can be quite freeing to not have to be sociable when one doesn’t wish to be.

These six months have flown. I have had interesting experience, made life-long friends, been able to teach great kids, and chased views I have only seen in postcards or movies. Teaching is no easy feat but I think I have a handle on it and am excited to see how much better my lessons are for next semester! Living alone is not the easiest thing in the world but I have hobbies and friends that make it all better! Traveling can be difficult and costly at times but the views, experiences, activities, food, and memories make it worth the long airport lines or missed buses! I am excited for my next six months and thank everyone who has made the first six months so memorable and wonderful.

The cities and countries I have visited are below:

 

Countries:

Thailand

Singapore

Cambodia

Laos

 

Cities:

Thailand:

Bangkok

Chiang Rai

Chiang Mai

Pattaya

Ayutthaya

Kanchanaburi

Singapore:

Singapore

Laos:

Vientiane

Vang Vieng

Luang Prabang

Cambodia:

Siem Reap

 

IMG_4110
Songkran

 

IMG_4110
Night Market-Laos

 

IMG_4110
Chedi Luang-Chiang Mai

 

IMG_4110
Wat Arun-Bangkok

 

IMG_4110
Kuang Si Falls-Laos

Time Does Fly

Six months. Four countries. Eleven cities. 1,885 photos. 180 students. More planes, trains, buses, vans, tuk tuks, cabs, motorcycles, and songthaews than imaginable. New lifelong friends. Countless memories. Hundreds of temples. And I still have six more months left! Who’s ready for the next leg of my journey? Because I sure am curious to see where these next months will take me. (Of course, I already have plans in the making!)

These past six months have been filled with hard work, some doubts, some depression, and a lot of happiness, love, new experiences, and new sights. It’s a great mix that has shaped me for the better. When things don’t go as planned – items are stolen, lesson plans fall flat, transportation schedules go awry – I’ve learned that when you look for the good and lean on yourself magic happens. It’s a marvelous feeling when a student finally understands a concept, when I see breathtaking views, when a local and I are able to communicate despite language disparities. The good moments keep me strong and their memories linger far longer than those of the bad.

During my time here I’ve had experiences I didn’t fully anticipate: true happiness and deep sadness; times of loneliness tempered with the making of life-long friends; unidentifiable foods, most of which were delicious (although I still don’t know what they were); incredible travels in areas some people only dream about; a deepening appreciation for Asian culture and history, and so much more. There have been hardships and stumbling blocks, but mostly I’ve been able to figure out solutions on my own, pick myself up and keep going. If you’re lucky, adversity teaches reliability and brings strength.

This is the first time I have ever lived alone. That can be difficult enough, but instead of doing it in my home country, I chose a place where I didn’t know the language, was unfamiliar with the culture, and knew absolutely no one. The idea was enthralling; the reality an adventure. I’m strong, capable and adventurous and have loved almost every minute. But, it’s not easy. Living abroad, especially by yourself, is difficult. There is no network of friends nearby, no loving family to visit on a weekend. It takes time to learn the simplest things, such as how to order food, or recognize local landmarks, so you can easily find your way home. Even with extensive research and being well prepared, I still struggled initially.

However, once I looked inward I realized how strong I really am, how much I can handle, and how to make myself content/happy without the help of others. Despite the physical distance, friends, family, and loved ones are easily contactable and make living alone seem less lonely. I’ve also made several good friends and we’ve had some fun times (girls-only nights are amazing). One lesson learned: Next time I live alone I will have a pet as I can’t cuddle plants. Another lesson: I’ve become very comfortable just “being.” Being in the moment. Being present. Being okay with myself: who I am, what I want, what I need; my flaws, my advantages. It has been a bit of an uphill battle to get to this point, and I know I still have a ways to go to be fully content and happy, but I’m secure in my skin and happy with who I am right now.

Just as important – I’m looking forward to my next six months teaching and learning in Thailand!

IMG_2191

                            Celebrating Loy Krathong-November 2017

IMG_2275
                                                  Wat Pho, Bangkok-November 2017

IMG_2479
White Temple, Chiang Rai-Nov 2017

IMG_2761

                                                 Chiang Mai-December 2017

IMG_3658

                                              Angkor Wat, Cambodia-March 2018            
IMG_3658

                                                             Ayutthaya-February 2018





Singapore in all of its Glory

My first trip out of the country was quite successful – except for one small glitch, which I’ll get to later.

During a four-day weekend, I flew to Singapore for the first time. It is a beautiful city, super clean – I have never seen any place cleaner – with a lot of culture. There are small pockets of multiple ethnic groups, mostly Asian, dispersed throughout the city. These include Little India, Chinatown, Arabic Street, and others. Every neighborhood I went to had great food – it was some of the best Indian food I have ever had. There are also traditional events that showcase the variety of cultures that live together. For example, the first night I stumbled upon an Indian celebration. I am not sure what they were celebrating but everyone was having so much fun and the music was amazing.

            My hostel wasn’t the best I’ve ever been to, but I was able to make friends and we had fun exploring the city together. The glitch I mentioned earlier came when I had some stuff stolen from my room, and the people in charge weren’t very helpful. Fortunately it wasn’t anything vital, like my passport, but the lesson was invaluable: always ask for lockers or a safe. It wasn’t until after my stuff was taken that I was informed there were lockers for guests. Overall, I would say that The Blue Jazz Hostel is not worth staying at: It smelled and the photos on Booking didn’t represent what I saw.

 

IMG_3396
Treetop Walk


IMG_3396
IMG_3396
IMG_3396

            Aside from this unsettling experience, the weekend was amazing. Singapore is not like any city or country I’ve been in before: it’s an interesting combination of nature and city, with their beautiful bays, forests, and incredibly tall skyscrapers. The first day I was there I went on a Tree Top Walk with someone from the hostel. This “walk” is an awesome suspension bridge, hung in the trees, crossing through a spectacularly green nature reserve. We were able to see monkeys, hear animals, and enjoy beautiful views. The monkeys were super cute, adorable and seemingly friendly. I wanted to pet one, but I knew better. The last thing I needed was to go to hospital for a rabies shot! (Helpful hint: If you visit the area, don’t try to touch the wildlife.J) The rest of the walk around the reservoir was beautiful and extremely peaceful.

IMG_3455
Marina View from Level 33

 

IMG_3455
Gardens by the Bay


IMG_3455

IMG_3455
Marina Bay Sands


IMG_3455

IMG_3455
Merlion 

            The next day I spent time visiting other great sites, including the Gardens by the Bay, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Merlion statue. The Gardens by the Bay were amazing! There were so many flowers, trees, and creatures everywhere that you couldn’t figure out where to look first. I’d recommend going on their skywalk, too, with its breathtaking views encompassing the garden and the bay. What fascinated me was that the trees which held the skywalk were fake – you sure couldn’t tell by looking at them.

A visit to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel was also worth the time. You can take an elevator to the top floor for a fabulous view of the city – from the bay to the gardens to the skyscrapers. It’s interesting to note the contrast between the industrial side, with all the buildings, and the tourist-y side, with the gardens and bays. Both are noteworthy in their own way.

            The Merlion is cool-looking, but I thought there would be more to it than just a large white statue spitting water out of its mouth. It is beautiful, this sculpture of a half-mermaid, half-lion, but, for me, it was a bit disappointing. I just expected there would be more to see. However, I topped the day off at craft bar called Level 33 that overlooked the marina. Always a pleasant way to end a day.

 

IMG_3503
IMG_3503

            I spent Saturday at Universal Studios and that was not disappointing at all. (After this visit, I spent part of my next week watching Universal movies, such as Shrek, Jurassic Park and Madagascar.) I love going on rollercoasters and spending time at amusement parks so being able to spend a day at Universal Studios was a delight. I went on all the rollercoasters (with minimal wait lines) and just acted like a kid again. Great day!

            I would recommend a visit to Singapore to anyone in the vicinity with the time. It is a beautiful city with amazing food. Plus, everything was super clean, people speak English, and there are fun things to do – both for city and nature lovers. It is a wonderful place to visit and you don’t need to stay there long to see great sites.

I Might Not Be Full Of Hot Air, But These Balloons Are!

If you are following my blog you already know that I have been to Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand, but that did not stop me from going again.

I went back to see the International Hot Air Balloon Festival the weekend of February 16-18. I stayed at the same hostel, Sook Jai, and would recommend it if you visit – clean, friendly, just a great place to stay. I walked around the weekend market, shopped, chatted with friends I haven’t seen in a while, ate great food, and listened to a local Thai band, who were quite good. As I did on my first visit, I ended the night with a massage. This could become a habit –massages at midnight make the night so much better. If you ever come to Thailand I would recommend trying to get a foot massage before you head to bed – you will NOT regret it.

Since the balloon festival didn’t begin until 4:00 p.m., a friend and I went to the Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park, which hosts some beautiful teak pieces and folk art from the Lanna culture. The park’s artifacts, architecture, and artwork are spectacular, especially against the backdrop of its beautifully landscaped grounds, stunning mountain views and nearby lakes. We also rented a motorbike and rode through some pretty scenery to see the mountains more clearly.

That night all of us went to the International Hot Air Balloon Festival. We ended up at the front of the line, giving us a clear view of the balloons floating by. The balloons were from around the world – how they were transported to Thailand would be interesting to know. The US had a few balloons featured; some were heart-shaped, as it was the Valentine’s Day weekend. My favorite was “The Great Pumpkin” from the Peanuts TV special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. My second favorite was the “Pirate Parrot with Wooden Leg.” The balloons had to compete in different competitions across the lake – some floated so high they looked like little dots in the clouds. They were beautiful.

IMG_3332
IMG_3332

IMG_3321

After the balloons powered down we walked around the food booths where delicious aromas wafted through the air. Choosing where to eat wasn’t easy, but in the end the food was only OK – not as good as the smells promised! As night fell, the balloons were re-filled and a light show began (called a “night glow”), accompanied by a Thai pop star. While the balloons remained tethered to the ground, their soft lights diffused the area with a lovely glow as music filled the air. We couldn’t identify the singer, but the music was good and the crowd seemed to know the song. Being it was in Thai, we didn’t sing along. 

 

IMG_3343

This was my first hot air balloon festival and I’ve since added going up in a balloon to my wish list of things to do. Watching multi-colored, multi-styled balloons float through the air at the same time is a must-see event.

This is probably my last trip to Chiang Rai and it was a success. I was able to see the Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park and the Hot Air Balloon Festival, which was in Singha Park so I was able to see that too. It was a great trip to Chiang Rai and I stand by the fact that it is a great city to visit.

IMG_3329

A Weekend Exploring the Past and Present!

Little behind on my blogs so I am going to be posting a lot in the next few days about my travels and the end of the school year.

Soon after my solo trip to Erawan National Falls (which was great), my friends and I booked rooms at a hostel in Bangkok and went to Ayutthaya – the former capital of Siam –

for a day. It turned out to be one of my favorite places to visit of all time. There was so much history everywhere you looked. I felt so peaceful surrounded by the Buddha’s, and I couldn’t believe the buildings were still in such good shape. As an archaeologist, ancient sites and landmarks always interest me. The ones in Ayutthaya were amazing, and I have seen some spectacular ancient places.

What made this place so distinctive, for me at least, were the lack of tourists (it was busy, but not super crowded), and the immeasurable feeling of peace and history that seemed to radiate from the bricks themselves. Being only a train ride away from Bangkok, I may go back often.

My friends and I arrived around noon and left around 4:30 p.m. Despite the short time, we were still able to see a lot of the history. That’s because the best way to get around Ayutthaya, especially in a group, is to rent a songthaew. (Kind of like a pickup truck that’s been modified with benches across the back). The cost is fixed for 4 hours and then you pay extra for any additional hours. Our driver took us to a great place for lunch, and knew the best sites to see. We did not know what we wanted to see, except the Buddha in the tree, so having the guide was helpful because she took us to beautiful temples and shared some of the history.

27707786_1789561644411713_1451324753_o

As we arrived at lunchtime our guide took us to an amazing Thai restaurant where we shared everything and ate so much good food, it was some of the best Thai foods I have had so far. My face in the photo below shows how much I loved it and how good it all looked. After lunch our driver took us to Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. Built in the 1300’s as a Buddhist temple, this impressive monastery is still active today. The main area is bordered by seated Buddha’s and you are able to go inside to see the views from above and throw a wish into a Thai well. The temple also has a small reclining Buddha and we were able to see them change its wrappings. This was a beautiful ceremony and I was very grateful to have witnessed it.

IMG_3135

IMG_3135
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon

Next we headed over to Wat Mahathat, where the famous Buddha Head in the Tree is located. This temple is situated in the center of Ayutthaya but its date has not yet been established, although it was most likely built in the 14th century. The complex, which houses enshrined relics of the Buddha, was extremely important in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. It was the religious center of the city, and was in close proximity to the Grand Palace. Important royal ceremonies and celebrations were held there, and it has many different statues, temples, and buildings. The most famous of these is the Buddha Head in the Tree. How this image became entangled in the tree’s roots remains a mystery to archaeologists and historians, but the head is beautiful, breathtaking, and worth going to see. The Buddha looks peaceful, happy, and completely at ease at being part of the tree. No matter how it got there it looked like it belonged.

 

IMG_3168
Wat Mahathat

The last temple we had time to see was Wat Thammikarat, which is located next to a Grand Palace. This ancient place of worship was built by Phraya Thammikarat before Ayutthaya was firmly established as a city. Not as commonly visited by tourists – it’s a bit out of the way – makes it a very serene site. Lion statues stand guard, a multi-headed Nagas (a mythical serpent-type spirit) offer additional protection and rooster statues dot the landscape. The quietness of this ruin was a nice change to the busy-ness of the other temples.

IMG_3181
Wat Thammikarat

I loved all three of the temples, but my favorite image of all was the Buddha in the Tree at Wat Mahathat. If you ever go to Ayutthaya do not worry about seeing all of the many monasteries, but rather spend quality time at a few so you can soak up the history of these ancient, sacred sites.

After our day in Ayutthaya my friends and I took a train back to Bangkok and arrived in time for dinner. We went to the Wine Connection, a chain Italian restaurant in Thailand, and had a great time eating amazing foods and enjoying the good wine. After a day of touring and eating we were ready to walk around Bangkok and see what the area had to offer. While wandering around, we were asked if we wanted to see a show at a fixed rate. Once we arrived and spent about 30+ minutes we were told that the fixed rated didn’t exist – instead of the 300 Baht per person originally promised, they were trying to charge us 1000 Baht per person. We left. But it was a valuable reminder that we should always be on our guard no matter how comfortable we feel. In every country there will be some people who will try their hardest to rip off tourists. And large cities, like Bangkok, are often the worst places. The best part of the experience was that we decided to end the days with a massage. Massages after a day of traveling are always a good idea and make the day seem less long.

 

IMG_3149
Wat Mahathat
IMG_3149
Wat Thammikarat

I would recommend going to Ayutthaya one day if you love history, ruins, Buddhism, or just want to get out of Bangkok. It is totally worth it to get on a train and go to Ayutthaya; you only need a day if you have limited time.

 

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.

IMG_2977

            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.

IMG_2986
Tier 2

            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.

Untitled

            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.

Tangled Dreams and Elephant Love

I kicked off the New Year with amazing people, eating incredible food, and participating in wondrous activities in the city of Chiang Mai, located in northern Thailand. Read on to learn about the city of Chiang Mai, elephants and New Year traditions.

Chiang Mai is a beautiful city rich in history. Founded in 1296, the gate that was built then is still standing today. Brick walls separate the ancient section from the new city and when you walk beyond the walls you can see a change in architecture, and a lack of tourists. The only time I left the Old City was for the Saturday Market and to visit Art in Paradise. There is enough to see in the Old City that if you are there for a few days you might not want to leave.

IMG_2753Old City Gate
IMG_2753

            A Christmas party with my department at school on Friday night prevented me from leaving Friday, so instead I woke up early on Saturday and took the first flight out to Chiang Mai. Being the first of my group to arrive at the hostel, I used the time to walk around the Old City a bit, and found a market. Food in the North is slightly different than in other areas of Thailand. It was a lot of fun trying new Northern style dishes and I would get them again, if I could ever remember their names.

            Once everyone arrived, we spent a lot of time exploring the area. There are numerous Buddhist temples to see, and well worth the trip. We visited several, but I’ll talk about three: Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phan Tao, and Wat Phra Sing. Each is beautiful in its own way, and each has a distinctive style.

  • Wat Chedi Luang has three temples on its grounds: one modern, one ancient, and one that I thought was just breathtaking. The ancient temple, Wat Chedi Luang, is made of stone. The one that appears more modern, and which is also the first one you see, is called Wat Ho Tham. The breathtaking one is Wat Sukmin. You would never know there were three temples if you didn’t walk around Wat Ho Tham. This “3-in-1” temple site is well worth a visit – you can even chat with a monk and learn more about the Buddhist religion and the lifestyle of a monk.

IMG_2795Wat Chedi Luang
IMG_2795Wat Sukmin
IMG_2795 Wat Ho Tham

  • A few steps down the road from Wat Chedi Luang is Wat Phan Tao, a temple made entirely of teakwood. This is the first temple I’ve seen that isn’t stone or modern materials. The teakwood temple was marvelous and is still in use today so I was able to walk into this beautiful place. Behind the temple there were monks hanging lanterns in the trees and around the golden section for New Year’s Eve. These are at midnight to welcome in the New Year!

IMG_2811Wat Phan Tao

  • Wat Phra Sing is one of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai. Many celebrations are held there, inspirational quotes are hung, and a beautiful Buddha, which legend says was brought there from Sri Lanka, gazes peacefully around.

IMG_2830Wat Phra Sing

The grounds around these temples are breathtaking, the amount of gold, impressive, and the markets bursting with delicious foods and interesting pieces, including wallets made of leaves. I’d recommend visiting Chiang Mai just for those reasons, but the area is also known for its elephant sanctuary.

I went with the company Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and they were amazing! 10/10 – I’m not being paid in any way, but I’d recommend them to anyone. They picked us up at our hostel, took us to the sanctuary, gave us shirts for when we saw the elephants (so our clothing wouldn’t get dirty), provided lunch, gave us snacks to feed to the elephants, and even gave us gifts (purses) that we saw in the markets. The employees were super helpful, engaging, fun, and informative. Elephants are my spirit animals and I was never happier than when I was spending time with them. We were able to pet and feed them –the mother elephant even began to hoard the bananas because she received so many. The baby, Nala, was my favorite elephant because she was only a few months old, super playful, and did what ever she wanted. At one point she just stayed underneath the hose head and let the water run underneath her. The two-year old was acting like a normal two year-old and breaking things so he could play with them. He broke the trap and started swinging it around (check out the video, below).

The elephant sanctuary has been my favorite experience so far – and I don’t think much will top it. I fed these majestic creatures, bathed them, and even rolled around with them in the mud. The mud baths were so much fun – I was able to throw mud around and not get in trouble! It was so amazing and I can’t wait until I can play with the elephants again – totally going to be going to the same sanctuary in April.

 

IMG_2868
IMG_2868
IMG_2868

            That night was New Year’s Eve and Chiang Mai is famous for its floating lanterns. My friends and I all made promises for the New Year and released our lanterns together. I sang songs from Tangled as I sent my wishes and promises into the night sky. This was an amazing experience because I was able to start the New Year off in a way I’ve never done before. The year has started off really well thanks to those wishes!

 

IMG_2904
IMG_2904

            Monday was spent within the Art of Paradise Museum, which is an illusion museum. I fell off cliffs, became a mermaid, hung out with pandas, and drank cola with polar bears. This was my first illusion museum and I had a lot of fun being in these art pieces. It was so different than going to an art museum because instead of enjoying the art I was the art. It was a new way to look at and experience artwork. I finally got time to relax Monday afternoon and stayed at the hostel, reading in the hammock and playing with their cats.

 

IMG_2920Art in Paradise

            The night markets were some of the busiest I have ever seen. They have Saturday Night Markets and Sunday Night Markets every weekend. As it was a holiday weekend the Sunday Night Market was open on Monday night as well, and they were crowded. The food was amazing: everything was very fresh and I was able to try new foods and some homemade Thai wine. The goods sold were similar to what I have seen before mixed in with many new items as well. Most of those were made out of wood or handmade jewelry. If I wasn’t flying home I would have purchased more, but I didn’t want to break any thing.

            Chiang Mai is beautiful and I can’t wait to go back again in April for Songkran, the Thai New Year’s Festival.

It's Christmas Time in the City

The American holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas is my favorite time of year. This is mostly because of heartwarming traditions, fun festivities, my birthday, loving family and friends, and the optimistic spirit that seems to permeate the atmosphere. If you don’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving you can still feel the change in the air; you can feel other people’s happiness and see the joy in children’s faces.

Even in Thailand, a Buddhist country, I’m experiencing this special holiday. Everywhere I look there are decorations, trees, lights, signs for New Year’s/Christmas, and carols playing in stores. My school is decorated with trees, inflatable Santa’s and other items, and this morning they sang Christmas carols and held a Christmas assembly. (Check out displays from my school and Bangkok, below.)

 

IMG_2645

IMG_2645
Central World Decorations

 

IMG_2645
Siam Paragon

Celebrating holidays in a foreign country can be difficult. Traditions are different and there is a strong feeling of nostalgia and homesickness that comes from being away from family and close friends. This is my first holiday season without my family and it is a little harder than I would have thought. It’s also hard adjusting to a different climate. Being from New England I am used to the more northern, winter-like weather. In Thailand the temperature has averaged 80+ degrees Fahrenheit since I’ve been here, making me really miss that cold nip in the air which, for me, heralds the arrival of the Christmas season.

I am writing this and wishing for a cup of hot chocolate, while watching the snow fall and smelling Christmas cookies baking in the oven. Yet, I am content, having settled for a cup of coffee and watching the lake move in the direction the wind blows. It’s a lovely sight, just not the same scenario I’m used to. Instead of traditional baking scents, I smell Thai foods and desserts. They may not be my mom’s cookies, but they still smell delicious. I also must admit that I am happy not to shovel, or to be on jammed on highways packed with other travelers. Fortunately, our temperatures have recently dropped so it’s much cooler, and the spirit is still alive here between the decorations, the songs in the stores, and the happiness people share. That’s what really matters.

As there is no holiday in Thailand between the beginning of November and Christmas, Christmas music began playing very early in November. Some places even had their decorations up and for sale. It was strange hearing those familiar tunes that early, especially as I didn’t expect to see much of a Christmas celebration here. Fortunately, most stores didn’t start playing the music constantly until December; then I heard it in almost every store I went to.

When December 1st came around all of the stores began putting up decorations. Most had a theme of some kind, and many included trees, lights, Santa’s, bears, and “Happy New Year” signs. Music is played constantly in some main stores, such as malls, food stores, and Starbucks. The atmosphere is abuzz with good cheer and people are enchanted by the decorations, and I am excited for the spirit of it all (the movies, songs, smells of cookies). I am able to watch movies and listen to the songs, but unfortunately I can’t make cookies: a favorite holiday pastime. If I had the equipment, I would make so many cookies!

IMG_2617
School Singing Happy Birthday


IMG_2617

IMG_2617
Birthday Presents :D

My birthday falls in December and celebrating this milestone in Thailand was more wonderful than I could have imagined. Filled with love and new people in my life who care about me, the day very special. My department at school brought lunch for everyone, including a cake, sang “Happy Birthday,” and gave me lovely presents. I was beyond shocked by how much there was and how much love the department had for someone who just started a month ago. Some students even brought me dessert as a birthday gift! I felt so lucky to be in a school that cares so much. I have always wanted to work in a place that makes people feel special on their birthdays and this school did all of that and much more. They made me feel welcomed and part of the team.

That night some friends and I went to a local bar to celebrate. In the U.S. going to a bar with friends on a birthday usually results in them buying the person a drink or two. In Thailand, while some friends brought drinks, the biggest surprise was that people bought me cake, and the whole bar sang to me and ate the cake! It was wonderful and I never felt so blessed on a birthday before. Because I was away from home it felt even better to know I was cared for and not alone. I had a great time and will cherish the memory.

 

IMG_2674
School Celebrating Christmas

Of course, being in a new land during these family-oriented holidays, and during a birthday, can be difficult. I have learned to cope by sharing the traditions and joys of these celebrations with my students, spending time with new friends, traveling, and enjoying myself. I have gone to Chiang Rai, Pattaya, and visited new sites in Bangkok with friends. I often go to the gym to work out, hang out with friends I have made in the village for drinks or dinner, or go to the movies with co-workers (Star Wars was amazing! I give it a 10 out of 10). Having things planned in advance, or even last minute pop-ups, have helped overcome the feelings of being homesick because I am keeping busy, seeing people, taking time to relax, and having adventures. In fact, the next two weekends will be full of travel and holiday fun with friends – going to see Harry Potter exhibits and Chiang Mai.

To date, I’ve been enjoying this holiday season and I know it will be one I’ll never forget.

 

Follow me on Instagram for more: kat_byrnes06

Traveling: Alone, Together, or Both?

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

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

IMG_2281
Wat Pho

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

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

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

24115271_1716442455056966_1991872832_o 12.51.46 PM
Friendsgiving

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

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

Untitled 1.32.00 PM
Samae San Island

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

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

 

Follow me on Instagram for more about my travels: kat_byrnes06  

Teaching and What I Wish I Knew

 

    I have been teaching in Thailand for the past two weeks. I can’t believe that it has already been two weeks!! Besides learning the ins and outs of my village and adjusting to a new way of life, I have been working on lesson planning and grading. If you have never taught before, this may be more difficult and time consuming than you would expect. However, when the kids grasp the concepts being taught, their faces show so much happiness it makes it all worth it.

    Being in Thailand for almost a month has given me some culture shock in and out of the classroom. Below is a list of five cultural differences I have experienced so far (more will come as I stay longer).

 

1: The Respect of the Students:

IMG_2366

    The students in Thailand respect their teachers much more than those in the U.S. Yes, the students still talk in class, but what middle school student doesn’t? When I ask them to be quiet they show respect by almost immediately quieting down. The students thank me after each class and even those I have never met still say “Sawatdee Kha” (“Good Morning”) and bow their heads to me. Even though the students in Thailand have more respect; how the school is run seems to be slightly more disorganized than in the U.S.

 

2: Thai School Systems:

            The school system in Thailand is more laid back and little less organized than in the U.S. For example, students do not always come to class on time. This can be because they do not want to, or because they were in a meeting with someone and you did not know, or because they were simply taking their time on the way back from lunch or recess. If they are tardy there is an expectation that they will bring the teacher a late slip explaining where they were, but that doesn’t always happen. Another example can be when an entire class doesn’t appear. Other teachers may assume the impacted teachers have been told that a class is on a field trip, but that isn’t always the case. Adaptability is key and you learn to go with the flow. You realize that receiving information at the last minute about your class, such as them not being in attendance due to an event, is not that unusual. Some of this is due to the language barrier, but some is simply the way it is. It has been two weeks and I am learning to live “Mai Pen Rai” – which basically means, “it’s okay.”

 

3: You will Never Stop Sweating:

    You will never stop sweating no matter time of year it is. Currently Thailand is starting their winter and it is still 80 degrees everywhere with about 70% humidity, if not more. Walking to and from school causes my hair to expand and frizz because of the humidity, even at 7:00 am. You will never stop sweating. I hope to eventually get used to the heat, despite having other travelers tell me it’s difficult. On the plus side, a lot of restaurants have outdoor seating, and the fans help cool everything off. I am also glad there is air conditioning where I live. And, I’m grateful I’ve arrived in October, as it is the beginning of winter. I’m hoping I will adjust before summer. My recommendation for travelers: wear clothing that breathes and is loose fitting, and bring deodorant. 

 

4: Food Stores and Restaurants: IMG_2260

    I live in a village that is well off, so there are stores that sell western foods as well as Thai foods. I have been able to find goldfish, peanut butter, Doritos, and Oreos. A lot of food stores also have potato chips, but many of them are interesting flavors: seaweed, sushi, salmon, and other seafood flavors, just to name a few. Pizza is not as hard to come by as one would think. I have found one place that makes decent pizza, and it’s within walking distance. KFC is located at almost ever corner but some of the menu items are spicier than in the U.S. The Thai restaurants have amazing foods. I don’t know what I am ordering most of the time, but Thai owners and employees are really helpful in explaining the items and letting me know if it’s super spicy or not. I have loved 90% of all the Thai foods that I have been eating. There are some that are not good at all; unfortunately I don’t know what they are called.

 

5: Squatter Toilets and Toilet paper:

    Coming over from the U.S. I was used to having toilet paper in all public bathrooms and toilets that were off the ground. What I have found in Thailand are squatter toilets in about 75% of public bathrooms and bum guns, a.k.a. bidets, in every bathroom (some did have toilet paper but not many). I have used some squatter toilets but am still getting used to them and the bum guns. If you use them incorrectly you get your pants all wet – consider it a learning situation.

Even with all of the cultural shocks I am so excited to be in this wonderful country! I can't wait to make even more memories and experience it all! Stay tuned for more! :D

Keep Me Updated