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Koh Phayam or Bust

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Koh Phayam-

Koh Phayam is an island off the coast of Ranong, where Myanmar and Thailand come together and share the sandbox. This once, uninhabited island is a well-known German get-away, and is slowly becoming more popular for travelers of all walks of life . Koh Phayam is a low-key beach paradise and should be on your radar if you are in or around Thailand. If you're not on a Thai journey, then I guess I can't really help you. 

Getting to the Island of Koh Phayam- 

From Chumphon, I took a small mini van to Rangong, about a two hour drive. From the pier you make a quick executive decision based on the following premise, do you want to be sea sick or do you want to move at a glacial pace? I chose the slower option. This ferry, calming as it was, took two hours from the Pier. The other option is a 45 minute speed boat, a little faster for those in a rush to be beach side as soon as possible!

However you decide to get here, get yourself a tablecloth, I mean wrap, and a sun hat because cancer, you have arrived. 

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This thing tops out at about 5 km per hour, but definitely buckle up for safety!

Rent The Bike-

Advice: Once you get to the docks, rent the motorbike, any motorbike. DO IT. There are no cars here, your only options in transportation are motorbike taxis, bicycles, and your own motorcycle rental. If you are on the fence about renting motorbikes, remember that you aren't Vin Diesel and this isn't Fast and the Furious. You will be fine. I didn't not rent the motorbike, I opted for the good old bicycle option. While the little 6 mile up-hill climb was certainly something, it didn't let me to explore the whole island. It really only allowed me to understand what it feels like to swallow bugs and bath in my own sweat, while in 100 degree weather. Not what I was looking for, but maybe that's just me. 

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Beaches-

Ao Yai Bay-

Ao Yai is on the southern facing side of the island. Although it is a bay, it has a larger opening and feels more like you are exposed to the open ocean. As the island starts to flatten out here, there is many more accommodations, a small strip with bars and restaurants, and of course a few travel companies ready to whisk you on all of the deep sea adventures. After speaking to the other non-parents on the island, this is the side to go if you are not a kid person. Although there are children here, there are less of them. In my experience, screaming, naked, babies like to hang 10 on Buffalo Bay instead.

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Buffalo Bay-

Buffalo Bay, also known as Ao Khao Kwai, is on the western side of the island and features a few bars, accommodations, a mangrove forest, and some top-notch views of the descending sun. The water is still and shallow, so float on Modest Mouse, you aren't going anywhere. When the tide is high, you have an insta-ocean backyard. When the tide is low, there’s about 200 meters of uncovered sand exploration to be had. On this beach, there are also frat parties, I mean full moon parties every month for the neon-paint, party seekers at a bar made into a ship called, Hippie Bar.  

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When the tide is low, you hunt crab, or just mess with them...either way.

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The children of Buffalo Bay, doing children things.

Just So You Know-

There is a bug on this island that sounds like Jimmy forgot to unplug the amp after sound check. I believe is it’s a larger, louder version of a cicada. If you have the misfortune of crossing paths with a pack of these bugs in mid-transit, duck and cover because they will mess you up. 

Another thing to be aware of is the fact that this island is inhabited by 20% humans 80% jungle. While humans have found inhabitants along the shore, the core of this island is all the the jungle book entails. There is limited drinking water, bottled water is still shipped daily from the mainland. Electricity is powered by generators and in the heat of the night keep your water close, there’s no ac. Even though I definitely just made that statistic up, hopefully you get the point: more jungle, less humans.

The pier is on the eastern most side of the island. Although there are accommodations on this side, it is not the preferred side to be on. When the tide is out, you can get a glimpse of all the things that people like to pretend aren't happening, like seeing the human dumping ground that we sometimes call the ocean. 

As far as accommodations go, you have a choice between a bungalow on the beach or a bungalow behind the bungalow on the beach. Tough call. These lovely sheds, are the perfect way to enjoy the ocean views and relax after a day of fun in the sun. Bring your bug spray and mosquito net because creatures of the nights may feel the need to co-habitat your bed while you are alseep.

Recommendations-

JJ Seafood and Bungalo-

This place was amazing. JJ and his wife are very welcoming and accommodating and will do anything to get that good rating, I mean make your stay more comfortable.

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A beach bungalow complete with three decks. One in the front, one in the back, and one on the roof. 

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Koh Phayam Market-

A place situated between the two main beaches where you can find locally made goods, food, and all coconut everything. 

Mangrove Forest- 

This is a forest where mosquitoes like to party, with a river that converges with Ao Khao Kwai (Buffalo Bay). Many accommodations  have kayak or canoe rentals and allow you to paddle up this secluded wonderland. Go forth and find your center and such.

Rasta Baby Bar-

A place where Bob Marley's memory remains celebrated. Here you will find good food, good music, and that chill island vibe.

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Water Activities-

At the resorts there is plenty of gear to rent and try out. I was able to try kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkeling for less than 3 US dollars. The only advice I was given was, "just get past the break, man." So hopefully that helps when you are carrying a large plastic boat, trying to get over the oncoming waves. Or you can be like me, and get Shack-style rejected multiple times in front of many concerned observers. Either way, if you succeed, the ocean sports are a good time to be had.


Hippie Bar-

This bar hosts full moon parties and was made by the owner completely out of washed up drift wood. It is also the "unofficial" best place to watch a sunset or so I am told. 

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If You Don't Know, Now You Know-

As always, this is a little bit of me mixed with some cheap, unsolicited, non-credible advice. Take what you need and leave what you don’t.

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A visual representation of what I mostly did while on this island!

Jai Dee

There are some things that one should always say no to: fedoras, going to the DMV, watermelon flavored Oreos, Abercrombie, etc. - authentic experiences with locals is not one of them. So, when one of our friends shot us a message saying her school coordinator had invited us to camp on her family’s property for the Buddha festival a few provinces away – it was a no brainer. As we approached the small town, it became clear that this festival had attracted unprecedented masses. We swerved through traffic and construction until finally conceding that we were lost and haphazardly perched our bikes on a curb to orient ourselves. **edit: haphazardly perched our bikes on a curb for Emily to orient herself as I sat idly, and directionless-ly, by. A pack of interested Thai locals, shocked to see white women traveling alone in the Isan region, promptly ambled over to us. After using their phones to help us find directions and getting to know us, they invited us in for drinks and dinner. In Thai, they do not have a word that literally translates to ‘kind’; instead they said ‘jai dee’ meaning ‘good heart’ which is perhaps the most apt phrasing considering the sheer humanity and compassion we have received from total strangers in this country. And this was simply the beginning! When we arrived to the family property where we would be camping, we were warmly greeted and introduced around. The beers started circling and a fire was built where we roasted mystery tentacles on an open fire (I smell a new hit Christmas single) over the only rudimentary conversation points we could manage. The next morning our host made us coffee while we watched the sun rising over the picturesque rice paddies and oxen awkwardly sauntering by. Seriously – have you ever seen an ox run before? For some reason the word hutzpah comes to mind – so yeah, they run with some serious hutzpah.

We were lulled into deceptive comfort by the serenity of it all just in time for an assaulting group of Thai radio hosts to arrive on the scene. The boisterous men wasted no time capitalizing on how excruciatingly out of place we were (and are… literally always), whipping out multiple go pros, microphones and cameras. Things got away from us rapidly and suddenly we were holding skewered, and still slightly living fish, while butchering Thai words on a live broadcast and video feed. When we thought we’d had all the jesting at our expense that we could endure, the other shoe dropped. “We fish now”, they asserted. Now this was a confusing prompt because as we looked around, there was not a fishing pole to be found. In fact, the only equipment (a word I use lightly) they had brought was a blue curly wig, and a plaid diaper-like ensemble that the boldest among them fashioned into a loin cloth while telling us that he loved us. My impaled fish and I exchanged glances and twitched uneasily in unison. Just when I thought I had reached the apogee of my discomfiture, it was disclosed that our fishing equipment was our hands. And only our hands. I looked to my speared aquatic friend for guidance. He was dead. So, with nothing left to lose, we stripped down to our spandex shorts and descended into the thigh-deep mud. With cameras assaultingly close to our faces, Thai men screamed directions at us and fish writhed around under our feet. With the inaugural warning that some fish had spikes, though there was no way to tell which ones until they were already caught, it was off to the races. This is what separates the boys from the men, I thought as I plunged my hands into the murky water with reckless abandon. What a thrill! What a rush! What a horrifyingly slimy and thrashy pursuit! Our first catch merited lots of squealing and accolades, we were now seasoned professionals though that by no means slowed the radio host hazing. They continued to film us and, as we are confident, make fun of us on a live stream that was watched by 23,000 people and shared by several hundred more. In my life up to that point, I was convinced that the pinnacle of awkwardness was accidentally calling your teacher mom, or saying ‘you too’ to a ticket clerk telling you to enjoy your movie. I humbly stand corrected.

A few weekends later Emily and I found ourselves at a rugby tournament in Bangkok. The path leading us there had been chance encounter with a tournament organizer I had reached out to online that, as usual for our Thai life, escalated rapidly. A week before the tournament, we had our night bus tickets booked and rostered substitute spots on a local team for a weekend of some casual and intermittent play. Wrong. A different team backed out at the last moment creating a hole in the bracket and the organizers suddenly needed me to create a team using all zero women rugby players I knew in Bangkok – awesome. By the time we arrived in Bangkok I had assembled a team with a grant total six players, all with minimal playing experience and all meeting for the first time that day. To play, you need ten players. We strapped on our boots and prepared to be internationally whaled on by teams from Laos, Vietnam, Australia, and the likes. And whale they did. By day two of the tournament, after injuries had taken their toll, we were down to four functional, disheartened players. We implored other teams to loan us players and our dysfunctional squad of four successfully became ten with once problematic caveat – we all spoke different languages. We recruited some multi-lingual passers-by to help us translate in the literal minutes we were given to organize. The attempts were fruitless; introducing: the slaughter part two. It was clear as soon as the first play commenced that none of us knew which positions we were playing much less each others names. The well-organized lady beasts we were opposing showed no pity or mercy, and the blood bath dragged on for what felt like forever. The punishing Bangkok heat and the more punishing full body tackles left us defeated by all definitions of the word: emotionally, physically, spiritually. The shared pitchers after were practically medicine. We shared some laughs with new pals and, unfortunately, practically agreed to do it all again. Oh, how quickly they forget.

Until next time!

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A Quiet and Dignified New Years

Since the end of the Thai semester approach-eth and my chronicling indolence increase-eth, the material you’re about to feast your eyes on is definitively old news. Several lifetimes ago (rounding up), I had the pleasure of visiting one of Thailand’s most widely renown National Park’s with three of my best pals in the world. Should you ever find yourself aimlessly wandering around Thailand, as I accidentally appear to have, make sure you short list Kao Yai! After an hour and a half motorbike ride coupled with a paralyzing 8-hour train voyage, we found our way to Pak Chang, the closest town to the park. From there our well-organized plan was executed without a hitch. That was a test. If you have been a loyal blog follower you would already know that there is no such thing as a “plan” in Thailand much less a successful one. We lumbered off the train, sea legs cramping and splaying every which way, and set off to find motorbikes to rent for our sojourn into the park. Thailand, sensing our utter exhaustion, must have sent out a country-wide memo at this point rendering each of the 20,289,721 motorbikes (keep doing what you’re doing out there Google) in this country unavailable. We unabashedly begged for bikes, taxis, songthaews and piggyback rides at every juncture for the subsequent three hours but the only success to be found was successfully missing the local winery tour we had booked for that day. By the time our humble quartet of beggars found a ride, we had barred every right to complain regarding the 5-foot clearance, standing-room only lorry. We eventually stumbled into the National Park looking like attractions ourselves: vaguely human but entirely too decrepit to not be at least partially monkey. Throwing caution as well as social decency to the wind, we all but moshed our way into the first truck that drove by, pleading in broken Thai that they take us to our campsite.

As luck would have it, we had aggressively underestimated the vastness of the park. After twenty minutes of driving, we were discarded at a point that we deduced to be more than 5 kilometers away from our site still. It was now dark; bloodthirsty bugs careened recklessly down at us, I internally commended my genius foresight for skimping on Malaria pills, monkeys howled distantly, and stomachs gurgled as we dejectedly began our trudge through the dense forest. When our foursome of formerly human creatins stumbled into the campsite, we were surprised to find that it was not a campsite at all – at least not in the traditional sense. Voices boomed from the extravagant, oasis-like cafeteria in the center of the site and a sea of Thai people reclined on luxurious feather-down beanbags under expertly hung twinkly lights while tending to tantalizing meats searing on their state of the art grills. As we fumbled with our comparatively pitiable tent in the blackness, several silent, local angels approached us with lights and general solidarity to help us (put simply yet eloquently) get our shit together. We awoke the next day feeling thankful, refreshed, and eager for an adventure free of transportation hurdles. The prophecy was self-fulfilling. Since we had already violently ripped off the hitchhiking Band-Aid the previous day we had no qualms with jumping into every passing vehicle despite unknown destinations. To our dismay, many of the natural attractions were overflowing with Thai tourists due to the long weekend. Predictably, we decided off-roading would be the only way to satiate our desire for an authentic adventure. We dodged thorns, clung to vines on the faces of drop-offs, hurdled over gullies and waded through rapids aimlessly until we were sufficiently scraped up and at the foot of the largest deserted waterfall I have ever seen. Swimming in the pristine waters with friends while reflecting on the kindness of strangers that made it possible made me acutely aware of how lucky I am to be able to make my own adventure every day. All days are not without setback, in fact most aren’t, but overcoming the challenges and unpredictability offers the biggest payoff I could have hoped for: unrestrained exploration and learning.

Traveling from my sequestered province is significantly taxing on my time and money. To travel most anywhere I have to ride my motorbike an hour and a half to the nearest overpriced airport. From there it will take at least one connecting flight through Bangkok and several ancillary trains, vans or buses to reach any major hubs. And these are only the known travel complications. The farthest we have travelled yet was a trip to the islands to meet up with friends and celebrate the holidays. If you know me, you know my fervent devotion to living and dying for the joke, but the world famous full moon New Years party was perhaps my most sadistic yet. Koh Phangan is a small, notorious party island off the Southern coast of Thailand and a stark departure from the ornate temples and pastoral nature scenes I have been traveling to see. Koh Phangan is the kind of place that gets parents’ spidey senses tingling and anxiety raging all over the world at its mere mention. The kind of place where an entire two liter bucket of alcohol with a single straw is perceived as an under commitment. The kind of place where 5 hours of sleep is more valuable than all the recognizable food in Thailand put together. The kind of place where, had I not been living the life of a rural Thai school teacher only days prior, I would not believe in the existence of sobriety as an abstract concept. You get the point: the island was a living manifestation of ‘no parents, no rules’, but the absolute lunacy in no way detracts from the indescribable fun of it all. People come from all over the world to enjoy a few uninhibited days in this beautiful beachscape. All ages and walks of life were more benevolent and approachable than any mass crowd I had ever seen, perhaps because they recognized that their counterparts were also just looking to have some fun! Our days and nights in Koh Phangan blend together on a canvas of confusion and inebriation (THERE I SAID IT, MOM AND DAD DON’T SHOOT) that includes but is not limited to: body paint, dancing in the downpour of a tropical storm, breakfast burritos, body paint in my hair, snuggling with reunited friends, body paint stinging all my facial orifices, people jumping rope with literal fire, some of the most fun of my entire life, and being forcefully dyed by strangers with, you guessed it, more body paint. I was hardly a collegiate economist, but I imagine New Years would be a great time to invest in some body paint stock if you’re looking to expand your portfolio.

The morning of New Years Day, our motley crew gathered around a generous breakfast feast with a heaping side of head-splitting hangover and self-pity. We swapped stories from the madness of the night before and laughed at the abject ridiculousness of it all, agreeing that this strange party haven was completely disconnected from reality. We all concluded reality might as well be a stranger we met once at a corporate cocktail party. Reality files my taxes once a year. Reality details my car. Etc. In an attempt to reacquaint ourselves with the ever-evasive ‘reality’ we’d heard of, we headed to the beach for a final bout of cool water and ocean air. We settled for a trash-riddled beach covered in empty handles and hung-over travelers napping. We waded into the water where the tumultuous tropical storm induced waves had their way with us as well as certainly a good laugh at our expense. As we wandered along the beach toward our hostel, water-logged and more than a little dilapidated, we passed a blatantly mocking billboard asserting “KOH PHANGAN NEW YEARS – SEE YOU NEXT YEAR”. We couldn’t help but laugh. On the ferry ride back to the mainland, despite feeling like congealed, day-old, overcooked noodles, we were overcome by nostalgic thankfulness for the friends we’ve accumulated here that feel like family after an impossibly short amount of time. The thankfulness, though still abundantly relevant, dissipated quickly when our ferry and van ride were late, causing us to miss not one, but TWO subsequent flights. We had to buy two more flights on the fly (with a Thai teacher's salary) to board a plane just in time for the fever to hit - the universe’s apt punishment for a weekend of debauchery and an esteemed stepping-stone on the path to achieving my lofty goal of contracting the flu in every country I’ve ever travelled to. Thanks for the amazing time and the incredibly blog worthy material Koh Phangan, but see you next year my ass.

Until next time!

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The One With The Field Trip To Chonburi

    I won't lie to you guys, I did not want to go on this trip. At first it sounded pretty cool but then as the preparation meetings began we felt like it was not going to be what we expected. I knew this because this was the first line of the schedule we got:

    Saturday 10pm- DRIVE  OVERNIGHT FOR 9 HOURS WITH 40 STUDENTS AGED 15-17 (lol kill me)

    We worked together (4 other foreign, English teachers and myself) to come up with as many activities and lessons as we could because the whole point of the trip was it was an English camp. By the time we actually left we had it basically figured out. I popped a couple dramamine and slept through the whole ride down. 

    We were very pleasantly surprised by the entire field trip so I'll be the first to say I was wrong to assume it would suck. We checked into a Naval base which also had a sea turtle conservation on it Sea Turtle Conservation Center Royal Thai Navy This honestly might have been the best part of the trip for me. My favorite animals are turtles so getting to see hundreds of them- of all various ages, sizes and species was really incredible. I absolutely had more fun than any of the kids. 

    We then went to a Mangrove forest and got to walk along a wooden bridge and see where mudskippers live, we didn't get to learn as much as we hoped because the guide spoke only in Thai and despite being here nearly 6 months, I still barely speak the language, let alone understand it. 

    Afterwards we checked into our accommodations on the base and then changed to head off to the beach. We played a bunch of games geared towards English speaking and listening and the kids loved getting to play them on the beach (as did the chaperones). After we played some games, we were allowed a couple hours of free time at the ocean which was really nice considering most field trips in America only give you a half hour or so. 

    We then returned to the base to continue with the camp and did some more activities and after all of that we basically crashed into our beds. 

    In the morning we woke up early and caught a ferry to an island called Koh Samae San. What's interesting about this island is that the Royal Thai Navy is in complete control over how it is maintained and cared for which becomes obvious when you see the pristine beaches and crystal clear water. We paid 50 Baht (1.50 USD) to use snorkel gear and be taken by boat out to a roped off area of coral reef where we got to dive and see lots of different sea life, some of the fish are so unafraid that they swim close enough to touch, though of course we didn't touch them. It was awesome, and the fact that the school trip included this blows my mind. We relaxed on the beach the majority of the day and then bussed to Pattaya, another province in Thailand. 

    We stayed right across from the beach and that night the kids put on a gala which consisted of lots of singing, dancing, games, skits and other impressive talents. It was conducted as a competition because throughout the trip the students were split into 6 teams and were earning points for every activity. The English teachers were judges and I genuinely felt like Simon Cowell at some points. Microphones and misplaced responsibilities go straight to my head and I immediately think I am more powerful/important than I am. But we had lots of fun and the kids really enjoyed it. 

    The next day we bopped around Pattaya a little more and then headed back to our province. Aside from the 2hour long karaoke session that took place on the bus on the way home, it was an awesome field trip and I am so glad my assumptions were completely wrong. 

    I attached only pictures of myself and other chaperones because I did not get the permission of the students to post pictures of them on my blog.
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Street Dogs & Village Children

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I went to a village this weekend.

Brendon, one of the boys in the group I have done some of my Thailand travels with, extended an invitation to join him in visiting an isolated village near the Myanmar border. His words: “like National Geographic-type villages where people live in raised bamboo huts with no running water and cook from fireplaces.” We would be accompanied by a man Brendon has gotten to know during his time in Thailand, Lawn: a coworker and friend of Brendon’s who is also the foster-father of one of his students. Lawn has worked closely with the village for years, fostering boys and giving them an alternative life path away from that small, inauspicious community. 

So I did that thing that I do in Thailand: I put my complete trust in a stranger.

I’m struggling because this was one of the most incredible experiences that I have had in Thailand, and yet I am stumped on what I should share. There isn’t a huge story to tell; nothing crazy happened. The things we did were pretty simple; the village, pretty primitive. However, I want to share my experience, to put words to the things I felt while being there, in this quiet, primitive village removed from the bustling cities where villagers speak a mix of Burmese and Thai.

To do so, I’m going to start with a story about a dog.

Now, it’s no secret that dogs run wild in Thailand; I pass at least 4 regular street dogs (I can picture them all, manning their respective blocks) on my way to school. Last month, one of these dogs had puppies and now I pass Mama Street Dog and any number of 0-6 clumsy, mismatched youngsters nearby on any given day. These mangy mutts are everywhere, and while the dog-lover in me mourns their innocence, my pedestrian side fears the unfamiliar ones, hardened by the streets.

Unlike the hardened city dogs, however, the village dogs are not as quick-tempered or territorial. Rather than fighting for food, they are more starved for human attention and affection. These dogs quickly grew loyal to the newcomers talking to them in baby-talk English and giving them love; they followed us and guarded our tents. At dinner, one medium-sized dog—who we nicknamed “Patches” due to a burn-marked healed into a patch on his back—slowly pulled his entire body up and onto the lap of our friend Brendon. He was less interested in the food on the table than on getting closer to the man giving him head scratches. 

And Patches isn’t even the most extreme example.

The second morning there, the boys from the village took us to see the terraced gardens where the villagers grow a lot of their food. The quickest way to get there required crossing the river—a lazy stream no more than 2 feet deep in this stretch. We waded across easily, ascended the hillside, and came upon the bottom tier of the gardens where some vegetables grew. Nearby, children played—and not far from them sat a young, honey-colored pup, watching them and smiling in that way that only a dog can. He had the face of a big dog, but with short little Corgi-legs, and his teeth—exposed by his grin—were large and white.

He skipped over to greet us, excited by our approach, and grew notably more excited as we greeted him back with enthusiastic, “Hi Buddy!’s” and head scratches. He began to jump around, bouncing between the 10 of us like a loose pinball, not settling for too long on any one person before hopping to the next eager stranger ready to dote on him. Love can get you a long way with a dog—and I mean instant loyalty. He happily waddled up the hillside on his little legs, immediately accepted into our pack. He tagged along through the banana trees and up to the reservoir, no doubt breaking out further than his usual domain, all the while being addressed as if he were toddler: the center of our affection. As we ended our tour, he joined our descent, tail wagging, down to the riverbank.

You can probably intuit that this is where things are going to get sad.

The village boys slowly began the charge back across the river, each of us Westerners saying goodbye-forever to our temporary best friend before joining them. Brendon and I were the last to leave the riverbank. About five feet in, we looked back at our loyal pal, sitting patiently with his front paws in the water, watching us go—still smiling. He sat like that until every last one of us made it to the other side of the river, watching nothing and no one in particular. Of course we can all put thoughts in his head, but I truly wonder what he was thinking. I wonder if that was the best day of his life: to be taken into our pack and loved for a brief time that morning. I honestly hope it wasn’t his best day; I hope someone in that village loves him.

1CBAB8BA-5A10-45D2-8485-2FE9D8F324BCPatches (front) mid tail-wag and another pup. 

6456F6FD-1BDA-40BE-B0CB-5A9C9C19B4AFWe floated down the river with some boys from the village. 

In ways more challenging to articulate, that dog is like the village kids. The kids are fed, if meagerly, and clothed; as Lawn, our village liaison described it to us: that’s pretty much it. Maslow would agree that their most basic needs are met, but argue that that isn’t enough for a purposeful existence. The children here are starved for attention and affection. Without it, men—arguably: boys—in the village turn to other vices and  get hooked on alcohol at a young age; presumably to satisfy this desire for attention and affection, girls start having sex and, as follows sex, having babies around the age of 13. These kids grow up, but they aren’t necessarily raised; they get older, but life doesn’t get better. Knowing nothing other than the village they are raised in, there is no upward momentum—no opportunity for self-actualization. This is where Lawn’s role as a foster-father, giving boys from the village a chance to realize their potential, is vitally important on an individual level. 

We got a chance to see the sort of “attention” the kids are used to receiving from outside groups, in the form of an aid group from Bangkok that was visiting the Saturday we arrived. As this village is protected by the government, few visitors—and even fewer Western visitors—are let in. However, this group was “making merit,” a Buddhist tradition (usually associated with giving to monks and/or temples, but sometimes including giving to others), and with this purpose, they were allowed entry.

Here is where things get tricky. It’s a nice concept: giving. The group came prepared to hand out toys—from blow up bats to Hot Wheels cars to Barbies—but no member of the 20-30 person crew seemed at all invested in making anything more than a material donation. After handing out items, the volunteers sat around with each other. Some volunteers relentlessly took photos of the kids, and once satisfied with the evidence of their selflessness that they had procured, retreated back to the circle of their friends. I don’t want to paint this like an “us vs. them” situation, with us being the do-gooders and them being the frauds, but the truth is that we were there to offer nothing more than our time and energy and enthusiasm—arguably the exact opposite of this opposing group.

At one point, Becky and I sat down together with a few girls; almost immediately, a crowd started to form around us. Some sat, and others stood, forming a big circle. We weren’t doing anything crazy to warrant this attention: we were talking to the kids, laughing with the kids, playing with the kids—also known as making human connections. They were curious about us, and, although shy at first, so full of joy and enthusiasm; they were fascinated by our light skin, by our arm hair (“What is?” one bewildered girl managed to ask me, mustering the best English of her peers), and our novel looks and behavior. 

B323E383-28DF-4A1E-9EFD-EDF642534BCETaking cover from the giant raindrops.

139F88A6-92A2-475E-AFA5-6BCEA9222F98These 2 girls hardly uttered a word (in any language), but they looked at me eagerly every time I stopped pushing their swings.  

Just like all of the sweet little pups, these sweet little kiddos wanted to touch us; they held my hands and linked their arms with mine while others sat with their hands rested gently on my legs. We could hardly communicate due to the lack of any common language, but some things don’t need to be explicitly communicated. Just as the dogs could sense our honest benevolence, so too could the children.

Realistically, I won’t ever go back to that particular village. However, going there did reignite a desire I’ve had on and off for years, to work in an orphanage or village with kids whom I can offer my attention and affection to. When I came to Thailand, I had no idea what to expect. For all I knew, I was going to be in a village like this, with a chalkboard and a few desks and no other teaching supplies to speak of. I’m lucky to be in a school where I can project my lessons up on the board; I’m lucky to be in a town that’s bustling, with markets and restaurants and cafes with fast WiFi; I’m lucky to live in an apartment with electricity and (more often than not) hot water. However, there is something to be said about spending your time bettering the lives of individuals—especially mini individuals—who are so deprived of the attention that their response is immediate, almost palpable, happiness: individuals who value simple acts of kindness. To quote my astute boyfriend: “Time is our most valuable resource.” I aspire to spend my time making a child—or adult or lonely dog—smile. My weekend away reminded me of this, but let me make one thing clear: I don’t have to go to a village to live out this mission.


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 Thank you, Brendon — for inviting us this weekend, connecting us with Lawn, and documenting on your GoPro. And thank you, Lawn — for this incredible opportunity. 

 

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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