Explore
Questions/Comments?Contact Us

25 posts categorized "*Thai Culture"

My Reasons

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

Why?

1) My students

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

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

21430598_1866461560035297_2675939906575324323_n

21078317_1854263597921760_6036858119872127719_n

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

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

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

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

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

  74FB02CB-F077-477A-A950-B55480AB7F3A

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

3) There's no rush in settling down.

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

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

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

20841165_1839351352746318_3305282204382621735_n
20841165_1839351352746318_3305282204382621735_n

20620872_1831338980214222_3912787168596174974_n

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

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

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

IMG_5638
IMG_5638

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

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

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

@pinnella_ice

A Weekend in the (Phetcha)boonies

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

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

Nam Nao nat park
 

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

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

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

Viewpoints 2

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

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

Elephant crossing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piney

Once we ate, we went to the temple. 

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

Temple
Temple
Temple
Temple
Temple

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

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

Want to see more pictures from my adventures abroad?

Follow me on Instagram!

@pinnella_ice

Back to school

    Back to school back to school to prove to dad I’m not a fool! Today was my first day teaching at the Saritdidet School in Chanthaburi, so that phrase has been stuck in my head all day (thanks Adam Sandler). The school is huge, and each grade is in a different building within the campus. I am teaching Prathom 3 and 4 (aka third and fourth grade), and I move around between 2 different third grade classrooms and 3 different fourth grade classrooms. I was able to pick between teaching first and second or third and fourth, and I happily chose third and fourth as my sister is a fourth-grade teacher in Delaware and I met my boyfriend in fourth grade (aww). All of my classes have around 40 children in them, which as you can imagine has already been somewhat difficult to manage.

    All teachers sign in at 7:15-7:30 in the morning prior to gathering in the dome gymnasium for morning announcements and the national anthem. All Thai people highly revere the king, and they are a bit of a nationalist country. There are pictures of the king absolutely everywhere. It is very common to have a picture of the king in front of your school, street, home, storefront, etc. So, the morning anthem is a big deal and is taken seriously every morning. This morning, all of the foreign teachers for grades 1 through 12 (there were about 9 of us) had to stand in front of the school and introduce ourselves. It was actually cute rather than nerve wracking once I looked out to see the hundreds of smiling Thai children with the same haircut and uniform waving back at me with excitement. The children here warmly respect their elders, and many of them would bow as they walked past me when I was sitting down as to not be taller than me (a sign of respect) or wai me (a less formal sign of respect where one bows with their hands pressed together in front of the face). It’s really cute how giddy they all get to see a new farang (white foreigner) teacher around school.

Unnamed

Foreign teachers introducing ourselves to the hundreds of students (not nearly all pictured)

 

    My first class of the day was a third-grade class (known here as P3). When you walk in, they all stand up and wait for you to say the learned phrase “Good morning class,” to which they reply, “Good morning teacha!” Then the teacher says “how are you today?” and the students say “I’m fine thank you. And you?” and so on. This is a universal thing in Thailand, I’m really not sure who implemented it but I learned in orientation that it’s definitely a thing. I showed a PowerPoint about myself and asked them to make nametags with their nickname and their favorite animal. In Thailand, most kids go by an American nickname because Thai names are too long to pronounce. Most are random words, car names, etc. In my first class I had kids named Jigsaw, PeePee, Santa and Gun. These children love anything creative, so making their nametags as beautiful as possible took up a good 35 minutes of the class. After that I spent the leftover time singing songs like “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” and playing Simon Says. There is some actual curriculum for the classes to work with for future lessons, which is nice. Some schools here in Thailand throw you in with absolutely no curriculum or knowledge of the skill level of your students. In my other classes I did about the same thing. One fourth grade class was especially flattering, and wrote compliments to me on their name tags. I’ll try not to pick favorites though…

Unnamed-3

The outside of one of one of my P3 classrooms

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 5.28.52 PM

One of the student's name tags from a P4 class. Like I said, I"ll try not to pick favorites..

 

    Oh, did I mention it’s hot as all h*ll in this school? Some of the classrooms and offices have air conditioning, but I was told they don’t always have it on. As I write this in my office with beads of sweat dripping down my face, I’m assuming they haven’t turned it on at all.  Plenty of schools do not have air conditioning at all however, so I really can’t complain. At least it’s giving me more of a chance to really assimilate to the Thai way of life. I’m sure there are plenty of things I left out about the school and there will be plenty more school experiences to come so I will check back in a later post!

 

Sawatdee-kha!

 

Teacha Angie

(oh…did I mention I strongly dislike being called Angie? Well, that’s how Thai people say my name. Learning to embrace it :)

 

5 Underestimated Truths of Teaching Abroad

This will be my final post, even though I could talk endless amounts about this experience, and I want to leave a reflection about the majority of what I was feeling during my last week in Thailand.

1. Everything changes

IMG_7740

IMG_7742

Photos taken: West Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach, Krabi

Your perspective of the world, yourself, your place in the world… everything. It’s beautiful. I stopped wearing makeup as often; I wasn't afraid to stick out or fit in; I found my focus shifting towards things that really matter.

2. The country isn’t how its perceived by people who have never been there

 

My students' performance embodying the experience of losing their King

Living in a place is completely different than any amount of photo scrolling or video watching. It’s the same comparison to learning from a textbook versus learning from experience. Both are good, but you can’t fully comprehend the reality and full truth until you experience it! Moral of this story: go to Thailand!!!

3. You’re a real teacher, so you impact the students accordingly

IMG_7741

If you come for one semester — especially if you teach older students — they’re craving consistency, and the students might even have abandonment issues with teachers coming and going. It’s hard for me to include this one, but even though you may see it as a means to travel, your students see you as their teacher.

4. Leaving is painful

IMG_6915

My seniors gave me this with a heart-felt "thank you" message on the last day of school [followed by a group hug]

That being said, leaving is incredibly hard to cope with. There’s guilt from the realization that you’re ditching your students when you can see that a consistent teacher would benefit them. There’s love for your students that you didn’t think was humanly possible for someone else. There’s a sense of loss when you have to say goodbye to that. There’s simply the feeling of missing the individuality, personalities and charm, of not only your students, but your coworkers and new friends as well.

5. You miss out on things at home

When I thought about coming abroad, I felt like this was better than anything else going on at home, and I didn’t think I’d feel like I really missed anything. I figured, if I missed anything at all, it would feel minor and that my present life would feel way more exciting. The reality is that you can miss things like an election, the Cubs winning the World Series after 108 years, and marching for women’s rights. You have to be ready to lose touch with these events that will inevitably happen while you're gone. However, if you’re like me, the pros of going abroad outweigh the cons of missing out on things at home.

One of the many reasons I chose to move to Thailand - to go to an elephant sanctuary!

I can’t convey how hard it was to leave Thailand, my coworkers and new friends, and my students. It was so hard that I knew I might pull a Rachel Greene and not get on the plane… except, instead of Ross, my love is Thailand. I felt like, if I didn’t know the next time I’d be back to SE Asia, my heart would rip in half. That’s why my boyfriend and I booked our tickets for a six week backpacking trip in July and August! I hope to teach abroad in SE Asia again in the future too because the Land of Smiles leaves an incredible imprint on your heart and soul.

This adventure has been the gateway to many more. Thanks to everyone who has read my posts!

-G

Farang Friendly: On Privilege

"Ah, you are English kru [teacher]?! I am looking for someone to teach me English; I want to get better — maybe online?” a taxi driver says to me while I’m on vacation. 

A white, American expat says to his five-year-old, half-Thai daughter at the grocery store, “wow, Ellya, look! Someone for you to practice English with! Why don’t you introduce yourself?” Five minutes later he follows up with: “we’d like to take you out to dinner sometime, so she can practice her English; she will send you an email” *hands iPad.*

“Oh, okay, okay, so Kru G at Sunflower School. I will remember you; will you remember me?” a taxi driver from my local area smiles. A few weeks later, students bring me this message:

IMG_3072

There’s an undeniable privilege that comes with being a native English-speaking, white person. Opportunities throw themselves at you, such as these examples above. It becomes increasingly apparent in smaller, more frequent, everyday examples in Thailand. In Bangkok, its surrounding areas and touristy places, signs commonly feature English. Many malls are ‘farang' friendly. In my experience, local people show additional warmth once they learn that you’re an English teacher here and not just a tourist. Aside from this, I can get away with speaking very little of the native tongue while being able to function just fine. Sure, a lot of this is Thai culture being friendly and nice. It’s what this culture is known for, but it’s also intermingled with the combination of racial and linguistic privilege that English-speaking white people innately get.

This innate privilege is how I was able to get a job like this so easily. It’s how I (like all others from CIEE) now have a pool of opportunities* to choose from when applying to future jobs. 

"Requirements: citizenship of an English-speaking country, bachelor’s degree from a university, TEFL certification is a plus." — the majority of ESL teaching jobs out there

*See: Dave's ESL Cafe

Like, are you serious? Because I’m American and graduated with my bachelor’s degree [not in education], I’m qualified to apply for this? I shelled out less than $300 to get a TEFL certification online, so now you’re more likely to hire me?

Oh, but it goes beyond this.

When you’re white, you stick out here. This is why I get random opportunities — for teaching and other things — just in passing, such as with the examples like the taxi drivers and the family at the grocery store. It’s because I’m blatantly farang, so people rightly assume that I am an English speaker. English is spreading across the globe like wildfire. Many people want to learn or improve their English skills, so opportunities for work in this field are abundant. The way that the opportunities find you is THE definition of privilege.

Here’s my point: This is a great opportunity to grab ahold of. You open a whole world of possibility — to live an international life for as long as you want and to continue to have more and better opportunities — by taking the first step by going abroad with a company like CIEE. However when you do, count your blessings because you have an unfair advantage. Take the opportunities you are graciously given and focus on how you can share or enhance opportunities with people who don’t have the privilege that you do. Strive for equality, not martyrdom or a superiority complex. Humble yourself. Each time I feel myself yearning to complain about something, I stop and count my lucky stars in order to recharge and recenter my perspective. I’ve been challenged with maintaining this practice during my semester in Thailand, but equality and understanding a culture’s relative perspective are so, incredibly important. This is what Thailand has taught me.

Comment with questions or insight!

- G

The End of a Semester

IMG_1879

            Impressively, I was given a whole 16-hours to prepare my goodbye speech (in contrast to my Valentines Day speech, of which I was given 20 minutes notice). Teacher Ying appeared before me late Wednesday afternoon, flustered and breathing heavily (I’m not quite sure why she felt the need to run to me), and said, “Just talked to foreign language department… they want you to…” And here she paused and laughed to herself, unsure of quite how to say it, while I was gripped in panic. Wanted me to what? Put on a dance for the whole school? Go with them on a trip to Cambodia? What?

            “…Give a speech. A goodbye speech. Tomorrow morning. Now, you can have time to prepare for it.”

            “Oh, no,” I said, but it was half-hearted, and I knew it would do me no good. “Teacher Ying, do I have to? I hate public speaking!” But as I said it I was smiling, because as much as I’ve always dreaded public speaking, I didn’t completely feel convinced of my own words. Of course, public speaking still makes me nervous. But when, 6-months ago, I would have been Googling, “Ways to Calm Down Before a Speech,” and throwing cold water on myself in the bathroom moments before, this time, I only felt a slight twinge of nerves.

            I mean, I guess for one thing, I’ve been ‘public speaking’ every day for 6 months. Monday through Friday, I stand up at least twice a day in front of a group of 25 to 30 students. I’ve practiced the art of speaking slowly; of enunciating; of continuing to speak even when I think what I am saying is stupid, or when I can see my audience is more interested in their phones or their pillows (yes, they sometimes bring these to class) than me. It’s been great practice.

           But today I gave a goodbye speech to 3,000 people. And it occurred to me, as I spoke to them all this morning about my feelings about leaving, exactly why it was so comfortable and easy to speak to such a crowd.

            It was because I knew that even if they don’t know me, they respect me. A lot of them think I am beautiful (students I’ve never seen before often point at me and say, “Oh, suay—beautiful—teacher”); they think I am smart—at least, they think I know what I am doing up there in front of the classroom each day; and they think I am kind. And I can feel this appreciation, so standing up on stage, I didn’t have any of those mean thoughts towards myself that I normally would, in a room of 3,000 (“I probably look gross; I sound like an idiot; I shouldn’t be up here”). They’ve given me a confidence and a pride in myself that I can only hope I’ll find again in whatever future job I have.

            Here’s, in essence, what I said in my speech (at least, what I wrote down to say—I’m sure I left some parts out, but this is what I’d planned):

            “Hello. I would just like to say that it has been such a privilege teaching you all.    You know, so many of my friends back home dread Monday through Friday because of their jobs. And I know I have been so, so lucky, that I wake up Monday morning excited to come here, to you all. Thank you for showing me your culture. Thank you for including me in everything and making me feel at home here in Sakon Nakhon. Thank you to my co-teachers and director and you, Teacher Owen (he was on stage with me). Thank you for setting great examples of wonderful teachers, and for your kindness. Thank you, most of all, to my students, for your enthusiasm each day in the classroom and for your friendship. I will never forget a single one of you. I know you will all do incredible, unbelievable things with your lives. Good luck with everything. If you are ever in America, let me know, and we can… you know, hang out. (Because America is awfully small). Again, thank you.”

And then I bowed to them as they’d all bowed to me, hundreds of times before.

P2280217

            So, how does it feel to be finished? I’ve been asked this a lot. I taught my last class Monday afternoon. And when I got home, the first thing I felt was an intense level of relief. It’s such a heavy feeling, to be burdened (and gifted) with the responsibility of increasing a student’s English proficiency, especially when I never knew quite where to begin. Do I start with content—showing them songs by Bruce Springsteen, who they’ve never heard of, or Billboard Hits of 2017, to include them in a musical conversation with the world; showing them passages from books like Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22, books that changed my life and changed so many others; do I show them movies that portray American culture, movies that educate and move and inspire… or, do I start with grammar, with parts of a sentence, and how a verb must always follow a subject, and just how fascinating grammar is when you understand the formula and know what you can plug in where and when you can break the rules and why? I mean, my god—how can one person just decide which is more important, or which should come first?

            So I feel relief that I did the best I could, but that I don’t have to worry about it any longer. I hope whoever comes after me to teach these kids is a little more experienced than I was, because these kids deserve the chance to become fluent in English. They deserve the chance to watch a movie in their movie theatre without the weird Thai voice-overs (which never matches the lip movements, and is usually terribly translated). They deserve to read The Great Gatsby. They deserve to listen to their favorite songs (by the Chainsmokers, and Justin Bieber), and know, really know, what they are singing.

P2280217

            But after my speech, I also felt sadness and wished, a little bit, that I could stay longer (I know—I never thought I’d say that, either). Because my words were not lies. They have made this place feel like home to me. And I am so nervous that whoever comes after me will not have the passion and love that I have for English, or for these kids, and will be someone who doesn’t know how to relate to them or inspire them or grow with them. And it is sad that I will not necessarily know how they all end up.

            I’ve made plenty of lists before, and a lot of my lists mention all the difficulties of living abroad. I’d like to make one more, but this time, I’d like to list all the things about Sakon Nakhon that I will miss the most.

1. I will miss feeling like the wealthiest person on the planet. Seriously—I was shopping at the mall the other day, and I saw two dresses that I thought I could wear for whatever job I get next (in other words… not crappy quality from a street market, which I will inevitably throw out in 2 weeks when it falls apart). But they were “expensive”: $20 each—totaling 1,400 baht (anyone who lives here, knows… this is a lot of money. This is the amount I pay to rent my motorbike for a month. This is the amount I pay for a round-trip ticket to and from Bangkok. This is probably 3-weeks of rice and chicken and weird pork balls. This is probably 1/6 of someone’s monthly paycheck.) So when I bought these two dresses, the saleswomen, who had watched me wide-eyed as I’d begun picking out three, four, five of these expensive dresses to try on, and then had held onto two, practically bowed to the ground as I walked out of the store and repeated, over and over again, a bit in awe, “Thank you, Miss, thank you, thank you.”

            As I walked back from dinner last night, a man who sits on the corner in a little brown hut (I believe he is a tailor, because he’s always working on a sewing machine), began speaking to me about the food I’d bought. He gestured to his own dinner—some white rice—and then he said, “I am not rich, like you.”

            “Rich?” I laughed. “Trust me, I’m 23-years-old and I just graduated from college. In America, I am not rich.”

            “In Thailand, you are a teacher. This means you are very, very rich. You make 30,000 baht a month, don’t you?” (Not sure how he knows my salary).

            “Yes…” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this conversation.

            “Could I… do you think I could possibly borrow 100 baht for dinner? I will pay you back… on Tuesday morning, I will have more money. I will pay you back.”

            (100 baht = 3 dollars).

            “Yes,” I said immediately, reaching into my wallet and feeling embarrassed when I saw he noticed I had 2,000 baht on me. I handed him 100 and said, sincerely, “Really, please. You don’t have to pay me back.”

            Of course, I know, money isn’t everything/can’t buy you happiness, etc., etc. But when you have just graduated college, and you are about to be the lowest on the totem pole at whichever company you go to next, it is a very nice feeling, for a little while, to feel so capable of being able to afford anything (in moderation) and not having to worry about money. I don’t have to worry about my rent or how much dessert costs or whether I can afford the bottle of wine; I don’t have to worry about paying a ridiculous amount of money for two dresses or whether I can afford to fly to Bali for a weekend or get my hair cut in Bangkok, and if this was America, I would absolutely be worried about all of these things as a young 20-something starting out in a city. But here, my salary is incredibly generous and travelling is incredibly affordable. Which leads me to my next point…

2. I’ll miss my location. Of course, I don’t necessarily mean being stuck in the middle-of-nowhere Northeast Thailand, with rice fields on my left and dirt patches on my right and three-bus-rides-two-taxi-rides-one-songtaew-drive away from anything exciting.

            I mean being 40 minutes from Vietnam; 2 hours 40 minutes from Hong Kong; 4 hours from Bali.

            I mean being $50 from India; $100 from Australia; and $200 from Paris (I know—why aren’t I going to Paris, again?).

            Let’s do some quick comparisons here: I could fly to India for the price it costs me to take an uber back home from Boston. I could fly to Australia for the price of my Ray Ban sunglasses. I could head over to Paris for the price I made babysitting one night last summer. This is not crazy or unattainable or ambitious. This is why I will miss my location. It has made the entire world accessible to me. I can travel the world from Sakon Nakhon for the price of an uber or a pair of sunglasses, to places I’d never even had on my radar before now (I thought India would cost thousands!). If nothing else, I wish I could stay longer for this reason.

P2280217

3. I will miss my independence. I will miss my routine. As lonely as it sometimes felt, I will miss coming home after school and answering only one question: What do you want to do now? I will miss being able to make the decision to go to the mall and buy iced tea and wander aimlessly around the shops; I will miss heading to the gym and saying hello to my gym friends and taking a work-out class before bringing KFC chicken back to my apartment; I will miss deciding, screw it, and locking myself in my room with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watching Netflix movies all night because I need a break from the whole world. This is not to say it will not be possible for me to do all these things in America—but the decision will not feel as guilt-free, and as easily my own, when I am considering what my friends or family are doing or whether I owe it to someone to be somewhere else.

4. I will miss (sometimes!) the time difference. This one is especially surprising, even to me. The time difference is a complete pain in the neck. Every time I’m waking up to start my day, everyone in America is headed to bed—or they are tired, and don’t really want to talk or Skype or catch-up; and then when they are awake and want to fill me in on their lives, I am tired at the end of a long day… an endless cycle.

            But it also means, from the hours of about 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., my phone is relatively quiet (apart from the friends I’ve made in Thailand… and my brother Max, who is nocturnal). And it’s a very nice thing. I have found creative ways to keep in touch with people back home (including Facetiming at 8 a.m., during morning assembly, in an empty classroom; writing long catch-up novels via Facebook; or sending good-morning-good-night texts for the other person to respond to the next day). But it’s nice to not feel glued to my phone. It’s become habit for me to put my phone on airplane mode for hours, because why not, and when I get a message from anyone, I don’t mind waiting a few hours to respond—blame it on the time-difference, blame it on a lack of urgency, or blame it simply on this (somewhat forced) living-in-the-moment mentality I have found as a result of the time difference.

5. I will miss every weekend being an adventure. I hope I find motivation to make my way to the bus station in America (do we even have one…?), to look at a sign, point, and say, “Okay, how about we try there?” I hope I hold onto this curiosity for my surroundings, but I know it is not the same. Part of the adventure, part of the spontaneity, comes from me simply not knowing any better. I point to a sign here in Sakon Nakhon Bus Terminal and say, “Let’s try there,” because it makes no difference to me, and because it’s in a different language, and because it usually doesn’t cost more than $5 to drive on a bus for hours. And I know it will not be the same, to show up at a Boston bus station and point and say, “Let’s try there,” because 1. It will probably end up shipping me off to some place like Lowell or Chelsea, and I’ll think, Okay, this was probably a waste of time and money; and 2. Travelling in America, to anywhere, takes more preparation. I cannot find novelty anywhere. I cannot just take a bus to Lowell and think, Wow, this place is so cool and different and look at that temple! But here, I can. I can literally take a bus 7 minutes or 7 hours away and it makes (almost) no difference to me—it is always exciting, it is always new and novel and interesting, because it is never familiar.

P2280217

6. I will miss the people. I’ve said it before, so I’ll try to be brief: I will miss their kindness. I will miss their inclusivity. I will miss 21-year-old girls driving me to their hometown, even though I am a stranger to them, because they are “headed there anyway.” I will miss teacher Ying, who invited me to camp for an entire weekend with her and her friend because, “You should have the opportunity to see Phetchabun Mountain while you are here.”

            I will miss Fluke pointing to the word “Perfect” on a Present Perfect Quiz and whispering to me, “Teacher, why does it say my name?” Or Oom looking over, from the seat beside him, and saying, “I do not know where you are getting this confidence from.”

            I will miss students literally chasing after me to lean over the railing to shout goodbye at the end of the day. I will miss Googling what the sheep look like in New Zealand with Oom (and, then, of course… what the boys look like). I will miss Top always saying good night when I walk into the classroom, and how he is always prepared to sing song lyrics in response to anything I say (Me: “I will always…” Top: “…love you?…” Me: “It’s not too late…” Top: “…To say sorry…?”). I will miss Noon always giving me some of her breakfast and Mew always grabbing my wrist as I walk by to tell me how beautiful I am and Jom telling me before anyone else about going to Wisconsin and Benz saying, “We have to be on our best behavior in class today; we have someone coming to observe,” and me saying, “What, you don’t have to be on your best behavior when it’s just me?” And all the kids laughing… Actually, just in general, I will miss all the kids laughing. They make me feel like the funniest person on the planet… Which leads to my last point…

7. I will miss who I am as their teacher. When I stand in front of them, I can be silly and funny and ridiculous and witty and confident. And these are not compliments—I am not saying I am any of these things. I am saying these are things I have become because of my students—they make me this way. They allow for it. They encourage it and inspire it. I wouldn’t say I am a different person in front of them. Because I act the same way around my closest friends. But this is the first time I have seen myself act this way out in the world, with (essentially) strangers—or, at least, not my best friends. They have given me the confidence to say things spontaneously, and to embarrass myself, and to show my foolish or naïve side, because they have never judged me or shown me anything but admiration. If, in my next job, I am surrounded by people who make me even half as confident, I will be happy.

            Next Thursday, I head to Bangkok at 10 a.m. I will have packed up my entire apartment and I will be taking it all with me. I will store it in Bangkok for a month, and then (finally) I will begin my travels. I can’t express how excited I am for these travels. March 11, I fly to Chiang Mai. I will take a bath with elephants and feed them food; I will take a cooking class; I will explore the Grand Canyon and try new foods and venture to waterfalls.

            I will head from there to Pai, a gorgeous little town, which I’ve heard also has great waterfalls and Grand Canyons and tea plantations. From there, I will go to Chiang Rai to see temples and museums and then back to Chiang Mai.

            On March 24, I will fly back to Bangkok and, from there, I will fly to Hanoi, Vietnam. After a few days there, we will head to Sa Pa to see beautiful fields and waterfalls (Google it—I can’t quite explain it, since I haven’t been there, but it looks breathtakingly beautiful).

            Then we will do a cruise on Halong Bay. We will fly to Hoi An from there, and then Saigon, and then we will fly to the south of Cambodia. We will spend a few days on an island there—I’ve heard the beaches are incredible: white sand, clear turquoise water. From there, we will end up in Angkor Wat.

            On April 14, I will head back to Bangkok to grab my suitcase. Then I will fly to Dubai to spend 5 days there with another CIEE friend. And then, on April 20th, I will journey home.

            I am beyond excited. I know it will go fast, but I will do my best to take plenty of pictures and write (in my phone Notes section) all about my travels, so that when I am home (I am leaving my laptop in Bangkok, so I cannot blog before then), I can update you all on my experiences exploring this little piece of the world. But even if I manage to blog again for CIEE, this is the last one I will write from Sakon Nakhon, and probably the last one I will write until April 20th. So thank you all for reading about my Sakon Nakhon adventures—updates to come! 


P2280217

Khao Kitchakut

A few weekends ago I decided to stay in my town, Chanthaburi, and go on some local adventures. I had heard of Khao Kitchakut National Park, home to forests, waterfalls, and a Buddha footprint, so I decided to check it out! I was ready for a nice, peaceful afternoon with some pleasant hiking and swimming.

I took a 40-minute motor taxi ride to the park, and when I arrived I was shocked – it was so crowded! But then I realized why – for one, it was a weekend, and for two, it was a Buddhist holiday weekend (Makha Bucha – a day to honor Buddha) which meant that several people from all around Chanthaburi and surrounding provinces came here on a religious pilgrimage up to the top of the mountain. I bought a ticket for the ride that would take me part-way up the mountain, and as I waited for my number to be called I meandered about, got lunch, and got asked to take selfies with a bunch of strangers! In Chanthaburi I am pretty much old news (thank goodness), but here I was a whole new novelty again.

Finally, I hop into a pick up truck with 7 other people. Now, the ride up and down was an experience in itself! Imagine a pick up truck with 8 passengers zooming up and down a winding hill, with sharp inclines and slopes, avoiding other truck drivers taking people up and down. It honestly felt like a roller coaster! I held on to the side of the truck for my dear life, so that I didn’t fly right out of the truck (okay that was a bit of an exaggeration, but honestly not by much)! The elderly Thai lady across from me greatly enjoyed the facial expressions I made with each bump or major slope, as she sat on the seat as peacefully as the circumstance permitted, and just smiled lightly chuckled as she held tightly to the rail. She had obviously done this before.

We were dropped off about halfway up the mountain, and from there, me, plus hundreds of other people, hiked, and hiked, and hiked! Along the way up, there were several shrines, where people scattered flowers and burned incense, as a way of thanking Buddha. There were also monks on different parts of the trail that said prayers and blessed people with holy water. As we all walked up, we placed coins on parts of the mountain, rang bells, and stopped to pray at the different shrines, all for giving thanks, and for obtaining good luck, good health, peace, and prosperity in life. I was fortunate to run into an English-speaking volunteer about half of the way up the mountain, so the rest of the way she accompanied me, and explained the significance and rituals, showed me what I should do at the different parts of the mountain, and in general she was a great help and also a nice hiking buddy. At the top of the mountain, everyone wrote their name and a prayer or wish on red cloths, and tied them to the trees, creating a sea of prayers and positive energy. In general, it was such a fulfilling day, and I am so glad that I accidentally went during the holiday weekend and got to have this experience alongside so many Thai people.

IMG_3414 IMG_3417 IMG_3418 IMG_3419 IMG_3421 IMG_3430 IMG_3426 IMG_3477IMG_3488 IMG_3555








 

10 Reasons to Explore Thailand in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Next stop: Lopburi!

The Highs (and Lows) About Travel and Teaching

            Without a doubt, Krabi falls somewhere between 1-5 on my own personal list of “most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life.” I spent the weekend there, and it didn’t feel a bit like the Thailand I’ve come to know. Instead, it felt every bit like the Thailand I’d imagined before coming here; the Thailand I’d envisioned when I’d found this Teach Abroad program in the first place. For the first time, Thailand surpassed all my expectations.

IMG_0628

            It also couldn’t have come at a better time. When I write these posts, I try not to include too much of the “bad,” because I don’t want to spend my time focusing on the negative, and plus, being here for such a short period of time, it feels a little silly for me to have any complaints (Like, “you’re complaining? Try being a local here—watching you jet off every weekend to places we’ll never be able to afford to visit; making a higher salary than all of us, because you’re not from here; leaving at the end of this trip to return to a country we’ll most likely never see, because the conversion from baht to U.S. dollar will swallow our savings whole, whereas your savings have quadrupled here in worth.”)  

            At the same time, I think I should at least mention the “bad,” partially for my own memory, and partially because if I don’t, all my high moments will just seem ordinary against the backdrop of other equally-high moments. If anything, everything I say will begin to sound false and fabricated, if all I ever do is cover my sunset/pina-colada moments and fail to record all the many ways this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

            So here it is, a quick run-down: three days before Krabi, I wanted to quit this whole journey. Really. First of all, I’d been sick following my New Years adventures, and there is no lonelier feeling in the world than waking up in a small apartment feeling dizzy and nauseous and realizing, wait a minute, if I want a banana and a piece of toast, I will need to get on my own motorbike and travel to 7-11 in 100 degrees and hope I don’t faint on the ride over, because I have no one here to help me.

            In itself, that isn’t true at all. I could have called my co-workers or the owner of my apartment building and I’m sure they would have been more than happy to help. But I didn’t want to inconvenience someone I didn’t know well, and besides, that wasn’t the part that was making me so sad. It was more that it hit me, all at once, how very on my own I am. When else in my life have I been this alone? I grew up with my family to take care of me, and when I went to college, I was surrounded by people who very quickly became my best friends. I’ve also never lived alone, and that’s a different thing entirely. So it wasn’t until I woke up sick that I realized the gravity of my situation in one panicked-filled instant: I have to take care of myself and figure out how to make myself feel better, because no one else is here to lessen the burden.

            And then, besides being sick (or maybe because of it), I just felt ready to be done. I kept having these thoughts like, “Okay, so I did the whole ‘Eat-Pray-Love,’ thing, and let’s face it… I’m not a 28-year-old divorcee looking to find herself, and this was a silly and way-too-extreme idea to begin with, because I really didn’t need to rip myself away from all my family and all my friends to come explore a foreign country for this amount of time and live in this grungy apartment by myself with one spoon and one cup to my name; I probably should’ve just booked a 10-day vacation instead, and then I should have found a job in Boston or D.C. with friends and family, at the most, only a few hours away.”

            Plus, the time difference is hard, because it means I haven’t talked to some of my family and friends since October 20th when I came here; I’m just on the opposite schedule of everyone else I’ve ever known. Every time I wake up, all of you are going to bed (unless you’re reading this from Thailand, in which case—thank god we wake up at the same time!), and every time I go to sleep, all of you are just beginning your days. So it’s hard not to feel even more isolated, given that I am literally living by a different sun and different moon (I mean, technically I know it’s still the same sun and same moon, but it doesn’t feel the same, when I see them at such drastically different times).

            So that’s the “bad.”

            And then I arrived, Friday night, in Ao Nang in Krabi.

IMG_0666

            My friend Devon and I went to Krabi with her brother, who was here visiting, and his girlfriend and their friend. This, in itself, was a blessing. It was so nice, for a weekend, to travel with three people who were seeing Thailand as I would see it, if I also only had ten days here: they had endless enthusiasm for the novelty of it all, and when they pointed out the oddity of this culture after I’ve learned to ignore or accept it, I could see it for it’s uniqueness all over again. Plus, they had a stricter time-table than I have, so our trip was anything but laid-back (in the best way possible): we fit in bar-hopping, clubbing, snorkeling, speed-boating, sunbathing, eating, socializing, dancing, shopping, and a million other highly-rewarding experiences, while limiting our sleep and down-time because who has time for that?

            As I look back on the weekend, I still think, It has to be one of the best weekends of my life. First, Saturday morning at 9 o’clock, we were picked up at our hostel for a full-day speedboat ride to lagoons, various islands, and snorkeling spots around Krabi. This cost us roughly $90.

            We took a speedboat to our first location, a low-key spot with only a few other boats, where we could jump into the warm light-blue water to snorkel. The fish were outrageously colorful—I mean, even just one fish might be purple and neon green and pink and blue spotted, at all once.

IMG_0610

            Then our tour guide, a guy named Sunny (who spoke English incredibly well), and his boat crew (who could not speak English at all), took us to Maya bay. He offered to take us to the beach where The Beach movie, with Leonardo Dicaprio, was filmed, but since it was 400 baht and literally crawling with tourists with no more than a foot or two free-space in between them, we declined. We stayed in Maya bay (I think), but he took us to a quieter beach he knew of, a small strip of sand maybe 30 feet long with only a few other boats and maybe 20 other tourists, a big improvement. The boat beside us, actually, had three Russian men and 15 Russian models (we assumed the men were paying, since they were older and fatter and the girls were young and stick-thin and spent their time taking hundreds of Victoria Secret Swimsuit-Edition-inspired pictures in the water and on the sand). And then the other boat carried three Americans from Chicago (all average looking, so I’m assuming no one was paying).

            We lay on the sand for an hour and walked around our small secluded/Photo-shoot beach, taking pictures (not quite as impressively as the models) and swimming in the warm, salty Andaman Sea. I did not forget my luck that I was floating in this warm water with the sun beating down while most of my family and friends are freezing back home in Massachusetts. Isolation has its perks.

IMG_0649

            Then Sunny brought out some fruit, rice, vegetable stir-fry, chicken wings, and curry that he’d prepared personally for us. He kept us well fed and well hydrated during the day with a cooler in the back of the boat. He even risked his life cutting the fruit with a very large knife while our boat slammed up and down at high speed on the waves.

IMG_0650

            After we ate, Sunny began telling me a little bit about his life here. Krabi, he explained, wasn’t always this tourist hot-spot. When he was younger he went out on the ocean every day with his father, a fisherman, to catch fish which they could trade in their village for other things they needed, like rice and clothing. “It’s not like that anymore,” he said, smiling, “I can’t trade my fish for anything anymore. Everything is too expensive now to do that.”

            I asked him if he still fishes, and he said, “Only if the tourists want to, but most of them don’t. Sometimes people from China or Japan want to fish, and then I fish with them.”

            Hearing that most of his day was crafted for the whim of a tourist, I said, “When you were younger, was Krabi like this? Filled with tourists, I mean?”

            “No,” he shook his head, smiling. “When I was younger it wasn’t like this. I used to go out on the boat with my dad. We would sometimes come to these beaches together. He doesn’t come out here much anymore—he’s weaker now. A couple years ago I stopped being a fisherman, and now I do this, because this is where the money is. In the last twenty years, I’ve had to learn a lot of English… I try to learn one word a day. My English isn’t that good. But I need to know it.”

            Doing my own research, I’ve read that there were 336,000 foreigners and 54,000 GIs here in Thailand during the peak of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, around the late 1960s. In 2015 alone, there were over 29 million international guests. Assuming Sunny is in his 50s, this makes sense. He most likely grew up during the initial tourism boom in the 1960s, when Thailand became a destination for R & R visits of American GIs:

These visits were significant not only in terms of the increase in numbers of foreign visitors, but also as a principal factor of change of the touristic image of Thailand, and of the kinds of tourists which began to be attracted to the country from the mid-1960s onward. 
In the past, the image of Thailand in the eyes of Western visitors was that of an exotic, enchanted kingdom in the Orient. The arrival of American servicemen on R & R visits, compounded by the stationing of about 40,000 U.S. military personnel in bases in Thailand, shifted the emphasis in the tourist sector from sightseeing of cultural attractions, reflecting the earlier image, to more mundane pursuits, primarily sex and recreational activities. (http://thaiworld.50webs.com/travel.html).

            Although the Vietnam War is a big factor, tourism also boomed in Thailand during the 1960s and 70s due to the “rising standard of living, more people acquiring more free time, and improvements in technology, making it possible to travel further, faster, cheaper and in greater numbers… Thailand was one of the first players in Asia to capitalize on this then-new trend”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_Thailand).

            Today, tourism accounts for 10% of Thailand’s GDP and supports 2.2 million jobs, with around 30 million people visiting each year. I assume, on the basis of my own guess for Sunny’s age, that this is why things looked so different for him when he was young; but this is my own assumption.

            After lunch, Sunny cleaned up our dishes and trash and said, “Okay, now I will take you to Phi Phi Don. You can stay for an hour there.” Phi Phi Don is one of the more popular tourist-destinations in Krabi. I hadn’t done much research prior to visiting Krabi, so I only knew this from Devon’s brother, who was surprised upon arriving that the beach was “less packed” than he’d expected, although it was still well populated with people sunbathing and drinking and swimming, as well as shops and restaurants and resorts which are, apparently, at least $100 per night and out of our price range (to put this in perspective, we paid $60 for an entire weekend in our hostel).

IMG_0689

            My group agreed that they were slightly unimpressed with this beach, after all the hype. We preferred the more private beach we’d been taken to earlier. We also greatly preferred the lagoon Sunny took us to after Phi Phi Don. The lagoon was light blue and surrounded on three sides by high limestone rock and dark green trees; a few other boats were anchored in the lagoon, and people were casually jumping off the sides of their boats, like we were, and floating in the lagoon. There was a light mist coming off of the water (I still can’t believe how blue the water was). Floating in the water and looking up at these limestone “walls” had to be one of my favorite highlights of the weekend.

IMG_0662

            Then Sunny took us to another area, Bamboo island, although we never stepped foot on the island. We jumped off the side of the boat and then snorkeled for another hour. He came with us and pointed to little reefs filled with Nemo look-a-likes, all identical to Nemo and coming out of the coral and going back into hiding just like Nemo does in the movie (I didn’t know they do that in real life!). There were so many different kinds of fish here, so I just spent the hour with my head underwater, watching them all in their quiet little paradise.

            Afterwards, Sunny drove us past a cave called Viking cave with egg nests that are apparently sold to eat in places around Thailand and Asia (side note: bird saliva is also sold and eaten in Asia, because it has health/spiritual benefits). Then he took us near Chicken Head Island so we could take some pictures. We drove back to dock the boat around 4 p.m. We showered quickly and ate dinner on Ao Nang beach, only 100 feet or so from our hostel, to watch the sunset. Then we walked around and went to some low-key bars before falling asleep around midnight.

IMG_0676

            The next morning, we got breakfast at Café 8.98 (I googled “Breakfast in Krabi” and it was the first result with 5 stars. The website said, “New York in Thailand.” It was delicious. I had an avocado and blueberry smoothie—I didn’t know they had avocado in Thailand!—and an omelet with real cheese and real tomatoes and no rice).

            Then we took a long-tail boat to Railay beach. The boat gets its name from the engine-design—a long wooden stick hanging off the back with a motor attached to the end, which the boat driver has to navigate by pushing the motor to one side or the other depending on which direction he wants to turn us, all the while carefully balancing on the opposite side so as not to fall into the water. It cost us about 200 baht, or $6, round-trip.

IMG_0769

            In the airport on the way to Krabi we met a fellow American backpacker named Brenden who told us, “Don’t just go to Railay… there’s a cooler beach called Ton Sai right on the other side. Walk all the way to the end of Railay and find a path through the jungle to the other side. It’s much less populated and so beautiful; plus, you can rock-climb there.”

            “Oh! Can anyone rock climb? Like, could I?” I asked him, picturing Dick’s Sporting Goods’ man-made 10-foot rock-climbing wall.

            He shrugged, putting way too much faith in my athletic abilities, and said, “You might be able to. It’s tough, but maybe.”

            So as soon as we set foot on Railay, Devon and I led the group to the left side of the beach to find this hidden path. We finally located it—around the corner of a cliff, just a short path through the waist-high ocean. A few shirtless rock-climbers with ropes tied around their waists verified for me that, if we walked the path, we’d find a beach on the other side.

            The path in itself is a great deterrence for less-motivated tourists. It was difficult and steep and sometimes terrifying, especially in my Jack Roger sandals. There was a rope we needed to hold onto just to keep from falling, and by the time we reached the other side, we were dripping in sweat.

            Once we touched foot on the other side, I saw immediately that my friend Brenden had generously overestimated my previous rock-climbing experience (which consists of a few experiences tackling the man-made wall in Dicks Sporting Goods and struggling, with my limited arm strength, to pull myself up the 10-feet to the top, at which point you hit a bell for succeeding in the ‘feat’).

            Apparently, rock climbing at Railay beach is a very popular activity for well-seasoned rock climbers around the world who don’t mind risking their lives. The people who were rock-climbing had “Rock-Climbing in Thailand” travel books on their towels and were climbing hundreds of feet in the area, looking for places to put their hands and feet on real rock—there were no red and green plastic “rocks” sticking out of the limestone for them, like what I’d expected—these people weren’t messing around.

IMG_0792

            We spent the day on the beach here. Right behind us we had a jungle with palm trees and wild monkeys with white-rimmed eyes and slightly crazed expressions. A little to the left, we had two limestone rocks with a wild green mess of trees and bushes in between. As the tide went out, many of the old boats became locked on shore, sunken into the sand.

I can’t think of a more beautiful view, in all my time in Thailand; it’s hard to think of many more beautiful views, actually, in all my life.

IMG_0789
IMG_0789
IMG_0789
IMG_0789

            The tide was out around 5 p.m., so we were able to wade back over the rocks and through the ocean to Railay beach (the tide was so low, actually, that I said to Devon nervously—“is this low tide or the beginning of a tsunami?”)

            I took hundreds of pictures over the weekend (the views were too beautiful to resist), but I put my phone away for an hour so I could enjoy the sunset with Devon as we sat on the sand in the water, which was up to our necks and still not cooling us off enough. I could’ve sat there for longer, but the last boat back was at 6.

            When we docked back at Ao Nang, we ran to 7-11 and grabbed bottles of wine (300 baht for a full bottle--$9; or less than $1 for two mini bottles, which I bought), which we carried with us back to Ao Nang beach to watch the end of the sunset. Then we got Mexican food for dinner and asked our waitress if there were any clubs in the area or, at the very least, places open past midnight.

            “Go to the Burger King down the street and take a right,” she instructed. “Chang bar.” We’d already heard about this bar, because it was really the only place open past midnight. So we ventured there and had an incredibly fun last night, playing pool with boys from Switzerland and dancing with Argentinians to American music and watching Lady Boys parade around the street and boys in wheelchairs spinning sticks on fire in the air. We had so much fun that we didn’t leave Chang until 4 in the morning.

            The next morning we shopped around and returned to Café 8.98 before leaving this little piece of heaven. I boarded a plane to return to Sakon Nakhon, which was hard to do. Part of me wished I was travelling like Devon’s brother, his girlfriend, and their friend—short-term and filling my days with only the best parts of Thailand, the parts that look like the travel brochures and the Google images. But I know my time will come soon enough, and I will have more of it, courtesy of the money I’m saving up working here first. Beginning in March, I can travel to see only the best places.

IMG_0930
IMG_0930

            Plus, there’s something to be said for this kind of “travel.” Some days, when I'm feeling especially homesick and wishing I was home, and even (at my lowest points), regretting my decision to come here, I think of the alternative: imagine if, all my life, I’d never lived in Sakon Nakhon and had never met students like Oom and Fluke and Folk, their eyes bright every Monday morning when I walk into the classroom, always eager to offer me half of their morning breakfast and intensely interested in my weekend travels because they want to learn about the places in their country they might never see; imagine if I’d never met my travel friends, who are sharing all of these highs and lows with me; and imagine if, all my life, I’d never felt this kind of loneliness, this kind of sadness, that, by contrast, make weekend trips to Krabi feel like a unique kind of euphoria, because I’d gone a little while without it.

        Never in my life will I regret giving myself the opportunity to live alone in a foreign country; but I know, without a doubt, that I would have had plenty of regrets if I'd chosen not to teach in Thailand because I was afraid. 

17 Again

There are a lot of perks that come with teaching in Thailand: bonding with students over shared pop culture interests; living here long enough to become skilled at using public transportation; applying knowledge of the Thai language in order to have a conversation… even if it is only a 3 sentence exchange. Yet, living in Thailand can be just as challenging as it is rewarding. I came into this semester doing my best to expect the unexpected. Easier said than done. Dealing with education reform, overcoming the language barrier and adjusting to Thai food preferences (not spicy usually still means at least a little spicy) have all pushed me to grow in more ways than I could have predicted. Instead of dwelling on the things that frustrate me, I am focusing on 17 things that are bringing me joy so far in 2017.

1. Live musicGoing to college in Austin, Texas made me quite the live music enthusiast. I’ve been on the lookout for a fun concert since I arrived in Thailand and I finally found it! On a recent trip to Bangkok, a friend spontaneously brought me to a showcase of different Thai bands. It was the perfect night: new friends, great jams and even the chance to meet the lead singer from one of the performances!

1The lead singer of my new favorite band Summer Stop! During the performance, he even gave a shout out to the "farang" (foreigners) in the crowd and sang a couple of pop songs in English! Click photo to enlarge. 

2. Cliff jumping: Talk about an adrenaline rush. During my New Years trip to Chiang Mai, I visited the “Grand Canyon.” After some coaxing from friends, I decided to take the plunge and jumped off the 24-foot cliff! Following a solid couple of seconds of free fall (an eternity when you’re in the air) I hit the water. Once the initial shock wore off, I swam to safety and lived to tell the tale… to my parents… after the fact.
 
2
The Thai Grand Canyon runs the U.S. some serious competition! Click photo to enlarge.
 
3. Wat Chedi Luang: While in the Old City of Chiang Mai, I walked to a nearby Buddhist temple. Wat Chedi Luang is a remarkable 600 years old. Thanks in part to a restoration project, the base of the stupa (a mound-like structure that holds sacred Buddhist relics) displays 5 elephants made of brick and stucco. I was awestruck by these structures, and they certainly made Wat Chedi Luang one of the most stunning temples I’ve seen so far.
 

3

The 5 elephants surrounding the temple were the highlight of my visit! Click photo to enlarge.
 
4. Tex-Mex: But maybe “Thai-Mex” is a more accurate description. Regardless, finding Mexican food in Chiang Mai was a great way to kick off the New Year… although it still can’t compete with Qdoba. (Sorry Chipotle fans!)
 
5. Dragon fruit smoothies: Especially when they are 25 baht (about 70 cents)!!!
 
9
Smoothies are now my preferred after school snack and sipping them in the park make them taste even better! Click photo to enlarge.
 
6. Doi Suthep: The view from the temple atop of the Suthep Mountain was spectacular, and well earned after the 300 stairs it took to get there!

4A bird's eye view of Chiang Mai. Click photo to enlarge.

7. Friendship bracelets: Purchased shortly after the hike up Doi Suthep, they’re still special even if they fell off most of our wrists soon after buying them.
 
8. Rainbow unicorn party: My favorite after-school English class for 4-year-olds had a belated-New Years party equipped with an inflatable unicorn, balloons and temporary tattoos. Everything was rainbow, even down to the food (red and green apples, orange slices, corn, blueberries and of course multi-colored M&M’s). Still up for debate who had more fun at the party – the kids or me!

5Just a few of the many rainbow-colored decorations. Click photo to enlarge.

9. Gift exchanges: The pure joy that radiates through a classroom full of 6th graders trading New Years gifts is indescribable. It made my heart so happy to witness all of it!

6My sweet students Gong and Tonkla took a lot of pride in receiving the same Eeyore stuffed animal during the gift exchange. Their happiness was contagious! Click photo to enlarge.

10. Muay Thai: I have a newfound respect for boxers after witnessing my first Muay Thai fight earlier this month. The rounds passed quickly (before it got too graphic!) and I learned that men and women come from all around the world to compete.

7Moments before the fight began! Click photo to enlarge.

11. Three-day weekends: I’m really looking forward to the upcoming break in honor of Teachers Day, during which I plan to travel to a province in west Thailand and explore a seven-tiered waterfall! Fingers crossed no face plants are in my future.

12. Birthday bash in Bangkok: I have less than 2 weeks to continue “feelin’ 22” as Taylor Swift would say. While this will be my first birthday outside of Texas, I’m so excited to ring in my 23rdyear surrounded by my friends in Bangkok at the end of January.

13. Tutoring time: Every Wednesday I tutor two adorable sisters. Together we laugh through the lessons as we talk about the highlights of our days and play games in English.

8A selfie with the sweetest sisters, and no - they aren't twins! Click photo to enlarge.

14. Sports Day: This week at school there’s been less teaching and more playing as the students take part in Sports Day (which is actually 3 days long… don’t ask, I can’t explain it). Volleyball, basketball, soccer and badminton tournaments have been taking place all across campus in place of regularly scheduled classes. Though it is throwing a wrench in my lesson plans, it’s been entertaining to watch my students excel as cheerleaders, athletes and coaches.

15. Cotton candy clouds: The sunsets in Thailand really never get old.

10The view from my apartment is surreal! Click photo to enlarge.

16. Sundays at the movies: I mentioned in my last blog post that I spent Christmas Day at the movies. Lo and behold my friends and I found ourselves back there again last weekend. There’s something comforting about sprawling out in a recliner on a Sunday afternoon in a theatre. It truly makes me feel not so far from home!

17. To be determined…As cheesy as it may sound, I’m looking forward to recounting all of the wonderful reasons I have to be happy that haven’t even happened yet! 2017 is just getting started and a lot of exciting events are on the horizon. This year my goals include globetrotting, learning everyday and connecting with people from around the world. Only time will tell what adventures are in store. I can only hope they will bring me as much joy as everything I’ve experienced already!

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

Keep Me Updated