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32 posts categorized "*Traveling around Thailand"

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?

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@pinnella_ice

Vacation Part 1: Happy Healing Home

Hello again world!  It sure has been a while.  My first semester of teaching ended mid-March, and I was kept busy grading exams and getting ready for many adventures!  Thailand's academic calendar is different from that in the United States, so my break that lasted from March to May was equivalent to a summer vacation.

The first part of my adventure was spent with my dad, who flew out to visit!  We traveled in Chiang Mai, an island called Koh Samet, and then I showed him around Chanthaburi, the town where I teach.  It was a great time that we managed to pack into just over a week!

After this I went and worked for ten days at the Happy Healing Home, an organic farm in the province of Chiang Mai.  This was a really nice experience!  Every morning we were woken up before 6am by the call of the roosters.  All volunteers had their own rhythms and interests, and thus sometimes worked on various different tasks. In the mornings I usually ground coffee beans and prepared coffee over the fire. After everyone was awake and had taken a cup of coffee or tea, we helped to prepare breakfast with fresh ingredients from the garden, and some mornings we did yoga and exercises before breakfast.  

Following breakfast we went out to work.  The work varied by day, and by individual.  Sometimes I worked on a building project, or took care of the buffaloes, or tended to the garden.  Working in the garden was definitely my favorite part.  I loved getting my hands dirty in the soil and learning about the plants and their nutritional or medicinal properties from Pinan Jim and Pinan Tea, the couple that runs the organic farm.  Working in the sun in the garden, always covered in dirt or water – I just felt so blissful surrounded by and caring for all of the plants that sustain us. The garden was certainly my happy place!

After a few hours of work we would return for yet another delicious meal. The food was honestly just phenomenal! Always super fresh and prepared with love.  After lunch we all rested for some time before the late afternoon work.  Usually during the afternoons I went out and collected grass for the buffaloes to eat.  And while it was a monotonous activity after doing it day after day, it was also very meditative, as were really all activities on the farm.  Working on the farm and constantly using my hands and physical energy, I always was focused on what I was doing right in that present moment. I realize when living in a city just how easy it is to get caught up in the craziness of life - always multi-tasking, always thinking about the future. But being able to really focus on and enjoy the present moment you are experiencing is very important, and is something I am making more of an effort to do in my everyday life. As Pinan Jim explained to us volunteers one day, not focusing on the present moment ultimately just detracts from your happiness.

In the evenings we had a light dinner, and then gathered around the communal area for tea, meditation, yoga, and listening to Pinan Jim play the guitar. During this time we conversed about various topics like Lanna culture, meditation, medicinal remedies – truly whatever you wanted to learn more about and discuss.

Overall it was quite a nice stay at the farm. I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about a self-sustainable life of growing your own food and building your shelter, or if you are interested in gardening, permaculture, meditation, Lanna cooking, caring for animals, or simply if you want to get your hands dirty and do physical work. I would also suggest staying for a minimum of one week. It takes a few days to find your rhythm, so it is best to give yourself time to adjust and fully enjoy your stay. Staying on the farm required a lot of physical work as well, so be prepared for that! The living situation was very similar to camping. I had a small hut to live in with a mosquito net, mattress and blankets. The electricity was limited to lights in the common area – otherwise we were living completely off the grid! No refrigeration, fires made by hand for cooking, bucket showers, toilets where you flush by pouring a bucket of water into the toilet bowl, drinking water that came from a nearby well, filtered by a simple cloth over the faucet to catch any leaves, and of course no wifi! So it was definitely an adjustment, but also just a really lovely and peaceful experience of living the simple life on a farm in northern Thailand.

After my stay on the farm I met up with my friends Luke and Joey, and we went and saw Coldplay in Bangkok! And that was just such an awesome experience! Seeing one of my favorite bands live for the first time, and dancing and singing with great friends. It was such a memorable day!

Well that covers the first few weeks into my vacation – part two is coming soon! IMG_0918 IMG_0920 IMG_0925 IMG_0928 IMG_0953





The End of a Semester

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            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.

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            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.

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            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.

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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.

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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! 


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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.

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Bali: The 'Real' World

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            So, if you are reading this, you might be doing exactly what I was doing 8-months ago. You might be researching ways to travel the world. You might even get scared, and start Googling, “Ways to travel Boston,” or, “Jobs to Travel Internationally but Then Come Home Again,” instead. Trust me, I here you.

            Last week, I took a solo trip to Bali. And, instantly, I understood why all those other options never would have worked for me.

            Let me start by saying exactly how high my expectations for Bali were.

            Two summers ago, I read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time (I’ve read it twice since). It completely changed my life. It changed how I felt about relationships, it changed how I saw religion, it fueled my desire to travel, and, mostly, it changed how I understood writing. Never before had I read something so philosophical and intelligent and thought-provoking. I mean, truly, it was smart. Elizabeth Gilbert is a writer who could probably sum up all of Einstein’s theories in some neat, funny little chapter, if she wanted to. Whether you’ve read it or not (or seen the movie—which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t do the book justice), you might already know that the ‘Love’ part of Eat, Pray, Love takes place in Bali. Since reading the book, it had been my dream to go to Bali alone, like she did.

            The thing about this dream was, it was far-fetched. It was so ridiculous to me, in fact, that I’d all but forgotten it, as if my mind said, ‘Okay, we’ll go back to that when you’re older’. I wasn’t in any way actively pursuing it, and, honestly, it felt as out-of-reach as becoming a famous movie star or going to the moon.

            So it seemed a little bit like Fate when, last week, I realized I had this exact opportunity, randomly, to fulfill this dream to travel alone to Bali, like I’d imagined.

            But actually, no. Not just Fate. Fate implies that it was the universe, or something of which I had no control, that got me to Bali. But that is not true. I was able, at 23-years-old, to seize this opportunity for myself; I was an active participant in the fulfillment of this dream. I was able to do something that, a year ago, I’d only romanticized as something I might do by the time I was 30. I mean, on Tuesday, my coworkers said to me, “Did you know we have six days off next week? I guess they’re using the school as a parking zone for parents during the University’s graduation. So you can travel, if you want.”

            On Wednesday, I booked my plane tickets.

            Honestly, I could have gone and laid in the grass at the airport and been completely content. I was just so happy to be there, and so happy to see that the nature outside the airport windows already did not disappoint. The grass was a different shade of green than I’ve seen; I could see palm trees and coconut trees and banana trees with three-foot-long leaves; it was all just so green, compared to Thailand.

            As I’d discussed with my friend Gabi the weekend before, who had studied abroad in Indonesia: There are two ways I could do Bali.

           I’d done plenty of research. I’d drawn maps and graphs and timetables and schedules and emailed Yoga studios and tour guides and hotel managers and read blogs and news articles and watched Youtube videos. I’d eventually decided to do 3 days in Ubud, since it was the ‘cultural capital’ and their major city (although ‘city’ sounds pretty urban—more like a very busy hippie/vegan town), and then 2 days on Gili Air, the Gili Island that is relatively empty, but still has more restaurants than Gili Menu, which is more suitable for honeymooners.

            To say I was prepared for Bali was an understatement. I had six days to cover everything, and I was ready to do exactly that.

            Gaby supported this. She said: “You can do Bali that way, if you like. You can get up at the crack of dawn and see the sunrise over the rice fields before making your way to the temples and the markets; fitting in a day-long bike tour; doing yoga in the evening and making sure to stumble across all the top-rated restaurants; getting a massage and facial at night; seeing the dance festival after that, etc. etc. You can do Bali that way.

            Or.” She’d said. “Or… you can sleep in. You can wake up when you want to wake up, and lazily have a smoothie for breakfast from some random place, and maybe make your way to a yoga studio. And get a massage in the afternoon. And read in a café for a while. And do some meditation at night, and get some ice cream if you feel like it, and go to bed. You can do Bali that way, too. Whichever you like.”

            When I am travelling, I am most always person A. I am the person who makes sure I see every square inch of land that I can within 24-hours: sacrificing sleep, sacrificing money, to make sure I am signed up for every temple-visit, Bike-tour, wine-tasting, spiritual-awakening, and overnight-hike the country has to offer. And I’d planned on doing Bali this way, too.

            As soon as I saw my bed, which was a beautiful white canopy with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking rice fields, I wavered. Okay, I thought, I can sleep in. Just tomorrow. To enjoy the bed.

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            I woke up around 9. I read my book for an hour before remembering breakfast ends at 10:30. So I ate breakfast at the hotel, and finally asked the front desk how I could walk to the Yoga Barn.

            As I walked, I realized: I will waste all my money, and all my time, this vacation if I am constantly thinking about what’s-next-what’s-next-what’s-after-that. I mean, my god: I was in the Spiritual Motherland of Being-In-The-Moment.   

            These people, this is how they live (at least, as far as I could see, from my extensive experience driving past them): They sit. They relax. They meditate and pray. They eat when they want to eat. Then they sit some more, in the same spots, talking to the same people, believing to their core that this is where they are meant to be.

            So, by the time I found the Yoga studio, I’d made my mind up. I was going to do Bali the Balinese way: relaxed, unplanned, leisurely, doing only what I really wanted to do in that moment. (Granted, I do understand that my experience was not at all a ‘true’ Balinese experience: I know the Balinese are not typically getting high-quality massage-and-facial packages, or paying $10 a class to sit and do Yoga, or paying $20 for a 4-course meal at a 5-star Italian restaurant, or stopping to pay for fancy juices with chia seeds and organic kale… I do know this; but still. I guess I was trying to emanate their spiritual beliefs, in my own nice, cozy tourist-bubble).

            After yoga, I thought about asking them where the nearest temple was, after this; or if they knew of any cultural museums in the area. Instead, I approached the front desk and said, “Do you know where Taksu spa is?” I’d written it down in my notebook after finding some blog article about it.

            I walked to Taksu and signed up for a Balinese massage (because I was trying to get into the culture, of course), and a facial. In total, it was $40, for a two-hour treatment. The first hour, I had a full body oil massage. After that, I sat for another hour for a deep-cleanse facial. Then, I sat in their garden, drinking a smoothie, included in the package, and read my book.

            By now, it was about 4:30 p.m. I decided to make my way to the Palace and a temple, since I was feeling guilty for hiding away in this spa when there was so much of Ubud I hadn’t seen yet. So I walked, and saw the ‘Palace’ (which was pretty grungy looking, and crawling with tourists and selfie-sticks and loud chatter), and this beautiful temple (which was right beside a Starbucks, and again, crawling with tourists and selfie-sticks), and I realized I had nothing to feel guilty about. These places might’ve been nice to visit, but they certainly weren’t do-or-die… they were just tourist spots.

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            For dinner, I went to an Italian restaurant called Kebun Café, which Gaby had recommended, promising me it had “the best gnocci of my life.” I had tea and a salad (with beets! And spinach! I almost died of happiness) and gnocci with pesto (she was probably right… and I lived in Florence). Then I walked home through the rain, read some more, and went to sleep in my little canopy bed.

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            The next morning, I woke up at 7 a.m. to begin a bike tour I’d signed up for with the Eco-Cycling Company in Ubud. We started at Mount Batur. The mountain, because of the shifting of the Earth over thousands of years etc. etc., has become two volcanoes separated by a beautiful lake, much like the lakes I’d seen in Europe. It is one of the 10 biggest craters in the world.   

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The bike ride was easy. It was entirely downhill, and I barely moved my feet; I mostly just glided.

            My favorite part of the trip was our experience stopping at a Balinese family’s compound. The compound consisted of a few small, dilapidated bare white buildings, mostly empty of furniture apart from a mattress or a pot above a coal fireplace.

            Our tour guide walked us over to the kitchen. This ‘kitchen,’ was a small, very dark room, with a single black coal pot sitting on a hole, under which were some sticks for the fire. This was their stove.

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            “Every day of our lives, our mother cooks us breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” our guide, who must’ve been at least 25, said. “But she only makes one meal per day, and we just eat it whenever we get hungry. She wakes up at 5 a.m. to get to the market to get our food. People from Bali love breakfast, because it’s the only meal of the day that is fresh. After that, our food sits on the kitchen table all day.    So, when I get hungry, I just walk into the kitchen and eat some more of whatever my mom prepared that morning. We obviously don’t have microwaves or refrigerators, so we definitely have some hygiene problems, but we have built up a high immunity.” He said casually, unfazed.

            As we exited the compound we passed a rooster stuck in a little straw cage, and our tour guide pointed to him and said, “We are going to have a cockfight at the end of the month. To sacrifice rooster blood to the spirits. That part is legal. But we will also be gambling, which is illegal.”

            I don’t want to say any of this with too much pity, or too much wow-aren’t-we-lucky reflection, because 1. It’s been done before, and 2. I don’t really think I saw enough to generalize anything about what it is like to live in Bali (what if someone took you to a random house in rural Texas, for instance, and said, ‘This is how all American families live’).

            I will just say that I was shocked, to see how little some of these Balinese people had, because—my god, they seem so happy. As I biked past them, every single person came to the doorway of their shop or compound, or looked up from the ground they were laying on or from the river they were washing clothes in, and smiled ear-to-ear without a trace of bitterness or dejectedness or defeat, shouting out to me: “Hello! Good morning!” Their days seemed so monotonous, and terribly hopeless, without any promise of variation. I just kept thinking—what do they have to ‘live’ for? I don’t mean that question in a religious way, or any deeply philosophical way. I simply mean: What dreams can they entertain for themselves? What goals can they work to achieve? Is there any serious reward for their hard work, besides the same meal on the table every morning?

            Perhaps this is why religion, or spirituality, can be seen everywhere. Bali’s predominant religion is Hinduism. I didn’t know much about Hinduism when I arrived. Here’s all I know after my trip: Everywhere I went, each morning, there were small baskets filled with fresh incense and flowers, which were offerings for different purposes (good luck, warding off evil spirits, expressing gratitude, etc.)

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            Besides the offerings, they have temples everywhere. Each house has it’s own family temple, and it would be ridiculous to pray at anyone else’s temple, because each family temple is for that family’s ancestors. The family temples were my favorite temples—must more impressive than the ones over-hyped by tourists.

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            And then, besides the temples, they simply have a spiritual language. For instance: “I hope you have a blissful time in Bali; Would you like to come and get a massage, so I can rearrange your chakra energies? Would you like chia seeds in your smoothie… it is good for the soul. Everyone, can you please breathe in, and when you breathe out, breathe out all of the evil spirits that reside within you.”    

            And, perhaps most fascinating: the word for ‘artist’ and ‘human being’ is the same in Bali. They don’t have a word for ‘artist’ because everyone is an artist. Art is simply a devotional prayer to the gods.

            Anyways, so we biked past rice fields and through little towns and saw a more authentic version of Bali than I’d seen before. There were just two other Asian women with me on this trip, but they were very nice.

            After the bike tour, I went to this fantastic place called Kafe for dinner, and got a sweet potato/beet/spinach/walnut salad with some healthy smoothie and hummus on the side. It was probably the best meal I’ve had in all of Asia (that’s terrible, I know. I feel guilty for saying it. Okay, okay… the fried rice is good, too).

            Then I walked, again through the rain (it’s ‘rainy’ season in Bali… glad I was warned), and ended up buying gelato at some fancy hotel. I sat on the porch and talked casually with the Balinese worker who’d scooped my gelato for me. He told me that this is how all Balinese people learn English: they speak to tourists. Considering I didn’t need to know a single Indonesian word (not even hello!) the entire time I was there, I was impressed by this. I apologized for not knowing any Indonesian, but the man shrugged it off. “We should learn English. It is the language of the world. It is not just for speaking with Americans… it is how we speak with Europeans, Chinese. Everyone.” Still, I thought about how difficult it would be for me, if I had to learn Spanish through random exchanges with foreigners on the streets of Boston, and I told him again how grateful I was that he was trying.

            The next day, I got up early, took a van to the harbor, and then took a fast ferry across the ocean to Gili Air.

            Seeing as every single other person on the boat got off at Gili T, I understood quickly just how secluded I’d be on this island. And it’s what I’d wanted, originally: seclusion, a chance to lie on the beach and do nothing and tan and read.

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            The only problem was—rainy season, remember? So it was cloudy when I arrived on Gili Air, and started raining within minutes. And what, exactly, are my alternative options on Gili Air, if I am not lying on the beach?

            First, I spent three hours reading in my hotel room. I took a nap. Then I woke up and considered just staying in my room the rest of the day. I know, that’s pathetic. But I was so tired from moving around, and also, the rain was depressing. Thankfully, I found the energy to get up (and the motivation: I promised myself a snack, if I could get out the door). I ate some yoghurt with fruit, overlooking the ocean (which definitely has a different kind of beauty, in the rain), and was extremely well attended to by two boys who live on the island and work at my hotel; since I was the only customer, they stood near me the whole time I ate. I liked their company.

            After my snack, I took an hour and a half candlelit yoga class. It was peaceful, for the most part, and filled with at least 30 other tourists (no idea where they’d all been before, or where they went afterwards).

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            After the class I wandered, and ended up at some random restaurant because it was selling pasta.

            I was trying not to attract any extra attention (feeling a bit like some strange loner girl as it was, reading her book and not really talking or looking at anyone, while mostly everyone else was here with a boyfriend/girlfriend), when this cat came to my table and just wouldn’t stop meowing. Meowing is an understatement—this cat was screeching, right at my table. I kept smiling at it and kind of shooing it away before going back to my book, thinking, Please leave me alone, I cannot be the girl who sits by herself and feeds the stray cats.

            But the cat wouldn’t shut up, and people kept looking at me like, Uhm, can you please control your friend, so finally I just pushed some of my pasta onto the seat beside me and the cat shut up, happily eating his share.

            So that was Gili Air. I left the next morning. Overall, I can’t say it was my favorite part of the trip. But I will say one thing: I felt lucky, that I had the opportunity to be disappointed by a place. I mean, if I’d done the whole office job back in America, and had accepted a quick 10-day trip to Asia as my consolation prize, my night on Gili Air would have felt disastrous, like But this was 1/10th of my trip! Instead, it was just a mediocre solo adventure to an island, (which I know I would’ve regretted had I skipped), and one of many adventures I will have in Asia before my time to leave.

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            The last thing I will tell you about is my experience after arriving back from Gili Air on Monday afternoon. I was staying near the airport, and my flight wasn’t until Tuesday morning, so in classic “Me” fashion, I began thinking about what I could do in the 5 hours I had left (before sleeping). It dawned on me that I felt very unfulfilled with what I’d done in terms of following in Liz Gilbert’s footsteps—I hadn’t meditated once, I hadn’t fallen in love, and I hadn’t visited a Medicine man. Seeing as only one of these was something I could Google (and not waste $500 learning how to do), I found a Medicine man, not too far from the airport, and emailed him.

            After receiving a response from him, saying he could help me, I grabbed myself a taxi from the airport and was dropped off 20-minutes later on this desolate side street. All I could see on this street were two men sitting on the front stoop of a random white building.

            “Ah,” I stepped toward them, my taxi driver still watching. “Bali Chy Healing?”

            They pointed down the street.

            “Okay, thanks.”

            I turned the corner and saw the sign. I entered this ‘shop’ and sat down in a chair while I waited for an older (mid-60’s?) dark brown Balinese man to finish his conversation with another patient. The Balinese man looked sweet, with large, thin-rimmed square glasses, a wide smile, and black hair graying around the ears. Like a grandfather, maybe (not mine, of course).

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            While I waited, I read a pamphlet about him. It said: “Sami is a traditional Balinese healer and doctor known as Balian Usada. With his holistic treatment he is able to diagnose and find solutions to physical ailments, emotional trauma, and spiritual consciousness issues… Sami had the opportunity to meet high spiritual beings (for example Sri Chinmoy), who regarded him as a superior being as well… He is now a very wise man.”

            I skipped a few (boring) parts. On the front, it said he could do energy balancing, reading and life coaching, kinesiology… and some other stuff, mostly stuff I’ve never heard about. I thought about what I wanted and decided my ‘energies’ probably needed balancing, and I probably needed some life coaching, since I was here and all, and paying $70 (I’m embarrassed to admit that… my co-teachers all laughed when I told them how much I’d spent, and said, ‘I could’ve told you how to be happy for free! I could’ve balanced your energies for a discount!’)

            An older, bigger woman, with jet-black hair and a sweaty face, suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Come, come!” She said, motioning for me to follow her. “You have appointment?” She asked.

            “Uh, sort of. I emailed,” I said. She nodded, and that was that. (Note: if you’re ever in Bali, just say you have an appointment, even if you don’t. How will they ever know?)

            “Lie down,” she pointed to a bed behind a curtain, and then said, “But first, take off all your clothes.”

            I did as she said and lay down on the bed. She explained that, first, she was going to give me a massage and do some acupressure to ‘get my energies flowing.’ For the first 15-minutes, as she worked, I asked various questions, like I was writing some research report on the whole thing. “How did you become a healer? He trained you? Who trained him, though? Wait, what are you doing now… can you feel the energies? Are there different energies in different parts of the body? How will we know when they’re balanced… can you feel the imbalance right now? Also, just curious… can the Medicine Man tell me my future? Can he read my mind?”

            Finally, as I relaxed, I quieted. Actually, I probably pretty much fell asleep. It felt really nice. If nothing else, the $70 got me a great massage.

            After at least 45-minutes, she finally called the man in. She told him, through the curtain, that I was “ready.” He came in and said, “Just relax, Caroline. Don’t think. Close your eyes.” I did as he said and there, in the dark, he put both sets of fingertips on my head and kept them there.

            For a while, I stayed relaxed. My mind was still thinking ferociously, as it always does (it gets worse, I’ve found, when I try to think, ‘don’t think of anything! Be in the moment! Relax!’ When I tell my mind not to do something, it tries really hard to do the opposite).

            After a while, my mind drifted and I thought about how much trust I was giving these people. Then I really thought about it. I mean, wait a minute. My bag, with my purse and debit card and credit card and cash, was sitting right beside him, not me. And I’m lying here, in the dark, on some random road on a deserted street, with my eyes closed. What the hell is keeping him from stealing from me? I thought, and then, even worse, Oh my god, what the hell is keeping him from KILLING me? Seriously, why hasn’t he stabbed me ALREADY? It would be genius. Stab me, put my body in the backyard… no one in the entire world knows where I am anyway… take all my debit cards/credit cards etc., and you could probably make a pretty good life for yourself… for at least a month or two… in Bali. And no one will ever know.

             As I’m thinking this, I opened my eyes (just to check, you know… that he doesn’t have a knife in his hand, or something), and he said, like he was reading my mind, “Okay. We are done.”

            I met him in the front room, right by the road. I had no idea where the woman went—I never saw her again.

            He smiled at me and took out a big book and said, “So, Caroline. What is your problem?” I realized he meant what is my physical ailment—why am I even here in the first place—and I know I can’t really say, “Oh, I don’t have one, I just want you to tell me my future like someone in Bali told Elizabeth Gilbert hers. And maybe also tell me my purpose in life, and anything else you think is fun I should know.”

            So, instead, I said weakly, “Oh, I don’t know. I wanted my energies balanced…” I have no idea what that even means… “And, also, I want to be more in-the-moment, I guess?”

            He nodded and said, “You worry. You are very self-critical. You get stressed. You have a lot of knowledge… but you are not wise.”

            He drew a triangle on a piece of paper and turned it to face me. Then he wrote, at the top of the triangle, the word ‘Spirit.’ Below, in the middle, he wrote, ‘Mind.’ Finally, at the bottom, he wrote, ‘Body.’

            Then he drew a chart and wrote ‘Emotional,’ with all those really nice attributes he’d given me below (stress/nerves/anxiety/self-critical); on the other side of the chart, he wrote ‘Think.’

            “You are also very active. Very creative. Very innovation.” (English is his second language; let’s bear in mind). He wrote these words below ‘Think’. Then, randomly, he drew a bunch of + signs under ‘Think’.

            “You think too much. That is your problem. When you think too much, you are not in the moment. To be happy, you must be in the moment.”

            “Yes, but… how?” I asked.

            He looked up at me, exasperated. “I just told you!” He said, laughing, but sounding frustrated. “This is what I’m talking about. I told you!”

            “Oh… Okay! Okay! I see now!” I said conciliatorily (Did he tell me? Was I not listening close enough?).

            After a moment, he continued. “See, you want to know Who you are. You want to know Where you are. You want to know How to be happy. You want to know Why life is like this. You want to know What can make you happy.” He wrote these words in the corner of the page.

            “You are 23, Caroline. 23. You don’t need to know. Step-by-step, yes?”

            “Okay,” I nodded. “Okay.”

            “You want to know how to be happy… To be happy, you must be Healthy. You must be Aware of yourself. You must be Present. You must be Positive. And you must be Yourself. You see! It spells Happy!” He showed me on the paper, and then said, kindly, “You can keep this, by the way.”

            I continued to nod. I mean, I didn’t really know what else to say (I certainly wasn’t going to ask him any questions—I didn’t want him exploding on me again, and ripping up the paper in frustration, or something).

            “You cannot reach your spirit until you calm the mind. Just be happy. When you reach the spirit by being happy, you can find inspiration (he wrote in-SPIRIT-ation on the paper), from the universe. Do what makes you happy, help other people, and find inspiration—and you will be happy.” It began sounding a bit like circular reasoning to me (you know, X is true because of Y, and Y is true because of X), but still, the more he said it, the more I could believe it really was that simple. It felt a bit like he’d taken a burden off of me. If my only ‘homework’ from him was to be happy… well, that’s a fun thing to focus on, isn’t it? Much better than becoming some meditative guru and spending hundreds at a retreat, or something.

            When I asked, “To find my spirit, should I meditate or pray?” He shrugged and said, “You can. Or, just be happy.”

            Okay. I think I can do that.

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            The crazy thing about this whole trip was, I didn’t have to sit at a desk for 5 years to save up for it. I didn’t have to land a book deal or go through some traumatic mid-life crisis. I didn’t have to try all that hard, really… the opportunity more or less just fell into my lap. And that in itself is CRAZY to me. I mean, Bali? Indonesia? What do I even know about Indonesia? I don’t think it really hit me, how lucky I am here, until I realized just how graspable the whole world feels to me right now. It’s all so much more within reach than I’d realized.

            May of last year, I’d stopped researching work opportunities abroad and, instead, I’d begun emailing colleges in the local Boston area about Admissions Counselors positions because I figured I could travel that way (in the local area, to local high schools). Then, in June, I began researching opportunities to be an event planner in Boston, because I figured I could travel to different venues around the city.

            Looking back, I feel sorry for that girl who, for even a brief period of time, narrowed her dreams so severely out of practicality and convenience… And out of some obscure pressure from this imminent ‘Real World.’

            This is just as much a ‘Real World’ as any other. I get a salary at the end of every month that pays for my rent and my food and my transportation; I wake up and drink coffee from 7-11 to save money; I get tired and frustrated and my motorbike breaks down and my packages get sent to the wrong post office and all of it is real life.

            But then, on a random Monday in January, a little over a year since I talked to someone from a Boston company about being a travel agent to help other people travel the world, and a little over 2 years since I read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time, I ended up in front of a medicine man in Bali.

            I’m living this life that scares me sometimes, because I don’t always recognize it as something I’ve prepared for or studied for or navigated before; but, at the same time, there are moments like my trip to Bali where I can look up and recognize exactly where it is I’m headed. It makes me realize just how much I’m capable of doing, not just someday, but soon, now. I've learned that I have total control over my own version of 'reality' and the 'Real World.' If I want my 'Real World' to include spontaneous solo trips to Bali, and who know's what else, than I can make that happen--I just need to remind myself to keep dreaming that big.

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Stay a Little Longer

I'm not good at making decisions. I get buyers remorse with everything, from ice cream flavors to nail polish colors. For the most part, I try to act using logic rather than emotion. Sometimes I fail at following my instinct and I kick myself for not going with my gut. Suffice it to say, I'm constantly analyzing how any given scenario could play out in my life. 

Something about deciding to teach in Thailand was different for me, though. This is the job I always had my sights set on immediately post-grad. It was never my plan B. The only thing I second-guessed about the decision was that I never second-guessed it. Naturally, moving across the globe came with a lot of risks. Yet, I had a hunch from the get-go that Thailand and I would be a fitting combination.

They say all good things must come to an end, and Thailand has been very good to me. I’ve gained lifelong friends I would have otherwise never crossed paths with; I’ve learned how to control a classroom and teach with equal parts poise and playfulness; I’ve had the privilege to travel throughout parts of Thailand that are breathtaking beyond belief.

I’m not ready for those opportunities to end. After a lot of careful consideration (and a couple of sleepless nights as a result) I am happy to say I will be staying in Thailand to teach for a second semester! This decision was incredibly difficult. It required a lot of self-reflection and a long list of pros and cons. Even after seeking advice from others, I realized the only person who can make this decision for me is me. My gut is telling me I’m not done in Thailand just yet, and for once I’m going to listen to it.

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Turning my can'ts into cans and my dreams into plans! Click photo to enlarge.

Of course, being away from my friends and family for another term will be challenging. However, there is more I want to see, do and – let’s be real – taste test before I go home. Staying in Thailand is something I didn’t originally foresee myself doing. Any teacher knows the challenges associated with the education system. Teaching abroad presents its own set of additional obstacles. By staying in Thailand a little bit longer, my aspirations aren’t changing. I still want to grow my own interpersonal communication skills. I still want to feel as if I am learning as much from my students as they are learning from me. I still want to explore Thailand and surrounding Southeast Asian countries. An additional six months in Thailand will ensure that I get the chance to accomplish all of those goals.

With each life-changing decision I make, I think of my brother, Richie, who lost his battle to cystic fibrosis while I was in middle school. Although nine years have since passed, every milestone in life is bittersweet since I can’t share it with him. My birthday is especially hard. I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt that I’m growing another year older without him. If you had the opportunity to know Richie, you would know he’d want me to stay positive, live my life to the fullest and set out to do things he never got the chance to do. With that in mind, I celebrated my 23rd birthday Thai-style.

I’ve been lucky to make a lot of valuable connections in my town, and I felt so loved the entire week of my birthday. Last Monday, my favorite group of 4-year-olds surprised me with a rainbow-clad ice cream cake, balloons and the sweetest rendition of happy birthday I’ve ever heard.

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These kiddos are too pure! Click photo to enlarge.

Those little munchkins hold such a special place in my heart and I could not have been more touched by the effort that went into making me feel like a birthday princess. On Tuesday, I took my biggest risk in Thailand thus far – I got my haircut! For the price of 100 baht (less than $3) I trimmed off 2 inches and proved to myself I can make it through a haircut without crying at the end.
 
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Balloons are almost as fun as birthday cake... almost! Click photo to enlarge.

I must admit – having a birthday abroad isn’t so bad! Due to the time change, it almost felt as if I got to observe it twice: officially on Wednesday, and again the next day when the calendar turned to the 25th in America. It was so heartwarming to hear from friends all over the world wishing me a happy birthday. 

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Birthday lunch with two of my spectacular students! Click photo to enlarge.

One of my classes even ambushed me with a dessert platter complete with pink candles and a chorus of applause. I truly was caught off guard by their sneaky skills and I was so honored they went out of their way to make sure it was a remarkable day!

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Surprise! Click photo to enlarge.

By the time Friday rolled around, I was ready to get to Bangkok and meet up with all of my friends! I kicked off the festivities by telling everyone the big news that I am officially staying a second semester – all the more reason to celebrate! The fun-filled weekend included relaxing on rooftops, poolside jam sessions and rainbow drinks. The weekend wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the movies, which was my last stop before heading back home to Chachoengsao. I am so thankful for the people who traveled from across Thailand to help make my birthday unforgettable.

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Besties in Bangkok for Bryna's birthday - say that three times fast! Click photo to enlarge.

Year 23 is certainly off to an eventful start. I cherish all of the wonderful memories I’m making and I’m grateful for everything I get to experience. I know that not everyone is allotted the privilege to teach and travel abroad. I worked hard to get here and I don’t take it for granted. I am passionate about authentically documenting my time in Thailand and I am proud to share this chapter in my life with others through my blog. I’m thrilled I’ll get the opportunity to do so for a few months longer!

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

Coast to Coast

Road tripping through Thailand is my new favorite pastime. Lately, I’ve traveled from the east to the west, with stopovers in the central region, and finally back east to teach during the week. Although being a passenger can be stressful at times (most drivers see highway lanes as suggestions rather than requirements), it’s such a treat to take the scenic route while exploring more of the country. 

One of my recent road trips included a bus ride to the western province of Kanchanaburi. After a few minor setbacks (I swear I’ll never stop feeling like I’m on The Amazing Race) I made it to my hostel for the night. As the daughter of a super-coupon cutter, I’ve learned to keep my eye out for a good deal. I really thought I hit the jackpot when I found a room for 180 baht (roughly $5) per night. In retrospect, I should have known what I was getting myself into given the room was called a “raft house,” but hindsight is 20/20 and in the moment the price blinded me from all other options. I was feeling adventurous and ready to immerse myself into nature! Right?

1Raft house: harmless on the outside; not so fun once you're floating on the inside. Click photo to enlarge.

Wrong. Turns out sleeping in a raft house feels less like luxury and more like Huckleberry Finn meets The Parent Trapcamping scene. After a rocky night in the hostel, I boarded an open-air bus to Erawan Falls, a majestic national park 90 minutes outside of the main town in Kanchanaburi. Erawan Falls includes 7 tiers of various waterfalls over the course of 2 miles. The views were striking even from the first level, where tons of fish were swimming in the crystal clear water. I stopped around tiers four and five to dip my feet in before continuing on the trail. 

2A breathtaking view from Erawan Falls, which gets its name from a three-headed elephant in Hindu mythology. Click photo to enlarge.

Thailand must really be changing me because here’s something I never thought I’d say: it was an easy hike to the seventh, final tier. Even though I was close to resembling a tomato by the end of the trail, it was rewarding to say I made it all the way to the top!

3Sweet, sweaty success! Click photo to enlarge.

I finished the hike faster than anticipated, so I decided to bypass the option to stay in the raft house a second night and caught a bus back to Bangkok. Since it was Sunday, it felt only fitting that I catch a movie at my favorite theatre. It was a nice way to end the night after such a fast-paced, exhausting day!

Unfortunately, upon my return to Chachoengsao I suffered another bout of food poisoning. I felt horrible missing school for the first time, but I decided to listen to my body and rest. Even 3 months into my stay, my stomach is still adjusting. Luckily I bounced back after 24 hours and was able to teach the following day. When I returned to school I found a stack of get well wishes from my students. I was incredibly touched by their thoughtfulness and flattered by their complements. It definitely made the road to recovery that much easier!

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These kind notes from my kids really speak for themselves! Click photo to enlarge.

Even food poisoning can’t keep me out of commission for long, so by the time the weekend rolled around I was ready to make my way back on the road again. Last weekend I traveled just north of Bangkok to the province of Lopburi. (The suffix “buri”can be found at the end of many Thai provinces because it translates to “town.”) Lopburi is known for two things: monkeys and sunflowers. Not long after arriving at Phra Prang Sam Yat, the Buddhist shrine in the center of town, I found the infamous monkeys who roam freely throughout the city. Without any food or prodding, the monkeys willingly jump from person to person to see what mischief they can get into.

5Don't let those eyes fool you... this little guy was up to no good! Click photo to enlarge.

Monkeys of all ages and sizes utilized me as their human jungle gym. After the initial shock wore off, I remained calm enough to interact with the little loonies. I quickly learned that monkeys are drawn to anything shiny, and I left Lopburi sans my favorite sparkly silver hair tie, though it is a small price to pay for the experience of monkeys jumping all over me!

6The monkeys loved combing through my hair. I had to keep telling myself it was just like a massage! Click photo enlarge.

After a thorough application of hand sanitizer, I moved on from wild monkeys to wildflowers. Each winter, hundreds of sunflowers bloom throughout Lopburi. With mountains in the horizon and not a cloud in the sky, I noticed there was even a temple in the distance. It was the quintessential view of Thailand.

7Flowers as far as the eye can see! Can you spot the temple in the background? Click photo to enlarge.

While the wildflowers weren’t quite as lively as the monkeys, I still enjoyed frolicking through the fields and taking in the scenery. It was a picture perfect day and I left convinced that Lopburi is the epitome of natural beauty.

8Laughing through Lopburi = best way to experience Lopburi. Click photo to enlarge.

 

It’s refreshing to get off the beaten path and experience something new in Thailand each weekend. The more I do, the more I want to do! With each passing day, I gain confidence in my ability to make it even further next time. With only one more month of school, I’m starting to plan my post-teaching travels around other Southeast Asian countries. Oddly enough, traveling throughout Thailand made me realize the longing I have to see more stateside once I return home. At this point, I feel like I know Thailand better than I know Texas! I'm looking forward to embarking on more domestic travel in the future.

In the meantime, I’ll be heading to Bangkok this weekend to celebrate my birthday! I cannot wait to keep coasting through the city, adapt more to this country and stick to my commitment to see all that I can!  

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

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.

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            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.

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            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.

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            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.

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            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.

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            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).

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            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.

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            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.

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            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.

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            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.

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            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.

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            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.

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            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.
 
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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.
 

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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)!!!
 
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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

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