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65 posts categorized "*Traveling around Thailand"

A Quiet and Dignified New Years

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

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

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

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

Until next time!

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The One With The Field Trip To Chonburi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I went to a village this weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Patches isn’t even the most extreme example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Erawan National "fails" I mean Fall’s

        Let me start by saying that the falls at Erawan National Park are beautiful – it was the trip that was the failure; not the park.

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            This was my first 100% solo trip and I will not lie. It was not smooth sailing at all. I woke up later than planned on Saturday morning; not a good beginning as I had to get across Bangkok by 7am to catch a bus to Kanchanaburi. And, yes, even on a Saturday morning the traffic was terrible. I ended up missing the bus and had to wait about 30 minutes to catch the next one, which pushed my time frame back. After about a 2.5 hour bus ride I reached my destination – Kanchanaburi. As my hostel was next to Erawan National Park I ended up on a bus that took me to the park, where I assumed I would be able to get a cab from there to my hostel. NO, THAT DID NOT WORK OUT!! Instead some taxi drivers laughed at me and told me to head back to Kanchanaburi. After a day of traveling, and the frustration of arriving at the park when it was about to close so I couldn’t go in, although what I did see of it was beautiful, So, I was heading back to Kanchanaburi after about thirty minutes.

            Once back in the city I was told that my hostel was too far away and no one was going to take me unless I paid them an arm and a leg. (Totally did not happen.) Food always makes things better and after getting something delicious) I went hunting for a new hostel, because, obviously, the other one was not going to work out. During my search, I encountered dark alleys and several dogs. I love dogs, but when seven of them stood up, faced me, and started barking, I quickly backed out of that street. They didn’t chase me more than a few feet, but it was scary.

            Fortunately, I soon found a hostel I liked. The owners were a married couple who were super kind and nice. I had my own room, hot water, and a very comfortable bed. The end of the day was looking up after my long travels and having things go wrong. The night got better and Sunday made up for all of the fails and learning experiences that happened to me on Saturday.

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            I woke up Sunday with new determination to not let Saturday bother me and to make the most of my time in the area. The hostel owners were so nice that in the morning they drove me to the bus station to catch the bus to Erawan National Falls. Once I arrived I hiked all the way to the 7th tier, which is the top of the falls and takes about 45 minutes. The park is an amazing experience. You can stick your feet in the water to have fish eat your dead skin (it feels better than it sounds), see amazing sights, and play in the falls. Although I didn’t have time, there are also several caves in the area to explore. I was busy chasing waterfalls, enjoying the beautiful landscape, and being content with life. It was a lovely day.

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            On my back down, I stopped along the way to enjoy other part of the park and falls. I spent a good amount of time at the 2nd tier fall. It felt like a small lake and I could sit under the falls. The fish were still eating my dead skin as I floated on the water with the falls hitting me. It was wonderful.

            My way back to Bangkok was much easier than my way to the park had been. After a few hours I arrived safely back in my apartment thinking of waterfalls, fish, and how beautiful the world is around us. Although I had setbacks, I would travel alone again. I learned a few things about how to handle situations, such as barking dogs, and had a glorious time exploring a new place.

Kanchanaburi Round 2

The second weekend in January me and the usual crew decided we were finally going to go back to Kanchanaburi to see the Erawan waterfalls. We had briefly visited the provence during orientation back in October, and while there we went to the bridge over the river Kwai and had a sunset dinner cruise on a boat. We knew that we'd want to go back to Kanchanaburi eventually, as we hadn't been able to see one of the biggest tourist attractions on our first visit.

Oddly enough, Kaitlin and I had a work party on Friday night, and so did Laura and Emily, which made planning pretty simple. Side note, our work party had a very interesting floral/50's/60's/70's/made-up Thai theme to it, even though the purpose of it was to celebrate New Years (two weeks late I might add). Kaitlin and I had no idea how to dress, so we tried to be as colorful and floral as possible. The party was on a courtyard at our school and consisted of a lot of singing, dancing, celebrating, and gift giving! Generally, we had no idea what was going on most of the time, but it was still fun, as I'll never turn down free food and drinks.


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Since we all had the same schedule, planning the weekend was pretty simple. We would meet in Bangkok in the afternoon and take a ferry across the river and walk to the Thonburi train station. From there we would get on the 3:00 pm train and make the 3 hour journey to Kanchanaburi, stay the night, head to the falls Sunday morning, and then take a van back to Bangkok.

The funny thing about Thailand is there are always a million and one ways to get around. Whether you choose to take a motorbike taxi, van, bus, train, walk, regular taxi, tuk tuk, songthaew, boat, ferry, the BTS (Bangkok's skytrain), or the MRT (Bangkok's subway) is up to you! I use several of these modes of transportation on a regular basis, and of course we knew this weekend would be no different.

First, we took a van from Saraburi to Bangkok, where we got off at the Mochit BTS station and took it a few stops into the city. From there the plan was to taxi to the ferry pier, ride over and then walk to the train station. While researching how to get to Kanchanaburi, we had found out that there are only two trains a day that leave out of Bangkok. One at 7:50 am and one at 3:00 pm (or so we thought). But once we stepped out of the BTS, Laura and Emily texted us and said they were already at the station and the train was actually at 1:45, not 3. At that point it was about 1:15, and the station was about 25 minutes away. Bangkok traffic is a literal nightmare, so we quickly hailed a taxi and prayed that our driver could get us there on time. That man turned out to be a godsend because he managed to get us there in 20 minutes on an empty tank of gas.

The train ride there was pretty slow moving, but all the windows were open in the cars so the nice breeze, combined with the scenery, made for a pretty relaxing ride. Around 4:30 we checked into our hostel, got dinner, and wandered around the night market nearby. We stayed at Asleep Hostel, which was pretty basic, nothing special, but it was in the perfect location to get to Erawan National Park. A bus picked us up outside a 7/11 at 8:00 am Sunday morning, and we got to the falls about an hour and a half later.

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Erawan consisted of 7 waterfall levels, the first four or five being very easy to get to. Once you get past the fifth one, the perfect dirt path kind of disappears, and instead you have to walk through water and over rocks to get to the top. We met a couple girls from Canada on the bus ride there, so we hiked up with them and the six of us made it all the way to the 7th fall before stopping and jumping in! That was honestly the hardest part about the hike, as every fall and the beautiful blue waters were so inviting. Also, once you jumped in, there were fish in the waters that would come up to you and nibble on your skin. Some fish were pretty small, and others were much much bigger - definitely stayed away from those ones. It was the weirdest feeling ever, but after awhile I definitely enjoyed it - not going to say no to a free pedicure?

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Around 2 pm we got on the bus back to Kanchanaburi, took a songthaew to the bus station, and got a van back to Bangkok. The ride home ended up taking four hours, and we didn't get to the Mochit bus terminal until 8 pm. Then the bus that Kaitlin and I were taking home didn't end up leaving until 9:30, so we got home around 11:30 pm. The crazy thing is that Saraburi is only 3 hours away from Kanchanaburi, but because there are no direct forms of transportation to and from, we had to go to Bangkok in order to get there. So basically, Thailand transportation can be a real bitch, but sooner or later you just have to accept it. I'm pretty sure all of SE Asia is this way, so really I'm just preparing myself for the two months of backpacking that I'll be doing after our semester ends! Which at this point is a month away!!! And needless to say, the 24 hours that we spent in Kanchanaburi were definitely worth it.

Next stop: Khao Yai National Park!

The One Where I Got My Wisdom Tooth Pulled For 15 Dollars

    I have been bitching about my wisdom tooth for weeks. Just ask anyone in our office at the school and they'll tell you that it's basically all I could talk or think about at work. I'm one of those unlucky people whose wisdom teeth came in late and came in completely effing sideways.

    A few weeks into arriving in Thailand (by the way, great timing on that one God) I started the unmistakable process of cutting one of my wisdom teeth. I will never be bother by a teething baby again- that shit sucks. Leading up until the last week or so it honestly wasn't too terrible. Then the rest of the tooth came through and decided to point itself directly into my cheek and gums. I felt like I had braces all over again and as much fun as that was the first time around, I really wasn't interested in experiencing pain like that again.

    I wanted to check out the really nice looking dentist's office right across from the school. All the kids where I teach who have braces said that's where they get them. I figured they must be pretty good then. Finally after withstanding another horrible day of tooth; cheek, gum and jaw pain I decided to walk over and see what the price of getting a tooth out would be. I waited maybe 20min to see a dentist, she X-rayed the tooth and said "do you want to pull it today?" I said that depends, "how much will it cost?" She replied "500 Baht." I almost cried. 500 Baht is roughly 16 U.S. dollars. I smiled and said "let's do this."FUN FACT: the name of the clinic translated means "happiness clinic," nailed that one. 

    PSA: I am a huge, huge wimp when it comes to dentist procedures. Once when I was young I had 2 teeth pulled by a dentist who chose to ignore my cries as I was telling him I wasn't numb and could feel him ripping my tooth from my gums. So needless to say, I'm terrified of the dentist. The Thai dentist here was a phenomenal woman, who was incredibly patient, calm and comforting. She asked how I was feeling multiple times and answered all my paranoid questions without getting frustrated at all.

    The whole process was done and over in 20 minutes- including numbing me, waiting 10min for it to kick in, pulling the tooth and placing the gauze. I literally hugged this woman after it was over because it was such an easy and comfortable process. She laughed pretty hard cause Thai people don't really hug each other. I joked and told her I was going to fly back to Thailand for all my future dentistry needs. I was given extra gauze, pain medication, and directions for after care for the next few hours. The grand total came to 650 THB (20 USD).

    The process was no different than it would have been in America except that my Thai dentist actually provided better quality care than my past American dentist. I can't even think about the bill I would have received for this in the U.S.

    So anywho, that's the most excitement I've experienced in a hot minute since we aren't traveling right now in order to save money for the end of the semester to explore with. MORAL OF THE STORY: Come to Thailand to get your wisdom teeth out.

NAME OF THE CLINIC: PasoOk Dental Clinic (พาสุข เดนทอล คลินิก)

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Easy as Pai

It has now officially been over a month since I visited Pai back in December, so clearly this blog post is coming later than planned. This last month has been busy, stressful, wonderful, and eye-opening. However, just thinking about writing this blog and all the others I've neglected to keep up with has me wanting to throw my laptop out the window. Dramatic enough?

Let me start by saying that Pai is a MAGICAL hippy-town that everyone has to visit if they're going to be in Thailand for an extended period of time. I had heard of and seen pictures of it before coming to teach here, so I knew it was going to be up at the top of my bucket list. My school had finals at the end of December, which we had to attend to help proctor for the tests. Luckily, we only had to proctor for three days out of the week, so I took off Monday the 25th, as it was also Christmas, and Tuesday the 26th to have a nice 4 day weekend.

The only way to get there is by flying North to Chiang Mai and then taking a three hour bus or van even farther North to Pai. The plan was for me to meet Emily, Laura, and Amy, who is another teacher at their school from OEG, in Chiang Mai on Saturday morning. I was flying out of Don Mueang on Friday night and had booked a hostel about 5-10 minutes from the airport. The three of them had a work party on Friday, so they were flying out of BKK super early Saturday morning. My flight was supposed to leave around 10:30 pm and get in around 11:30, but it ended up being delayed and I didn't get to Chiang Mai until after midnight.

The hostel I booked was supposed to be open 24 hours, but when I arrived it was totally closed. Like lights off, door locked, not a soul in sight. Thank god my taxi driver gave a shit about my well-being rather than just driving off and leaving me stranded. He so graciously helped me to knock on the door and even call the hostel. Turns out See Hostel in Chiang Mai is NOT open 24 hours. I reluctantly got back into the taxi and returned to the airport. Dejected, I asked the airport workers if there were any other 24 hour hostels...they laughed at me and said "no, but you can sleep over there" as they pointed to some extremely uncomfortable looking airport chairs. There were about 10 other people who were doing the same thing as me, and man we were a sad looking bunch.

It happened to be super cold in Chiang Mai that night, and of course I didn't bring anything thicker than a flannel. I ended up having to cover myself with a dress, put on my leggings, jeans, and flowy pants, and curl up on some chairs for the next 7 hours until my friends arrived. I was also getting through a really bad cold, so basically my night blew. To make matters worse, when Laura and Emily got to BKK, they said that Laura's flight had been booked for the night before (even though she clearly bought the same flight as Emily). She then had to go to DMK and wait a couple hours for the next flight out. This meant Laura was 0-2 for flights out of BKK (lol refer back to my Krabi blog...). Mai pen rai amiright?

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my sad sad sad bed for the night

Around 7:30, Emily, Amy, and I eventually got to the Chiang Mai bus station and got tickets for a 9:30 am van. Another thing you should know about Pai is that the roads to get there are extremely winding. You're basically constantly taking huge turns left and right up a mountain the whole way there. And if you get car-sick, I HIGHLY suggest taking some Dramamine. I was sitting in the very front seat of the van and, after one Dramamine, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the ride. It was really interesting to see drivers expertly curve around the mountain road and zoom past people going too slow. The views weren't terrible either.

When we finally got there, I immediately could tell that Pai was the absolute cutest little town. We walked along the main "walking street" that had tons of adorable shops and plenty of cafes offering avocado toast. We took a songthaew to our hostel, Deejai Backpackers, which was about 10ish minutes out of town. The hostel overlooked a rice farm and had a great view of the mountains and a really cool vibe with outdoor seating, hammocks, and music.

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That first day we just chilled at the hostel, headed into town for dinner, and made our way down the walking street to check out all the night vendors. The next day we got breakfast at the most amazing vegetarian/vegan restaurant right next to our hostel called Earth Tone. They had amazing smoothie bowls, guacamole, waffles, and so much more. This would be our first of many visits (no shame).

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Since everything in Pai is kind of spread out, renting motorbikes is the best option to get around. If you book a tour, then that can cover a lot of ground, but we wanted to see things on our own. So we rented two for the day through the hostel for 300 baht per bike. If anyone remembers reading about my experience riding around the Green Lung in Bangkok, you'd know that bikes are not my specialty (https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/06/boats-bikes-and-bangkok/). So imagine my shock when I realized that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to drive a motorbike (like no shit). So Emily drove with Laura and Amy drove me, and our first stop was a hot spring about 15 minutes away in a resort. There are a couple hot springs in Pai, but they were each about 20-30 minutes away and harder to get to due to our inexperience on motorbikes. Our goal was really to just avoid dying. On our way there we passed some rescued elephants, and saw one being taken for a casual stroll down the street. It was a nice sneak peek of the elephants we would be visiting the following week in Chiang Mai! (Didn't love that the guy was riding it, but at least it was getting some exercise).

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After the hot spring, we went back to the hostel and prepared to get back on the bikes and drive to Pai Canyon for the sunset, which wasn't too far away. We wanted some time to explore and walk around the canyon before sunset, so we went around 3:00 pm. This was another landmark that I had heard plenty about before, and it definitely didn't disappoint! And for future reference, the dirt on the paths is super slippery, so definitely wear some footwear that has traction! Or even go barefoot.

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That night we had dinner on the walking street, and then it was early to bed for us because the next morning we were planning on waking up around 5 am to go to the Yun Lai Viewpoint to see the sunrise!

Yun Lai was about a 20-30 minute motorbike ride away in a Chinese village. Amy was going on a tour during the day that would take her to the viewpoint so she didn't come with us. And since neither Laura nor myself could drive the motorbike, Emily agreed to drive all three of us there. We grabbed some blankets, made sure no one was going to fall off, and made our way in the dark to the viewpoint. Fitting three grown women onto a motorbike was probably the most Thai thing we've ever done (apologies to Emily).

Once we got to the village, we noticed that there were a ton of other vans and songthaews taking tour groups up to the top of the hill. We sped past them and attempted to go up the very steep roads to get there. Unfortunately, a car came down the narrow road at the same time as us, so we had to pull to the side and stop, and with the weight of all three of us on the bike...we tipped over. Thankfully we weren't moving when it happened! So instead we decided to park the bike and walk the rest of the way up.

Aaaaaannnddd so. many. regrets. It was the steepest hill I have ever walked up. We really had no other choice because the bike definitely wouldn't have made it with all three of us, but I seriously have never felt so out of shape in my life. Damn you pad thai.

Once at the top, we waited with a large group of other tourists as the fog spread over the mountains and the sun eventually rose. It was such a cool experience getting there when it was still pitch black out. Even though you're with a bunch of other people, it wasn't hard to feel serene and at peace up there. Yun Lai is definitely worth the early wake up call.

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^ the struggle of pushing the bike back up the hill


Afterwards, we got breakfast (Earth Tone again obviously), walked up to see a White Buddha statue, and saw more touristy things around town. Today also happened to be Christmas, but because we had a jam packed schedule of activities I honestly forgot about it for most of the day. Every so often another tourist would walk by and say "Merry Christmas" to us, and I'd have the same reaction every time, which was generally something like "oh shit, yeah Merry Christmas..."

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Before dinner that night, we met another girl named Amy who was staying in my room at the hostel. She was solo traveling so I invited her to dinner and we all went to this amazing restaurant that someone had recommended called Pens Kitchen. We ordered family-style and everything was amazing! I highly recommend their Khao Soi, which is a Northern yellow curry dish with noodles. I had never heard of it before, as I don't live up North, but I quickly became obsessed with it. Literally, I wouldn't shut up about the amazingness that is Khao Soi to Kaitlin and Kat and anyone else who would listen to me when I went back home to Saraburi. It is that delicious.

The next day I headed into town and got on my 11:00 am van to make the three hour journey back to Chiang Mai. From there I flew to Bangkok and had to wait for a 10:15 pm train outside of Don Mueang airport to go back to Saraburi. Overall I was traveling for about 11 hours. Because I live so far away, going to Pai definitely required a long weekend. But it was totally worth it.

The town itself feels so quaint and it has the cutest stores, the nicest people, and there are so many beautiful things to see, and we didn't even get to all of it. Added bonus, avocados are EVERYWHERE, unlike the rest of Thailand. If you want to go to Pai and see as many things as possible, I suggest getting a motorbike or doing a tour. The tours were only about 500 baht and brought you to a ton of different places.

Our hostel ended up being really cool and chill, but it was out of town which was a bit inconvenient. So, next time I would probably stay at a different hostel that's a shorter walk to town. And I really do hope there is a next time!

Make sure to check out my personal blog for more posts. Next up is Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi, and Khao Yai National Park!

https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com

 

Courtney's View #6: Rock the Lonely Planet Book Often

 

One thing that is enhancing my travel experience is research. I noticed that ignorance can sometimes breed pessimism and confusion. For me, my longterm travel experience has become more fun once I turn an observant and curious eye upon my surroundings. The Lonely Planet book that CIEE gave us all is great place to start! Reading it while you're in the thick of Thailand sheds so much light and gives to-the-point commentary. Re-visiting the information as you're surrounded by it makes everything hop off the page as it dovetails with your own experience. It explains so much of the country's inner-workings. Researching has allowed me to simply observe and identify and understand. Often, things I thought were very strange suddenly make a lot of sense! My people watching game is on fire because of it. I highly recommend the "Understand Thailand" section in the back of Lonely Planet Thailand guide.

Among the fun things you will find:

- No, you're students aren't being mean when they laugh every single class as you butcher their name, they're helping you save face.

- Yes, that kid is named "Phone" after an actual phone.

- No, the students aren't showing zilch initiative because they suck, it's because they're specifically taught to not be assertive in the presence of a Poo Yai (an elder).

- That dump truck is painted crazy awesome to ward of bad luck!

- Thai men can enter a temple (take up robe and bowl) for as short as a week to gain the high respect afforded monks.

 

 

Tangled Dreams and Elephant Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Mai Pen Rai

I am writing to you from a state of week-induced hangover. My recent weekends have been so full of tiring travel and activities that coming down from the emotional high of the excitement, genuinely leaves me feeling like lukewarm death. Nothing indicates a spry and full-of-life 22 year old crossing the decorated threshold into maturity, like being literally hung-over from fun (look away energetic college friends, I don’t want you to see me like this). Here’s what you missed while I’ve been technologically cleansing - procrastinator speak for shirking on my blogging responsibilities. The most aged news is that Emily and I got to meet up with a pack of our orientation friends to attend the E-San music festival in Khon Kaen. Considering the relative geographic isolation of our province, it was to be the first time we were reunited with pals of any sort and we were determined to make the most of it, immediately hopping in a cab upon arrival to take us to the promised land (an actual bar with actual people). Despite being in a province that was relatively more familiar with foreigners, we were greeted by the same local fascination we were used to in Amnatcharoen. At this point I will take a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to have Emily considering my literal paralysis vis-à-vis the art of haggling. Somehow the drivers can always smell my fear, rendering me as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

After finally whittling the reluctant cab driver down to a reasonable price, we victoriously crowded into the back seat. The cab driver, assuming we couldn’t understand his local jargon, watched us like a popular tween watching her instagram likes compiling. He muttered incessantly owning his interest even after we politely requested he stop. Emily, in the front seat, jumped into action, insisting (in broken, nonsensical Thai) that he keep his eyes forward. This unlikely hero, standing at a menacing 5 foot 2 and wearing a fun n’ flirty romper as opposed to the conventional armor, repeatedly threatened to pay the driver less than the pre-established price, he contemptuously agreed. Like my first graders goldfish-like attention span, this resolution lasted all but seconds before the harassment commenced again. In this moment, Emily’s skin took on a green-ish hue. Her balled up fists ballooned to the size of basketballs. She howled and beat on her chest while unmistakable fireballs of threats poured from her eyes as she prepared to hulk smash the peevish grin directly off that man’s face. Or at least, the fear emanating from every inch of the man’s body indicated that this was how he perceived Emily’s Mama Bear mode. The delicious silence for the rest of the car ride, ashamed on his part, smug on ours, was a firm reminder that Emily is the fighter you want in your corner in roughly every unsavory situation ever. We proceeded to have an awesome evening catching up with our estranged pals and thrashing our limbs about to the cacophony of confusing Thai rap.

The next morning as we were getting ready for the festival, we realized that no one actually knew the genre of the event. One girl had heard reggae, another had heard country, a third yet had jumped to the conclusion that the festival would showcase electronic music. This misinformed state is highly representative of my entire existence in Thailand. I have used the “Mai pen rai” lifestyle (a Thai axiom literally translating to ‘whatever will be will be’ and manifested as go with the flow) as an excuse to be an ignorant American and deceivingly dressing it up as adaptability. In our eagerness, we showed up to the festival many hours premature. Determined to make the hours productive, we took the time to explore the campgrounds, the vendor stalls, and the venue itself to deduce what type of music the festival would display. After hours of exploring, the jury was still out. The decorations gave off decidedly Woodstock-y vibes which was overall conflicting with the Native American headdresses and confederate flags adorning the sea of tents; oh Thailand – you’re so cute when you don’t get it at all.  The butchered lyrics of expired American one hit-wonders crooned in jagged Thai drawl floated on the warm wind from the sperm stage. This is not hyperbolic. In a misguided attempt to be edgy, or youthful, or mysterious (all conjecture, I actually have know idea what motivations drive one to make sperm thematic) the stage was adorned with goliath paper mache swimmers looking down on us like ethereal higher powers of fecundity. I caught myself thinking that the incongruity of the decorations seemed to fit perfectly with the other arbitrariness of the festival – a thought that was interrupted by a family of neon painted elephants meandering by. The astonished public stopped for an onslaught of pictures, of the wild and unnatural white people of course, not the humdrum two-ton mammals. The rest of the event was spent enjoying the relaxed vibes, and socializing with some of the local bands playing the event.

The following weekend we relegated our exploration to more local areas as our lady gang of Thai co-teachers invited Emily and I to venture to Surin with them for the day. According to our ‘deny no authentic experiences’ mantra, we hopped into the truck bed at 6am where we were to be assaulted by gale-force winds for the next three hours. The initial purpose of the day-trip was for the co-teachers to sign up for the teacher test. It is incredibly difficult for co-teachers to become subject teachers in Thailand. That day we journeyed 250 kilometers simply for them to register for a test that 300 hopefuls, our friends included, would later take only to yield a dissatisfying result for a confounding 298 of them. What a staggering statistic: from the initial scoring, only two co-teachers will evade disappointment and be awarded teacher status. The two selected will have less than a week to pack up their belongings, move to a new government-selected location, and enter a binding contract performing duties they’ve never executed. The only commitment I have ever made that approaches that level of solemn obligation was purchasing a Proactive subscription in my oily youth. I can only hope that the commitment results in less dry skin and scarring for our impressive friend who placed among the top two selects!

After the registration process we found a local restaurant where, as is customary, we took off our shoes and settled into a seated position on the floor. Emily and I love spending time with our Thai friends because we are undoubtedly on the benefiting end of this parasitic relationship. While they squirm under the smothering and unfamiliar starring we tend to elicit, we get to coast on autopilot through basic interactions that are normally very taxing for us as non-Thai speakers. We eat like kings when we are with them! By eat like kings, I mean we get to actually decide what we want to order before shooting in the dark and pointing at random words on an indecipherable menu. Thailand has decidedly made me a simple girl with simple needs. I happily munch on the flying ants and silkworms they order as appetizers (while our friends thoughtlessly crush their buggy victims between their chopsticks and wave them around in our faces saying “Ooooooh, monsters”) to earn my meal of delicious local favorites. I live for the tableside conversations we muddle through while sideswiping language barriers and hurdling over narrowly-missed cultural divergences. For your reference, please enjoy this example of a genuine interaction we fought through:

Emily: (posing a theoretically easily-understood question to the table) Do you like vegetables?

Co-teacher: I like Cuba.

Emily: (rolling with the punches) Why do you like Cuba?

Co-teacher: Delicious!

Emily: (emitting brain smoke as she tries to connect non-existent dots) Oh you mean cucumbers?

Co-teacher: Yes, teacher!

Emily: (pushing on, encouraged by this conversational break-through) Do you like Spinach?

Co-teacher: No, I like Germany.

To this day, none of us are sure if we were discussing vegetables or geography. Luckily, we know that we always have a banter contingency plan in the form of John Cena. John Cena, if you’re reading this, you should move to Thailand, like, yesterday and reap the rewards of local obsession. Age and gender does not discriminate on this point. Our girly co-teachers, elderly Thai classroom attendants and students alike all converge on their pious devotion to John Cena. Students who could not mutter a single word of English despite intense teacher assistance can be heard gallivanting around at recess yelling, “YOU CAN’T SEE ME”. I don’t get it, I honestly don’t, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to a dialogue that both involved parties can understand. Keep doing what you’re doing out there beefcake!

The day took a sobering turn at the elephant enclosure we understood to be an ethical sanctuary but in actuality was a cruel, monetarily driven training facility. We decided against lingering and supporting the operation and settled for night market exploration instead. Riding around in that truck bed exchanging American and Thai music, discussing language, and sharing experiences with our indigenous friends is a memory I will treasure forever. Cherished friendships formed under impossible circumstance and the supplementary commentary on human kindness and acceptance that accompanies them are the most beautiful gifts Thailand has given me.

Until next time!

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