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Vietnam

Whoa. I don’t even know where to begin. I kept so busy in Vietnam that I couldn’t find a single free moment to sit down and write about it all. Right now I’m on a layover in Malaysia on my way to Bali, so I want to try to get a post in before the mayhem continues!

Vietnam was absolutely amazing. I’ll start from the beginning.

I didn’t do a whole lot of research before going to Vietnam. I booked my flight into Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and out of Hanoi in the north, so I had ten days to make it all the way up the coast. While I was traveling, I felt ridiculous for making that kind of itinerary for myself, but now that it’s said and done, I’m glad that I did.

I landed in HCMC in the afternoon and it took me over an hour to get through customs. There weren’t a lot of people, but the visa process in Vietnam isn’t as streamlined for tourists as it is in Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. Before going to Vietnam, I had to get a letter granting permission to enter. There are tons of companies online to secure the letter, I just went with the cheapest one with good reviews. It cost $20.  I had to print the letter and an entry form to show at the airport in Bangkok before I was able to get my boarding pass. It’s unnecessarily complicated. Anyhow, upon arrival, I gave my passport and approval letter for them to process my visa. It cost another $20, and I was waiting for them to do it for about 45 minutes. For an extra $20, they could do it in 5, but I wasn’t in a rush.

I exchanged my currency right in the airport. I was shocked to see that their exchange rate was higher than when I searched on Google, and there wasn’t a fee to exchange it. I was happy about that.

The taxi to my first hostel cost about $15 for an hour or so ride, which is expensive by backpackers standards but pretty cheap compared to the United States. Within the first minute of leaving the airport, the mayhem that is HCMC traffic became a reality. Lines on the road are not observed, and I think it’s safe to say it was crazier than Thailand. It was organized chaos, though. Everyone was honking their horn the entire time, which is the complete opposite from Thailand.

When I got to my hostel I was really scared to cross the street. There was an intersection nearby without a stoplight where cars and motorbikes just had a free for all, and it somehow all worked out. I watched an elderly woman cross the street and noticed if you’re walking, you just have to trust that the cars and motorbikes will go around you. I met a few people from the hostel that showed me how to walk right into moving traffic and not get hit. It’s completely against all human instincts, but it’s absolutely nuts. The only option for crossing the street there was to walk confidently across and to not pause. The most accidents happen when someone doesn’t continue their pace, I guess. I found it pretty interesting.

My first meal in Vietnam was Pho, a traditional Vietnamese soup. I’ve had it before in Seattle, but trying the real thing was out of this world. The broth tasted about the same, but the noodles were incredible. They served it with a huge variety of condiments, and everything was delicious.

I only stayed in HCMC for 2 nights, as I was in a rush to make it up to Hanoi. I got a chance to visit the War Remnants Museum, which was so fascinating and depressing. It was all about the American War (what we call the War in Vietnam). The majority of the displays were photographs, but they had really detailed captions with lots of interesting information. There was a whole exhibit on how the war was protested all over the world. The most interesting exhibit to me was the Agent Orange Exhibit, because it was the most information I’ve ever learned about Agent Orange. I remember learning about it in high school, where they basically told us, “yeah, we used chemical warfare and it was bad…” but seeing the actual impacts of the chemical (that is still affecting Vietnamese people today) was pretty intense.

They had deformed fetuses preserved in formaldehyde, and that was probably the worst part for me. After spending a good amount of time there, I was pretty depressed but I’m glad I went.

My friend told me that I had to check out a city called “Dalat” on my way up north, so that was my first stop after HCMC. When I was planning the trip I made a note that tickets can be purchased online for the bus website, but because I didn’t actually buy the ticket I didn’t realize that they don’t accept foreign credit cards. I spent a good hour in the hostel trying to figure out why my card wouldn’t process, and I was frustrated once I found out why.

HCMC is pretty touristy, and they have a lot of little shops around the area I was staying in that offered bus tickets. The guy at the first shop that I went into wanted to charge me 2x the price that was listed on the website. When I told him about my dilemma with the credit card, he was nice and honest with me and told me that the bus company’s office was right around the corner. It took a total of 5 minutes, and I had my ticket booked and paid for with cash.

The bus ride to Dalat was really nice! The sleeper busses have two levels of reclining “beds,” and they weren’t too shabby!

Because I’d only been in Vietnam for 1 full day, I was pretty excited to get to relax and enjoy the scenery. The bus attendant was incredibly friendly. The bus was really cold, so he gave me a blanket, then he tucked me in like a burrito! He was really sweet and accommodating throughout the trip, and in hindsight I know now that a lot of Vietnamese people are like that.

Dalat was my favorite part of Vietnam, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the climate and the hostel that I stayed in. The altitude of Dalat is about the same as Fort Collins, so it was a lot cooler. It’s the coldest I’ve felt since I left Colorado in September. When I say cold, I mean it was like 75 degrees, but it still felt incredible.

The hostel that I stayed in was called “Mr. Peace Backpackers Hostel,” and I picked it because of the incredible reviews online. I was greeted at the door by a Vietnamese guy about my age (“Mr. Peace”) who ran up and gave me a big hug and a cold water. As I got to know him more, he opened up into a pretty outrageous personality, and quite possibly one of the best hostel owners I’ve ever stayed with.

He convinced me to take the “Mr Peace Secret Tour” and I am so glad that I did. It started at 8am and didn’t end until 6:30pm. We went to see everything that is an absolute “must” in Dalat, which included: a silk spinning factory, an incense factory, a broom factory, a rice wine distillery, two waterfalls, a rural town, a gerber daisy farm, a rose farm, and a coffee plantation. The whole tour was done by motorbike, so I was on the back of one of the guides’ bikes. He had a real motorcycle, so it was nice and comfortable compared to the standard motorbike. They also gave me a legitimate helmet, and not the garbage cheap ones that usually come with motorbike rentals.

There were only 4 of us who signed up for the tour, so we had 4 bikes with 8 people. The cost of the tour was $40, but it was absolutely worth every penny.

We drove past a dog butcher, but Mr. Peace was gagging so much that he could hardly tell us about it. He basically muttered that people in Vietnam eat dogs. It was really sad and disturbing to see, so I’m not going to go into the details.

 

Aside from the tour being amazing, I found that I got along very well with everyone else that was staying at the hostel. I made friends with people from Mexico, Germany, Canada, and Switzerland, and we had the best time getting to know each other. I feel like I’ve known them for much longer than the short 3 days.

I ended up having such a great time in Dalat that I got distracted and didn’t get my bus/train combo ticket booked in time for the following day. I was planning on going up to Hoi An, which is about 18 hours to the north. I had booked a homestay for the following night (and had already paid for it) so I was upset with myself for not handling it before the offices had closed. Mr. Peace helped me book a combo bus ticket that left at noon that would get me to Hoi An at 6am the following morning at 6am. I was bummed that I had already paid for the homestay and was going to miss a night, but I couldn’t do much about it.

The bus ride up was pretty miserable, I’m not going to lie. The beds weren’t as spacious as the bus I had taken before. My backpack goes absolutely everywhere that I go because it has my laptop in it, so I was sharing the tiny bed with my backpack. Every two hours or so they would pull over to let everyone out to go to the bathroom, and it was impossible to get a solid sleep because they would turn all of the lights on and yell at everyone to go to the bathroom.   I arrived at my homestay at 6am and I was exhausted.

The homestay is the only homestay I’ve booked since I’ve been traveling around. They had great reviews online and I thought it would be nice to have a room to myself after weeks of shared dorm rooms. It was really rejuvenating to be able to rest up, and they gave me a pedal bike to ride around Hoi An.

Hoi An is an ancient city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main reason that I fell in love with the place is that you can get custom made clothing for CHEAP. I was immediately suckered in by a lady who started talking to me on the street. Hoi An was probably the pushiest place I’ve been to so far. The people on the street will not accept no for an answer, and they follow you. This lady helped me find an ATM, then asked if I would at least take a look in her shop.  She had tons of photo albums of dress designs that she could do, and rows upon rows of different colors of fabric. I ended up picking out a dress and fabric (even though I don’t really have room for a dress…) and she made me a dress in just FOUR HOURS!!! She quoted me $20, and I was way too tired to try to bargain with her. I agreed because, let’s face it, a custom made dress for $20 is quite alright. I felt duped because I know that they would’ve taken half of that, but I’m not going to dwell on it.

She had me try it on when I went to go pick it up, and I have to say, it’s my new favorite dress! The sewing is very quality, and the material is soft. It fits me like a glove. I’d call it a “win.”

I also went to see the ancient ruins of “My Son” the Hindu temple outside of Hoi An, but honestly I’m starting to feel a little burnt out of temples. Also it was like 105 degrees.

I tried my new favorite Vietnamese food while I was in Hoi An. It’s called Bahn Xeo, and they were kind of like tacos. They take a savory pancake and fill it with bean sprouts, green onions, and pork/shrimp/tofu (depending on your preference) and then they deep fry them. To eat them, you soak a piece of egg roll wrapper in water and roll them into it with mint leaves and cucumber, and then they’re dipped in peanut sauce. They were incredible, and I’m going to have to find a recipe when I get home!

From Hoi An I had a flight to Hanoi because another 18 hours in a bus just wasn’t practical. I bought the ticket a month in advance and it cost me $30, so it seemed worth it to have more time in Hanoi and less time in a bus.

Random note: On the way to the airport I saw a dead guy. There was a motorcycle accident where the guy was dead but they just put a little piece of cardboard to cover part of his body.  It was on a highway and the police were just directing traffic around him. It was intense.

I be honest about my time in Hanoi, I didn’t find anything particularly charming about it. It was chaotic and congested, and I was just passing through on my way to the airport. I was only there for one full day, but I made the best of it and did a walking tour. I met some new friends from London and Romania, and we spent the day exploring together.

It’s so unbelievable how easy it is to meet people while traveling. Now that I’m thinking about it in the 10 days I was in Vietnam, I’ve somehow acquired 15 new friends on Facebook. Traveling alone is the best way to meet a lot of new international friends. While I was exploring with my new friends in Hanoi I remembered why I travel alone. It is fun to have people to talk to and explore with, but traveling with people really slows down the whole experience. We ended up with a crew of about 6, and moving around the city took forever because it seemed like everyone needed to stop for something at different times. Even coordinating dinner took a solid 2 hours because we were waiting for everyone to finish doing what they were doing, then we waited for everyone to get ready, and then finding a restaurant we all agreed on took forever, and then finding a restaurant that we all agreed on that could accommodate 6 people was nearly impossible.

My final dinner in Vietnam was amazing, though. Between 6 of us we ordered 10 different things off of the menu and shared them all. I had the most incredible spring rolls that I’ve ever eaten! I am definitely going to miss the food in Vietnam.

Now that I’m gone, I realize how much I wish I would’ve just traveled in Vietnam for the whole five weeks of travel. Although I love moving around and seeing new things, Vietnam was so beautiful and diverse that I wish I would’ve had a lot more time to explore. Usually when I travel through countries I consider it my last time, because each time I plan a trip I want to see a country that I haven’t seen before. Vietnam was the first country that I’ve traveled to that I decided that I will definitely be going back. I absolutely loved it there!

Well, I started writing this post when I was the airport in Malaysia but I didn’t quite have enough time to finish. I’m in Bali now and I’m completely worn out. I will be moving pretty fast through Bali as well, but I’ll have 26 hours of travel on my way home to post an update about Bali.

I also wish I could’ve uploaded some pictures to go with this post, but the wifi at my current hostel in Bali is impossibly slow. I’ll be doing a mass upload when I get home!!

It doesn’t seem real that I’m going to be going home in just a short 9 days!! It’s a bittersweet mix of feelings between excitement and sadness.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Cambodia: Part I

Well, I am in Bangkok for the 2nd time now! I spent the past 5 days in Siem Reap, but the internet connection at the hostel was pretty bad. I wrote the following post on Sunday, April 10,  but was unable to post until now. This is Cambodia: Part I. I’ll try to get the rest out soon!

I flew into Cambodia on Thursday morning. I will be honest here, I didn’t do a whole lot of research before I came. I guess I got lazy about it because I figured I’d only be here for five days.

When I was at the airport in Bangkok getting ready to leave, I went to a money exchange counter and asked to change the equivalent of $100 from Thai baht into Cambodian riel. The lady at the counter laughed at me, and said “mai mee” which means “we don’t have” in Thai. She held up USD. I had read online that USD can be used in Cambodia, so I switched the money over to USD. I had been thinking that it was an optional currency- that you can basically choose which you’d like to use. That’s not a lie, but it’s a little less optional as I had found out. Cambodia generally uses the USD for everything over $1.  Everything under $1 is paid for in Riel. For example, when I first got here I paid for a $5.25 meal with 10 USD, and my change was 4USD and 3000 Riel. 1000 real is equal to 25 cents. I was perplexed by it for the first day, but now it makes a lot more sense.

I also didn’t realize that Cambodians drive on the right side of the road. I had finally gotten used to the traffic direction in Thailand that crossing the street here took me a minute to figure out. Since it’s what I grew up knowing, it’s been easy enough to adjust back.

When I got to my hostel, exhaustion had finally caught up to me. In the previous 3 days I had flown to Bangkok, took a 2 hour train ride up to Ayutthaya and back, and then flown to Siem Reap. I started to feel like it was necessary to relax a bit. The Thursday that I got here was pretty much a rest day. The hostel does laundry for $1 per KG, so I put on my pajamas and turned the laundry into be washed, and then I took a nap.

The lady at the desk said the clothes would probably be done by 9pm. I went to check at 9pm, and she said they’d be done the following day by 9am. I woke up at 8am the next morning ready to explore. At 9am I checked to see if my laundry was done but it still wasn’t. I ended up waiting around in the lounge in my pajamas until 1pm.  I was pretty content with just resting up.

Once I went out to explore, I realized how crazy it is that I only flew an hour on the plane, and I landed in a country that has some pretty distinct differences from Thailand. The imagemanner of driving, the writing, the language, currency, and even the landscape. There is a stark difference in the terrain. Whereas Thailand has a lot of lush greenery, Siem Reap is dry as a bone. The roads are mostly all dirt, and they’re in terrible shape. It was quite a shock at first.

The poverty is a lot more obvious than it is in Bangkok or Phuket, and with it comes a lot of begging. Walking down the street here, it’s amazing how many times you have to tell people “no.” There are tuk-tuks every few feet with men hollering, “where you go, lady?” “tuk tuk, lady?” and massage parlours with women shouting “you want massage? Massage, lady?”

There are children on the street selling packs of 10 postcards for $1. They all have the exact same schpiel, “Lady, you want to buy postcard? $1 for 10. See? One, two, three….” And imagethey count out all 10 postcards. It’s heartbreaking. They’re on vacation from school right now (just like Thailand), so I’m not sure if they normally beg on the streets or if they’re just doing it on the holiday. It’s tough to decide whether giving them $1 would really help them, or if it’s encouraging them to beg for money as a way of life. Hard to say.

The 2nd day I was here I had a really hard time saying no to people. There are hundreds of landmine victims playing music on the streets, selling books, and finding alternate ways of panhandling. As I was eating lunch, I was approached by a man with both of his arms amputated at the elbow. He had a basket of books around his neck, and he was using what was left of his arms to pick them up and try to sell them to me one by one. He had a piece of paper that he took out of the basket that explained that he was a parent and couldn’t work because he was damaged by the landmines. I didn’t buy any of his $15 books, but I put $2 in his pocket. I felt really bad for him.

5 minutes after I did that, I was approached by a man in a wheelchair with no legs. He was selling books also. He gave me a piece of paper, gave me his schpiel, and asked if I’d like to buy a book for $15. I told him I didn’t have any money, and so he left. Less than 2 minutes later, I was approached by another landmine victim. And then a child selling magnets and bracelets. And then a street performer set up his act right in front of my dinner table, jumped through a ring of knives and fire, and then held out a hat from a tip. It because apparent that I had to keep a tough will and hang onto my money, otherwise I’d be flat broke.

Sticking with my budget has been a tough task overall. There are so many things that are $1 that they all add up, and soon I’m out $20 without even remembering what it was I paid for.

I’ve also been spending too much on food. Siem Reap is a huge tourist area, so there are restaurants of all kinds, with prices that are on par with prices in the U.S. I’ve been spending more on meals than I should be, because they have menu items such as feta salads. FETA. I had feta for the first time in 7 months, and I could’ve died. I need to remind myself that because I only have 5 days in Cambodia, I need to stick with authentic Khmer food.

So far, all of the Khmer curries I’ve had are, and I hate to say it, just not on par with Thai imagecurry. They’re still good, but they’re not nearly as strong or spicy. I’ve also gotten lots of questionable cuts of meat. I’m trying to hang on to every last bit of my sense of adventure when it comes to food, but it’s been tough. They have tons of edible bugs here, from tarantulas to scorpions, but I just can’t bring myself to try one. I’m growing pretty tired of dinner being a mystery dish, and I think a big part of me is gravitating toward the feta salad because I’m craving the confidence to know that I’ll enjoy my dinner and it won’t be a waste.

I’m already 1200 words in and I haven’t even gotten to Angkor Wat. I’m going to have to stop fluffing around with these posts.

So the hostel that I’m staying in helps organize tours. They have a board with the tour offers on them, and it’s easier than walking around trying to find a decent tour in town. I saw a tour advertised on the board for $6 that included 5 different temples (including Angkor Wat). It was a sunrise tour that left at 4:30am. I thought it was a pretty good deal, so I signed up. The price was cheap because it was a shared tuk tuk ride between 4 people. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t going to be a guided tour.

Leaving the hostel at 4:30am was a weird experience. There were people still awake and partying from the night before, and I was too groggy to comprehend anything. There were four of us that were put into a tuk tuk and sent on our way to the ticket office.  One of the girls that was awake from the night before was part of my tour. It was cool to talk to other travelers about their travel timelines, where they were going and for how long, what their plans were, etc. We got to the Angkor Wat ticket office at 5:15. A single day pass is $20, or a 3-day pass is $40. Despite being here for five days (with the sole purpose of visiting Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat), I opted for the single day pass. Every single person I’ve talked to who has been here has told me that three days of touring is exhausting and overwhelming. After having completed the one-day tour, I’m glad that I only bought the single day.

The temples that we visited were amazing. I am so glad that I woke up as early as I did toimage see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. It was a beautiful experience. The other temples were pretty cool too, but the problem with not having a tour guide is literally having zero information on the temples themselves. They hardly had signs in English about the history of the temples. Most of the information signs were about archeology and restoration of the structures. They were cool to look at, but I felt like I didn’t get the full experience without a tour guide. Nobody else in our tuk tuk group wanted one. By 5:30am the German girl started to sober up and she complained about absolutely everything. She was really dragging us down. We were dropped off at each temple for about an hour, and she kept trying to convince us to leave early so that we could get back to the hostel because she wanted to nap. I had to try pretty hard to not let her dampen my spirits.

Even at 5:30am, the temples were absolutely packed with people. It’s funny when you look at the pictures I took you’d think that there wasn’t anyone else around. The truth is, most imageof the most famous parts of the temples had a line to wait in if you wanted your picture taken. I took a bunch of cool pictures of the sunrise over Angkor Wat, but I was taking them alongside hundreds of people.

For each temple I stood tried to seek out an English speaking group tour and follow them around. It worked out well. As it turns out, one of the temples that we went to was where they filmed the movie “Tomb Raider.” I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t followed a random tour. It was pretty hard to stay motivated to tour the temples because it is unbearably hot here. By the time we’d gone to our 5th temple at 11am, it was 104 degrees. The dress code is very strict about women covering their shoulders and legs, so I was in a lot of clothes too.

I guess if I were to do it over again, I would still purchase the single day pass, but I’d look for a guided tour to get the full experience.

Today I took it easy again, and did a walk around the old city checking out the markets and little stalls. The souvenirs are eerily similar to the souvenirs in Thailand. I’m pretty confident I’ll see the same souvenirs in Vietnam and Indonesia as well. There are some really beautiful fair trade handicrafts, but with the backpack as small as I’m carrying, I have to be strict with myself about not buying anything.

I did, however, buy a baseball cap. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve actually worn a hat around since I was a kid.  I’ve read dozens of packing lists for SE Asia and they always include hats, but I’ve always ignored them.  I finally caved and bought a hat after walking around touring Bangkok and Siem Reap, because the sun has been horrible to my face. Despite loading up on sunscreen every couple of hours, I have another sun rash across my forehead that’s worse than the first time I got it back in Phuket. So far the hat seems to be helping.

Ahhh, there’s so much more to say, but I’m afraid this post is long enough already. I have two more days here. I’m going to the circus tonight and on a “Day in the Life” tour tomorrow, so I’ll have plenty more to write again soon. I also have tons of pictures to upload, but I’ll have to wait for a hostel with better wifi. I also had not one, but two sketchy massage experiences in Cambodia, so I’ll try to include those into Cambodia: Part II.

It’s also impossible to upload a lot of pictures given the crappy wifi situation, but I’ll be uploading a lot once I get to a better connection.

Thanks for reading!

Arthur

This morning I made my way from Ayutthaya to Bangkok. I arrived at the train station at 11, not realizing that the next train wasn’t leaving until 12:15. I waited in the 98-degree heat just trying to keep a positive attitude. 12:15 came around and as I walked to the platform, an officer advised me that the train was running late, and it wasn’t going to arrive until 12:45. I was sweaty and frustrated. Once the train had finally arrived, I boarded to find out that the only empty space to sit down was on an edge of a bench. It was shaping up to be a rough morning.

About 20 minutes into the ride, a bigger seat opened up and I moved spots. A woman got on the train and was selling frozen towels and cold water. Things were starting look up.

I was fidgeting with the towel wrapper when the old man sitting across from me took it from my hands, twisted it up, and then popped it. I wasn’t the only one on the train who was surprised. He let out a little laugh and handed it back to me.

He introduced himself as Arthur. He pulled out a few rubber bands from his pocket, and my miserable train morning turned into a hilarious adventure.

He started doing funny little tricks with the rubber bands. He put one over his pointer and imagemiddle fingers, then waved a hand and they “magically” transferred onto his ring finger and pinky. Immediately after, he taught me step by step how to do it myself. He made me do it seven times by myself, and then gave me a thumbs up. Then he showed me a new trick. Then he taught me how to do the new trick. Then after I had done it seven times by myself, we moved onto a new one.

Once I’d learned the rubber band tricks, he looked around the floor and found a straw, and he started to teach me tricks with the straw. I cannot state enough how incredibly entertaining this all was. We were clowning around and laughing so hard that the other people on the train started watching, and it was quite entertaining. Did I mention this man only knew about 5 words in English?

After the straw tricks, he got out a coin. After the coin, he found 2 matchsticks. After the matchsticks, and I kid you not, he reached into his luggage and pulled out two metal forks. He balanced a matchstick and forks on top of a water bottle on a rickety train.image

The whole time this was happening, he had a squeaky toy in his back pocket. He would randomly squeak it, and then look around like someone else had done it. My stomach hurt from laughing.

This man was an absolute gem of a human being. In between teaching me his sweet tricks, he noticed I had a blister on my foot. He took out some tissue and Neosporin and bandaged it up for me! I was blown away at his kindness.

It was such a privilege to be able to have Arthur’s company on the two-hour train ride. The time flew by without realizing it, and I had hardly noticed the 98-degree heat on board the train. Even though I hadn’t known him for long at all, it was sad to say goodbye! As we were getting off the train, he said “Don’t forget me!”

 

Trust me, I won’t!

Thaime to Move On

Well, I have about 24 hours left in Phuket, and I’m feeling surprisingly at peace. On Friday I was a hot mess.

imageFriday was my last day of teaching the kindergarten orientation. It wasn’t too emotional to say goodbye to that group of kiddos because I’d only been teaching them for a few weeks. The heaviest part of leaving my classroom was looking back at all of the work I’d put into it. I remembered the nights I stayed at the school until 8pm making decorations for the class, and how excited my kids were when they saw the changes. I felt happy that I was leaving the classroom warmer than it was when I got there.I also left the new teacher with a desk that was much cleaner than my predecessor had left it!

Saying goodbye to the staff at the school was bittersweet. There were two teachers in the office that I just didn’t jive with, so I was happy to wave them goodbye. It was especially hard to say goodbye to my supervisor and the boss. My supervisor basically taught me how to be a kindergarten teacher. She has been so helpful and supportive throughout the semester, and I’ve cried on her a few times. I was sad to say goodbye to the main boss because I really enjoyed working for him. He’s in the process of hiring 6 new teachers by May, so I felt pretty bad contributing to that number.  He let me know (again) that I was the only member of the kindergarten staff that they were actually considering to take over as kindergarten manager. I truly wish I enjoyed teaching more.

The final week in my apartment was stressful because I was tasked with getting rid of everything that wouldn’t fit into my backpack. I had somehow managed to acquire quite a bit of junk since I moved here. I think since I thought that I would be staying in my apartment for a year, that I might as well make it look and feel like home. I ended up imageselling most of it on buy/sell Facebook groups, but for a fraction of what I paid only six short months ago. The most expensive item that I’d purchased was my motorbike helmet for $45. It’s pretty unusual to see a Thai person wearing any sort of helmet, let alone a helmet with full facial coverage. It made me feel like a power ranger, and it gave me the courage to drive on the highway.

I had the helmet posted online for over a week. I dropped the price from $30 to $20 to $10, and nobody wanted it. I was talking to my boss about it and he joked that if it didn’t sell, then I should just give it to him. Thursday night someone had offered me the equivalent of $6 for it. At that point I just decided that I might as well just give it to my boss.

I didn’t realize how excited he was going to be when I gave it to him.  He gave me 5 beers that he had under his desk. This is why I loved having this ridiculous British man as a boss. That probably sounds bad that he had beer at an elementary school, but there’s a story behind this. The English company gave him money to buy lunch for the whole office, and he’d asked us if we wanted lunch or if we wanted “take away beers.” We had decided on the beer, and the 5 beers under his desk were left-overs from that day.  Needless to say, I’m happy I decided to forego the $6 sale of the helmet and just gift it to him.

I came to Thailand with a duffle bag full of mostly clothes. I had a ton of clothes to get rid of. When I’ve lived abroad in the past, it was easy to just pass off the clothes to the local friends I had made. This time was different, because as I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t really made any Thai friends. I ended up giving the bulk of them to the Thai secretary of the school, who looks through them first and then donates them to the Burmese, who are a hugely disadvantaged population here in Thailand. I felt pretty good about getting rid of a bunch of stuff, because it was easily going to go to good use.

I was finished with class at noon on Friday, so I went back to my apartment and started packing my backpack and getting the rest of my stuff out of my apartment. I started to imagepanic a bit when I realized just how small a 40L backpack is. I’m not even 100% convinced it’s actually 40L because it’s a knockoff backpack (yes, just like knockoff purses, you can find knockoff backpacks in Thailand). I think the most stressful part of packing the bag was trying to situate my laptop in a safe way. Before I came here I bought an HP Stream Notebook for $170. It has been incredibly useful for lesson planning, watching movies, and blogging. Now that I’m going to be on the move, it’ll be weighing me down a bit, but I’m still happy I brought a cheaper notebook rather than an expensive one. The problem I’m running into when I pack is that the bag is packed so tightly that I feel like there could start to be some pressure on the laptop itself. I’m going to have to pull the laptop out of the bag each time I go through security for the 11 flights ahead… It’s just going to be an adventure. We’ll just say that.

It was about 2pm and I had my bags packed and I was all set to leave. My landlord wanted me to wait around until the evening so that she could check the place. After I’d packed everything, I realized that the place was in the exact same condition that it was when I arrived. My landlord is keeping the entire deposit (2 month’s rent) because I was leaving before the year was up. She refused to negotiate with me, and wouldn’t let find someone to take over the lease so that I could recover some of my deposit. As I was sitting there looking around the place, I decided not to wait around for her. She has a copy of the mailbox key, so I threw the keys in the mailbox and headed out.

I felt a little rebellious leaving like that, but I had a feeling that she was going to try to charge me for something else. She was already screwing me over on the deposit, so I figured that if there was anything that needed fixing she had more than enough money to take care of it. That’s what a security deposit is for, right?

I am SO GLAD I left when I did. Later that night she started rapid-firing angry Facebook messages to me. In case I haven’t mentioned it, she’s a 26 year old ladyboy diva who is constantly posting pictures of her new Gucci bags and Chanel perfumes.  She started messaging me “WHERE YOU GO? YOU HAVE TO PAY CLEAN FEE AND ELECTRICITY. YOU PROMISE. YOU NO STAY ONE YEAR.” I was absolutely baffled that she was demanding that I pay more. I found the clause in the lease where it said that the deposit would cover any outstanding bills and cleaning fees. She tried to say no, that I had to pay it because I didn’t stay one year. She was so angry and threatening that a part of me thought I should drive back and pay it… but there’s no way. That’s the reason I paid a security deposit in the first place. She said she’s going to the rental agency to talk to them about it, and I told her to go ahead. If it turns out that she’s right, and somewhere there’s a clause in the lease that I missed, then I will go ahead and pay it. Until then, I’m not going to be taken advantage of by her. It’s not my first rodeo with rental agencies. Turns out, you can fly halfway across the world, and they’re still trying to screw you out of your money.

I am staying at a hostel in Phuket Town, the area that I was staying in when I started my journey here. I love staying in this area, because everything I need is within walking distance. As I had previously mentioned, I was a mess when I arrived her on Friday night. I was sad about leaving the school, angry with my landlord, and anxious about my travels ahead. I decided I was going to make myself go get a massage. I figured if holding a pen between your teeth forces you to smile, which in turn makes you happy, then getting a massage would force me to relax… even though a “massage” in Thailand equates to getting beat up by a Thai woman.

I went to the same spa that I got my first pedicure in Thailand, because the building is up to safety standards and the place is relatively clean. I saw on the menu that they had a 1 hr massage/1 hr facial combo for $30. At first it seemed expensive, because I’m used to living off of a Thai salary, but then I realized I better take advantage of it before I leave! $30 for two hours in a spa is an absolute steal.

I chose an aromatherapy massage, which wasn’t a traditional Thai massage at all. I had gotten mentally prepared to get the usual beating,  but it was the complete opposite. It was basically an hour of her putting oil on my skin. BORING! The facial ended up being the brutal part.

I chose a “honey cucumber” facial because it was the only one on the menu that didn’t include facial bleaching. It sounded nice and relaxing. After that experience, I will now permanently associate honey with pain. She poured honey all over my face (including my eyelids!) and gave it a vigorous massage. I have some peach-fuzz sideburns going on, and I quickly found out that baby-fine hair and honey do not go together well. The honey stuck to the hairs, and each time she swiped her hands across them it felt like she was slowly trying to wax it off. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then proceeded to take her long nails and poke me all over the face. It felt like she had thrown some bird seed onto the honey and let the birds eat it off. It was the most ridiculous facial ever! She was compensating for the gentle massage, I guess.

Needless to say, it took my mind off of the emotional day, and I could relax at my hostel a little better.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning I woke up and went on a tour to Koh Racha. It’s the last time imageIt’s the last tour I’ll be doing in Phuket (and probably Thailand), but it was the perfect  tour to end with. Koh Racha is an island about 30 minutes away by speedboat. The speedboat ride was wild (he was going way too fast for the size of the waves), and I laughed as the boat full of Chinese tourists clung to their seats in horror. I’ve done a fair share of tours by this point, so I was used to it. Wild ol’ Thailand, baby. I’m going to miss it for sure.

We did about an hour of snorkeling, had a buffet lunch, and then had 3 and ½ hours to
hang out on Racha Island. I had coconut ice cream and hung out on the beach, and it was the perfect way to say goodbye to Phuket. I think the waters of Koh Racha are the clearest of any of the beaches I’ve been on, so it was like I had saved the best for last.

I woke up this morning and feel at absolute peace. I am shifting into adventure mode, and I’m so excited for the next five weeks.  I don’t have to worry about driving around anymore, and I can wander the streets and enjoy my final time here. My flight leaves for Bangkok tomorrow, and I feel like it’s time to go.

I have a solid itinerary down for the first 4 weeks of the trip. I have everything planned up until Bali, which I’m going to try to complete today. I decided that it’s cheaper and much more fun to book hostels, so my rule of thumb for this trip is to not exceed $10 per night for accommodation. So far it’s been easy! The place I booked in Siem Reap is $5 per night. I think I will splurge and stay in a beachside resort for my last couple of days in Bali, but until then, I’m back to the life of dorm rooms and shared bathrooms.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty of downtime to blog during plane, train, and bus rides. Moving around and seeing new sights definitely motivates me to write! Stay tuned!!

Two Weeks Left

Ahh, the inevitable has happened, and I’ve started to neglect the blog that I promised I wouldn’t.

I have two weeks left in Phuket. It is just as bittersweet leaving here as it was coming here. On Saturday afternoon I went to the weekend market. The markets of Thailand have to be one of my absolute favorite parts. I was only planning to snag a few souvenirs and head out, but I wound up staying for about three and a half hours, and I nearly ate myself sick. This time  I’m not talking about the ‘sick’ that comes from the room temperature chicken and rat-kittens in the kitchen. I absolutely gorged myself.

As I walked down the endless aisles of the market, I realized that I’m seriously going to miss everything about Thai food. The convenience, the price, the spice, the flavor… It’s no wonder that after 6 months here, the only real conversation I can have with any Thai person is about how much I love spicy Thai food. I’m obsessed. I bought skewers, sticky rice, taro milk, passion fruit, and everything else that I wanted to cling so tightly to. Let’s be honest about it, I was eating my feelings. With only two weeks left, I suddenly felt like it’s a mistake that I’m leaving. To add insult to injury, driving home from the market I witnessed the most beautiful sunset behind the silhouettes of palm trees.

What am I doing?!

It’s times like those that perfectly capture the roller coaster of emotions that come with living abroad. Moments like those make me want to stay in paradise forever. Unfortunately, the sunset isn’t always perfect. I’m not always on a beach with a cocktail in my hand. I decided to move on because I know that it’s time.  The roller coaster comes with both highs and lows, and I’ve had my fair share of each.

For the last couple of months I’ve been working through some guilt about leaving Thailand after “only seven months.” This probably sounds ridiculous, so I’ll explain a little bit. Thailand (Phuket especially) has an outrageously high number of expats. It’s an attractive location for gap-year kids (like me), retirees, and families alike. There are people from all over the world who have lived on this island for anywhere from 2 months to 10+ years. There are 17 English teachers in the English Department at my school, and only three of us have lived here for less than a year. I’ve had quite a few expats say, “Wow, you’re leaving after only 7 months?! You didn’t last long!” I start to feel like there’s something wrong with me for not wanting to  stay here forever.

Meh. I’m so tired of that guilt.  Living in Thailand long term is not for everyone.  I’ve given teaching in Thailand a chance. Seven months is the longest time I’ve spent living out of the country, and I’m going to choose to be proud of that.

If you couldn’t tell, the thought of leaving has had me in a pretty heavy state of reflection. The other day I drove around a roundabout in the neighborhood where I spent my first month in Phuket. I remember walking across the street near the roundabout for the first time, and how much I dreaded the intersection. I refused to get on a motorbike taxi. I was convinced that I would spend the entire time in Thailand without even attempting to drive a motorbike. I let numerous taxi drivers convince me that $10 was a fair price to drive me 1 kilometer. I said I would never teach at a British school. I was certain I would find an apartment on the beach. I was determined to become as fluent as I possibly could in Thai.

 

I can’t possibly begin to describe the amount of change that has occurred in the time that I’ve been here. I have learned so much and grown as a person, and  this six months has been more than I could’ve ever asked for.

Oh man, I feel like I’m breaking up with a boyfriend. I’m going to stop being so emotional now.

My last two weeks in Phuket are being spent teaching an orientation for the incoming kindergarten class. They only stay until 11:30, so after teaching for 3 hours I am free for the day. It’s really nice! Especially because it’s becoming pretty real that in just 14 days I begin my journey of 10 flights and 6 countries in 5 weeks with 20lbs of luggage, and I have hardly planned at all. I’m procrastinating to the point where I’ve chosen to write a blog post over planning my itinerary. It’s that bad.

Without a doubt, I am going to be sad to leave Phuket, but the emotions are going to be like taking a toy away from a kid and replacing it with an equally cool toy. I’ll probably cry for a minute, and then be like, “WOW, LOOK AT ANKOR WAT!!! THIS IS AMAZING!”

I know I’ll be reinvigorated with loads to talk about, and hopefully I’ll be motivated enough spill it all out into an occasional blog post.

Until then, thanks for keeping up with my shenanigans! The blog is not dead yet!

 

 

Updates (Rants)

The last couple of weeks I’ve been pretty busy with the school.

Friday the 8th was Children’s Day, which is a pretty big deal in Thailand. The classes were imagecancelled, but everyone came to school for festivities. Each class had been working on a dance routine with their students, and I had a great time watching them all. The craziest part about the dances to me were the sexual nature of them all… A lot of the dancing included a LOT of hip thrusting from little boys. The boys from kindergarten put on a performance in long socks, underwear, and a tank top. Although it was hilarious, it was pretty ridiculous at the same time. One of the Thai teachers made a little KG boy stand up in front of the school (the little boy in the tight blue briefs on the left) and made him shake his butt while everyone cheered. I think the kiddo was a little scarred, to say the least. He’s one of my shyest students.

Lunch was the highlight of my Children’s Day experience. The cafeteria was covered in food stalls (setup by the kids’ parents) and everything was free. I chowed down on papaya

image

Delicious Thai pastries

salad, chicken and rice, fried banana pancakes, everything. I’ve been in Thailand for 4 and 1/2 months now, and I’m not even close to being sick of the food yet. There is so much variety here that it’s impossible to get bored of.

The day before Children’s Day, I was made aware that we were, in fact, going to be taking 11 kids on an overnight trip to the city of Trang. It had all been up in the air, and we weren’t really sure of the details. All we knew was that we were going with the Thai teachers, students, principle, and owner of the English company on a 3 and 1/2 hour bus ride to show a school how great our kids are at speaking English. I was told to be at the school at 8:00am on Saturday, and that was it.

When I got to the school on Saturday, there were a few students with their parents, a few teachers, and no buses. After about 45 minutes, one of the buses (minivans) showed up, and they piled some of us in and sent us on our way. The kids didn’t really seem sad to leave their parents (THANK GOD), as they were pretty excited to be going on a trip. Myself and 2 other English teachers still had no idea what kind of accommodation we’d be staying in, if we were responsible for the kids, or what type of English performance they were going to be putting on. I don’t think the kids’ parents really knew, either. It was all super confusing.

We ended up getting to stay in a super nice hotel. The Thai teachers took care of the kids, and the English staff each got their own hotel room. There was even a buffet breakfast!

At about 6pm that night, we were finally informed about why we were in Trang. Apparently the owner of the English company and the principal of our school decided to go in on a joint venture to open their own private school. The school was but a concept, as they haven’t even built a pillar of it yet. They plan to open in May of this year, and so they decided to host an elaborate show for prospective parents.

I hate to say it, but it was a huge song and dance, and we were definitely being used as puppets.

image

One of the learning stations had a few errors on the sign, which the English staff was quick to point out

They rented out the ballroom of the fancy hotel, and had setup pictures of what the school will look like, concepts of a giant garden where the kids can learn to grow their own food, sample lesson plans and craft ideas (that were taken from our school), as well as learning stations for the kids (new potential students) to play at. The whole ordeal must have cost a fortune. They paid for all of that plus the accommodation for 20 of us from Phuket. Our students were there to put on a play of “The Ugly Duckling” that my co-teacher/supervisor Bronwyn had taught them. Apparently the Thai staff had been working with the kids on their English without or knowledge. It was kind of a ridiculous experience.

Here’s the problem I had with all of this:

Yes, our students are incredibly advanced with their English. I get super proud of them when they get to be the example for the company’s potential. Since before I started working at this school, they’ve been doing renovations. For the last 3 months, I’ve lost my voice countless times trying to yell over the construction to teach, and have had quite the battle with keeping my kids’ focus through it all. Just recently, they’ve started working on something outside of our room that causes a film of sawdust to form over the classroom while we’re trying to learn. The kids’ playground was boarded up because of the construction. The walk from my office to their classroom is (by American standards) incredibly hazardous, because there are pieces of sheet metal strewn about the sidewalks. Construction is moving at a snail’s pace, and the English company is telling us, “it’s all we can afford right now, the budget is really tight.”

Their new school is projected to be finished by May??

They spent all of this money on an elaborate production of a new private school, and they denied our request for HAND SOAP IN THE BATHROOMS.  Have I mentioned before that there isn’t soap at our school? Not in the teachers bathroom, not in the kids bathroom. I started buying soap for myself because, let’s face it, being at school without soap is disgusting. Apparently this new school is being funded out of the English company’s owner’s own pocket. I’ve been told that the resources for the new school are separate from our school’s resources. Same company though… tough to say.

Ahh, well I have to apologize that this post has turned into a winded rant. I guess I’m just starting to realize that although traveling is a wonderful way to see new insights, it’s also incredibly challenging. I am a pretty outspoken person, and I usually don’t have a problem stirring the pot when things are blatantly unfair. Being an outsider has forced me into a position where I really don’t have a leg to stand on in terms of questioning authority. It’s a good learning experience for me, I guess.

It’s been a long couple of weeks. I promise the next post won’t be such a drag!

Here’s a fun fact to leave you with: In Thai, “porn” means “blessing.” It’s not uncommon to see English/Thai posters that say, “Porn for the King!” I’ll try to snap a picture next time I see it!!

 

 

 

House Hunting

I can’t believe it’s almost October! I’m loving it here, but I have to admit that I’m really missing fall. Halloween, the start of hockey season, the leaves changing, weather cooling down, pumpkin flavored everything…all of it. I wouldn’t trade the life I have now, but I’m missing it for sure. Once I get settled into a more permanent apartment, I will try to find some decorations (although I’ll probably have to get creative).

Speaking of finding a permanent apartment, the hunt for a new place has been better than I had expected. I started looking around online for long-term rentals, and the response has been overwhelming. Just like U.S. real estate has agents that sell houses, here they have rental agents that work off of commission to help people find rentals. I found an advertisement on a Facebook group called “Phuket Rentals,” and I e-mailed the lady about the place. She responded almost immediately, and included 2 more apartments for rent in the area. I messaged her on Thursday, and we made an appointment for a viewing at 6pm yesterday.

I really didn’t read up on Phuket before I came here. I knew it was an island, but had no idea how big. To be quite honest, I definitely didn’t think it was going to be a city. It is about 30 miles long and 13 miles wide, and home to a population of over 300,000. Right now I’m living in Phuket Town, which is the main city area/business district of the island, but my school is located about 4 miles away in Kathu. 4 miles doesn’t seem like much, but with the city traffic it ends up taking about 20 minutes. Kathu is much more relaxed with a residential feel. It is much less touristic than other parts of the island that I have visited. imageOne of the instructors from my TEFL course recommended I check out a complex in a great location within Kathu. The showings I had scheduled online with the agent were all located within the complex.

Before I went to the showing, I thought I might see if there were any other units available in the building. I found one, and e-mailed the company. Sure enough, a woman called me almost instantly. She was able to meet me before my other appointment, and she had 4 open units to show me that were all in the same apartment complex. Rental agents here are very aggressive. The 2nd agent wanted to make sure she did everything she could to get me in to see her places before I went and saw any others.

The complex itself is huge. It has 4 separate buildings with 8 floors each, a massive swimming pool, a gym and a clubhouse. All of the units that I saw were fully furnished and pre-decorated (groan). Interior design here is wacky compared to what I’m used to. Every apartment that I saw had the same floorplan, but the huge difference between them is the decorations inside. One of the apartments had a color scheme of baby blue and bright red. Everything down to the soap dispenser in the bathroom was decorated in those two colors, and it had accent decorations of cartoon fish in the exact same color. It was the most cringe worthy interior design I have ever seen. That’s my opinion, though. I’m sure some people could really dig it.

The worst one had a color scheme of mustard yellow and dark brown. It’s a shame, because the place included a washing machine, electric stovetop, and a sleeper sofa. I remember trying to convince myself that I could get past it and try to live with it, but it was just too awful.

I ended up seeing 5 units in total, all ranging in price from 9,000TBH-10,000TBH ($248-$275) per month. It’s hilarious that I keep thinking 10,000/mo is a splurge. It’s really not. These apartments are considered “luxury” even though they’re relatively small, and don’t have a real kitchen. Most of the apartments here have very basic kitchens that only include a small refrigerator and a microwave, but the cheap street food definitely makes up for that.

I ended up choosing one of the five apartments that I saw, as it was sort of the “lesser of the evils” when it came to the decorations. The one I chose has a “natural” theme, and it’s decorated with some kind of woodsy features. Some of the décor is hilariously cheesy, but it’s kind of endearing because it reminds me of Colorado. It is on the 8th floor of a building that gets a ton of natural light. It has a huge window next to the bed with great views of the mountains. I will have my own balcony and will be able to grow some flowers outside (!!!). I will make a video tour of it once I move in. Tomorrow I’m going to sign the lease, and I’ll move in on Friday, October 2nd. It’s funny to call it moving. I am literally throwing everything into my duffel bag and taking a taxi there.

This is the final week of my TEFL course!! We took a mock exam on Friday and I actually did pretty well. This upcoming week will be a bunch of studying, assignments, and completing my final teaching practice hours. It’s going to be busy, but I’ll still try to post.

Before I go, here’s a fun fact about Thai culture that I learned this week….

Thai people use a fork and a spoon to eat. Noodles are eaten with chopsticks, but everything else is eaten with a fork and a spoon. The fork is used to push the food onto the spoon, and everything is eaten from the spoon. Putting a fork in your mouth is largely taboo. It would be like stabbing your steak with a steak knife and eating it right off of the knife.

Busy Busy Busy

I’m not even sure where to start! There have been a lot of changes in the last week.

A little over a week ago, I had an interview for a position as a Kindergarten teacher at a school here on Phuket Island. I didn’t blog about it because I didn’t want to jinx anything. When I had applied for the job, I was required to send a cover letter, my resume, a scanned copy of my degree, and a police clearance. I sent my resume in on September 11th. On September 14th I got a phone call from the kindergarten manager to come in for an interview on Tuesday the 15th.

We had scheduled my interview on a day that I got out of class at 12:30. I figured I would swing by the interview, and then get on with my day. The interview process, including transporting to and from, took about 3 hours. I hadn’t interviewed for a teaching position before, so I wasn’t expecting that.

The school is in the Kathu District of Phuket, and is located on the same road as the Kathu Waterfalls. It is about 20 minutes away from my apartment in Phuket Town, so I gave myself 30 minutes to get there. It ended up taking about 30 minutes with traffic, and trying to find the room made me about three minutes late. I am the type of person who is always painfully early, so I wasn’t too pleased with myself.

Once I found where I was going, I met Bronwyn, the kindergarten manager who had scheduled the interview. She is from South Africa. I had taken my shoes off before I went into the office, as I thought it was customary. We take our shoes off at the entrance of the TEFL school, which is also a language school. The first question Bronwyn asked me was where my shoes were. She let me know that I could keep them on while I was in the office. I was three minutes late, and I failed the shoes policy. I felt like I wasn’t off to a good start

I received a tour of the entire school, and was given a fairly comprehensive overview of what the classes were like and how the school was structured. After we had completed the interview, she let me know that there was another position to teach math with 1st graders. The manager wanted to interview me for that position as well, in case the kindergarten didn’t work out. I think that was the main reason that my interview took so long, was because it was two interviews in one.

I left the interview feeling overwhelmed, but knowing I did the best I could. At that point, it was out of my hands.

On Friday the 18th, Bronwyn e-mailed me to let me know that I was shortlisted. I’m not sure what it is about the word, but I felt disappointed when I first read it. I soon realized that it wasn’t bad at all.

Monday night at 8:30, I received another e-mail. “Thank you for your application and taking the time to interview…” I got a little pit in my stomach. Then I read, “It is my great pleasure to inform you that your application has been successful and I am able to offer you the position of Kindergarten 2 Teacher.”

WOOHOO!!!

I stood up and did a victory dance when I read the news. I e-mailed her back and accepted immediately. This school is one of the best government schools on Phuket Island. They are currently on a waitlist to accept new students. It is a bilingual government school that offers a program where more than 50% of the lessons are taught in English. Even when I asked the receptionist at my hotel if she would call me a taxi to the school, she lit up and started ranting and raving about it. I couldn’t be happier.

The children here have the month of October off of school for vacation, so Bronwyn wanted me to get in sometime this week to observe at least a day of classes before I start in November. I was hesitant to take a day off from my TEFL course, but the schedule for the TEFL course today was “job hunt information and conversations with current teachers in Thailand.” I spoke with my instructor and he said it was probably the ideal day to miss.

This morning I had to leave fairly early to arrive at the school by 7:40am. The children have an assembly every day, where they have routines such as raising the flag, signing the national anthem, and saying Buddhist prayers. A few of the kids in the school are Muslim or Christian, so they are allowed to stand quietly with their hands down during the prayer portion. The teacher who I am replacing is also named Sarah, so that’s convenient for the students and the staff.

Rather than alternating teachers, the kindergarten students stay in the same classroom with the same teacher throughout the whole year. In November I will be coming in at the start of the 2nd semester, so I will have the same class that I observed today. The following semester I will have a whole new class.

A few posts back, I had mentioned that I was not going to teach at a school with a British curriculum. Famous last words. I now work for the English Programme. Gahhh!!! Even spell check says that “program” is spelled wrong.

🙂

It’s not going to be too big of an issue teaching kindergarten, so I think I will manage just fine.

Now that I have a job, my next step is to find a place to live. I am currently looking at apartments close to the school. Kathu is the area that I will be living, and it is a lot less touristic and has more of a local vibe to it. One of my instructors told me it is the perfect place to learn how to drive a scooter, because there’s not the traffic like there is in the city, and the speed limit is much slower.

I am paid up at my current apartment until October 3rd, so I have a little bit of time to find a new place, but not much. I also have to open up a bank account for direct deposits, and do a “border run” to secure my work visa. I basically just have to leave the country and come back in. Since October is a holiday month here, I will probably make a holiday out of my border run and go to Vietnam or somewhere close.

Next week is my final week of my TEFL certification. I have papers to submit, and exams to pass, so the posts might become even less frequent. I will sure try to keep up though! I will also try to take more pictures. I realized I haven’t really taken any this week.

For your entertainment, these are all spelled correctly:

Civilised, colour, counsellor, deodorise, aeroplane, flavour, kilogramme, labour, kilometre.

Sunday Funday

Another great weekend on Phuket Island! My foot is almost all healed up, stomach is better, and my cold is almost gone. Tomorrow is the start of week 3 of the TEFL course. It’s unreal that we’re already half way through. Even though we’ve only been in the course for two weeks, my classmates and I have already formed a pretty strong bond. It makes sense, as we’re all going through a very similar transition. I feel like I’ve known some of them for much longer than two weeks.

On Saturday morning one of my classmates and I decided to meet at Kata beach. She was going to rent a motorbike and drive there, so I took the bus and met her there (haha). I’m still having a hard time coming around to motorbikes. On the topic imageof motorbikes, here’s a super long side note: I know it’s something I’m going to have to warm up to sooner or later. I even have taxi drivers ask me, “If you’re staying in Thailand, why don’t you just get a motorbike?” Right now it’s convenient for me to walk everywhere, since I live about 10 minutes walking distance away from the TEFL school. Being able to drive a motorbike opens up a whole new realm of possibilities on this island. Sure, you can just as easily take a taxi everywhere, but renting a motorbike for a month only costs about $60. I think most of my apprehension comes from living in Phuket Town where there is a lot of traffic. Once you get out of the town, the traffic flow is better and learning to drive a motorbike seems much more practical. Mom and Dad, don’t freak out yet. I’m not ready to drive one just yet.

Well now that I’ve gone off on that tangent, I’ll get back on track. Kata beach is less than a mile south of Karon, a beach that I went to a couple weekends ago. The surrounding area is very touristy, with restaurant prices about 5x of what I’m used to in Phuket Town. Most of the shops sell water, beer, towels, swimsuits, and sarongs. A little bottle of sunscreen costs about $20 in the beach towns. It makes me feel grateful for where I’m currently living.image

Kata beach has some decent sized waves and a huge stretch of beach. I ended up staying there for 5 hours. I was swimming most of the time, which explains why I am so sore today. Because we’re at about 7 degrees from the equator (same as Panama!), the sun here is HOT. I was putting on SPF 50 every hour, so I didn’t burn this time. This morning I woke up with a rash on my forehead that looks like acne. The same thing happened to me when I was in Panama, and I had spent a lot of time trying to treat it with zit cream. In Panama my host family had helped me find cream for a sun rash, but I forget the name of it. I really wish I could remember what it was.

Today I woke up exhausted and really didn’t want to do anything. It’s hard to be able to relax here, as I can’t get out of the “I’m in THAILAND!!” mindset. I often feel guilty for relaxing, and constantly feel anxious to get out and do something. This morning I went to Phuket Central Festival, a 4 story shopping mall. I don’t know why I went, I definitely don’t need to buy anything. Once I got there, I realized that the majority of the stores are super expensive and definitely not meant for a budget traveler without much disposable income. I found a sushi place and decided to eat my feelings while people watching.

I was expecting the sushi restaurant to be expensive. I’m used to dropping a pretty penny to eat sushi in the US because I IMG_9884[1]love it so much. I’ve been craving sushi so badly that I decided it was justifiable. The sushi that I ordered came with 12 pieces of sushi, miso soup, a bowl of kimchi, and an unidentifiable dish of tofu in syrup (??), and I also ordered a glass of lime juice. Lime juice is a common refreshment here, and I’m definitely okay with it. Anyhow, the entire meal cost me under $10. I saw the price in Baht and thought it was really expensive, but it’s quite a deal when you think of it in USD.

While people watching I discovered that the majority of the people in the mall were Chinese tourists or Western men with Thai girlfriends/wives. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s a pretty common sight to see an older Western man with a young, smoking hot Thai girlfriend. I’m yet to see a Western woman with a male equivalent.

On my way home from the mall, the taxi driver told me that I just need to find a Thai man to marry so that I could get my visa to stay here forever. We both laughed. He said that being a Western woman, I have the advantage of not having to pay a marriage fee to marry a Thai man. I guess when Western men marry Thai women, they have to pay a huge tax. The taxi driver said that Thai men are “free.” Lucky me.

That about sums up the highlights of my weekend. Here are a few random things to leave you with:

A few of our classmates went out and partied at Patong Beach on Friday night and were scammed out of some money by playing Connect Four with prostitutes.

A different classmate randomly decided to get her wisdom tooth out on Friday. It cost her $90 for everything.

I met a CO native and CSU graduate on Friday. He’s good friends with one of my old college roommates. Small world!

That’s it for now! I’ll check in again soon!!

Don’t forget to check out the “pics” section, as I’ve added a few more.

General Observations After 2 Weeks

It’s Friday! I’ve finished my half day of classes, and now it’s time for some R&R. I’ve officially been in Thailand for over two weeks. The time has been flying, and I feel like I can make a few generalizations based on observation (along with conversations with true locals). It actually seems like I’ve been here longer than two weeks. I’ve adapted faster than I was expecting!  I would like to post my “first impressions,” if you will, so that 6 months or even a year from now I can look back and either confirm or deny the observations. Do not take this as a representation of factual statements whatsoever. Also bear in mind that this is my experience living in the business center of the island of Phuket. Many of these observations could be isolated to my experience in this location.

  1. We live in a global economy. Yesterday, I woke up to a text alert that an 8.3 magnitude earthquake happened in Chile. I heard about it 15 minutes after it happened.  Granted, my smartphone is subscribed to receive CNN alerts about catastrophic events, and I have wifi, but that was fast. I don’t even have to be connected to a smartphone to feel connected to the rest of the world. I think that one of the reasons why I’ve been adapting so quickly is because there are small reminders of home everywhere I look. Which leads me to #2. #2 and #1 could probably be one paragraph.
  2. Corporations rule the world. In Thailand, Nestle is everywhere. Nestle’s drinking water is cheaper than Phuket’s drinking water. I went shopping to pick up some more shampoo yesterday, and found mimageyself choosing between Dove, Tresseme, and Pantene Pro-V. It’s the same with brands of face wash, condiments, cough drops, food, etc. The brands are the same, but they’ve slightly altered the product to appeal to Thai culture. The flavors of Lays chips here include spicy nori, chili basil, and chicken satay. The Clean & Clear face wash brand has “whitening power” in almost all of their soaps. McDonald’s serves rice. It’s cool to see different corporations’ adaptations of their product, but terrifying that they’re present in even the small market by my apartment.  There is a 7-11 on virtually every corner here. Even though I am across the world from the U.S., there are aspects of familiarity, but it’s still scary that these corporations are globally present.
  3. I am not the only foreigner here.  In the past, when I have traveled in remote towns in Panama, I was definitely the only foreigner for miles. In Phuket, they are everywhere. Phuket is an international tourist destination. There are tons of  Chinese, South Africans, Australians, Americans, and British. Although Thailand is a Buddhist country, there is a decent amount of religious diversity.  There is a strong Muslim influence, and there are also different Chinese temples and Christian churches scattered throughout the town. I had a lot of people ask me if I was nervous about any language and/or cultural barriers before I moved here. For anyone considering traveling these parts, I will assure you that you can get around just fine. I am traveling as a solo white female, and I’ve fallen in love with this place.
  4. There is a large population of Muslims here.  I know I’ve just mentioned it, but it’s something that I’d likimagee to say a few additional words on. Growing up in Fort Collins, CO, I haven’t really been around Muslim culture, and I’m extremely curious about it. For the past 2 weeks I had been noticing a symbol on a bunch of different food labels, and I had just assumed it was a corporation. I decided to look into it more, and after quite a bit of searching I had discovered it is The Central Islamic Committee Office of Thailand’s emblem. I guess the symbol is equivalent to an “organic” or “gluten-free” stamp, but to mark that the food is Halal. I am anxious to learn more about Muslim culture.
  5. Bring Your Own Booze. It’s totally acceptable here to show up at a bar with your own alcohol. In fact, when I went out with some classmates to a local bar, the bartender suggested we walk over to the 7-11 next door and purchase our alcohol there because it is cheaper. I can’t comprehend why the would allow it, but I’m not going to question it either. The majority of the bars in Phuket Town allow it, but I know that some of the touristy beach areas don’t. When we went out to Phi Phi, there were clearly marked signs for bars that did not allow outside alcohol. As a general rule in non-tourist areas around here, bringing your own booze is the norm.
  6. You must keep a cool heart. They don’t call it the Land of Smiles for no reason. It is considered extremely disrespectful to show frustration or anger in public. Even if you were ripped off and you want your money back, you have to smile. Even if you’re in a heated argument, you must not raise your voice, and you must smile. This is something that I’ve observed, but have mostly heard from people who have been living here for a long time. “Mai pen rai” is a term that means “no worries,” and it is practically the Thai slogan. Keep calm, and everything will be okay.
  7. Decide on a rate with a tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi driver beforehand. Metered taxis are few and far between on Phuket. If you need to get from point A to point B, chances are you’re taking a tuk tuk or riding on the back of a motorbike taxi. Motorbike taxis are about half the price of tuk tuks. Either way, if you don’t decide on a flat rate before you leave, the driver will most likely make up an absurd price once you get there, because it’s too late for you to say no.
  8. Restaurant sanitation standards do not exist. I met a woman from London who has been living in Thailand for over 9 years, and this is one of the first pieces of information she gave me. Everywhere you eat, you see signs of “excellent health inspection” and “clean good food.” This woman told me that the restaurants with the most money have these plaques on their walls. There really isn’t a food inspection or health standard for cleanliness of the restaurants. I found this was the case firsthand, when I had to use the restroom after eating at a cute little restaurant with a plaque up on their wall for cleanliness. A woman led me into a little room in the back of the restaurant. She proceeded to kick the dishwasher off of his station, and send me into the bathroom. There was a toilet and a urinal in the same room they were using to wash dishes. This was after I had eaten there!!! Needless to say I won’t be going back there ever again. Click Here to see the bathroom in all of its glory.

And I’m going to have to leave you with that. There’s so much going on here that I know it will be impossible (even after I spend more time here) to learn all that is Thai culture. I’m off to enjoy my weekend! I hope you all do the same.