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Downtime in Paradise

I am starting to feel a little restless. “How is that possible?!” You ask. “Aren’t you in a top notch tourist destination? Why don’t you go to the beach every day? Go ride an elephant! I would kill to be in your position!”

I’m not saying that it’s anything short of awesome to be here, but my personality doesn’t like downtime. There’s always an something inside of me that feels like I need to be contributing. I’m not good at lollygagging. Also, I’ve had to stretch my budget to fit 3 months without income. I had planned for 2, hoping to get a job right after the TEFL course. As it all worked out with my poor timing, the schools are on vacation until November, and I won’t be paid until the end of the month. I’m stuck between wanting to keep busy and trying to be cheap.

The food and accommodation here are ridiculously cheap, and for that I am thankful. To put it into perspective, I can stay full on less than $4/day. Gas cost also goes a long way when you’re renting a motorbike, so I have no problem getting around the island. My ultimate downfall is when it comes to the endless range of activities for tourists on this island. If money weren’t a factor, I could start my morning on an elephant trek, then go sea kayaking through mangroves, see a imageladyboy cabaret show, and then throwback some Singapore slings while listening to live music on the beach. It sounds AMAZING. Unfortunately, that kind of day would cost me about 25% of the salary I will be making come November. For now, I’ve been trying to tackle all the freebie tourist attractions that I can. It may sound silly, but I can’t wait until school starts in November.

I must say there are still a handful of attractions here that are free and noteworthy. The first, as mentioned in an earlier post, is Monkey Hill. Now that I think about it, I think I could take a backpack full of bananas and spend an entire day there. That would sure create a sense of purpose in my life. I could become the monkey version of the crazy pigeon lady. That being said, I’m not sure I’d be able to make an escape once I ran out of bananas.

There’s always the beach. I can’t get enough of the gorgeous beaches here. I won’t go into too much detail about how awesome the beaches are here. They’re fantastic (see above). We’ll leave it at that.

Another free attraction in the area is the Kathu Waterfalls. The waterfalls are about a 2 minute drive up the road from the school I’ll be teaching in- they’re both on the road “Waterfall Road.” Last Saturday I decided to go check them out. The entrance to the park is a parking lot with a few local residences and restaurants nearby. Kathu is outside of the super touristy areas, so the place isn’t marked with a whole lot of obnoxious signs. The place was definitely constructed for tourists, though.

The climb is a long concrete staircase, with intermittent rest stops with bits of information. I’d read online that there are three waterfalls throughout the journey to the top. I climbed up a little ways and found the first. To my disappointment, it was man made. It’s my own fault for setting my expectations so high. It’s actually a beautiful park, and there were quite a imagefew local boys playing in the water.

The hike is increasingly difficult as you ascend up the stairs, but nothing too intense. It’s easy to forget that it’s man-made, because you’re surrounded by lush green jungle. Just as your mind escapes into “jungle trek” mode, you look over and see the trail of trash that’s left behind by the previous tourists. It made me really sad, because it was an absolute mess.

The 2nd waterfall was gorgeous. I’ve heard from Mr.B (my favorite taxi man) that the waterfalls are better now because of the monsoon rains. It’s not a huge waterfall, by any means, but it was serene to sit next to.

As I hiked up to the 3rd waterfall, the concrete stairs stopped and the path turned narrow, with stepping stones as a path. I have to admit, I walked about 10 feet in, and turned around and went right back out. For some reason, I got legitimately scared. I was by myself, nobody knew that I was there, and I had no idea what was tucked away inside that gorgeous rain forest. I thought about snakes, and freaked myself out. I was out.

In hindsight, I really wish I would’ve given it a chance. I was already 2/3 of the way up, and I turned back. Oh well, at least it’s just up the street, and it’s free 🙂

Another option for free entertainment is to check out a temple, or a “wat.” The architecture is incredible, and they exist on every stretch of the island. I’ve been into a couple, and have definitely been impressed. It’s required to wear a shirt that covers the shoulders, and pants that cover the knees. It’s 89 degrees and 90% humidity here, so I’ve only been into temples on planned occasions.

The Kathu Shrine is between my place and the school, so it’s very close. Yesterday was the start of the vegetarian festival,image
and I decided to go see what it was all about. The mortifying body piercings don’t happen until a few days into the festival, so I just cruised up for some dinner. I was incredibly excited for the opportunity to eat whatever was in sight without having to worry about it being strange street meat. There are tons of food stalls, but I soon found out it’s important to pick one that has posted prices for their food. I saw some fried corn & chili fritters, so I indicated that I would like to purchase some. I watched every person in front of me pay 10 TBH, and when it was my turn, the lady asked me for 20. There wasn’t a sign advertising they cost 10, so I didn’t have any ground to stand on. I smiled and thanked her. Even though she ripped me off, the difference was about 25 cents. I knew the 25 cents meant more to her than it does to me.

During the vegetarian festival, attendees traditionally wear all white. I completely forgot, so I was in normal clothes. I was worried about standing out, and then I laughed and realized that I stand out no matter what I’m wearing. I did see quite a few Thai people that weren’t following suit. Nobody was sticking to the “sleeves” rule, so I felt okay.

I saw a Thai family struggling to fit themselves into one selfie with the shrine. I walked over and acted out that I would take their picture for them, and they were super happy. I took a few, and then one of the men grabbed his camera and indicated that they wanted a picture with me. They took quite a few. I thought it was hilarious. I even got my camera out and insisted that I have a copy of the same picture. Look at how adorable we are:image

Being the only foreigner with all of the chaos of the festival was pretty overwhelming, and I felt a huge push of culture shock. The small children were lighting off fireworks and throwing them into a pit. I watched a little boy (maybe 2 years old) wander into the pit when nobody was watching. Right before another boy threw a firework into the pit, another boy ran into it and dragged the 2 year old out. Everyone was laughing about it, but it scared the crap out of me. The festival is fantastic for people watching.

I could’ve stayed longer, but I was pretty overwhelmed. I’ve got 8 more days to check it out, so I have plenty of time until I leave for Malaysia on the 20th.

About that….

Today I received a call from Steve, one of the directors at the school. He is my contact for work permit/visa issues while Bronwyn is back home in South Africa. Steve is from the UK and to be honest, sometimes I have a hard time understanding him. Yes, we both speak English, but sometimes I feel like British English is a whole new language. Regardless, Steve had some bad news.

Apparently the application process for a work permit can be a pain in the ass. The timeline to get my work permit, visa, and teacher license is a stretched out process, and there are definitely setbacks along the way. I was initially told that my paperwork would take less than 2 weeks to process, and I cleared it with my supervisor that it was good timing to set my flight to Malaysia for 2 weeks out. I have to go to Malaysia to get my visa, and I have to have my work permit before I have my visa. I have to have my work permit and visa before I can get my teacher’s license. Steve got a call today that there was some issue in the review process, and my work permit won’t be ready for 3 more weeks. It was a bunch of political jargon that Steve was describing, and he basically just said, “I’m horribly sorry. I know it’s a pain. Welcome to Thailand.”

My tourist visa runs out on the 31st, and I have a nonrefundable ticket to Malaysia. It sounds like I’m going to have to go to Malaysia to renew my tourist visa, come back into Thailand, and then leave the country again at the start of November so I can re-enter with a Non Immigrant B Visa. It’s all a huge headache. Because it pertains to my personal visa, I have to pay for everything myself. On the bright side, maybe I’ll try Cambodia or Vietnam for my 2nd visa run. Who knows. I’m not complaining about the traveling part. A round trip ticket to these countries runs about $50. It’ another stamp on the passport!

That’s all I have for now! I’ve uploaded some more pictures of the waterfalls and veg festival in the pics section.

Someone eat a bagel with cream cheese for me. I’m salivating like a dog just thinking about one.

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