Sunday, November 30, 2014

Island Trips and Holidays Away from Home

Ferry ride to Koh Yao Noi

The above photo was taken en route to a little island last-minute getaway last weekend. We'd been talking about it during the week, but hadn't planned anything yet. After seeing the Hunger Games last Friday (yes, they have movies in English here), we were all hanging out and just decided to get up early and go. So Friday morning we packed a bag, hopped on our bikes and headed to the pier where you can take a ferry to the island (Koh Yao Noi). It's only a few bucks to take the ferry, and for less than $10 you can also take your bike on the ferry. This ended up being a wise choice, because the pier actually has a lot of monkeys who will reek havoc on your bike if you leave it - I literally saw one eating someone's bike seat. On the way there we sat on the top of the ferry, which is where this photo was taken. The ferry ride was really awesome because you could see all the "floating islands" and it was gorgeous.

Once we got to the island we biked to this cute little area where they've recently built some little bungalows right on the water. One of our friends in our group had been there before and it was where he had stayed previously. It's owned by a local Thai family and they're adorable. It's technically "high season" so the bungalows were going for about $30/night, but we talked them down to $25. Not bad for a place right on the water! Shortly after we arrived it rained (booo rainy season is supposed to be over!), but it resulted in this awesome rainbow!

The evening we arrived the tide was out, which made for
some really neat photos!
After hanging out on the island all day, we went to a local Italian place for dinner and it was soooo delicious. They had an English guy there who was playing some great cover songs, and they had WINE! Wine is hard to come by here, and it's expensive...but it was worth it.

Last picturesque photo from Koh Yao Noi
We had to leave the next day, but not before we ordered some amazing breakfast from our bungalow owners - I got some banana pancakes with honey which were so good - but the best part was that they bring it out to you, so we got to eat right on the beach.

So basically island trips are awesome and I can't wait to go back!

Once arriving back in Phuket Town it was back to real life. School went smoothly last week and I was definitely entertained by my 7th graders. They had an assignment where they had to pair up and do mock interviews. The interview questions were ones that are commonly asked, including "What are your weaknesses?" The kids had a tough time understanding how to answer this, but I had to laugh when I saw "I'm ticklish" and "I'm scared of lizards" as answers to that question.

Thanksgiving dinner, not too shabby!
Thursday was Thanksgiving and were weren't sure what we were going to do. Most of the teachers here live in little apartments which don't even have real kitchens, so a potluck or "friendsgiving" was out of the question. We went to a trivia night at a local bar on Wednesday and the bartender was handing out "free Thanksgiving meal tickets" to the first 25 people there. It turns out the bar is owned by an
American and she was hosting a Thanksgiving meal there. FREE Thanksgiving you say? With real turkey? Sign me up! The bar was packed with expats the next night. Luckily we sat close to the food table so we got to everything before they ran out :) It was actually really good - better than I ever could have hoped considering I figured I might be dining on fried rice and pad thai for Thanksgiving dinner. There was turkey, stuffing, rolls, mashed potatoes, GRAVY, the works. I went home fat, happy and thankful.

This past weekend was a fun one. We went out with some of the other teachers on Friday after work to celebrate one of their birthdays. I actually learned that one of our English teachers, Peter, who is from Australia, went to University of Hawaii, which is where my mom went. Upon further investigation, I also learned that his mom is from Hawaii and went to the same high school as my mom, what are the odds!? It's a pretty small world. Another English teacher who came through the same program I did, knows my childhood best friend who lived down the street from me in California. He lives in D.C. now which is where she's from, wild.

Anyways the night continued and we stayed out until 1 or 2 in the morning. One of the other teachers was planning on doing a run Saturday afternoon, and of course in my semi-inebriated state I told him I would love to tag along! Imagine my surprise when he held me to it the next day. The run is actually something this group does every Saturday here - they're called hash runs and their slogan is "A drinking group with a running problem". I believe they have these groups all over, but this is the Phuket chapter. Each week is at a different location, sometimes a beach, sometimes a jungle, etc. This run was a jungle about 15 minutes away. The way the run works is that you take off and follow a paper trail (literally, it's bits of colored paper scattered around). Sometimes the trail will lead to a dead end or be a false trail, which we of course happened upon more than once. After about an hour we finally made it back (the total distance was probably less than a 5K), but it was pretty fun. After the run everyone circles up and drinks beer and hangs out. The majority of the hash running group is old white men who make fun of each other and make people drink for various reasons including doing something stupid during the run, etc. I was called to the middle of the drinking circle with a handful of others because it was our first time there. We had to drink cup of beer without using our hands, and then got iced water poured all over our backs. Fun?

Inside the zorb ball!
After the hash run we were talking to a few other teachers that we ran into there (who work at another school). They said they were going to a big event with a bunch of other teachers from all over Phuket. It was an all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-zorb party. What is zorbing you ask? A zorb is a giant inflatable ball which you get inside and roll down a hill. Obviously we agreed to join and went straight from our run. These zorbs had water in them so you're constantly slipping around - it's impossible to stand. Because we went at night I didn't get great photos, so for the sake of understanding I'll put this photo I found online. If you ever get the opportunity to zorb I highly recommend it, it was so fun! You can also put multiple people into a zorb at one time, which makes it even more interesting (and if your zorb partner has pointy limbs or sharp nails, maybe more dangerous). Perhaps the funniest part of the zorbing was the fact that they had us wear life jackets inside the ball. "Were you zorbing into a pool of water?" you may ask? No....the life jackets were for the 6 inches of water inside the ball that they put in to make it more slippery. Not sure what a life jacket is going to do for you in 6 inches of water, but first?

After zorbing a bunch of people were going to Patong (Thailand's notorious party beach). Of course we decided to join, why not? Soooo what I thought would be a simple afternoon run turned into a zorbing-and-partying-until-4am night. Not even mad about it. I will say showering after all of craziness was great....sweaty hash runs followed by being doused in zorb water makes for a pretty gross feeling.

Atlas moth, larger than my hand!
Ok, this was really long and I think I need to wrap things up. Stay tuned for my next blog, which will include my first full moon party experience, which is happening next weekend! I'll leave you with this photo of an Atlas moth I spotted at school the other day. World's largest moth species!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Livin' the Thai Life

Nai Harn Beach
Coming up on a month in the "Land of Smiles' and every day gets a little easier. The transition was rough the first week at our new schools. Being thrust into a new job with zero experience in a country where almost no one speaks's not the simplest of transitions. We're now in our 3rd week of classes and my lessons are going smoother by the day. My 10th graders are great - so eager to learn and excited for the lessons. My 7th graders are...well they're a fun bunch. A little more difficult to control, but overall good kids and they can understand most of what I say, which is a lot more than I can say for some of the other teachers in other cities. All of the kids here are given nicknames by their parents when they're young....the nicknames are typically a random English word, but sometimes an actual name. These can be very entertaining. Some of my favorites of my students include Milk, Cartoon, Thanks, Copter, Spy, Bonus and Magic.

Loy Krathong Festival - Chalong Pier
Our first weekend here we went to Loy Krathong Festival. This is a Thai celebration in which they send off little boats made of flowers and banana leaves with candles or incense into the river and other bodies of water. These boats are used to signify casting away hatred and negativity, and you can make a wish as you send your boat off into the water. Also, couples will often cast away their boats together. They say if your boats stay side by side you're meant to be together, but now many couples will just tie their boats together before they put them in the water....I guess this makes for a less awkward Loy Krathong. We went down to a nearby bay to send off our boats, but many Thais will also go to rivers for this festival.

Crystal clear waters at Nai Harn!

This past weekend we had a 3-day weekend due to the Asia Beach Games. This year, Phuket was chosen to host the Asia Beach Games. This is basically a week of sports competitions that take place on some of the larger beaches. The games include things like beach volleyball and surfing, but also things like basketball and handball. All of the schools were advised to close on Friday due to the heavy traffic and craziness with Asians coming in from all over for the games. Many of our upper level students are actually out this week working the games. Most of them are acting as translators and are even getting paid for each day they're there.  While the games sounded fun, we were ready for a calm beach weekend away from crowds. Myself and another teacher chose a smaller, less touristy beach in the very south of Phuket called Nai Harn. Friday afternoon we packed our backpacks and got a taxi - didn't even have a plan, but that's kind of how you have to do things around here. The taxi dropped us off right on the beach...we hadn't really thought things through, so we ended up having to make a 20-minute walk back towards town to find a place to stay and drop our stuff off. After going to a couple places, we finally found a little bungalow for 800 baht/night ($26 U.S.) with A/C and hot water - we'll take it! We hastily dropped our stuff off and immediately set off for the beach (again). Luckily our place was close enough to walk. Nai Harn is an adorable little beach with a cape to the left side. While there were plenty of foreigners there (lots of Russians actually), it had a little bit of a local feel. The water was beautiful and the temperature was perfect. The first day there were some sizable waves, even a couple surfers were out. The next two days, however, it was pretty calm.

Promthep Cape
So that's how most of the weekend was spent, days laying out on the beach, nights spent trying the local fare and hitting up the only bar in town "Reggae Bar", appropriately very chill and beachy. The 2nd night we were there we went to Promthep Cape, the cape that juts out just to the left of the beach. There's a lookout area above it where you can catch beautiful sunsets, so that's just what we did. Following the sunset we found an adorable Italian place that actually had pretty delicious pizzas. The only downside of the day was that I left my sunscreen in a cab. We only spent a few hours on the beach the next day, and I even borrowed my friend's 30 SPF sunscreen, but it was no match for this whitey. Needless to say it's 2 days later and I'm still looking (and feeling) like a cooked lobster. Oh well, mai pen rai (have you gotten used to this saying yet?).

Oh! I almost forgot a bit of exciting news. I'm now the official owner of a scooter! Most people in Thailand use motorbikes or scooters to get around. I bought mine off of another English teacher who is moving to a nearby island and won't need it anymore. It's not fancy, but definitely comes in handy here.  The non-existent sidewalks and plethora of street dogs roaming around makes walking more dangerous than I'd like. I'm still getting the hang of it, but I've driven it around a bit (even ventured out to the store tonight and drove back with TWO grocery bags! #wild). I'll include a photo of the scooter too. It's got some sassy stickers on the front including a Guns 'n Roses sticker and a peace sign....sweet. My goals is to get confident enough in the next couple weeks to take it to a beach. Most of the beaches are about a 20-30-minute drive from Phuket Town, so having your own transportation helps a lot with day trips, etc. I'll keep you updated on scooter progress, but for now I'm taking baby steps. Until next time, sawatdee kha!

My little Yamaha Mio

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Better Late than Never...

Somewhere over the Pacific ocean
First of all, let me apologize for this long-awaited first blog post. The truth is I've been here 2 weeks and JUST got internet in my apartment #FirstWorldProblems. I'll try to make this brief, though I could probably write a book.

The trip here was long, I mean looooong. Also, Asian flights like to serve you meals constantly. They served us "dinner" at 2 AM on the red eye out of L.A. It was 4 AM for my body clock so I wasn't feeling the weird chicken rice meal, but you take what you can get. All in all, after 3 flights and one lengthy layover, it was 27 hours of travel from St. Louis to Bangkok. In that time I managed to get about 6-7 hours of sleep, so needless to say I was struggling when we finally arrived.

Once in Bangkok, a bus picked us up to take us to our hotel. Our hotel was considered "close" to the airport, and it was at least a 30-minute ride. Maybe that gives you some idea of how HUGE Bangkok is.'s one giant sprawling skyline, I can't even tell where the actual city is. Once arriving and receiving our rooms in our hotel which was, well, not the fanciest thing in the world, we decided we had to keep awake to make sure we would sleep through the night and not wake up at 4 AM...which happened to many. We decided the local bar would be the best option after our long journey. Before long it was packed with about 50+ "farang" - this is what the Thais call foreigners. My roommate and I called it a night around 8:30 and passed out for a good 11 hours, it was awesome.

Shots from the Royal Palace
For the sake of keeping this brief, I'll sum up the bulk of the week in a few short words. Orientation basically consisted of a week of Thai language classes, teaching prep classes and other presentations sprinkled in here and there on the Thai education, culture, etc. The Thai language was somewhat helpful, but it was a lot to take in at once. The teaching prep class ended up not helping me much at all due to the fact that it was geared towards those teaching very basic English to entry-level students, and I had been placed at an international school with upper-level students teaching computers, technology and occupations (I know...what?). We still managed to have fun though - we went out on the town one night to a Bangkok bar with a pretty legit DJ, and tried out a decent Mediterranean restaurant the next night (which actually had pizza...and it was pretty delicious after a week of fried rice!). We also took a trip to the Royal Palace, which is absolutely gorgeous. The attention to detail on every building was wild. Many of the temples had hand painted "wallpaper". The outsides were also intricately decorated with tiny tiles and gold leaf. I could make an entire post of those photos, but I'll just include a sample here. My Facebook page has more :)
The best part of orientation was the end of the week when we made our way to Kanchanaburi, a town a couple hours outside of Bangkok which is BEAUTIFUL - lots of mountains and lush green jungle.  Though we were only there one night, we stayed in a really nice hotel right on the River Kwai with an awesome mountain view.
View from the hotel balcony in Kanchanaburi

Bridge over the River Kwai
In Kanchanaburi we got to do several really cool things. First we went to The Bridge over River Kwai - the story behind it is quite tragic, but there isn't really any signage near the bridge that explains its significance. Just looking at it, it just looks like a bridge's not fancy, but it's historical. There was a large Buddha statue you could see from the bridge that was pretty neat.
 That night we had a big dinner on a "floating restaurant" which is basically a flat raft barge thing that can be tied to others depending on how many people there are. We cruised down the River Kwai and then a DJ started playing some dance music and had a light show and everything. By the end of the 3-hour boat party, however, we were all pretty wiped out. We had to rest up for the upcoming day at the elephant park!

The next day we loaded up onto our bus and went to the elephant park. Upon arriving I was a little concerned because the baby elephants were cuffed inside their gate, however, after spending some time there and doing a little research after leaving I think it was a pretty reputable place. We almost immediately jumped on some elephants' backs and began a trek around the park. Myself and a friend were sitting on the seat of one elephant when our manhout (elephant trainer) jumped off and had us sit bareback on the elephant while he led and took photos. When our ride was finished we got to see the baby elephants (roaming free at this point) and feed them bananas as they did tricks. They were really cute and very social...and LOVED bananas! To wrap up the day we got to float down the river on some bamboo rafts, which offered some beautiful views. Some even got in a floated down the river in their life vests. Sadly, after a fun-filled day, it was time for us to head back to our Bangkok hotel where we were to meet our school coordinators and make our long journeys (for some) to our schools. For myself and the 2 other girls at my school, we didn't even know how we were getting to Phuket. By bus it was 11 hours, so we were praying for a flight, but hadn't heard anything yet.

When we got to Bangkok we were greeted by our coordinator, Took. The good news was that we had a flight, the bad news was that it was at 10 PM (we got back around 1:30). This meant lots of bonding time in the airport. We also had to say goodbye in Bangkok to all of our friends from orientation. In just a week we'd made a lot of good friends, so it was tough to leave! When we did finally arrive in Phuket after a LONG day, one of the girl's luggage didn't make it. Somehow it got left in Bangkok. Once we tracked down the missing luggage, we headed to yet another hotel. We were under the impression we were moving into our apartments/permanent living situations that night, so the thought of living out of and lugging around our suitcases for another day wasn't so great. However, the hotel they put us in was nice, so there's that.

The next morning we had orientation at 9 (could've used a few more hours of sleep to be honest). When we were picked up we were informed we were actually going apartment hunting! This was news to us since we thought our housing accommodations had already been picked out. It turns out the ones advertised to us aren't used anymore because a girl got robbed outside of it in the past....yeah I'll pass on that. They took us to a pretty nice apartment building, which happened to have 3 rooms available. We went to lunch after, but when we went back to sign contracts, one of the apartments had been swiped! Of course I was the one displaced, so one of our school department heads made a few calls and got me a place not far from the school. It's pretty nice, but I have to pay $1,000 baht extra per month compared to the other apartments and I'm by myself, but it could be worse.

After a weekend of moving, Thai American cover bands, near death experiences due to charging angry street dogs, and a few other dodgy experiences, our first week was upon us. The first day wasn't so bad teaching-wise. It was your basic "introductory" lesson, but the reality of teaching really set in. Myself and the other 2 teachers all had classes we hadn't been expecting, and were told to create unit plans and lesson plans for all of our classes. Remember, none of us has taught before,  much less made a lesson plan. As I previously mentioned, our students speak pretty good English, so I might as well be teaching computers, tech and occupations to American students. Each night this week has been devoted to lesson planning (which I actually have to get on right after this post), but I think we'll get ahead of it soon enough and get to enjoy our time outside of school with more fun activities. I'm currently counting down the days to Friday - we're planning our first beach trip and I could not be more ready after a grueling week of awkward first lessons. So there's my "brief" post. Hopefully now that I have internet I'll be able to post more frequently and they won't be so daunting :) Congrats to those of you who have made it this far, you officially have a longer attention span than the 7th grade students I'm teaching. Until next time (which will be soon, I promise), "sawatdee kha!"
Floating down the River Kwai