Thailand: Round 2

I’m back in Thailand again; only this time I don’t have an excruciatingly boring job in an equally as boring city. I’m doing Thailand right this time. Beaches, stunning views, and getting paid to help protect it all. Does it get much better than that?

Tourism in Thailand is an interesting animal. Anyone who has recently visited this wonderful country hopefully noticed that while an increase in tourism increases local incomes and makes the life of a traveler a bit easier since the road is already paved for you, it also comes at a cost.

While living in Khon Kaen last year, I got to live in a part of Thailand that has remained fairly untouched by tourism and learned an incredible amount about Thai culture. Unfortunately, most of my favorite things about Thai culture disappear upon arriving in popular tourist destinations. In Khon Kaen I never met an angry Thai person, but where there are tourists there is money to be made, which inevitably brings greed. We all know that money can’t buy happiness and greed seems to breed anger and resentment in some Thai folks, which goes against the general joyful Thai attitude that I love so much.

Another example of the deterioration of Thai culture in touristy places can be seen in the food. Thai food is truly exquisite. I have yet to meet someone who can disagree with that statement. When it comes to food, Thailand knows what it’s doing. Yet in tourist destinations they alter their cuisine to what they think the farang (foreigner) wants, which is not nearly as yummy and really disappointing for the hungry farang.

I could continue complaining about the changes tourism creates in Thai culture, but that is not what brought me to Thailand. This time I will be working with an organization called Save Koh Tao. I am the project coordinator for the land conservation projects that the organization arranges to help prevent and reverse the environmental degradation on the island of Koh Tao that has come with the ever-growing number of tourists.

Cultural deterioration in popular tourist locations is sad, but in this day and age it can be argued that we all are suffering from that and eventually globalization will cause some kind of global homogenization of cultures. I’m not sure what can be done about this. I studied how to help the trees, birds, fish, etc. and in my opinion, those creatures which cannot help themselves need our help more right now. If we don’t protect our environment, then cultural homogenization doesn’t matter because we won’t have a very enjoyable planet to live on in the first place.

This blog entry is getting a little more philosophical than I expected. Where I originally intended on taking this topic was to the grand possibilities that come with my new job. If the permanent residents and visitors of Koh Tao don’t start treating the island with more respect then it won’t remain a beautiful island for much longer.

Many people come here just to scuba dive, snorkel, and enjoy the beaches. If these are destroyed or polluted not only will the world lose a wonderful example of nature at her best, but also the tourists will stop coming and Thai people will lose quite a bit of money.

This is probably obvious to most of you, but you would be incredibly surprised by how many tourists and business owners don’t seem to care. I have a massive task ahead of me and I’m very excited to finally put my degree to good use. I have the opportunity to do some really great things for this island and I can’t wait to see where it leads me. There is a lot to be done here which is a great distraction from the fact that I miss my wonderful family, boyfriend and friends, all of which are constantly in my thoughts. Pictures of my new home will be coming soon. Stay tuned!

Singing for Our Supper

I thought I would share a few pictures of my Mom and I together in Thailand before we leave for Nepal in a couple days.

Last night we cooked a big Thai birthday feast at my friend’s house for one of the family members. During the preparations for dinner, they had a masseuse come over and give us massages, which was really great for my Mom because her back was sore from the plane ride. It was her first massage ever and she loved it.

After dinner we sang karaoke together. It was really entertaining for everyone because it’s not everyday that they have two tone deaf foreigners attempting to sing English songs at their house. I’ve been trying to find a way to repay the family we are staying with for all of the hospitality that they’ve shown me over the past three months, and I think I finally found the perfect way. Even though our singing voices are terrible, I think it was a big treat to hear their favorite foreign songs sung by native speakers.

Here are some pictures from the very first part of our adventures together!



From Beach Bunny to Mountain Goat

Yesterday I got back from a week on a beautiful island called Koh Chang. If you are coming to Thailand and want a low key non-touristy island, I highly suggest heading there. It was gorgeous and was much less touristy than the Southern islands of Thailand. I spent seven days and nine nights on the island swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. It was wonderful!


As most of you already know, my mom came to Thailand today. We are spending three days in Thailand and then we are heading to Nepal to do some trekking. My mom and I will be traveling together for two weeks, after which she will go back home and I will spend another two weeks in Nepal. I’m not entirely positive what my plan will be after Nepal, but as of right now, I think I will go to Northern Vietnam and then take the train or bus into Southern China. I will continue to post to the blog while I am traveling, although it might be a little more infrequent. That’s all for now! My next post will be coming from Nepal!

Korean BBQ in Thailand

One of my favorite types of restaurants to go to in Thailand are the ones that serve Moo Kaowlee AKA Korean Pork. I’m not entirely sure if this is really a Korean dish or a Thai invention attributed to the Koreans. It seems as though I’m constantly being told that the dish I am eating isn’t Thai, but Vietnamese or Chinese or Korean. I’m sure that Thai food is influenced by all of these countries, but I don’t think Thailand is giving itself enough credit, it can’t all be from other countries.

Moo Kaowlee is kind of like the Korean or Thai version of fondue. There is a hole in the center of every table in the restaurant so that a heavy bucket of coals can be set inside (I got burned for the first time by a little coal falling between my toes last week). While you are waiting for the coals to heat up, you select your vegetables, meat, and noodles from the buffet bar in the back of the restaurant. The buffet of raw meat would make any health inspector have a coronary. Trays upon trays of raw pork, chicken, beef, and seafood are on ice for everyone to take from with tongs. The noodles are at the next station over, along with some fried appetizers such as french fries. The dessert station is disconcertingly found only two feet away from the raw meat station. You are free to take what ever you like and it is assumed that you understand that the meat shouldn’t end up in your dessert bowl.

Moo Kaowlee restaurants would be shut down by the Health Department in a heartbeat if they were to try and open in the States. If you have ever been to a fondue restaurant in America, you probably experienced the five to ten minute schpiel about how long to cook the meat for before you can eat it. They have to make sure that you have some sort of timing device, and even suggest having multiple ones since seafood and meat have different cook times. On top of all of that they have to make sure to remind you that it is hot….duh! The amount of idiotic lawsuits that would arise from this wonderful meal being served in the US is too scary and depressing to think about.

Once the coals are hot enough, a bundt-like pan is placed on top of the bucket and you are ready to start cooking. A couple of pieces of pig fat are placed in the middle of the pan and water or broth is poured around the island. Noodles, seafood, and vegetables are cooked in the water and the meat is cooked on the pork fat oiled island. The fat and juices from the meat drip down into the surrounding water creating the most delicious broth.

My only problem with the whole process is the fact that you use the same utensils to pick up the raw meat with as you do your cooked meat. Like any good over cautious American, I try to keep utensils for raw and cooked meat separated, but after a while it becomes exhausting and I usually give in to not caring.

One of my many Moo Kaowlee outings.
One of my many Moo Kaowlee outings.



This past week I was introduced to the takeaway option of Moo Kaowlee. Someone brings the pot of coals, the pan, the meat, vegetables, and sauces to your house. The delivery boy lights the coals for you and the whole thing is set up inside your living room, with plenty of fans running of course. Once dinner is over you don’t even have to clean anything, the delivery boy will pick it up in the morning and do all of that for you! It’s fantastic, except for the smoke inhalation…

One of the best parts of eating Moo Kaowlee in a restaurant, is dessert at the end. There is fruit, coconut ice cream, and Nam Khang Sai to choose from. Nam Khang Sai is my absolute favorite Thai dessert. It’s like the Thai snow cone, only in a bowl with jelly toppings and coconut milk…okay maybe it’s not exactly a snow cone. You put shaved ice in a bowl, spoon a coconut milk and sugar water over it, add your choice of syrup flavors (I like mine without the syrups), and put all sorts of different Chinese jellies on top. It is a light dessert that goes down well in hot weather and I plan on sharing it with all of you when I get back home!

Jelly squares, jelly noodles, water chestnuts, red beans, basil seeds, and bread squares to add to your Nam Khang Sai.
Jelly squares, jelly noodles, water chestnuts, red beans, basil seeds, and bread squares to add to your Nam Khang Sai.
Making my Nam Khang Sai at the Moo Kaowlee restaurant after a delicious dinner.
Making my Nam Khang Sai at the Moo Kaowlee restaurant after a delicious dinner.
Dow operating the ice shaving machine for the Nam Khang Sai that she sells outside her boyfriends internet cafe.
Dow operating the ice shaving machine for the Nam Khang Sai that she sells outside her boyfriend's internet cafe.

In other news, I am done with my job in Khon Kaen and am staying at Dow’s house in Rangsit, which is about an hour outside of Bangkok. Tomorrow I plan on heading to Koh Chang for a week to soak up a little sunshine on the beach and do a little hiking through the jungle. I’ll be back here at the end of next week which is when my mom arrives! For those of you that haven’t heard, my mom is coming to Thailand on April 5th and then we will be off to Nepal on the 8th. Words cannot describe how excited I am to see her!

For those of you that are on Twitter, I would like you to know I just signed up. I’m not totally sold on it yet, so we’ll see how long I keep it up for, but for now you can find me on Twitter as wakeupanddance.

Thank you all for keeping up with my blog for the past five months! I can’t believe it’s been so long already. I anticipate some grand adventures in the upcoming months, so please keep reading!

Two Yummy and Easy Thai Recipes

Alright, here’s a post for all you foodies out there. One of the teachers invited me over for a little cooking lesson after aerobic dance yesterday. Megh Tiew and her sister taught me how to make Gang Jewt Kai Nam (Lightly Flavored Soup with Egg) and Pad Taow Oo (Fried Tofu). Both of these are easy to make and aren’t spicy. I’ve written down the recipes, but since they don’t use teaspoons and tablespoons to measure things out, I am guessing on the amounts, so don’t trust them one hundred percent. Here are the rough recipes and a video of my cooking lesson. Bon appetit!

Megh Tiew 1

Gang Jewt Kai Nam

  • vegetable oil
  • 6-8 small cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • handful sliced onions
  • handful torn lettuce leaves
  • about one teaspoon powdered chicken flavor
  • about one tablespoon (maybe more?) mushroom sauce
  • about 1 cup seasoned ground pork (optional)
  1. Heat oil on high. When hot, add garlic. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Once fried, remove garlic from  oil. Set aside.
  2. Fry two eggs in remaining oil. Once cooked, remove from wok. Set aside.
  3. Add water and cucumber to the wok. Cover and let cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Place spoonfuls of meat in water with cucumbers. Cook for a couple of minutes while stirring.
  5. Add remaining vegetables, powdered chicken flavor, and mushroom sauce. Stir. Cook for a few minutes.
  6. Add fried garlic and eggs from earlier. Cook for a few more minutes.
  7. Serve with rice.

Pad Taow Oo

  • vegetable oil
  • 8-10 small garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 package of tofu, cut into 1 inch squares
  • about 1 or 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • about 1 tablespoon mushroom sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • about 1 teaspoon sugar
  • about 8 green onions chopped into 2 inch long pieces
  • white pepper
  1. Heat oil on high. When hot, add garlic and tofu. Fry for a couple of minutes on med-high heat.
  2. Add oyster sauce, mushroom sauce, sugar and water. Stir. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add green onions. Cook for a few minutes.
  4. Transfer to plate and sprinkle with white pepper.
  5. Serve with rice.

A Trip to the Dentist

My dental history is not what I would call ideal. Before I started using toothpaste with a prescription level of fluoride in it, every dental check up ended with me making an appointment to take care of at least one cavity that was found during my cleaning. As a result, I have become the paranoid patient. I am a rabid flosser and can be found flossing even in a semi-unconscious state because otherwise guilt and anxiety will haunt me. So, being the diligent dental patient that I am, I decided that I needed to get a check-up before I begin traveling to countries that might not have as reliable dental care as Thailand.

Upon arriving at the clinic, my first task was to make sure that I was in fact at the dental clinic. There was a big sign outside to the right of the building that said Dental Clinic, but it wasn’t very specific as to which building the clinic might be, and I’ve found that every time I feel confident in my ability to determine where or what something might be, I’m proved wrong. There was no need for me to start demanding to see a dentist if I was not actually in a dental clinic after all.

After establishing that I was in the correct building, I then had to figure out why they wouldn’t let me see a dentist. They were trying to convey some kind of problem to me and I was doing my best to understand their Thai. The office is closed. It is Wednesday. The office is closed. No dentists. Come back at five in the evening. Go over there. It seemed odd to me that a clinic wouldn’t open until five, and since my Thai is still a little untrustworthy, I decided to double check with somebody else who hopefully spoke English.

I told the four ladies that I understood and subtly moved to the next window, out of their view, to try again. I began my line of questioning in the same broken Thai, and instead of trying to explain the situation in Thai to me, the woman behind the glass decided to just call an English speaker. I greatly appreciated this, and found that I had understood the first four ladies correctly.

I came back to the clinic at five holding a section of my Thai notes on doctors, hoping that I would be able to effectively convey in Thai what I wanted. Unfortunately, the word for cleaning wasn’t on my vocabulary list, and I realized while I was waiting for them to call my name, that all I could say was want dentist, do I have a cavity? and my tooth hurts.

It occurred to me that if the dentist spoke as much English as the people at the front desk, then I was going to have to find a different way to communicate that I wanted a cleaning, some x-rays, and a check-up. I started thinking of how I would pantomime the word cleaning, and imagined the look on the face of the dentist as he wondered why I wanted to sweep the floor. I decided that if need be, my best bet was to phone a friend.

I made sure to sit front and center in the waiting room, and after a short wait, a dentist came into the room looked directly at me and tried to pronounce my name. I was very relieved to find that my dentist spoke English and explained to him what I wanted. He looked at my teeth for a few moments, told me they looked good and to wait in the waiting room for x-rays to be taken.

Once my x-rays were done, I went back to the waiting room for about thirty minutes, during which I examined the posters on throat ulcers, braces, cavities, and mouth cancer caused by cigarettes. The pictures gave me the heebie jeebies, so I decided to sit and watch the television, which was playing some kind of news report done by a man in drag (aka ladyboy). I was thinking about how wonderfully liberal Thailand is regarding sexuality, when a woman came out and used the staring technique to indicate that it was my turn again.

It was time for the verdict and a cleaning. I sat down and they reclined my seat so far back that my feet were a little bit higher than my head. A towel was laid on my chest, and I was surprised when the assistant unfolded the towel and pulled it up to cover my face. There was a circular hole in the towel leaving only my mouth and nose exposed.

I had to hold back the giggles when the dentist moved the towel a little to expose one of my eyes, so that she could tell me that my x-rays were fine, I had clean teeth, and zero cavities. I was happy to hear that, but wondered how they could tell all of that with just a few molar x-rays and less than a minute of tooth inspection. What about poking my gums with that sharp pokey tool? After complimenting my good dental hygiene, she covered my eye with the towel again and started cleaning.

The trip was successful, although, I don’t necessarily feel that it was thorough enough. I was very happy to find that my silly charades act wasn’t necessary because the dentists spoke great English. And to top it off, it only cost me twenty-six bucks! If you ever find yourself in need of dental care in Thailand, I think you’ll find yourself in good hands. I recommend not looking at the graphic mouth cancer pictures in the waiting rooms though.

It’s More Than Wanderlust

I just found the perfect description of my wanderlust in the book I’m reading right now called A Fortune Teller Told Me (which I highly recommend, so far it’s fantastic). Terzani, the author, writes how his need for travel comes not from his body but “from another source, that brought with it a baggage of old yearnings and homesickness for latitudes known to me in some life before this one.” I’m not one to believe in reincarnation, but there is something true about this statement none the less.

I seem to be searching for places that have remained untouched and am continuously disappointed when I find time after time that a place has been infiltrated by the West and the tourism industry. I don’t want modern hotels or Pizza Hut. I don’t want to see a 7-11 on every street corner and I would much rather swim in the ocean than a hotel pool. Yet I also find myself enjoying the comforts and conveniences that come with modernity. I couldn’t have internet access if it weren’t for foreign influence for example. And I quite like air conditioning every now and then. It’s a matter of finding a middle ground that is difficult.

I am writing this as I sit on the river bank of the Mekong in Thailand looking across at Laos. I managed to find a wonderfully laid back guesthouse in a Lonely Planet and am so happy not to be in one of the concrete block hotels mentioned beside it in the guide book. But it almost isn’t enough for me. I miss the time when I wouldn’t see the headlights of cars on the opposite river bank. You might be thinking that this was way before my time and I have never been here before so how could I miss it? But it’s more that I know how it was at one time and know I would have liked that better. Then again, how can I say that as I sit under an electric fan and electric lights wearing REI 99% Deet and drinking a cold beer. I suppose I could do without the cold beer, but I am so spoiled that I’m not sure how long I would really last in Thailand without these creature comforts.

I seem to find myself in a predicament then, I want the best of both worlds and not only that, I want it all to myself. I know, it’s very selfish of me.

When I start this line of thikning, I’m always drawn back to the idea that it’s people like me, the ones who want to go to the untouched places of the world, who end up ruining those very places. If I found it, then so will other people, and before you know it, a little piece of adventure becomes a tourist attraction and the magic is lost. The people in that area will change with the landscape and that place I loved so much is gone, it’s spirit buried beneath asphalt and hotels.

Every time I visit a well known destination it makes my heart ache a little; I miss the way it used to be. I don’t think I have baggage from a different life like Terzani, but a yearning to have lived in a different time period. To have been one of the first set of foreign eyes to see a forest. Knowing that my going somewhere will have a slight, I guess it’s more like extremely small, impact on an area is a huge draw back to travel, but I also feel that if I don’t go to these places then my life would feel like it was lacking something.

After I graduated from CU I couldn’t convince myself to get a real job, a solid post-graduate job, because I knew I needed to travel. I knew I would feel a kind of homesickness for places I had never been except perhaps in someother lifetime. So here I am experiencing those places I yearn for, only to find myself lusting for a different time period.

Scout Camp at Namphong National Park

Last week I went to Scout Camp with the fifth and sixth grade at Nonthun School. All of the teachers involved with the fifth and sixth grade went, along with teachers and administrators who wanted an excuse to ditch school for two days. The camp was at Namphong National Park next to Ubolrat Dam. We had had nice weather all week until the day we went to Scout Camp and the temperature shot up. Children were fainting during the opening ceremony and I was surprised they didn’t have any casualties during their two hour hiking adventure. I hiked with them for the first hour but then got a terrible headache, which I thought was due to dehydration, but turned out to be a sinus headache because I came down with a sore throat and runny nose later that night.


The hike was hot, but fun. They had different obstacles for the kids, like climbing up the side of the hill with a rope and going through a small rock cave where they smack you in the face with baby powder. When you are sweating profusely, having baby powder poured all over you is not desirable…at all. (Baby powder is a topic I will have to cover next. It is an obsession out here. People wear so much it makes their skin look ghostly. I’ve been told they do this purely because they like the smell of it, why has someone not invented baby powder scented perfume out here yet?)

At night we had a four hour camp fire. It went on FOREVER. It just wouldn’t end. At first I thought it was fun, but then it just dragged on and on and on. While the kids were doing skits and singing, the male teachers managed to get plastered. The Assistant Director, who was in charge of leading the camp fire, got so drunk that an hour into the festivities had to be removed and replaced with a teacher who hadn’t been drinking. It was a disgusting sight. The worst part was that they were drinking at breakfast when I woke up in the morning. I could barely understand when whiskey and beer were consumed at tailgating parties at 6 in the morning at university, but at Scout Camp? seriously???? There were kids around! What is wrong with these people?? The worst part was that they were going to drive themselves (not the kids) home! What a wonderful example we set for the children. Here is a video of the lighting of the camp fire. I was a little worried towards the end…sparks were flying pretty far.


The kids surprised me in how self sufficient they were. I think that if all of the adults disappeared from Thailand the kids would be able to carry on just fine. The meals they made outside their tents looked much more delicious than what the teachers ended up with. American kids could learn a lot from these kids about survival. I was very impressed.


I chose to sleep outside in a tent that a teacher at my other school lent me because of my previous experience with sharing rooms with teachers. The snores that comes out of these women sounds like t-rex with a sinus infection. It’s terrifying and does not make for a good nights sleep.

One of the teachers favorite things to do, that I rarely take advantage of, is the ability to have the kids do whatever it is you desire for you. The teachers use the kids for everything. I want oranges; go get a kilo. I need water. Wash these dishes. Pick the lice out of my hair. Pluck my gray hairs. So when I looked at my tent, I chose to hand it to the closest student. I promise you I don’t use the children like my personal servants, but in this instance I figured that the student and his friends would do it much faster than me and I’m sure I saved myself from being laughed at.

My tent and my students.
[youtube=] [youtube=]
Only the sword is real.




Thai Cell Phone Etiquette

Two and a half years ago, while I was traveling on Semester at Sea, I was surprised when cell phones would appear in locations like the forest of Vietnam or a small village in India. It was a little bit of a surprise to me that the cell phone revolution had really spread everywhere and was changing communication worldwide, not just in developed countries. I didn’t dwell on the thought too much though. A cell phone would ring, I would think “that’s odd, who here has a phone?” and then move onto my next thought.

Now that I’m living in Thailand though, I’ve been thinking a lot more about this thought. Every single person I have met in this country has had a cell phone. All of my students who come from poor and middle class families have cell phones, all of which are far more advanced than the hand me down cell phone I use. Cell phones are everywhere and there is a different kind of cell phone etiquette, or perhaps a lack of one, that accompanies the devices.

No matter who you are having a conversation with and no matter how important the topic at hand may be, a Thai person will still answer their phone should it ring. Occasionally they will apologize first before picking it up and sometimes they will talk in an almost inaudible voice on the phone to make up for the interruption, but this isn’t always the case. I was offended by this behavior in the beginning. In the states if someone answered their phone while I was mid-sentence I would be put off and think that they were rude. It’s a way of showing me that I’m not significant enough to deserve your full attention. Apparently this behavior is not considered rude here though; it actually hasn’t occurred to most people that this might be impolite.

I was a little shocked to notice this as I was learning about Thai customs and how important respectful actions are in Thai culture. Toddlers learn to wai (bow head with hands in prayer) to elders at a very early age and a student that can be a brat in class will still be extremely respectful by waiing or helping me outside of class, for example. I found myself wondering why a culture that values respectful behavior so much would allow such impolite cell phone behaviors to continue?

During one of our first work meetings, the idea that teachers in our organization will not answer their phones in class was introduced. I was startled to find that this was even an issue. Why would a teacher answer their cell phone mid-sentence during a class in front of their students? What kind of example does that set?

The excuses started to pour out. What if the director calls us? What if our husband calls? What if my family is hurt? Waiting a half hour for the class to finish before calling a person back didn’t seem like an option to them, or at least it was an option that could only result in bad endings.

Family is so important here that the idea of ignoring a call from a spouse or sibling or parent is preposterous. The way I see it though, cell phones are using one pillar of Thai society, family, to chip away at another pillar, respectful behavior. Cell phones cause people who care about their family to become disrespectful towards whoever might be in conversation with them. But then again, nobody seems to find this disrespectful or annoying other than foreigners, so I guess if Thai society is okay with it then I should be too.

Now I only get annoyed when someone answers their cell while talking to me. I will not give up on the idea that teachers should not answer their phones in class though, that will always be unacceptable to me.