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!

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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!

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.

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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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPPyco55KAI]

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.

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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.

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My tent and my students.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BmzItqe6zI] [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRX7fiFw7Ww]
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Only the sword is real.

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11 Days, 57 Hours Traveling… 100% Worth It

As I mentioned in my last post, I took a New Year’s vacation down south to see some friends. Hanging out with Bobby, Will, and Petra was exactly what I needed. It was  great to see a different part of Thailand,  and visiting Phuket and Koh Samui made me appreciate the Northeast much much more.

My vacation started with a six hour bus ride from Khon Kaen to Bangkok. I was expecting an uncomfortable bus ride, but much to my surprise it was the nicest bus I’ve ever taken. I should have figured this though, because every time I have expectations, Thailand shows me the exact opposite of whatever it was I was imagining.

The bus pulled out from the station at exactly noon and arrived at almost exactly 6:00PM, which was quite amazing since nothing ever happens on time here. A cute Thai girl adorned in a silver Thai silk suit served fruit juice, water, a snack, a hot lunch and some milk over the course of the journey. The chairs reclined and gave massages if so desired. I was in heaven! The cherry on top was the Thai variety show and movie that they played on the TV. Thai entertainment is as corny as Telemundo, only much worse, which means it is so much fun to watch.

My friend Dow (her name means stars), her boyfriend, and his father picked me up at the bus station in Bangkok. We went straight to a massive market where we searched the stands for the ingredients for our seafood dinner. We bought large prawns, crabs, fish, an octopus, vegetables, and desert. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the car so I don’t have any pictures of the market, but I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll be visiting it so I’ll take some pictures next time.

Dow prepping the prawns.
Dow prepping the prawns.
Dow's boyfriend grilling the fish, shrimp, and crabs.
Dow's boyfriend grilling the fish, shrimp, and crabs.

They cooked one of the most wonderful meals I’ve had in Thailand so far. There was a hot and spicy prawn soup, shrimp with snow peas, grilled crab and octopus, fish, and rice. I couldn’t have asked for a better meal. The next morning we had the leftovers for breakfast along with an octopus stir fry and some crab stir fried with garlic and morning glory.

The breakfast best breakfast I've had in Thailand so far.
The best breakfast I've had in Thailand so far.

After breakfast we walked around the garden looking at the cockatoo, the peacocks, and the Thai speaking parrot. I was confused when Dow said that we would take a tour of the house, which I’d thought I had already done. It turns out the house is on a fruit farm! I had no idea since we had arrived in the dark the night before. We took motorbikes around the farm where they had jack fruit, banana, coconut, and dragon fruit trees. I sampled a little of everything and was so full by the time they dropped me off to catch my next bus.

Thom cutting open a coconut.
Thom cutting open a coconut.
Dragon fruit trees.
Dragon fruit trees.

After waiting an hour for my bus to Phuket I finally sat down in my seat at around 7PM. I was stuck with a seat in the very back of the bus where none of the seats recline, and appeared to be the seats reserved for the people who were traveling alone since most people were traveling in pairs. It was an uncomfortable bus ride and I awoke at one point to find my blanket and purse soaked. It was raining outside and the roof above me was leaking. As if not being able to recline my chair wasn’t uncomfortable enough, now I was wet as well.

There was about a foot or so of water covering the entire highway so the bus drove slower than it usually does and as a result we arrived in Surat Thani around 7am when we should have arrived around 5. They dropped us off and we waited for an hour or two which is when we were shuttled into a van which took us to another shop where we waited for another two hours. When my bus to Phuket finally arrived I had to walk through quite a bit of water and despite my attempts to stay dry, my pants ended up getting completely soaked. I spent the next five hours sitting on the bus in wet pants.

I arrived in Phuket around 4PM after having spent 21 hours traveling. I was so excited to see Bobby and Will though, that I didn’t really care about the bus experience, in fact, it sounds much worse than it felt. That night we went to Ko Panyi, a Muslim fishing village, and spent the next day hiking in Phang Nga. My last day in Phuket we went to Karon beach, which was my only beach day of the entire trip. I had so much fun with Bobby and Will who make me laugh so much. I kept thinking how wonderful it would be if Rachel, Logan, Arin, and Des could have been there though! Next time maybe?

The view from our room on Ko Panyi. The entire village is built on stilts around one big rock in the ocean.
The view from our room on Ko Panyi. The entire village is built on stilts around one big rock in the ocean.
Sa Nang Manora Forest in Phang Nga
Sa Nang Manora Forest in Phang Nga
NO DURIAN IN THE ELEVATOR!!
NO DURIAN IN THE ELEVATOR!!

On the 30th I took an eight hour bus/ferry trip to Koh Samui to see Petra. Petra is working as a butler at an absolutely stunning resort called Six Senses (http://www.sixsenses.com/Six-Senses-Hideaway-Samui/). I highly recommend it if you are looking for a lush beautiful resort to stay at. Although I’m not sure I would recommend Koh Samui itself as a destination. It is swarming with tourists and despite some very beautiful views, the amount of development on the island took away all of the magic for me. If you are looking for Thai culture you will only find a watered down version here.

I didn’t really come for the island though, I went to see Petra. I arrived in Thailand one week before her and we call each other constantly to share both good and bad experiences. We have very different jobs and live in very different parts of Thailand, but we both have shared similar emotions and challenges throughout our experiences here.

I spent New Years Eve at some bars on the beach in Chewang. Fireworks and good luck lanterns were released into the sky everywhere. The island was teeming with drunk tourists and unfortunately some Thai people use this as an opportunity to bring out pet monkeys and even eagles for drunk tourists to take pictures with. I felt so bad for the poor animals who are brought to the loudest part of the island, where even I can barely handle to be, and are forced to take pictures with stupid tourists. It broke my heart.

My trip to Samui was cursed with rain, so I didn’t manage to get to the beach. We still found plenty of fun activities to do though. We went to the movies, for a hike, and we popped into a Zen art gallery where we met the a fantastic artist. She was a true artist at heart and wanted nothing to do with money. Her sister took care of the business end of things and she insisted that Petra and I each take a painting that spoke to us even though neither of us had enough money. I chose one with a teal mandala and some black bamboo painted on it.

The waterfall at the end of our hike.
The waterfall at the end of our hike.
Petra at work!
Petra at work!
One of those fat jiggling weight loss machines from the '50s. There were two at this little gym in the middle of no where off a random little dirt road.
One of those fat jiggling weight loss machines from the '50s. There were two at this little gym in the middle of no where off a random little dirt road.

On the third I started to make my way back to Khon Kaen. Which started out easy enough but took a turn for the worst when I was left stranded somewhere in Surat Thani due to reasons that are still unknown. I may have been sold a ticket for a bus that didn’t exist…we will never know for sure though. After an hour of driving around with an off duty cop who wanted to help me, I finally caught up with a group going to Bangkok and did not have to buy another bus ticket. I finally got lucky, and was seated in a seat that reclined really far, making my ride to Bangkok extremely comfortable. It took me thirty hours to get from Koh Samui to Khon Kaen and was so unbelievably happy to be back in a city where things are cheap and people are extremely nice. I am so glad I was able to see my friends, but I am also really glad to be away from all of the tourists. This trip was exactly what I needed to appreciate the Northeast.

Sawatdee Pii Mai!!! (Happy New Year!)

Loy Krathong and Prasat Pueai Noi

Loy Krathong:

Loy Krathong is a holiday celebrated on November 12th here in Thailand. You are probably asking yourselves why I am posting about this so late, and I have no good excuses. I don’t know why it has taken me three weeks to write about it. The holiday was explained to me as being an opportunity to ask Mother Nature for forgiveness for all of the bad things we do to her, primarily for all of the bad things we put into the water systems. Everyone makes krathongs (little rafts) out of slices of banana tree trunks, banana leaves, and flowers. Candles and incense are placed in the center along with some money and possibly some fingernail clippings if you so desire. As you release your krathong into the river (or lake if you don’t have a river) you are supposed to say a prayer for forgiveness and I think you get to make a wish, at least that’s what I was told.

The irony of the holiday seemed to be completely lost on almost every single participant. Loy Krathong is a big festival here and is much like a county fair. There are games, tons of food, and many many shops. The amount of trash that piled up by the end of the night was horrifying. Nobody seemed to notice that on the same night we ask for forgiveness for all of the bad things we do to the environment we were also destroying it. Not to mention the obvious fact that while we ask for forgiveness for polluting the water we are putting yet another piece of litter into the water.

My float was made out of a banana tree that one of the girls who taught me to make my krathong cut down from her neighbors yard. So not only were we littering in the lake, we were also killing and stealing trees. At least our krathongs were made out of biodegradable material though. Some people make their krathongs out of styrofoam, which makes me wince to think about. Of all things to ask for forgiveness with, they choose styrofoam?!? An environmentalists worst nightmare!

Other than that, Loy Krathong was very fun. I tried a corn and coconut waffle which was surprisingly good and had a great time making my krathong. Here are some pictures of the krathong building party we had. I kept asking myself what would Martha do if she were given some pins, banana leaves, and flowers…here are the results.

My krathong building teachers.
My krathong building teachers.
The Krathong I made. I used banana leaves, orchids, lotus flowers, roses, and some other white flower.
The Krathong I made. I used banana leaves, orchids, lotus flowers, roses, and some other white flower.
All of the krathongs we made. Mine is in the back to the right.
All of the krathongs we made. Mine is in the back to the right.

Prasat Pueai Noi:

A week ago I went on a field trip with two of my sixth grade classes to Prasat Pueai Noi, which is about an hour outside of the city. I was told that we were going to “a temple…kind of,” so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It turned out to be the ruins of an old castle which was the largest Khmer sanctuary in the Northeast of Thailand, at least according to the sign at the Prasat, it seemed a little small to be deemed the largest though. It was used as a Hindu temple, which is only obviously evident by the remaining carvings of Vishnu on some of the beams.

I’m not sure the description I would give of our field trip bus would really do it justice, so here is a little video of it. I was kind of excited at first because I thought I would get to ride in the back (in the cage) with the kids, but I am really glad I didn’t because on the way back to school two kids hurled everywhere. I was very thankful for being smushed in the front with the other two teachers and the driver after that.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqSRFd8Y-zo]
Prasat Pueai Noi
Prasat Pueai Noi
Some of my students.
Some of my students.

Prasat Pueai Noi 2

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The boys love to pose for pictures.

That’s it for today!

P.S. Regarding the political situation here, don’t worry! I am so far away from Bangkok it hasn’t changed my daily life at all. Thanks for all of your thoughts though, and Jet I will totally take you up on your offer if I start to feel like things are getting bad. Thank you so much!