Weekend Outing #9 ~ Chiang Rai

This weekend 4 of us U of M students headed back up to northern Thailand to Chiang Rai. Don’t get this mistaken for the previous northern city I went to, Chiang Mai, for it is quite a bit smaller, much less busy, and actually the most northern large city in Thailand. I was excited to visit the north again, but I was very unsure of what Chiang Rai would have to offer that I had not already experienced, or if it was just going to be a relaxing weekend of sitting outside with bug spray on and reading my book (which I recently bought online and put on my Kobo… e-books are an amazing thing in a country where English books are sometimes hard to come by). However, it was under 2000 baht for the round trip flight (which is under $60), and I loved Chiang Mai, so there was no reason not to go!

We embarked on our journey on Friday evening and flew into Chiang Rai. However, unlike any trip we had previously gone on, we did not have any accommodation booked. Since it is the low season for tourist (because it is rainy season… but more about that later), it is never hard to find a place that has a room or two open. Upon arriving we actually first headed out to the night market since we had heard that it was one of the least expensive markets in all of Thailand. After a while though, we realized that we should really go look for a place to sleep, for some places close the check-in counter before midnight, and it was coming up on 10 PM. So, we started our trek around the city to find something that was reasonably priced. First stop, a hostel. They had room, but it was a shared bathroom, the rooms looked a little sketchy, and it was still 150 baht/night/person (about $5). So, we continued on our journey for a place to rest our head. Next stop was Siam Hotel. I had read something about it on trip advisor or lonely planet, so we decided to check it out. We were brought to a room so we could see before we say yes or no, and the door to the room was right next to a parking garage, the light in the room had a orange-ish/red-ish/yellow-ish tinge to it, and there was a massive cockroach scurrying out from under the bed towards the other huge cockroach that was under a chair. Nope… NOT HAPPENING! So, we continued on our way and headed back to the night market to see if anyone there had any recommendations. A tuk-tuk driver showed us a picture of a place that was about a 5-10 minute drive from the market, it looked pretty nice, and it was only supposed to be 400 baht a night for room with 2 beds (so 200 baht/person (about $6.50)). So we hopped in the tuk-tuk and headed to this mystery hotel. Let me tell you, it was worth the drive! The rooms were little bungalows that were just adorable and so clean and they had A/C!

Nice clean room to sleep in! Hurray!

Nice clean room to sleep in! Hurray! (With my finger in the bottom corner…)

The next morning I had 3 things to do on my list of things to see in Chiang Rai. I really only went to Chiang Rai for these 3 things… The White Temple, The Black House, and The Hill Tribe Museum. So, first up for the day was The White Temple. Something I found really interesting about this temple was that they began construction on it on 1998, so it is a very new temple.

The White Temple ~ Blindly White!

The White Temple ~ Blindly White!

Just as most temples though, it had murals inside that were hand painted. It was forbidden to take pictures in the temple, so I will just have to describe it a little. Since all of the old temples have images and ideas of the time that they were built painted on the interior walls, I guess the designer of The White Temple decided to do the same. Though the mural was not finished, the parts that were had Spiderman, Superman, Ironman, Hello Kitty, the twin towers, spaceships, computers, Michael Jackson, and may other modern things incorporated into it. It was absolutely amazing! The strange part of this temple was that at first it looked absolutely stunning, but as you looked closer at things, it was actually quite dark and strange.

Traffic Cone...

Traffic Cone…

Wouldn't you like this lawn ornament?

Wouldn’t you like this lawn ornament?

I'm not sure what to say about these... creepy!

I’m not sure what to say about these… creepy!

It was a beautifully eerie place! Something that is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. Pictured just don’t do justice to how completely amazing and beautiful and strange this place really was. And let me tell you, the day just continued on this way. Next up was the Hill Tribe Museum. Upon entering the building that held the museum, we passed by the very first Cabbages & Condoms restaurant I have experienced in Thailand.

I wasn't lying... that is the restaurants name!

I wasn’t lying… that is the restaurants name!

This chain of restaurants is actually pretty neat. They use a part of their profit to help out decrease the spread of AIDS in Thailand by using community awareness, and helping the people that have AIDS and HIV due to the large sex industry here in Thailand. I personally think it is a pretty cool project! Though the restaurant was closed, we were able to see the well known art that is outside every Cabbages & Condoms restaurant…

Santa Claus made out of condoms.

Santa Claus made out of condoms.

Anyway… we headed upstairs to the Hill Tribe Museum, which ended up being very informative! I have this phobia of being overly touristy, especially when there are people on the other side of the tourism that are getting ripped off or exploited. I was very weary about going on any of the well known treks in Chiang Rai that bring you through the Hill Tribes, for I find it very tacky to walk through someone’s village or house and look upon them like they are animals in a zoo. This museum brought to light some of the effects that tourism had on the locals, and what was considered to be respectful and okay in terms of what the locals and tribes believed and expected of tourists. We were unable to take pictures in the museum, but I purchased a traditional Thai Hilltribe shirt that maybe you will see someday!

Up next… The Black House. Though at first we thought it may be a temple, we were quickly corrected by one of the travel agents to which we asked for directions that told us it was in fact The Black House, and the word Temple should never be associated with it. This we quickly understood once we arrived there after a 25 minute tuk-tuk ride out of the city. This place was creep-tastic! It was dark, kinda scary, but totally amazing! There were animal skeletons everywhere, some very strange sculptures, and many dark buildings. I researched it a little and it is actually an art museum that some man decided to make. I don’t know if I can really describe it. The pictures don’t quite do it justice… but here are some anyway…

The Black House

The Black House

Elephant Skeleton

Elephant Skeleton

Look, it's a.... creepy thing!

Look, it’s a…. creepy sculpture thing!

Me in front of some creepy buildings

Me in front of some creepy buildings.

Yet another creepy thing!

Yet another creepy thing!

I have loads more pictures of the creepy things, but I think you get the idea! It was a very, very, very strange place to visit. We all left think that there were cannibals hiding somewhere within the grounds of the place and that we shouldn’t have made it out alive.

After a drive back into the city, we headed out for our next adventure… the Akha Hill House! The Akha people are a hill tribe about 45 minutes out of Chiang Rai in the mountains. The hill house is a place where tourists can stay to go on treks through the jungle, or where volunteers can stay to teach the hill tribe children at the local school. This is where we would spend our last night in Chiang Rai… in the jungle! However, we first had to get there. It was quite the adventure. We got picked up by the people that run the hill house with their pick-up truck, but we did not sit in the truck, but rather we stood (yes… stood) on the back of the truck and drove through the mountainous jungle It was quite the experience, and the view was breathtaking!

It is harder to take a picture standing on the back of a moving truck driving through the mountains than one may think...

It is harder to take a picture standing on the back of a moving truck driving through the mountains than one may think…

Jungle road... with a green tea plantation on the right. Super neat!

Jungle road… with a green tea plantation on the right. Super neat!

Upon arriving at the hill house, we grabbed our bags and headed to our shacks to settle in. Though this place was in the thick of the jungle, it was still clean and comfortable.

The little hut that we slept in!

The little hut that we slept in!

We headed back to the lobby for some dinner and booked a trek/tour through the mountain for the following day. While we were eating we met some other travellers and sat around and chatted with them for a couple hours. There was a man named Patrick who was from France who was three months into his journey of travelling around the world. It was interesting to hear his stories of India and Cambodia, and some of the other places he had been to on his travels. We also met a man and woman from Denmark (Anika and Bernardo), which proved to be an adventure just trying to figure out what they were saying through their thick accents! It was really nice talking to someone that was not affiliated with Bangkok or Lertlah School for a change! At about 10:30 PM we decided that we should probably head to bed, for the next day was going to be busy! Since we were in the middle of the jungle and our huts were not really closed in completely, we got to sleep under mosquito nets!

Cozy sleeping quarters!

Cozy sleeping quarters!

Though the room did not have air conditioning it did have a fan, and I actually woke up in the middle of the night quite cold (this is not a common occurrence for me in Thailand). I had to pull the blanket over me, for the top sheet just was not cutting it!

The next morning we woke up and got ready for our trek! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a nice day outside and the mountains were beautiful… so how could I say no?!

Myself and the other girls on the trek (the girl sitting in the middle with me is Mika. She is from the Netherlands... we met her on the truck ride up the mountain. )

Myself and the other girls on the trek (the girl sitting in the middle with me is Mika. She is from the Netherlands… we met her on the truck ride up the mountain.) Note: My shoes are very white in this picture… they are no longer that clean…

We started on the uphill climb up the mountain at about 10 AM. It was nice outside, and being in the mountains brought the temperature down a couple of degrees, which was very refreshing! Once we were sufficiently exhausted from trekking up the mountain, we took at break. At this time we were given the opportunity to take the machetes were had strapped around our waists to use. We were to make a cup out of a piece of bamboo. All I can say is, I have skills when it comes to some things, but using a machete is not my forte. Thankfully, no one got hurt, but there were tears from laughing so hard at my inability to hit the bamboo with the machete at the correct angle with any aimed consistency.

Look at that skill! This is the only picture where the blade is even in the bamboo...

Look at that skill! This is the only picture where the blade is even in the bamboo… 🙂

After much help, I did end up with something that kinda resembled a cup, but was nothing near the standards set by our two guides.

With a little bit of help... I made a cup! Kinda..

With a little bit of help… I made a cup! Kinda..

Next… we continued our trek for a little longer, going over some interesting terrain that was anything but safe! Though, the view was breathtaking! Our guide would often stop and tell us about the different kinds of bamboo plants, or pick some fruits that we could eat off some trees.

A very 'safe' foot bridge...

A very ‘safe’ foot bridge…

The next stop on the trek… fishing. This was certainly not my favourite part, since I am quite terrified of fish, but it was neat to watch! The guides use the traditional hill tribe method of fishing: by hand! They closed of an area of the stream so it would have still water, and then hopped in and went searching for the fish! It was quite hilarious actually, for the fish that were caught were no longer than a 2 inches long, and they also managed to get some small crabs and a water snake as well.

Fishing! I dubbed myself photographer for this part!

Fishing! I dubbed myself photographer for this part!

After the fishing adventure, we headed a tiny bit further to a shelter that had been created for when the treks take place during the rainy season. Us girls took it easy and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the jungle which the two male guides prepared lunch for us!

The 'pots' were actually bamboo shoots that were rested over the fire to heat.

The ‘pots’ were actually bamboo shoots that were rested over the fire to heat.

The meal they created for us was absolutely fantastic! I’m sure that everything about that meal though was completely against everything any doctor’s advice I received before I came to Thailand, but it was sooo yummy! We ate out of the bamboo cups we had created earlier in the day, and I ate my entire meal with chopsticks!

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served! … on banana leaves!

There is fish with vegetables, bamboo soup, and ‘omelette’, which is what Thai’s call any kind of scrambled eggs that are not completely scrambled. The main course is not shown in this picture, bit it was noodle soup… kinda like Mr. Noodle, just much spicier and much more delicious! Just as we were finishing up our lunch, the real extent of what ‘rainy season’ means became quite evident to us. It was pouring!!! After about 30-45 minutes of attempting to ‘wait out the rain’, we decided we better get a move on if we wanted to get back to the village in time. However, Thai people have a belief that the head is the most sacred part of the body, so when it is raining you should do everything you can to at least protect your head. So, the nice guides we had made us all cute hats out of banana leaves!

My hat!

My hat!

So, out in the rain we headed. I don’t have any pictures, for my camera is not waterproof, but let me tell you, the ground was so slippery that we could barely walk up the hill, and going downhill was like skiing in shoes. It was actually so much fun since I completely embraced the fact that I was wet and I was going to get dirty! However, there were a few times that I felt like I was certainly not safe, for one slip could have sent me rolling down the side of the mountain. Also, the rain made it impossible for me to see out of my glasses, so I had to take them off, which is kind of counter productive. The next stop on the trek was a beautiful waterfall. I have a video of it which attempt to show the true beauty of it, but you will just have to settle with a picture for now.

It is amazing how many beautiful things you can see in one day....

It is amazing how many beautiful things you can see in one day….

The trek back to the village from the waterfall was not too difficult, and the rain had let up a bit so it was a little easier to see and try to keep you footing. Upon arriving back I hopped into the shower: clothes and runners still on. It was absolutely disgusting! My lulu capris will never be the same again (I have sent them through the wash twice since Sunday and there is still ‘jungle’ attached to them). Again, I pity the person that had to sit next to me on the plane home… for I really don’t think I was all that clean.

Before we headed back into the city to catch our flight, our tour guide took as to one of the other attractions that is not far from the hill tribe… the hot springs. I really think Thailand should share these hot springs with Manitoba! It is so hot here I don’t see how anyone would ever want to use the springs to actually warm up.

Hot Spring

Hot Spring

When they say 'hot springs' they mean "HOT"!

When they say ‘hot springs’ they mean “HOT”!

So hot that they boil eggs in it!

So hot that they boil eggs in it!

Overall, it was a very unexpected, but very enjoyable weekend! I just love northern Thailand, and if I ever come back, that is likely where I would spend much of my time. The way of life is much more relaxed than anywhere else in Thailand, and the air is just so much easier to breathe! I’m looking forward to another weekend away this coming weekend in Pattaya, which is a beach city that I visited on my first weekend in Thailand. I only have 3 more weekends to travel Thailand… which is crazy to think! I am excited to come home, but I will miss having my weekends to explore, relax, or really have whatever kind of adventure I want to have! I have really realized what it means to live life to it’s fullest out here, making ever minute count!

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A Day in the Life of Leanne

I realized that I have not been writing about my weeks here in Thailand much, and there is kind of a reason for that. For one, my weekdays are quite uneventful, and the eventful things that do happen usually are the things that happen in class at school. Though there are no rules here in Thailand about posting pictures of students online or talking about them on websites (unlike Manitoba which makes you sign a wavier for bringing home a students germs pretty much), it goes against most everything I believe about internet privacy and much of what is in my teaching philosophy. So, if you want to know about how teaching is going in any great detail, that will have to be a personal conversation between the two of us!

Instead, I have decided to do a brief overview of my average day here in Thailand and what I do to keep busy as I look forward to another weekend of exploring this amazing country.

5:45 AM – My alarm on my phone rings. It is a horrid ring tone, but I have not had the desire to change it yet. Generally I hit snooze and wait 5 minutes until my alarm rings again to roll out of these dreadful beds and begin my day, but lately I have been so exhausted that I can’t even read the words on my phone and I end up hitting ‘OK’, which means no ‘Snooze’ for me.

6:00 AM – I am usually washed up and ready to go, though we don’t leave the apartments till sometime between 6:30-6:45. I intentionally wake up early though so I can: a) Actually be awake when I have to show my face to people and act like a human being, not a bear. b) So I can monitor my social networking and check my e-mails, as well as occasionally Skype with people back at home.

6:30 AM – Head downstairs to the local 7/11 for breakfast. I never thought I would eat breakfast every single weekday for 3 months at a 7/11. I miss my cold milk and my Special K for breakfast. If I was here for any longer than I am, I would have to find an alternative. Pastries, yogurt, and some kind of beverage (lately it has been Gatorade so I can start my day feeling hydrated) is really not cutting it any more, and I feel it has made me gain weight, along with the other things that are in an abundance in my diet here.

6:45 AM – I have now been awake for an hour, and I think I am usually ready to be jammed in a taxi with 3 other girls. I am usually a morning person back at home as long as I have a little bit of time to myself before I jump into a conversation with a bunch of people. But, the people I usually interact with are my family and I know I interact different with them than with my colleagues.

7:10 AM – This time can fluctuate about 10 minutes either direction though, depending on the traffic and how long it takes to hail a cab. But this is about the time that we arrive at the school. We technically done have to be there until 8 AM, but traffic gets even more mental after 7:00 AM, and there is always something to mark or prep, or Facebook to check. I quite enjoy being early, and I am glad the other girls are up for it as well!

8:30 AM – The first class of the day. I only teach this class once a week. My schedule is quite light compared to most other teachers (which is seriously just luck of the draw), but I try to be somewhat productive with my downtime. On Tuesdays I only teach 2 classes and they are at the end of the day, so I don’t stand in front of a class until 1:50 PM. It’s actually quite nice most of the time!

4:30 PM – Race out of school to try and beat the rain! It is rainy season and it rains at least 3/5 weekdays, so we always attempt to get out of the school before the downpour begins. Sometimes we have not been so lucky, so we arrive at the apartment soaked to the bone!

5:10 PM – Arrive back at the apartments. Each day differs to an extent as to what I do with my evenings, so I will try to find something that is quite average. Usually I head up to my apartment (which is on the 4th floor), and change into my yoga capris, a t-shirt, and flip flops and then head back downstairs since my room is boiling hot and A/C costs money here. I head to the Soi to find some dinner. Depending on how I am feeling, I either eat my food on the street, or I get it packed up and I head into my apartment and be anti-social for a little bit. Dinner is either rice or noodles of some kind, often a smoothie, and maybe something sweet later in the evening. The crummy thing about dinner is EVERYTHING is stir-fried or deep-fried. I think I have had enough cooking oil in my food to last me the rest of my life. The great thing is, the food always tastes wonderful. The not so great thing is, my waistline is not thanking me for it. Oh well…

6:00-10:00 PM – This is such a varied time of the day. Sometimes I am still eating dinner, sometimes I walk to the market and get fruit, sometimes I just burrow in my room because I am sick of people and I need some ‘me time’. Sometimes I clean my room, but usually I don’t. I also do laundry at this time about once a week. My evenings are really relaxing for the most part. I usually have a chance to talk to my sisters or my mom, or even a couple friends before I head to bed. Usually at about 9:30 I take a shower and try to call it a night, but that all depends on so many factors. What I have just realized is… it is hard to tell you what I do with my evenings! I do.. stuff that needs to be done! Just as though I was back at home. However, I never work on school work in the evenings. School stays at school, and I hope to never changes that in the final 4 weeks I have of teaching.

10:00-11:00 PM – This is generally bedtime. Again, it can vary depending on the day and how I am feeling. I love bedtime and dread bedtime. I love sleeping, but I hate sleeping on these beds. I really wish I could show in an accurate way just how hard these beds are! I am looking forward to cuddling into my bed back at home, with the ‘Free A/C’, and my carpet floor. Haha… sorry, I caught myself daydreaming of clouds and pillows and fluffy things for a second there…. comfort!

However, it is nearly 9:30 PM here right now, which means……. shower time! Time to get ready to call it a night!

PS. I just want to take a second to thank all the people that have been reading my blog. My mom tells me occasionally when we talk on Skype that people have been talking to or asking her about it. It’s nice to know I have a whole support system back at home, and I am looking forward to seeing all you people that are near and dear to me when I get back to Canada. For now though… 29 more sleeps of adventures! I’ll keep you posted about them.

Oh… one more thing! If you want to get an e-mail every time I update my blog so you don’t have to keep checking and being disappointed that I have not updated, you can click the little ‘follow’ button on the top right of this page!

Weekend Outing #8 ~ Bangkok

Though I called my last weekend more of an ‘Inning’ rather than an ‘Outing’, I would almost want to classify this weekend in Bangkok an outing. The one thing that would force me not to call it an outing is the fact that I was stuck sleeping on my bed in Piyya Apartments. I have said it before, and I will say it again, the bed at my apartment is dreadful… absolutely dreadful! The small sections of my bed on either side of my foam mattress (my mattress is a queen, and I have a twin sized foam that I placed over top) can be used as a desk. Seriously, I have written a postcard on the side of my bed and not popped through the paper with my pen… that’s saying something!

Anyway… my weekend in Bangkok was quite eventful and extremely bazaar! Along with a couple of friends, we packed in some pretty cool things around Bangkok which are on the ‘must do’ list of things to do while in Bangkok. Friday night started off with an interesting taxi ride down to Khao San Road, which is kind of the Thai version of a strip you would walk down in Vegas. It was flashy, had lots of people trying to sell us things, and had lots of people very drunk (there was a man walking down the street in a ladies jumpsuit pushing a fruit cart for one of the local vendors… not sure what that was all about…).  It was quite crazy, and an overload to the system with all the sights, sounds, and smells. And… I only got one picture of the madness… so here it is!

People People and more People!

People People and more People!

We arrived back home at around midnight, since we knew that we had to be up early the next morning for our cooking class! At 8:00 the next morning, 4 of us girls hailed a taxi to bring us to Silom Cooking School for a 4 hour cooking class! I had a Gatorade and a yogurt for breakfast just to make sure I made it to the class without starving. The class started with a walk to the market to get the ingredients that we needed. One of the things I really love about Thailand is there is always and abundance of fresh produce just around the corner! Even if I had a stove in my apartment, there would almost be no need for a fridge, for you can just walk down the street and buy any amount of anything that you need for your dish. So, we walked though the market and picked up our vegetables, meat, and coconut, and then headed back to the school, where we would be preparing this food.

After receiving our aprons, it was time to start making some food! There were 4 of us teachers that went, and in our group there were also 2 men. So, us 4 girls were in charge of getting the vegetables ready, and the men were to cut all the meat (and apparently press the poop out of the shrimps…). The vegetables are always sooo colourful here in Thailand, which makes them always look that much more delicious!

Preparing the Veggies!

Preparing the Veggies!

The array of lovely colours and tastes!

The array of lovely colours and tastes!

The first item on the menu was Tom Yum Soup! The room where we prepared the food had no table (this was done intentionally), so it was all done on the floor. We all sat in a little circle with our instructor at one side and she told us how to the vegetables were to be cut, and also told us the names and purpose of all the vegetables and spices we were going to use.

Making food on the floor!

Making food on the floor!

Once everything was cut and ready to go for the soup, we headed out onto the balcony area where the woks were waiting for us! Under the guidance of our instructor (her name was Cat), we prepared a yummy soup!

Outdoor cooking at its best!

Outdoor cooking at its best!

Cooking away! It only took about 3-5 minutes to actually cook the dish!

Cooking away! It only took about 3-5 minutes to actually cook the dish!

The final product!

The final product! And yes… it tastes as good as it looks!

Next dish… Pad Thai! I was very excited about this dish! I absolutely love pasta back at home, and Pad Thai is the perfect Thai replacement! There is a place just down the street from the apartments that makes a mean Pad Thai, and it has been a staple in my diet for the past couple of weeks! I’m looking forward to trying to recreate this one back at home! It cooked super quick and had a high chance of burning if I stopped to take a picture… so here is the final product!

Pad Thai!

Pad Thai!

A funny story goes along with this picture. So, on the right you can see a little bamboo cover thing which holds chopsticks. However, there is also obviously a bowl with a fork and spoon. The great part is my place setting was the only place with a fork and spoon, and I am hopeless with chopsticks when it comes to noodles (I’m getting better with using them with soups with large chunks of vegetables). The other 3 girls are pro at using chopsticks, so it worked out perfectly! It’s as though they new that the extremely tall white girl would have no hope with chopsticks.

Next up was Minced Chicken Salad. This dish we didn’t really make, we kind of just watched Cat make it in front of us. It was not one of my favourite dishes. It seems like they like to overload the herbs in some of the dishes in Thailand, and this was one of them.  If it would have been more chicken-y and had a little less mint and coriander leaves, it would have been a lot more enjoyable. Oh well, I still tasted it, and munched on the sticky rice that was with it!

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Next up was the final ‘main course’ dish, Green Curry. I’m not sure how I feel about curry yet. I have had it a couple of times at the cafeteria at school, but I have never ordered it on the street. I’m more of a schmauntfatt kinda girl! However, it was very interesting to experience the ‘behind the scene’ of making curry! We started off with a bunch of peppers and herbs and started smashing it with a mortar and pestle. I’m not quite sure how much we actually accomplished with smashing away, for the instructor was able to do a much better job than any of us 6 that were in the class. But, it was fun!

Making some curry!

Making some curry paste!

Before cooking...

Before cooking…

Green Curry and Wild Rice

Green Curry and Wild Rice

Oh right… there is something I failed to mention! Before we started making any of these dishes, we made coconut milk! There is coconut water in the coconut, and then if you grind up the meat of the coconut and add some room temperature water and knead them together, and then wring the water out of the coconut, you get coconut cream. If you do the same thing once more to the coconut, you will get coconut milk! We added some of this coconut milk to our soup at the beginning and a little to our curry, but it was mostly for our dessert… rubies in coconut milk! The rubies were made out white turnip that had been put into Fanta, which caused it to take on the the colour of the Fanta and a nice sweet flavour. They were then tossed in tapioca starch to make a gelatin around it, and then boiled and tossed in the coconut milk. That’s what is in the little bowls above the curry in the picture! It was so yummy! The coconuts in Thailand are just delightful! The shakes, the bananas in coconut milk, and now this little treat! I will definitely try to make something from coconut when I get back home!

Sadly, that was the end of our cooking adventures. Cat was such an amazing instructor and I had a lot of fun that morning, not to mention the skills I gained that I am looking forward to trying out at home!

Us 4 teachers and our instructor (Left to Right: Elise, Jackie, Cat, Myself, Aisha)

Us 4 teachers and our instructor (Left to Right: Elise, Jackie, Cat, Myself, Aisha)

Since we were downtown, we decided to check out a mall after the class and chose Platinum Mall, since we knew it was pretty close. This was one of the craziest ‘malls’ I have ever been to. It was like an indoor clothing market. All the shops were small and everything was so crowded! My dad would have hated square inch of that mall! I could barely tolerate the people bumping into me at all times, and the way that all the shops did not let you try on the clothes (I still don’t really understand why)! Anyway, we stayed there for about 2 hours, which was way more than enough time, and then headed back to the apartments to get ready for the evening, and figure out what we wanted to do for the evening!

After a little research and deliberation, we decided to go see a ladyboy show. Ladyboys are part of Thai culture, and it seemed as though you can’t go to Thailand without seeing a ladyboy show! So, I researched what show was the best for the best price, and we decided to go to Calypso Cabaret, which is the show that Lady Gaga saw when she was in Bangkok only a couple weeks ago. After a cab ride that brought us to a random club that was looked completely abandoned, and a little adventure on the skytrain, we arrived at Asia Hotel, which is where the theatre was. We took a little time to eat some dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant which was much to fancy, but completely reasonably priced, we made our way into the show. I have to admit, this was an experience that was just… bazaar! Completely and absolutely bazaar! For those of you that don’t know, ladyboys are transgender people or gay men. So, this show was essentially a bunch of men dressed as women dancing on stage. It was… different. I’m not really sure what to think of it. Disturbing and amusing, for they did a really good job, but it was kind of unnerving knowing that it was actually men that were dancing around. However, here is a picture of one part of the show. Can you tell they are men?! I should would not have known!

Ladyboys -- Known as Kathoey here in Thailand

Ladyboys — Known as Kathoey here in Thailand

We then took a cab and headed a couple blocks up the road to a blues & jazz pub which had live music. It was fantastic! I still have the music stuck in my head! There was a really talented group playing that evening called Rhythm Nation, and they were just so chill and they were having so much fun, and they sounded SO good! It was probably the highlight of my weekend. I love listening to live music, and this one was almost all in English, and the large majority of the songs were jazz covers of popular American music. It was just fantastic! If I have a chance to head down there again before I leave, I will totally do it!

Rhythm Nation @ Saxophone

Rhythm Nation @ Saxophone

Hmmm.. love it!

Hmmm.. love it!

Since it ended up being a rather late night, we all decided that we would sleep in the following morning and then figure out the rest of the day as it came. So, I slept in till about 9:30 AM, which is not too bad, but it ended up only being about 6 hours of sleep. However, since these beds are rock solid, I was wide awake! So, I made the best of the morning and went online and headed onto Skype! I ended up getting to talk to one of my besties back home for almost an hour! Though I still felt tired, I knew I had to get up and do something… so, I hauled all my dirty clothes downstairs and did laundry! I also washed my bedding… for the first time since I arrived here. Gross, I know! But I have been away every weekend, so I can’t do it then, and I don’t have enough time in the morning or the evening to wash my sheets and give them enough time to air dry, so I have just been shaking them out occasionally! Needless to say, I had a great sleep last night in nice clean sheets! While my friend and I were waiting for our laundry, we walked over to Big C (the local ‘Wal-mart’) to get some random things that we were in need of. We came back to the apartments and decided that we wanted to see a movie. So, we cleaned ourselves up, put on some pants (since the movie theatres here are FREEZING) and headed to the mall! After the movie we went to a restaurant called Hot Pot. This proved to me once again how inexperienced I am with Asian culture. At this restaurant you get a pot in the middle of your table that sits on an element to cook. You choose the type of broth you want and then head to the buffet, which is a bunch of uncooked vegetables and meats that you choose from to put into your soup. Apparently it is a Japanese or Chinese type thing, but I have never experienced anything quite like it. I guess it would almost be the Asian version of fondue? I’m not sure, but it was pretty good! I would go back again to try and master the art of soup-making Asian style!

Pot O' Soup heating up so we can start making a masterpiece!

Pot O’ Soup heating up so we can start making a masterpiece!

The 'fixings' for the soup!

The ‘fixings’ for the soup!

Our soup didn’t taste too shabby… but I think we are going to have to go back, for I feel that this was kind of a practice run! Aside from dinner, I also managed to buy a 16 GB memory card for my camera, since my little 2 GB is nearly full and I want to make sure I have multiple backups of all my picture I have taken out here! And.. it only cost 300 baht (10 dollars), so how can you go wrong! We were going to head out of the mall and grab a cab, when the crazy idea of walking home came to mind. Remember, we had seen a movie earlier in the day, so we were both wearing pants, and it was still above 30 degrees outside. But, we took on the challenge, knowing that if we wanted we could get a cab at any point of our walk. So, we ventured out on the 9km journey home! Though there were times that I was really hot and my feet were aching (I was in my most uncomfortable pair of flip-flops!), we made it! We walked all the way home from the mall!

I have to say, I have come a long way from where I was 8 weeks ago! I have ventured out of my comfort zone numerous times. I have eaten food that I would never eat back at home, I have experiences sights and sounds of a culture that is so different than anything you see in Canada, and I have kind of adapted to the crazy heat of this country (slightly…). I have to say, I am proud of myself for doing this! I never though I would end up spending the majority of a summer halfway across the world. I’m not sure if I will ever do something like this again, (it all depends what opportunities life presents) but I have to say it has been such a learning and growing experience, and I surprise myself everyday with the things I am able to do that I never thought I could or would! I do not regret the decision to come to Thailand one bit, but I am still looking forward to heading back to the moderate temperatures of Manitoba and seeing my family and friends. I feel that getting away from the mundane summers I have had back in Manitoba the past couple of years has helped me realize everything that I do have, and everything I want to do and see. It has opened my eyes to a world outside of what I know and am comfortable with.

Three more weekend getaways and one final week of travelling before I have to leave the wonders that Thailand presents! It’s is actually quite bitter-sweet. I know back home I won’t have the opportunity to explore a different part of a foreign country and see tigers and elephants, and climb waterfalls, and zip-line through the jungle. I think I am starting to realize how cool this experience has really been!

And I can’t forget to mention my students. I really do love them… most days! But, the things I have learned about myself as a teacher and as a learner are lessons I will take with me and use for the rest of my life. I feel that this opportunity has stretched me in ways that can only be beneficial in the future as I finish up my degree this upcoming school year and start my career shortly after.

PS. I have not edited any of my posts. I do not feel like it is worth my time 😛 So… sorry for you people out there that are like me and can’t stand silly spelling/grammar/typo errors, we will all just have to deal with them together!

My Excursions Mapped Out

I realized that that lots of the places I talk about on my weekends are regular place names that are thrown around the office at school, but only the most popular places (Phuket & Chiang Mai) are places that people back in Manitoba have heard of. So, I decided I would put up a map of the places I have been in Thailand. It also makes me feel kind of accomplished for reaching so many places in a short amount of time with a bit of a tight budget. So, here is the outlines of my weekends so far…

  1. Pattaya & Hua Hin
  2. Kanchanaburi 
  3. Bangkok & Ayutthaya 
  4. Ko Samet
  5. Chiang Mai
  6. Phuket
  7. Hua Hin
  8. Bangkok (Post to come)
  9. Chiang Rai (Will be going there this coming weekend. Post to follow!)
Thailand

Thailand

Weekend Outing #7 ~ Hua Hin

This weekend a friend and I packed up and headed to the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok to catch a bus for Hua Hin. We had been there the first weekend in Thailand, but we figured that since it was nice and close, and now that we were accustomed to many more things out here, we may enjoy it a little more. And, I would say we did!

The weekend away started with a 3 hour bus ride from Bangkok to Hua Hin. Let me tell you, things in Thailand never cease to amaze me. So, we get on this bus, and behind me is this middle aged man with large travelling backpack, a tripod that did not fold up to be anything small, and a portable DVD player. Picture this guy… short and petite, long stringy hair and scruffy stubble, wearing baggy capris and a lose fitted tank top, looking completely like a beach bum/travel-aholic/bum. I really didn’t think much of it at first, for there have been some pretty worn out people in other buses I have been in. However, what made this guy top notch was his singing skills (cue sarcasm). He was listening to music videos or live concerts or something of the sort on his little DVD player, and must have forgot he was on the bus. It started off not too bad, with him just humming along with some songs. However, this promptly grew to the guy belting out the songs, in his broken English, putting on a concert of his own. Needless to say, it was absolutely hilarious! There was still about an hour left of the bus ride, and he sang the entire rest of the way. It was painful to my ears, but I think it was so healthy for my heart (due to all the laughing/chuckling).

If anything, my patience for people around me has grown immensely since I walked off that plane from Canada. The Thai people have this polite way about them; they will do whatever they can to make sure their emotions stay in check and that they do not cause others to ‘lose face’ (get embarrassed, angry, upset, etc.). Therefore, if something is ticking you off, you simply sit back, relax, and send a smile toward the person that is getting on your nerves! So, Mr. SingingMan, you are lucky you are in Thailand, for every single person on that bus just gave you a lovely smile for your not so lovely singing. (:

Anyway, we eventually arrived in Hua Hin and hopped out of the bus in the middle of a busy street, and proceeded to talk to our hotel. I think this hotel takes the cake for what we got for the price we paid. I have been booking hotels on agoda.com lately, since I have been able to find some pretty nice promotions that seem to be happening on the low tourist time here in Thailand. The hotel was supposed to be 1200 baht/night, and we ended up paying about 800 baht/night (~$25 CAN). The most lovely thing about this hotel was… the bed! The beds at our apartments are so crummy! They are box-springs covered in a thin piece of leather. The bed at this hotel was plush and soft and cozy! If I could have that mattress back at our apartments, I may just like Bangkok a little more than I do 😛 We arrived in Hua Hin at about 9 PM, walked around a little and got something to eat, and then headed to bed before 11 PM.

The next morning we ventured out of our hotel to find some breakfast. The restaurant that was attached to our hotel was very nice, which also means very expensive. So, we found a place just down the street that was much more reasonably priced. After a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and french toast, we headed to the beach. I bought myself a beach mat that folds up to be quite small, and we set up camp for the day. After a dip in the water we came out and decided to sunbathe for a bit, however, after a little while it started to get very cloudy and in the distance we could see rain. So, we packed up and headed back to the hotel and each bought a fruit shake. Mine came in a coconut!

Coconut Shake in Coconut!

Coconut Shake in Coconut!

It actually ended up on drizzling a little, so we headed back outside and spent the afternoon on the rooftop pool! It was beautiful! We could see the ocean, the skyline of the city, and some of the mountains in the distance. What a relaxing afternoon!

Our pool on the roof top.

Our pool on the roof top.

The view from the pool!

The view from the pool!

At about 4 PM the rain decided to come at full force, so I headed back into the hotel room and had a little nap. I can’t say enough how much of a difference it makes when there is a bed that is actually comfortable! It was great curling up and not worrying about waking up with a sore back or trying to find a comfortable spot. (PS. There are no comfortable spots when the mattress is rock solid everywhere!) After dinner and a short visit to the market, we packed it in early again. I got nearly 10 hours of sleep that night! It was fantastic!

Sunday ended up being a very uneventful day. My travel partner was still not feeling well, so we hung around Hua Hin until the afternoon, and then headed on a bus back to Bangkok. The bus ride was not nearly as eventful as the ride to Hua Hin, but that is also quite a blessing!

Up this coming weekend.. Bangkok! I know I said I was not going to stay in Bangkok for another weekend in a previous post, but I am staying in Bangkok this weekend. Four of us are taking a Thai cooking class on Saturday morning, so keep an eye out for another post!

Weekend Outing #6 ~ Phuket

We covered the two biggest tourist areas of Thailand on back-to-back weekends. This weekend one of my colleagues was running a half marathon in Phuket, so four of us from U of M decided that it was the perfect opportunity to head down there! There are no more long weekends while I am here, so a normal weekend had to do! We left the school as soon as we could after classes and headed to the airport. By 8:30 PM we had landed in Phuket and were off to our resort. This time, the name resort really lived up to the standards of what you expect when you think ‘resort’. We had an adjoined room that was connected also by a large living room area and a kitchen!

Bedroom

Bedroom — Look how clean and tidy it is!!!

Living room and kitchen area

Living room and kitchen area with two lovely models still in school uniform.. Alice and Shauna.

This place was lovely! The beds were comfortable, there were no ants crawling up the walls, the toilet flushed, and there were extra… like a kitchen! This place was about 100 times nicer than our apartments and any other hotel we have stayed at since we arrived (not including the resort for team-building with the school, which was paid for)!

Anyway… we got there on Friday evening and since I had not had any dinner, we headed out to find a 7/11 or a soi (side-street) to get some grub since the hotel restaurant was closed. I can honestly say, I have never found it so difficult to find food late in the evening! It was actually impossible! Since our hotel was in a resort complex that had various other hotels as well, it was a private gated area. So, after about on hour of hunting for food, we gave up. But this point I was tired and hungry and quite grumpy! Thankfully, there was a kettle and an instant noodle bowl in our rooms, so that was dinner… kinda depressing!

After a good nights sleep, we downstairs for the FREE breakfast. Let me tell you… I’m a good mennonite and I took advantage of the FREE. The breakfast was fantastic! There were omelets, french toast, beans, fruit, mashed potatoes, chicken, bacon, sausage, pastries, juice, coffee, tea, cereal, rice, pad thai (I’m not joking… Thai people eat the same thing for any meal!)… pretty much everything! It was fantastic! I went up for 3 helpings… I miss ‘normal’ breakfasts!

The third helping. Yummmm

The third helping. Yummmm

Following breakfast, we changed into our swimwear and headed to the pool! There had just been a storm earlier in the week, so the ocean was still much too choppy to swim in. The pool was delightful though! Since it is the down season for tourists, there were only 9 other people at the pool with us. I like this whole ideal of travelling on the down season… it makes for much smaller crowds!

Enjoying the hot weather!

Enjoying the hot weather!

After a couple of hours, we were hungry again. Sadly, the lunch was not free at the resort and since we knew from our adventures the night before that there was no food on a soi close by, we headed to the restaurant at the hotel to check it out. IT WAS SO EXPENSIVE! Okay.. well.. ‘so expensive’ means that it would cost the same amount as at a restaurant back in Canada. This was deemed unacceptable to us, so we searched for cheaper alternative! The resort had a mini-mart, so we checked that out. There was not much there other than ice cream, toiletries, booze, and spaghetti noodles and sauce. So, we bought some ice cream and headed back to the room. However…. our hotel room had a kitchen… and we decided to take advantage of it! I ran back down to the mini-mart and bought some spaghetti sauce and noodles for 200 baht (6 dollars) which 3 of us shared! After a near fire, water almost boiling over numerous times, and a small mess of burnt plastic… we had spaghetti! (I’ll have to brush up on my cooking skills before I get back to Canada… I’m getting a little rusty out here!)

Cooking for the first time since I've been in Thailand! Gotta say... I miss it!

Cooking for the first time since I’ve been in Thailand! Gotta say… I miss it!

The spaghetti masterpiece!

The spaghetti masterpiece!

Following dinner, we decided to head out the find a market! Once you have been to one market, you have been to them all, but there is something about travelling Thailand and experiencing the markets. The taxi dropped us off at a mall in Phuket though, which turned out to be right next to the street market. So we wondered the mall a bit. And… guess what we came across?!

Starbucks!

Starbucks!

I have to tell you though… the fruit smoothies at the soi stalls give Starbucks a run for their money! This sucker cost me over 100 baht ($3.50), and the ones on the street cost 25 baht (under a buck)! Though, it was a taste of home that I really did enjoy! After some time at the mall, we headed to an Australian restaurant for dinner, and I had pizza. Delish! We then headed back to the hotel and packed it in early, for my friend was running the half marathon the next morning.

Running a marathon in Thailand is crazy! Actually… running a marathon in general is crazy! However, in Thailand they start the marathon at 4:30 AM in an attempt to beat the heat. It really does make sense, but that is pretty stinkin’ early to be running 41km! Since it started so early, I decided I would get up and cheer my friend on as she entered the finish line at around 7:30 since it was nice and close to our hotel. This was the best decision I ever made! It was so inspiring to see the determination and motivation of all the runners at the end of their run. I think I’m going to train for the half marathon for the Manitoba Marathon next spring. It was just so neat! AND… my friend got 3rd in the half marathon, and our other colleague got 2nd in his age category in the full marathon!

My friend (Alice) finishing the half marathon! (She's the runner in the blue!)

My friend (Alice) finishing the half marathon! (She’s the runner in the blue!)

What’s more inspiring than that?! I know I would have no hope in placing that well (these people are like semi-professional athletes!), but I would feel accomplished just to start and finish the run! So, that’s what’s on the agenda for this winter… train for half marathon!

The rest of the morning was pretty chill! We went and ate a bunch of food at the free breakfast, and then lazed around until early afternoon when we had to check out of the hotel. I had an amazing warm shower in a very clean bathroom and was excited to jump on a plane and actually feel clean!

We then went and found a taxi and asked the driver to bring us somewhere that was close to the airport, but somewhere that was interesting and had things to do. So, he brought us to Sirinath National Park. (PS. My room smells like toast right now and I cannot figure out why! I don’t have any food in here!!!) Anyway… a national park. This was probably the second best part of my weekend (right after watching the marathon finish). It was just absolutely hilarious. So we get dropped of at this park which is right on the beach. Sound pretty great, right? Well… it was, other than the fact that this was the most random beach I have ever been to. Why, you may ask? Well… it was a sandal graveyard. We walk up to the sand and there were broken and beaten-up flip-flops everywhere! I just don’t understand! I know there was a storm a few days ago, but why so many flip-flops! There must be a lot of people out there missing some shoes!

How many shoes do you see?

How many shoes do you see?

Once we walked down a little further, we ended up getting to a much more beautiful part of the beach. There were only a handful of people there, since it was a little overcast and the waves were rather huge. Two of the people in our group quickly changed and were in the ocean within a matter of minutes. On the other hand, I was still all clean from my shower! I didn’t want to get all dirty and sandy and salty in the ocean water, so I just watched and took pictures.

Little naked boy playing in the water with his sister.

Little naked boy playing in the water with his sister.

Lifeguard on Duty

Lifeguard on Duty

Sunset in Phuket

Sunset in Phuket

It took me to this point until I had a serious conversation with myself, which went something like this:

‘Leanne… where are you?!’ — Phuket! Watching the sunset! Standing by the ocean!

‘Leanne… why are you not swimming in the ocean? It is right in front of you!’ — I just took an amazing shower and I’m nice and clean!

‘Leanne… do you remember where you are?!’ — Yes.. Phuket! PHUKET! I’m in THAILAND! I’M BY THE OCEAN! I’M STANDING HERE ON THE BEACH LIKE A PRISSY GIRL! HOW LAME!

‘Leanne… why are you not in the ocean swimming in the sunset!!?? You’re in Phuket!!!!!’  — I really don’t know!

And then I realize… what a stupid reason to not swim! Because I am too clean?!  Because I want to feel clean for the 1 hour flight?! Lame excuse!!! So, I ran to the bathroom, put on my swimsuit, and in the ocean my clean self went! And… it was amazing! The waves were gigantic, the water was salty but quite clean, and it was extremely enjoyable! I know I would have regretted not swimming in the ocean in Phuket, so I am so glad I made the decision I did. And… they even had a shower to clean off in at the park! Check this thing out!!!

Shower in a tree! How cool is that?!

Shower in a tree! How cool is that?!

So, I showered and then changed in the nastiest national park bathrooms you ever did see! I was smelly and dirty and gross… far from the lovely clean I was just hours earlier. We then continued to walk to the airport, which only contributed to my stench! A couple of hours later I was on a plane, far from clean, heading back to Bangkok! I just pity the man next to me on the flight! Oh well… it was FUN and I don’t regret it one bit!!!

Teaching in Thailand

So, I figured it is high time to tell you about my teaching experiences here in Thailand, not just my fun weekend expeditions. I’m not really sure what all to say, but I’ll say what I can! For a little background information, I am teaching M1-M3 (which is equivalent to grade 7-9 in Canada) physical education, health, and computers. The school I am at is a ‘for profit private school’, so they get as many students as they can and try to make as much money as they can. In a nut shell, it is school as a business.

What I have found here in Thailand is the students are quite like the students back in Canada… they like to visit with their friends, they laugh at silly mistakes I make on the board or in an assignment they receive, and there are some little crushes going on between some of the students.

However, there is one key difference…

These students to not speak English as their primary language! It’s quite a challenge to teach students that don’t speak very good English. For one, English is not the primary thing I am teaching, it is the content of the curriculum. For example, in Health class we are talking about the different glands in the body (pituitary gland, thyroid gland, etc.). However, I am not just teaching them about glands, I am also teaching them what world such as ‘experience’, ‘environment’, and ‘secrete’ mean. It is so much more than just figuring out what a gland is and what it’s purpose is. EAL students require a different degree of explanation. I must think about all the vocabulary I place in my notes or in questions that are distributed to make sure I either explain it, or that it is a level that is accessible to the majority of the students.

Another thing I have found out the hard way is when they don’t understand, they don’t listen. With these students, even when they do understand, they often have difficultly listening. They LOVE to chat… in Thai! So, I can’t even monitor the conversations to see if they are just chatting to increase understanding, or if they are chatting just because they want to chat. I have tried various methods of trying to get students attention, but sometimes nothing works! Just like any classroom, there are a couple of students that are the driving force behind the disruption (you know.. the class clown(s)…), but the main difference is when the class is gone off with the clown, it is so difficult to get them back. The language barrier is very evident when this happens.

Just like any other teaching position, there are good days and there are bad days. Sometimes I love my students, and sometimes I am yearning for the 4:30 bell to ring so I can run out of here as fast as I can and go curl up on my uncomfortably hard bed back at the apartments.

Overall, I am really enjoying it. This experience has forced a freedom on me that was not found in my practicum experience back at home. I am suddenly on my own in a classroom, forced to think for myself about why I am teaching what I am teaching, and why I am teaching it the way I am. It has forced me to take full responsibility of a classroom, and not rely on others to help me get through the day. I feel that it has made me grow as an educator and take on more responsibilities than many teachers my age are given the opportunity to take on. Yes, it is very frustrating some days. And yes, I go home some days and wonder why the heck I picked teaching as an occupation. But then those really good days, when a student really get something, or when the class goes so perfectly, it is those moments that make it all worth it.

I don’t know if international teaching is something that is really for me, or if EAL teaching is my calling, but I can say that I know I will come away from this experience with more knowledge under my belt than I thought I would. I have realized that kids are kids, and they will be somewhat similar anywhere in the world. I have realized that teaching EAL is difficult, and I feel that going back home and teaching in my Fall/Winter practicum will be worlds different with a class of high functioning English speakers. I have also realized that I can teach in a subject area that is FAR from my comfort zone (As easy as you may think PE is to teach… it’s not so easy for an English major that just came out of a practicum teaching Shakespeare!).

I really will miss these students when I leave though. The Thai people are so friendly and are always willing to give you a smile. The staff and students have made a tough experience something quite enjoyable at times!