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Bangkok Part II + III

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Part II:

This time around I took the train from Chachoengsao to Bangkok to attempt to bypass the traffic I’d inevitably run into on the highway on a Friday evening. The train was moving very…let’s say…leisurely but it’s very old so it most likely can’t run any faster. All the windows are left open with just a few ceiling fans to cool the passengers. It was fairly crowded but it only costs 13 baht so you can’t find anything cheaper. The view was pretty interesting since in between the cities is mostly rural area and some very poor living conditions.

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I had to then transfer to the BTS to get to the hostel. It was located near Silom road. I tried Thailand tacos at Sunrise Tacos. It was average and pretty pricey since you’re mostly paying for the comfort of the food and not the actual quality of it. However, they did have endless tortilla chips with about 8 different salsas.

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The next day I visited Siam Center, which is a huge mall with stores as upscale as Balenciaga and Dolce & Gabbana but also included more affordable options such as H&M and Uniqlo. It had 6 stories of shops so it was easy to spend the better part of a day inside especially when I found a bookstore with a big selection of English books!

Part III:

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This time around I stayed near Khao San Road, which I had read is very backpacker heavy. It turns out it is even more of a tourist trap than I had expected. It was very much a party area which is alright if that’s what you’re looking for but even so it was overcrowded, overpriced and overrated. It just so happens anyway that I am on a little break from drinking so this was truly the worst place to go during sober times.

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I don’t look very happy here but I am! I bought this cool shirt from a street vendor

I stayed on the street parallel to Khao San thinking it would be a bit more quiet like the reviews online suggested but instead ended up unwillingly staying up until about 4am due to bars blasting music and extremely thin hostel windows.

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As much as I love Thai food, I eat it everyday for every meal here in Chachoengsao so when I go to Bangkok I like to order things I can’t get where I live. I ate a Greek salad, which was delicious by all means but also triple the price I usually pay for a meal. The worst part about this was all the salesmen who would not stop pestering me while I’m trying to enjoy my meal. They continuously offered scorpions on a stick, handmade bracelets, fidget spinners and more while I tried to wave them away with a mouthful full of salad.

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The best part of the trip was actually breakfast because I found a place with American breakfast and it was really refreshing.

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Wai Kru/Teacher’s Day

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A few of us blinked at the wrong time unfortunately.

Excerpt from Asia Pacific International University’s website(http://www.apiu.edu/2016-news/wai-kru-day-in-appreciation-of-all-teachers-mentors) :

“Teacher’s Day around the world is celebrated in honor of teachers. Unique to Thailand, Wai Kru Day, or Teacher’s Day, celebrates and honors not only teachers in the classroom but all who contribute to sharing wisdom including parents, religious leaders, relatives, and friends. Celebrated on the first Thursday at the start of every academic year, Wai Kru Day is marked by the giving of “paan” and flower garlands in honor of educators. Wai Kru is an integral part of Thai culture and fosters a deep appreciation for wisdom and education within the cultural traditions of Thailand.”

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At the school I teach at, each grade had their own Teacher’s Day assembly. Since I teach Kindergarten, I attended the ceremony for pre-K through K2. We had a rehearsal for this occasion a few days before so the students would know what’s expected of them.

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I sat on the stage with both American and Thai teachers while the students sang some songs. Then each class would have 2 students (one boy and one girl) carry flower arrangements up to the stage and present them to the school’s director. They were each collected and displayed on the stage.

All of the speaking at the assembly was in Thai but it was an honor and a fun experience to be apart of even so (especially after only teaching here for a few months so far). The kids seemed to really enjoy it as well. One of my students brought me a handmade flower garland, which I believe her mother made.

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Teaching in Thailand Part II

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We are now on the third week of class. Each week there is a predetermined topic to base lessons around. The first week was “orientation,” the second week was “school,” and the third week is “body parts.” In addition to teaching them English, I also teach English math and English science. When I am not teaching, they are either in Thai class, Thai science class, at the playground, eating lunch or taking a nap. I also teach an art period and a “movement” period (which is basically PE but mostly dancing along to English songs for kids).

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Each week I prepare worksheets, phonics flashcards (for both the letter of the week and for the topic of the week vocabulary), at least one game/activity, several videos to show and an art project. The best part of lesson planning by far is when I get to color a worksheet/picture for an example for the students. I am grateful for the freedom I have within the curriculum to choose what worksheets and other resources I use especially now that I have accessed their English skills. There are actually big differences in knowledge between classes of the same grade here- possibly due to the frequent turnover in teachers at this school.

As the semester moves forward the students are not only improving their English but also becoming more comfortable with me as their teacher and in turn becoming more confident in their speaking. Last week a student was able to communicate to me exactly something that happened between two other students in the class (one pushed the other) and that was a great feeling to share that understanding. There have been a few moments so far where things didn’t go as I planned such as a certain activity not working out as well as I had hoped but the students are so funny and always immediately raising my spirits with their positive energy.

I am learning a lot from the students + (hopefully) they are learning a lot from me + we’re all having fun doing it so far!

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Ko Phangan

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The second place I visited on this trip was the island of Ko Phangan. I flew from up North in Chiang Mai to the South of Thailand. It is located next to the popular island Ko Samui. I had to fly into Surat Thani airport and then take a combination of a bus and a ferry ride to get to the island. Once there it was really easy to get around since it is a somewhat small island.

I stayed at Sea Love Bungalows which are cute little bungalows located directly on a beach. They had a restaurant and bar located right in the center of all the bungalows in addition to a beach volleyball/badminton net and games plus free rafts and paddle boarding, and beach umbrellas and cushions. It was the perfect carefree atmosphere I was hoping for on this getaway.

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There were a lot of cheap food places within walking distance. One place I went for breakfast interestingly added French fries to their dish labeled “American breakfast.” Here are a few photos of some other dishes I tried.

The best part of the stay here was a trip to a different beach on the North side of the island. I took a taxi and then a taxi boat to get there since it is only accessible by water. Consequently, it was much more secluded than many of the other beaches on the island, bearing only one small bungalow resort. It was quiet, relaxing and extremely beautiful.

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Elephant Nature Park

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Elephant Nature Park is mainly a sanctuary for elephants but they also have dogs, cats, buffaloes and many other animals they have rescued. We were told during our visit that they have around 70 elephants and that their oldest elephant at the sanctuary is 100 years old. Additionally, they make sure to educate their visitors about the plight of elephants in Thailand.

You’ve probably heard about elephants being treated poorly in Thailand. I did and that’s why I did my research to find a sanctuary to support rather than a camp where elephants are trained, tortured and generally mistreated.

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Our tour guide, Mike, with his favorite elephant, Kaboo.

Our tour guide, Mike, was very passionate and knowledgeable about elephants. He showed us an elephant that had no hair on her back due to the saddle on which tourists rode her before she was rescued. He also showed us an elephant that had a misshaped head due to being beaten with hooks during training by its previous owners. Another elephant had a deformed foot from stepping on a land mine before its rescue. While these things were absolutely difficult to see, it was comforting and completely reassuring seeing the proper love and care they are now given at ENP.

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Here is a few more details about this from ENP’s website:

“They are forced to walk on hot tarmac roads by gangs of elephant owners and beg for fruit and food. The owner often buys the elephant purely to obtain begging money from sympathetic passers by. As he has scant experience with animal training, the hapless creature is cruelly treated and beaten as the rider becomes impatient. In the city the animal cannot possibly get the 200-300 kg of food and 100-200 litres of water necessary for it’s daily nourishment so it plods the hot polluted streets, thirsty hungry and confused. These animals quickly suffer from stress through polluted air, poor diet, dehydration, loneliness and their sensitive ears are soon damaged. Much of the fruit purchased from local sellers has been treated with chemicals and causes serious stomach problems and eventually death.

Other forms of, less apparent abuse come in the form of pet baby elephants featured at hotels and entertainment complexes. Although the animals may seem happy enough they are invariably fed the wrong diet, suffer from loneliness and boredom and will soon die. Many unwitting tourists, delighted at the sight of a “cute” baby elephant, are completely unaware that the lifespan of the creature is likely to be only a few years.”

I love that at ENP, the caretakers are extremely compassionate and attentive to the needs of the elephants and that the elephants get to relax and roam freely all day.

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On our visit, we got to help feed the elephants one of their many daily meals. We fed them watermelon, cucumbers and other fruit.

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We also helped them cool off in a river at the sanctuary by splashing them with buckets of water.

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This was definitely an experience I will remember for the rest of my life!

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Chiang Mai Festivities

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For my week off after summer camp and before the semester begins, Chiang Mai was my first stop. I stayed at a place called “Poi De Ping Guesthouse” and it was one of the nicest and cleanest places I’ve stayed so far while in Thailand. Since it is located slightly outside the city center, it was extremely affordable adding up to a total of only $40 for 4 nights for 2 people. So it was only $5/night for each person!

Our second day in Chiang Mai happened to be on a Sunday, which is the day of a large night market down Ratchadamnoen Road. We went into the city early and spent the morning at Wat Chedi Luang, which is a Buddhist temple that has a program called “monk chat” where you can sit down with the monks and ask them any questions you can think of about their lifestyle, beliefs, etc. It was beautiful!

Then we walked around the town a little bit and enjoyed a fresh coconut, which are for sale on almost every block. We ate some food (Pad Thai) and explored the town some more and grabbed a drink (Thai iced tea) near the market to watch all the vendors begin setting up their tents and tables.

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Finally, around 6p.m. the market started to get crowded so we walked the length of the street in awe of how much was for sale and how cheap it all was. They had anything from fruit smoothies to musical instruments to t-shirts to fancy soaps for sale. There were some musicians performing for the crowd as well.

On Monday, we visited an elephant sanctuary called Elephant Nature Park but that will be it’s own upcoming post!

On Tuesday, we took a taxi to Mae Sa Waterfall, which is inside a national park in North Chiang Mai. The ride from our guesthouse was only about a half hour but the scenery was completely different. We went from an urban landscape to a straight up jungle basically. It was a very dense forest surrounding the path up the 10 level waterfall. In some places there were no steps so it was more of a hike up some rocks as well in certain areas. It was also extremely buggy because that comes with the humid territory here in Thailand. However, we did manage to climb up all 10 levels and each view was better than the next. It usually costs 100 baht to enter but we went so early in the morning (to avoid crowds) that there wasn’t even anyone around to collect the fee and we were almost the only people on the path the entire time. This was really nice because we were able to take in all the sights and sounds of the park without any distractions from the outside world.

This was a really cool used book store (pictures weren’t allowed inside) and this is one more photo from Wat Chedi Luang.

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Teaching Kindergarten Part I

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Here I am with my Co-teachers Ploy and Pou.

I work at a school that has students from pre-k up to 6th grade. I teach a kindergarten class of 33 students. Here they separate kindergarten into K1 and K2 so there are two years of it. I am teaching in the K1 year so they are fresh out of preschool and around 4 or 5 years old. I don’t have much previous experience with kids except for a program I volunteered at as a sophomore in college at my park district. There I was an assistant for an after school program for kindergarteners.

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nap time!

The first big difference here is the language barrier. There is a Thai teacher and a Thai assistant in the classroom with me. The Thai teacher I currently have speaks incredibly good English and helps me understand what the kids are saying sometimes (it’s usually them telling me about toys they have at home which I think is pretty adorable). She also gives them Thai lessons and has helped me get my footing in the classroom and taught me a lot about the routine the kids are used to. The Thai assistant mostly works on discipline with the kids and she is very good at that and keeping them focused.

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Lunch time!

For the last two weeks, I have been working as a part of their summer camp program. There is one half of a week left and then there will be a week and a half off until the actual semester begins. During that time, I will be going on another mini vacation so get ready for a lot of photos and eventually a blog post about it! (That post probably won’t be timely seeing as the semester begins almost immediately once I return). During this camp, I haven’t had to plan very many activities but have been more of an assistant helping out with planned activities, observing and getting to know my students.

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Story time!

When the semester starts, I will be planning all my own worksheets, activities, etc. but there is a set list of topics for each week. The first two weeks just say orientation so those topics are somewhat up to me but the rest of the semester the weekly topics are more specific like shapes and colors, body parts, the five senses, food, etc. Additionally, there is one letter we are supposed to work on each week beginning with A. I am at school from 8am-4pm and when I am not teaching, like during their lunch and naptime, I have office hours to work on classroom plans for the week.

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Play time!

The kids all have “English” nicknames some of which are funny since they’re random English words instead of names (i.e. Nail, Dream, Brownie, Focus) or a lot of the time not even words in English (i.e. Pood Pard, Cha-aim, Taff). It’s been a nice introduction to the school during this camp. I have learned that we really need to supply our own paper or risk being unprepared for class when the office runs out. I have met around 10 other English teachers at the same school that are from the U.S. and England. It’s also already really easy to see which kids behave during class and which cause a lot of problems in the classroom. I’ve also noticed there are a few kids in my class who need extra help with writing and aren’t used to holding a pencil properly yet, however, most of them can and can write fairly quickly.

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This is a different class I helped out in since they haven’t found a teacher for this class yet.

I’m happy to say I’ve finally learned all of their names and they’ve learned mine as well. I’ve also gotten to practice some explanations so I can improve how I phrase things reminding myself I’m not only speaking to kindergarteners but also in a language they’re not accustomed to. I’ve seen what sorts of activities and videos work with them and what happens when you don’t hold their attention. I’m preparing for a lot of repetition, songs and educational games.

Did I mention how CUTE my class is???????

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Thai Food

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This was my first meal in Thailand. It was a seafood fried rice and it was really good. It wasn’t spicy but the little dish contains a sauce with extremely spicy red chilis. I found out how spicy these little guys are the hard way but now I know to keep an eye out for them as they’re a very popular ingredient here.

This is a post solely devoted to the types of food I’ve tried so far while in Thailand. No, I haven’t tried mango sticky rice yet! I have been told several times it’s a must and I do plan to try it eventually but I am not a big dessert person so that’s why I haven’t rushed to try it in my first couple of weeks here.

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This is the one dessert I have tried because they were gifts from my teachers. I didn’t get a picture of the inside but they were really mushy and soft, white, squares that tasted like sweet coconut. They were pretty good but super messy to eat.

Sugar is added to almost any kind of cold drink here. It’s been difficult to find coconut water, iced tea, iced coffee, or any kind of healthy fruit/greens drink without a lot of sugar added. I went against my better judgment and tried a strawberry smoothie one day and could not believe how sweet it was. This has been a challenge for me since at home I drink hot or iced black coffee, plain iced or hot tea,  + coconut water with less than 14 grams of sugar (that was the lowest amount I could find + it ranges as high as 24 grams for a small bottle).

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This seafood salad with some glass noodles is one of the healthiest dishes I’ve discovered so far and had a lot of Thai cilantro which is such a delicious flavor. I ordered an iced peach tea which tasted really good but is super sweet because of the added sugar so it definitely isn’t something I’ll be drinking regularly.

I eat a lot of salad, greens and other vegetables at home. Here it is very difficult to get very many vegetables at any food establishment. While there are plenty available at grocery stores, it is actually cheaper to eat out for every meal here than to cook. There’s a place near the school where I often have lunch that only costs $1-2 for a tasty, good sized meal (see photos below). Some places I go for dinner can cost around $4 for a good meal or $6 for a meal with a beer but so far I haven’t seen prices much higher than that and they’re often lower.

I am a pescatarian which means I don’t eat any meat but I still eat fish/seafood and I am about 3 months away from my 2 year mark. I would say it’s pretty impossible to be vegetarian or vegan here. While there is less dairy used in a lot of the food here, it is an extremely meat-based diet. The rare dishes that do not contain any kind of meat contain seafood. Additionally, ordering food here is very unlike ordering food in the US because you can’t easily substitute food items or ask for a certain dish without meat in it. Luckily I have been able to find things I can eat fairly easily so far.

Above are all things I ate while down in Phuket. The first was a Mexican Thai place. The second picture is red curry. The third is shrimp and vegetables with noodles. The last is just shrimp and vegetables in a light sauce.

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Seafood fried rice is something I’ll probably be eating a lot while I’m here since it’s a popular menu item even in very meat-based restaurants. So far I haven’t had one that wasn’t super good!

Sometimes the menus are completely in Thai in which case I look for a picture of anything that resembles shrimp, order it + hope for the best. I attempted yesterday using Google Translate to ask for a vegetarian dish to which the owners of the restaurant responded that they don’t offer any vegetarian options. I ended up trying a different place instead + found something with just shrimp in it. I have learned the Thai word for chicken so at the very least I can try to tell them “no chicken” since that is the most popular kind of meat eaten here.

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I don’t think this was a Thai style dish but it was from a place near my apartment and it was really good. Shrimp wontons with green egg noodles in a garlic soup.

Another difference from the US is that meals are brought out as soon as they are ready here. So while one person may be finishing their food, another person at the table may not have even received theirs yet.

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The one thing that’s healthy that I’ve been eating more of is fruit. I didn’t think I even liked mangoes before I came here and now I eat them all the time. There is a store really close to my apartment with fresh sliced fruit as well as some food carts will often have it as well! I have also started buying salad at the supermarket and recently bought a coconut that already has a hole in the top and came with a spoon and straw 🙂

UPDATE: I managed to find some pretty decent pizza! 🙂

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Fun in Bangkok

The trip to Bangkok initially was planned to get some paperwork completed. I will cover that in another (less fun) post. Since it’s about an hour and a half drive from where we are living, a coworker and I decided we would leave Sunday morning and stay overnight in Bangkok on Sunday to have some fun first and then get our paperwork done on Monday.

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We stayed at Luxx XL Hotel which was very nice especially for the low price and was just a sort cab ride away from some of the places we wanted to explore. It also happened to be a few blocks away from the U.S. Embassy which is where we needed to go for our paperwork. I would definitely stay here again. It was very clean, spacious and included wifi and bottled water. The staff was very friendly and also spoke very good English.

The first thing both of us wanted to do was visit a cat cafe. We chose Caturday Cat Cafe in Bangkok and were pleased to find out there was no cover charge or line to wait in. The food and beverages were normal Bangkok prices and not overpriced for the experience. It was well worth the visit. There were many different types of cats, lots of toys to play with and extremely friendly employees.

Next, we decided to go to Octave Rooftop Bar which is on top of a Marriott Hotel in Bangkok. It offered a 360 degree view of the city, a DJ and fancy cocktails. As with any rooftop bar in an upscale part of the city, the drinks were very expensive but it was worth the price of one drink (around $10) for the view and ambiance.

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I really enjoyed the trip to Bangkok because I like big cities and it was interesting to compare to smaller towns in Thailand since it offers a completely different experience. It is much easier for foreigners to navigate since a lot of the signs are in both Thai and English and many people there speak at least some English. It also has the BTS train system as well as sidewalks and a lot of taxis whereas a smaller town isn’t always walkable (no sidewalks and farther distances in between buildings), tuk tuk’s instead of taxis and you pretty much need a motorbike to get around. I hope to travel to Bangkok again soon since there is a ton of interesting spots to explore!

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Khao Lak

The flight from Bangkok to Phuket was only ~ an hour + included a pretty view! IMG_6394Ban Bang Niang Beach was gorgeous and surprisingly not very crowded while we were there. Our hostel was perfect since it was around $7/night and included AC and wifi. There was breakfast every morning for 100 baht which included coffee/tea, fresh juice, fresh fruit, eggs and toast. Additionally, the owner, Parisia spoke English very well and was so sweet. She waits up for her guests to arrive even if its 3 in the morning and is very friendly.  When we had to leave she gave us all a hug and a kiss on the cheek and waved goodbye as our van drove away. So if you visit Khao Lak stay at Parisia Guesthouse!

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We got to swim in this pool which is at a beachside resort since they were just opening and wanted to appear like they have customers. We did eat at their cafe for lunch which was super westernized and overpriced but we were in a touristy area so that’s to be expected. The rest of our time there we stuck to Thai food and everything from curry to tom yum noodles was delicious. I almost never burn and even with SPF 45 and reapplying still managed to get some pretty red shoulders because the sun is so strong here in the south but I also got a pretty nice tan so it was worth sacrificing the shoulders.

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Khao Lak is amazing and definitely a place I would visit again. It’s good for a quick getaway  (we only stayed 5 days). It also wasn’t very crowded so we were able to truly vacation, enjoy life slow-paced and take in the beauty of Thailand.