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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thailand: The Final Countdown

After Pai, I made a quick stop in Chiang Mai where I took an amazing cooking class at BaanThai Cookery School. I was stoked to learn how to whip up my favorite dishes like Pad Thai, Khao Soy and Spring Rolls - yum! I also learned the primary ingredients of all Thai dishes: chili peppers (spicy!), sugar, fish oil, and oyster sauce - not things I usually stock in my cabinet but I'll definitely be adding upon my return to the States.

From Chiang Mai I took yet another overnight bus to Bangkok to pick up my final visitor of the year from the airport, my little brother Chris! Chris was with me the first time I came to Thailand in 2004, so we didn't have to do any of the touristy things around Bangkok - which was nice because we were able to explore areas and do things  I hadn't made it to yet like Chinatown, a paddle boat ride in Lumphini Park, a rooftop bar downtown, and Wat Arun on the river.

After a few days in Bangkok and warnings of imminent floods, we decided to head down South to the island of Koh Lanta on the Andaman Sea.  Koh Lanta was just as advertised- white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, and gorgeous sunsets. It had a very chill vibe and was the perfect place to soak up the sun and eat curry for every meal.

While in Koh Lanta, Chris and I hopped aboard a long-tail boat for an island tour that took us to Koh Ngai, Koh Mook, Koh Chuek and the Emerald Cave, or "Tham Morakot." The Emerald Cave was a really stunning sight.  The boat dropped us off at the entrance and at the entrance of the cave the water glowed a beautiful green color.  As we made our way past the entrance it gradually got darker until it was pitch black, and our guide thought it was hilarious to turn off the flashlight - not cool! It's definitely a little scary to be swimming in a dark cave somewhere in the middle of the ocean and no idea where you're going...oh, and there were bats. However, once we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, it was all good. We came out of the cave to a beautiful sight, a tiny beach surrounded on all sides by limestone cliffs covered with plants.  It was amazing and one of those moments that made me realize how lucky I am to have seen so many of these hidden wonders in the past year - there are so many beautiful places on this earth!
From Koh Lanta, we spent one night in Krabi re-living our stay there 7 years ago by staying in the same hotel (totally same same and not different) and hitting up the night market for some chicken on a stick and banana shakes. The next morning we hopped a flight and were back in the BKK for my final days in Thailand.  I had planned on making a return trip to Suphan for one last night with my friends - but that ended up being impossible due to the floods - so I guess I'll just have to come back to Thailand soon! 
Nell joined Chris and I in BKK for our final night and my friend Game also came into the city to send us off with some Beer Leo! It was a really good final day/night in Thailand - capped off with my favorite Thai meal, Pad Grapow Moo sai Kai Jiew, and an iced coffee or two from a street vendor. It was weird to say good-bye and honestly it still doesn't feel real, perhaps when I get back to the States I'll have more time to think about it, but for now all I can say is, I LOVE THAILAND. It was the best year of my life, I could not have asked for a better experience, and I am eternally grateful to all of the amazing places I got to see, the students I got to teach, the friends I made, the locals I met, the food I ate, and the experiences I had. I will for sure be back, hopefully sooner rather than later, and I will always have a special place in my heart for Thailand...chop mak!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pai: Hippy Heaven

The next stop of my trip, after a horrendous bus ride on a "VIP" (cough) bus through some crazy Northern Laos "roads" (cough), was Pai - a lovely little hippy town way up in the mountains north of Chiang Mai. I had heard that there wasn't really much of anything to do in Pai, but that there were plenty of ways to relax, and that was exactly the case.  The scenery was beautiful, the town was full of cute little cafes and gift shops, there were some great restaurants serving delish Northern food, and I had a pretty amazing massage.  I stayed at a really cool hostel called SpicyPai, a little outside of the town area, but set back from the road literally in the middle of a rice paddy - felt like I was back in Suphan. The hostel itself was a bamboo hut with about 20 dorm beds, no windows or doors, and some handy mosquito nets.  It was a bumping hostel and made it easy to meet people since I was traveling solo for this part of my journey. 
I also of course made friends with pretty much every Thai person in town, impressing them with my (nidnoi) knowledge of Thai and one of the DJ's at the bar in town offered to take me around Pai in a motorbike - I could hardly say no since Pai is billed as the place in Thailand to explore by bike and there was no way I was going to drive myself around the mountains! We took about a 40 minute ride through some curved roads, beautiful coffee plantations, and some crazy fog and made it to a viewpoint at the top of the mountain. I was happy I was wearing pants and a light jacket because it was SO cold at the top of the mountain - my blood has definitely thinned out this past year and I cannot handle being cold, so I was glad to see the view but happy when we started our descent and were met with a blast of that hot Thailand air I love so much. I'm glad I was able to see outside of the town center and check out some of the amazing views from up top, Pai was a great little sleepy town and a really nice place to relax and chill chill.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Luang Prabang: Lanterns, Monks and Rockets

Luang Prabang is definitely one of my favorite SE Asian cities, I'm really glad I had a full 5 days there to soak it up. As an official World Heritage city, it is remarkably calm, peaceful, and beautiful. I spent most of the days meandering around the city center and stopping in the various wats to befriend the monks. It seems like a lot happened in my 5 days there, yet it was super relaxing and fun. Here are some of the highlights:

The Rocket Festival: It's one of the biggest holidays in Laos with the central celebration in LP. It was complete luck that we were there and able to see it, but it was a really cool festival of lights, lanterns, boats and fireworks. The monks especially were loving it, going wild all night shooting off rockets, sparklers and fireworks- it was fun to see them let loose and be the teenage boys they are!
 The Hilltribe handicraft night market: Let's just say my bags are definitely going to be overweight now.

The monks: So friendly and all of them were desperate to talk to us and practice their English, so cute!

The locals: I really enjoyed all of my interactions with the locals, be it on a boat across the Mekong to explore a little village or at a restaurant in the downtown area. Laotians are very friendly and always open to chat about their life experiences and culture. It was really interesting to hear some of their stories, and especially cool to hear how dedicated they were to their education and their goals for the future of Laos, one of the world's poorest countries.
 The drive: Once again, crazy windy roads, but a really cool glimpse at how people way up in the mountains live. Beautiful scenery and gorgeous mountain views.  I also got a glimpse at some of the local roadside delicacies, including beaver (I think?).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lovely Laos

When you join the backpacking trail in Southeast Asia there are a few places that keep coming up again and again as a must go and a must see, Laos is definitely one of those places. I've heard from so many people how beautiful, simple and amazing Laos is and I was eager to find out for myself.

The first stop was the capital city of Vientiane, right across the border from Nong Khai. There isn't a while lot happening in this capital, but there are a lot of amazing bakeries scattered around the city, and since Thailand has left me seriously deprived of baked goods, I made it my mission to try every cafe in my 24 hours in the city, and I did a pretty good job! Nell and Michaela and I also did a ton of walking and managed to see all the major wats and the Patouxai Monument, it looks very similar to the Arc De Triomphe, and I thought it was really cool. Apparently the people of Laos don't think too highly of it though because the inscription at its base calls it a "concrete monster" that is "even less impressive as you get closer" - burn!
The next stop on our tour took us to Vang Vieng, previously a small town amidst the mountains, but it has evolved into a backpacker favorite due to the introduction of tubing down the river. The tubing scene is pretty wild and crazy, and since we only had 2 days we decided to skip it in favor of chilling with the locals. The scenery in Vang Vieng is stunning, big mountains, lots of green space built around a lazy river. We spent one day trekking (9 miles) to the Blue Lagoon, it was a long walk in the usual blistering sun, but it was really enjoyable (at least on the way there) because it took us right through a few villages and it was really interesting to see how many people in Laos live. We made friends with some cute kids, baby chicks, puppies and kittens, water buffaloes and cows galore. It was definitely a good way to meet the locals and get up close and personal with the wildlife. Next stop on the trip: Luang Prabang, a city that deserves its own post!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Northeastern Thailand is so Random!

The first stop on my 5 week trip was to Bangkok to show off the main spots to Michaela who had just arrived from the US. We hit up the Grand Palace, the weekend market, and Khao San Road (with one if our rockstar friends, nbd).

From BKK we headed to the Northeast, or Isan region, first stop: Khon Kaen. We quickly realized that there isn't actually much to see or do in this city, but we did our best to explore it by foot and tuk-tuk. We took a walk around the town's giant lake and checked out the city's main wats. We stumbled upon a group of monks in school and Michaela wanted to take pictures, suddenly we were all being led to the front of the monks and asked to make a speech. I did the honors and introduced us all and the monks had a fun time trying to say our names "Sallllah", "Neil", and "Michaaalaaaah". It was really cute and they seemed very happy to meet us.

After Khon Kaen, our next stop was the border town of Nong Khai which is located on the banks of the Mekong River. We rode a packed local bus that was a bit chaotic to get there, but we made friends with some little girls along for the ride. Nong Khai was bustling with activity because of the upcoming dragon boat races, huge longtail boats with 57 people propelling it down the river, it was fun to watch and hear them yelling out "neung, song, sam" (1,2,3) as they raced. We also saw a beautiful sunset over the Mekong, got some Thai massages, and enjoyed some local food specialties like laab and som tom- delish!

While in Nong Khai we also checked out the giant sculpture park called Salakaewkoo. It features huge sculptures and a wheel of life that is slightly confusing but also very impressive. While we were there we ran into some primary kids on a field trip so of course a photo shoot took place, and it was funny to see how well Michaela fit in: short, small and long dark hair 555.

I'm glad I got to check out this area of Thailand, a lot of what there is to see and do is really random, but it was my last major unexplored section of the country and the food was just as good and the people just as friendly as the rest of Thailand. Up next: Laos!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Jub Jub Suphan! Chan Ja Kit Tueng Suphan Mak Mak!

The time has come. Suphan has been a wonderful home these past 12 months. Thailand has made me a very calm, blessed and happy person, mee kwarm sook mak loey! Here's just a few of the things that I have loved and will really miss about living in Thailand:
Sights: the wai greeting, cute students, dogs riding shotgun on a motorbike, pictures of the King in every store, restaurant and home, food carts pushing their way down the street, bugs for sale at the night market, elephants walking down the street, geckos climbing all over the walls, standing to watch the tribute to the King at the beginning of movies in theaters, peace signs in pictures, shoes lined up in the hallway, students walking single file into school, Oat climbing all over our table at Dton's restaurant, 555 all over my facebook wall, stuffed tuk-tuks, people sitting on chairs on top of bags of rice on a moving truck, old shirtless men sitting on their stoops late at night, babies on a moped...

Sounds: tuk-tuk motors, chanting monks, the students daily greeting "Good Morning Teacher," the Thai language, the band at Chaba Cafe, old-school Thai music, the Suphan accent, Thaienglish, people yelling "farang" at me, the gecko squeak, the national anthem every day at 6am, 8am, and 6pm, the ding every time you enter a 7-11, motorbike drivers going past yelling out "I love you!," the Thai reactions "oh-hooooo","aow","oyyy!", "chon gow, mot gow" at the bars, traditional Thai tv show at PTL, chup chup!, Grandma babbling in Thai at PTL, 25 Hours concerts...

Smells: fresh coffee, Thai street food, bug spray, loaded up on sunscreen, toasties from ImD. (Okay, I'll be honest, there are more smells here that I won't miss than those that I will...)

Touch: Thai massages, cramming my longish (in Asia) legs into a seat on the public bus, riding on the back of a motorbike, hugs from the students every morning when I walk down the hall, dancing to too much so much very much whenever it comes on, tuk-tuk rides around town, hot and sunny weather all year long...

Tastes: chili peppers, fresh fruit, som tom, Thai style iced coffee, bamee noodles, flower water, rice bread, banana shakes, pocky, sticky rice, pad thai, khao soi, beer with ice, fried donuts, grapow moo, Thai style omelettes, locally grown rice, cornettos from 7-11, kai jiew, siracha sauce...

I've now pretty much moved out of my apartment and I'm no longer an official "resident" of Thailand.  I'm off to live the backpacker life and be a vagabond for the next 5 weeks. Michaela has arrived and starting on Saturday we will head to Bangkok, up through Northeastern Thailand, into Laos, then I'll go back to Chiang Mai, and on to Pai and Mae Hong Son, back to Bangkok to pick up my brother, down to Koh Lanta, one final night in Suphan, and then on to Seoul, South Korea for a few days before I head back to St. Louis, Missouri, USA!

It's been amazing, Thailand. I'll always consider Suphan home and I'm so happy I've got such a big family here to come back and visit. Khop Khun Mak Mak Mak Mak Mak Ka!!

SYEP Good-Bye Ceremony
Photo by Clare

Monday, September 26, 2011

Suphan Bucket List

The clock is ticking on my time in Suphan, after 12 months, suddenly the end is upon me way too fast - 6 days! I've finished teaching, so what lies ahead this week is proctoring the kids Thai exams and getting grades in while simultaneously packing up my apartment and trying to make sure I see all of my favorite people and visit all of my favorite spots in the last week. I actually have pretty much every meal mapped out over the next six days to ensure that I get to enjoy all of my favorite dishes one last time. It is going to be so, so hard to say good-bye to Suphan - I've really grown to love my little home amidst the rice paddies. In order to make the most of my last week here, I've written up my own little bucket list of things to do in Suphan before I leave... I've got until Saturday and I've already checked off a couple of things, so I'm off to a good start.

  • Visit Banya's coffee shop at least once a day.  This shouldn't be too hard since I already do this every day, Banya makes the most delicious Thai iced coffee, her shop has the only couches I've seen in Suphan (jing jing) and she's a good friend who is so fun to hang out with. 
  • Eat as much Som Tom from Dton's, Pad Thai from Pad Thai Lady, Bamee noodles from the noodle shop, and banana shakes from "BSL" (Banana Shake Lady) as is humanly possible. 
  • Take at least one long walk through town every night. Nell and I started doing this a couple of months in and it's one of my favorite ways to experience Suphan. People are driving past yelling "hello" or "I love you!" and there are certain groups of people that see us every night and flash us the biggest smiles and say "welcome to Thailand!"... every single time we walk past them. 
  • See a Suphan Football Club game. I managed to do this last night, and it was such a great time. I loved cheering on Suphan and my fellow fans were super amazed to see me reppin' my Suphan FC Jersey, one man said to me "I love you because you love Suphanburi." Love you back, dude. 

  • Hang out with Game, Spicey, Ex, Sek, Pipe, Aobb, Tong, etc.  (These would be the names of a few of my Thai friends, 555). There are two nightlife spots in Suphan that I've really enjoyed lately, lots of great live music (perfect for my budding career as a Thai music groupie), good people-watching, and it's a great chance for me to pick up some Thai slang and learn random bits of Thai culture that I normally wouldn't know - like it's not okay to get your hair cut on Wednesdays.  Why? "Ancient tradition." This seems to be the answer for most of these little cultural quirks, that explanation works for me.
  • Soak up every last second with my students. Even though they will be in and out all week for Thai exams, I plan on pretty much stalking them to see them as much as possible before I peace out. 
  • Enjoy everything. I really don't want to get too caught up in the idea of counting down and leaving and saying good-bye. I want to live it up, have fun, and be happy and thankful for all of the wonderful people, places and things that make Suphan so wonderful. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why the Students of Sa-nguan Ying EP are Awesome.

Next week I will say some of my most difficult good-byes, to the lovely students of the EP at Sa-nguan Ying where I've had the privilege of working this past year. These students are creative, smart, hilarious, kind, loving, cute and cool. I have loved being their teacher. Sure there have been moments when I wanted to throw up my hands and walk out of the classroom because I was frustrated, but they were so few and far between. Teaching is a tough gig, I worked really hard this past year pumping out lesson plans, creating new games, researching topics, grading papers and tests, but it has also been immensely rewarding. I owe so much of my amazing Thailand experience to the EP students that I've been lucky enough to teach. They are simply the best, better than all the rest. Here are a few reasons why the students are so awesome:

  • The M.3 (9th grade) students wrote a 6+ page extended essay or research paper in their second language... and they were excellent essays! They mastered the thesis, introduction, research and even citations. I'm pretty sure I would have laughed at my 9th grade French teacher if she asked me to pull that off, sorry Miss Molnar, but no chance! 
  • They work hard. The students in EP, as in most schools in Thailand, study all day and all night. They go to school, then they take extra classes after school, and on the weekends they go to more extra classes in Bangkok. They work so, so hard, and yet they still manage to keep smiles on their faces. 
  • They love each other. So often I've remarked that the students in Thailand seem to be far nicer than their counterparts in America. They treat each other with respect, even if they make fun of each other, I've never seen mean intent behind their jokes. It's really nice to see young people interact in a healthy way. 
  • They are cool kids. Every day I leave my classrooms with another funny story to share in the teacher's office. They have introduced me to some amazing Thai tunes and superstars. They have helped me learn some cool Thai slang words to broaden my vocabulary. They have their own style and swagger even though they all wear the same thing and must sport the exact same haircut just below their ears - they rock it. So much of my Thailand experience has been shaped by these students and inside these classrooms and I will miss these cool kids every day... with faces like this, how could I not?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Building My Ark.

This week marked my 11 month anniversary of living in Thailand, and now that I've been here almost a full year, I'm starting to notice some cyclical things in my Thai life. Some fruits that were around when I first arrived in October are making their way back onto the fruit carts, rainy season is in full swing which means my hair is in full frizz, and the river is back to bursting at the seams - just like it was during my first few weeks in the Soup.
Around town, everyone seems to be gearing up for a major flood: shops and restaurants have spent the past week building flood walls out of cement to keep the water at bay, a truck has been driving around belting out announcements that may or may not be important but I don't understand enough of what's going on, and we've heard stories about crocodiles swimming around outside of school - no thanks! I might have to head to 7-11 to stock up on some flood supplies in case all of the local food options go under. We're definitely short on information, and this week Nell and I took what is likely our last long walk around Suphan because the river walk where we usually go had started to flood and is no longer walkable.

 Many towns and provinces in Thailand right now are finding themselves underwater, and all signs seem to be pointing to Suphan as the next target, but it's odd not being able to read a newspaper or watch the news and find out what's really going on. Some schools around us have moved their holidays and closed for the next 3 weeks - I'm definitely hoping that won't happen here as it's the final weeks I have to hang out with my students and friends here in Suphan - I don't really want to be swimming around town to find them to say good bye! I guess I'll just have to rely on my friends with boats to help me out if we end up in water, and I did see a few market stalls selling floaties and life jackets so I'll have to prepare as much as I can! The latest word on the street is that they will be "opening the gates" on the 15th so that's when we can expect the flood... what exactly that means for me, I'm not sure yet... I guess I'll find out tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

We're With the Band.

Dreams really do come true. Last week I posted about my plans to stalk and finally see my favorite Thai band, 25 Hours, and this weekend everything came together perfectly and I not only got to see the band I got to meet them after the show!

I had planned on heading down to the beach town of Cha-am on Saturday with a few friends to catch 25 Hours perform as part of the Reggae on the Rock Music Festival, but when I found out they were playing a solo show in Ayutthaya, the next town over, I could hardly say no to the chance to see them do their thing.  Nell and Clare and I (we're becoming total Thai music groupies!) headed to Ayutthaya after school on Friday and made our way to the pub where they would be playing.  We wanted to get there early to figure out the ticket situation, since Google Translate was not helping us figure out if we needed tickets or if they were for sale. After the tuk-tuk drive that included a few wrong turns, we found our way to the empty pub and the staff told us to come back at 10 so we could purchase tickets for 150 Baht - $5! A total steal.

We dropped our stuff off at a hostel and grabbed dinner before making our way back to the pub, we ended up being the first people there, and the only farang in attendance for the evening. After a rocking opener that of course featured Thailand's favorite English song, Zombie by The Cranberries, we found ourselves living the dream as "front row farang" attracting the attention of the fellow concertgoers and the band themselves as we pretended to sing along to the Thai songs.

Once the show ended we weren't quite ready to end our night, but we spotted the band hanging out by the back entrance so we made our way over to them and asked for some photos and started chatting. They told us how happy they were to see farang who knew their music and they were happy to practice their English with us. We ended up hanging out with them for quite awhile and not only do they make amazing music, they are all really cool guys and really interesting people. We discussed our favorite types of music and they told us the meaning behind all of our favorite songs, they even sampled a bit of their new single that's coming out next week. I still can't stop smiling thinking about our encounter and I've been listening to their music on repeat. Here's their latest single, check it out. It's good, I promise:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chick Mountain Music Festival: มัน ไก่ มาก

I've become more than a bit obsessed with Thai music during the last few months. I admit that it took a while for me to get used to hearing it all the time, everywhere, but I've found some artists that I really enjoy - so when I heard that a lot of them would be performing at an all night music festival at a military training camp, I could hardly say no.
I first heard about the concert, Chick Mountain Music Festival (Man Gai Mak), from a few of my Thai friends. After looking it up and a lot of assistance from Google Translate, I discovered that tickets were not yet sold out so my friends Clare and Nell and I bought the tix. We prepped the weeks before by listening to the tunes of Bodyslam, Da Endorphine, Suckseed, Paradox and Palmy on repeat.  The concert was held in Kanchanaburi, about 30 km from the town center and started at 5pm.  We arrived to the giant field in the middle of nowhere (in military inspired hipster gear, of course) around 3, picked up our wristbands and waited in line, attracting plenty of stares and posing for a few pictures as we were some of the only farang in attendance. Since we were at a military training camp we had the opportunity to shoot guns and jump from a tower in a bungee contraption... but we opted not to!

At about 5pm it started to rain, a heavy/steady rain, thank goodness they gave everyone a free poncho at the entrance, and it did not stop for about 4 hours. The field turned into a muddy mess, but somehow it seemed the perfect setting for a music festival.  Once the show got started we gradually pushed our way to the front end of the crowd and had a great view for the main acts of the night.  The highlight was definitely Bodyslam, Thailand's premiere rock band, lead by a Suphanburi native, P'Toon! With fireworks and lights and confetti - it was an amazing performance, even better when Toon revealed his 8-pack ; )

It was really fun to see some of my favorite Thai bands live and I enjoyed the Thai music festival experience.  The show ended a little after 3am and by the time we made it back to Kanchanaburi we only had to wait around for a bit before we caught the 4:50am bus back to Suphan looking like hot messes. I'm hoping to squeeze in one more music festival this weekend starring my all-time favorite Thai band, 25Hours, here's hoping it all works out!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

EP Happy Family

Friday night Sa-nguan Ying held quite the party - singing, dancing, rapping, etc. - all in celebration of the EP Family and the amazing students that make it up. I had been looking forward to EP Night since I heard about it during my first semester of teaching, and I can't believe it's over already!

Every class put on an individual performance full of ukuleles, cowboy hats, American flag scarves, game-shows, and retro song and dance. It was so cute to see the students all dolled up and showing off their moves.  They put so much work into the performances and I know their parents and teachers were very impressed. I got a little bit emosh watching my students perform... I have no idea how I will say good bye to them next month!  The English Program (EP) at Sa-nguan Ying really is like a family, the students are so smart, so cute, so funny and so creative, I consider myself lucky to be a part of it.

The students had been practicing their performances for quite some time, but it was only about two weeks before the event that the foreign teachers were informed that we were also expected to put on a show. One of the teachers, Shea, had already planned on singing the Thai hit by superstar Bird, "Too Much, So Much, Very Much," so Nell, Clare and I thought it would be a good idea if we learned the dance and Ally picked up the rap to back her up.  With a little choreography by Nell, a lot of practice, and watching various music videos and dance instruction videos, we pulled together quite the performance in 2 weeks. When the time came to actually do the dance we were all freaking out and very nervous, but I think we pulled it off pretty well. Judging by the crowd's reaction, I would say it was quite the success, but I'll let you be the judge:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chiang Rai: The Destination is Worth the Journey

As I mentioned in my post about the trip to Koh Mak, Thailand always has a way of making the destination worth the journey and this past weekend's trip was no exception.  Friday was a national holiday in Thailand due to Her Majesty the Queen's birthday which is celebrated in Thailand as "Mother's Day." In Thailand many people fittingly mark this day by returning to their hometowns to spend it with their mothers. Since my mother happens to be in West Africa at the moment, I decided to take the extra day to head up to the northernmost province of Thailand, Chiang Rai.

Nell and I opted for the overnight train for the first part our our trek - unfortunately, due to the busy travel weekend, we were left with only seats instead of sleeper cars.  We were prepared to sit up and sleep for the night, but we were not prepared for the -12 degree temperature inside the railway car - I have not been that cold since February 2010 in Boston - and I never want to be that cold again! I spent the night sneezing and layering up with the clothes I had and was extremely grateful to step off the train into Thailand's usual heat and humidity when we arrived early on Friday morning.

Friday we soaked up everything we love about Chiang Mai: coffee shops, farang friendly hair salons, khao soy, bookstores with English books, and amazing market shopping.  We stayed at a cute and very cheap hostel called Little Bird and had a very relaxing day.  The next morning we left early for a 3 hour bus ride - VIP style - to Chiang Rai. We had done no research on Chiang Rai but we knew we wanted to see what is known as "the white temple." We picked out the first hostel mentioned in our trusty Lonely Planet guides and dropped off our stuff before hitting the streets to explore and do a little shopping.
We made our way to the white temple, or Wat Rong Khun, via tuk-tuk and it was a stunning sight.  It's definitely one of my favorite places in Thailand so far.  In the past 10 months I have seen hundreds of wats, and for the most part they are same same, but different... until I got to Wat Rong Khun.  It is a gorgeous work of modern art, all white (representing Buddha's purity), and the interior has murals of modern images such as Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, the Twin Towers, Spiderman and Transformers. It was started in 1997 and they are still adding finishing touches to various buildings around the main temple.

On Sunday we took a bus back to Chiang Mai where we spent the afternoon and early evening going BUCKWILD at the Sunday Walking Market.  I bought everything in sight. I have no idea how I will transport all of these souvenirs I keep picking up back to America but I think I'll have a very cute, very Asian inspired apartment one of these days! Our journey back should have been an easy overnight bus and then a minivan ride to Suphan to make it just in time for Monday morning classes... but that would be too easy, and this is Thailand.

The bus driver literally taking
apart the bus in an attempt
to fix it. 
The bus left Chiang Mai about an hour late, so we knew we would already be pushing it to get to school on time, but we still would have been fine had the bus not decided to break down 2 hours away from Chiang Mai. This time instead of being cold, we were suffocating from lack of air circulation inside the bus, it was hot and it smelled like something was not right with the toilet on the bottom floor of the double-decker bus - i ya. We sat on the side of the road getting eaten alive by mosquitoes for 2.5 hours waiting for a new bus to come get us.  When it finally arrived, we were disappointed to discover it was not a VIP bus but a regular bus with minimal leg room and seats that did not recline.  Needless to say, the rest of the trip was pretty miserable, and we made it to Bangkok just in time for morning traffic... which left us way behind schedule.  By the time we made it back to Suphan and into school it was already 11:40 and the day was half over.  Thankfully, I was able to make up the lost sleep by going to bed at 6:15pm on Monday night - amazing! As bad as the journey was, however, the destination and the time up North was well worth it and I'm glad I still have one more trip up North this year to look forward to.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sports Day at Sa-nguan Ying

This Thursday and Friday Sa-nguan Ying held its annual Sports Day celebration - a two-day event that took months of planning and many hours of after school time dedicated solely to drumming and screaming practice. It was an epic event that began with a parade through "downtown" Suphanburi featuring some very loud cheers, a marching band and some seriously amazing costumes.  The opening ceremony consisted of a series of explosions, singing and dancing, raining confetti, fireworks and a torch-lighting bit that was reminiscent of an Olympics opening ceremony. It was big, loud and amazing - classic Thailand. The days consisted of sporting events such as basketball, volleyball and soccer (football as it's known here).  It was fun to see my students being athletic, and I especially enjoyed some of the matches that pitted the M.1 (7th graders) students versus the M.6 (12th graders) students, most of the older boys were a good foot taller than the younger gang and the basketball games were hardly a fair contest but everyone was such good sports.  I loved watching the students "wai" (bow) to each other before the contests.  The dancing competitions were easily the highlight of the celebrations for me, I loved the intricate costumes and the mix of cheerleading, traditional Thai dance and gymnastics.  I was also very impressed by the decibel level reached by the girls when they added in a bit of screeching - "I ya!" (Thai for OMG). It was also hilarious to watch the girls that competed in the dance competition earlier in the day take the court later in the day for a basketball game in full makeup with elaborate up-do's in their hair - mai pen rai!  Here's a few pics and a hastily put together video of the events of Sports Day, enjoy!

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