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Monday, February 21, 2011

Bungalows, Banana Shakes, and Beautiful Beaches

I've been in the Central Plains of Thailand the past few weekends and my skin was getting super pale - not from the ever-present whitening creams sold in stores here - just from lack of sun, so I decided a trip to the beach was in order.  One of the best things about Thailand is that I decided I was going to go to the beach at 12:30 pm, left school at 1 pm and was on the beach that night.  There was no school on Friday due to a public holiday in Thailand but I had to be back on Sunday to teach a special class, so I decided to head to the closest island, Ko Samet.  Since it's close to Bangkok and it was a long weekend, the beach was bumping with tourists and locals alike, so we were worried we wouldn't find a spot to rest our bones, but luckily there was an open room at Jep's Bungalows right on the water and it was the perfect spot to spend the weekend.  Jep's had everything we needed: banana shakes, beachfront property, nightly barbecues, front row seats to the fire shows, and American style breakfasts.
View from the hostel.
Thursday night when we arrived we started with a beachfront barbecue with some delicious kabobs and baked potatoes - the first potato I've had since coming to Thailand and it did not disappoint.  We then checked out the local nightlife and some really fun bars on the beach while practicing our Thai with the locals before calling it a night.  The next day we went right for the water when we woke up, it was super salty so I spent about 2 hours just floating on my back, it was a-ma-zing.  My friend went for a walk and came back with banana shakes for all and a Frisbee which was the source of entertainment for the afternoon and pathetically left me with a sore forearm the next day...weaksauce...I know.  Pretty sure there is nothing better than a banana shake on the beach.

Once we finally dragged ourselves away from the beach we were quick to realize that even with a few reapplications of sunscreen we were all bright red with sunburn - ouch.  We lounged around for a bit before catching the sunset on the beach and another barbecue dinner while we were treated to a seriously ridiculous fire show performed by boys ranging in age from 2 to 25.  At one point they lit a ring of rope on fire and allowed anyone that wanted to jump through the opportunity, I considered very briefly before deciding I liked all of my limbs too much to see them go up in flames.  The next day I was disappointed to discover that my favorite Thai band, 25 Hours, was performing in a music festival that ran from 5pm to 6am on the beach, but we had to hop the speedboat back to the mainland in order to catch our bus to be at the office at 8am on Sunday...not cool. The trip, though short, was definitely worth it.  I'm super relaxed, a little tan, and submitting grades this week before heading to Vietnam next Monday on a school tour, should be a busy week!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jurassic Park...Also Known As Khao Yai

Friday I skipped out of school a little early to hop a bus to a tuk-tuk to a train to see Khao Yai National Park.  Nell and I purchased 3rd class train tickets for the three hour ride and quickly found ourselves the celebrities of the trip; we were surrounded by a Buddhist nun, the train conductors, dried fish/drink vendors, and about 10 high school boys who persuaded us to help them on the English portion of their Army entrance exam.  Many photos were snapped and I even noticed one of the boys change his phone background to a photo of me & him...flattering yet also slightly creepy.

 When we arrived at the hostel, Bobby's Jungle Apartments, we were met by our friends Katrina and Rachel and proceeded to exchange student/teacher stories and travel tips.  Early the next morning Becca arrived from Bangkok and our group was complete so we hopped in the songtow and set out on our jungle trek.  Our guide for the day, Non, decided that the theme of the trip was "sexy."  He was our "sexy guide" taking us through the "sexy park" to see the "sexy waterfalls" and "sexy elephants."  I think I looked more like a hot mess than anything else, but I'll take Non's word.

Our sexy guide: Non

The trek was actually quite the hike through the national park and we were lucky enough to have some very close encounters with the animals.  Our first spotting was an Asian Hornbill, a large and impressive bird with a 2-3 meter wingspan that made the bird sound like a helicopter taking flight when it took off through the trees. Non was psyched with our first spotting of the day and there were high-fives all around to celebrate.  The next animal we crossed paths with was a gibbon family chillin' high in the treetops.  We watched them play around with each other for about 20 minutes before they finally put on a show and started swinging through the trees.  It was pretty fascinating to watch them turn the jungle into their personal playground, we watched until our necks were sore from looking at the sky and continued our trek.

The next stop of the day was to a beautiful set of waterfalls that were featured in the movie "The Beach." Upon arrival at the falls we were told by a German couple that they had just had a run-in with a wild elephant off one of the paths, Non was immediately on the move and we were soon sprinting through the forest after him in an attempt to see the elephant for ourselves.  When we got closer we could hear the elephant but didn't yet have a visual until we saw the treetops shaking in the distance.  Rachel said it was reminiscent of the scenes in Jurassic Park when the characters see the trees shake a minute before the dinosaur comes barrelling through the forest.  We had a similar experience as the elephant got closer, our only instruction from Non was to run back the way we came.  We all found a spot to camp out and got some great pictures of the elephant staring us down but as soon as it got close we all took off to stay out of his path.  The last thing you want is an elephant to trample you, death by elephant just doesn't have a good ring to it.  I have to say spotting an elephant in the wild is so much better than riding it through the dusty streets of Ayutthaya or feeding it bananas out of the window of the bar down the street from my apartment.  They are massive animals and the way they move through the forest is quite amazing.
I spy an elephant! (photo by Rachel)
Non was living the dream chasing down all of these animals for us, and after a dip in the falls we had one last animal encounter on our way out of the park, a young King Cobra, or as Non called it "snake most poisonous."  We snapped some photos but were quick to be on our way and away from harm.  The next morning we explored an underground temple and took a dip in some natural springs before we began the journey back to Suphan.  It was a great weekend in the wild, being one with nature, getting away from the end of semester stress, etc. Now, it's back to school...Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!

BTW, check out a feature on my journey to Thailand with CIEE on Teaching Traveling's blog here:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Stroll in Suphan

It's been a lazy weekend in Suphanburi, with most of it spent holed up in my fave coffee spot down the street from school working on final exams.  I actually kind of had fun writing the exams, doing fill in the blank vocabulary in a letter I composed to Justin Bieber (Bieber fever is alive and well in the hearts of these Thai schoolgirls!)  Mixed in was a trip to the Chinese Dragon Descendants Museum to celebrate Chinese New Year - a week-long celebration full of nightly fireworks displays (so loud and aggressive that at first they had me doing a duck and cover move thinking central Thailand was under attack), lanterns lining the streets, and some big-name concerts.  Check out this video on YouTube if you're interested in the type of production they put on - it was very impressive! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTLGaCSPH30 I spent most of this afternoon/evening wondering around my little 'hood snapping pics on my ipod.  Here's a peek into a lazy Sunday in Suphan:

Thai movie stars.

Big fireworks display @ the dragon. Thais love pyrotechnics.
Deej @ and some Lanterns

The town's Chicken Shrine. No one can quite explain it's meaning.

The Suphan tower all lit up. 
Street vendors at the night market. 
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