A Reflection…

These past ten months have been an amazing experience. I’ve learned so much about another culture and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great people here. My Thai coworkers can be a bit intense sometimes – showing up at my door un-announced or just walking into my apartment without knocking, and my students can be a bit obsessive – ambushing me outside my office or taking hundreds of pictures of me without my knowing, but there’s no denying that they have given me some Good memories that I will cherish.

I arrived at the school knowing no one, and people happily took me under their wing. Teachers were willing to take me to the store when I first arrived and didn’t even have a towel or sheet for my apartment. Strangers on the street were quick to give me a smile and attempt to point me in the right direction if I looked confused. In my desperate attempts to learn more Thai, my students were more than happy to take on the role of teacher and expand my Thai vocabulary. This is not to say that they were necessarily successful, but they gave it a shot!

My students will be what I miss most about the small town of Uttaradit. They were all so eager to learn more about western culture and to teach me about Thailand. It was a great exchange and I truly appreciate the energy that they put into it. Of course, there were plenty of students who were less then energetic or participatory in class, but this is to be expected. In a small town like Uttaradit, many students don’t see the benefit of learning English, nor can a blame them for this outlook. I might wish that they felt differently, but when they aspire to sell chicken at their family’s stall, there’s only so much influence I can have on them in the classroom. That said, I hope that I have managed to teach some students something and that they will continue their pursuit of English.

Still to come- more backpacking adventures!

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Daily Life

After 8 months in Thailand I think I can safely say that I’ve just about got my everyday life figured out. Sometimes Thailand will still manage to throw me for a loop, but such moments of confusion are occurring less frequently than before.

On an average school day teachers arrive at school between 7:30 and 8:00. Morning assembly starts at 8:00, beginning with the National Anthem and flag raising. (Actually, the anthem is played all over Thailand at both 8 AM and 6 PM. This means that everyone in Thailand stops what they are doing and stands still while the anthem plays over the loudspeakers conveniently located throughout the country). Classes begin at 8:30, which means if you’re lucky you can start teaching by 8:40. Classes last for 50 minutes and school lets out at 4 PM.

Most of my classes are teaching conversational English – granting me the task of trying to get 40 to 50 Thai students to speak English. Classroom control has been a big obstacle. Keeping such large groups of students quiet while I teach and getting them to speak during activities is a struggle. Games have proven to be the most effective way to get students to pay attention and participate. However, this also makes the students less than cooperative on the inevitable boring days, filled with practice and exercises that are not as exciting as they would have liked.

I have one class of 30 students, who all pay extra to be in the Mini English Program (MEP). MEP students are essentially paying to be taught by native English speaking teachers in science, math, performing arts, health class, and reading/writing with the added bonus of being in an air conditioned room with technology and fewer students vying for the teacher’s attention. Out of all my students I see these students most often. I know them best and feel most comfortable doing big projects with them, because I can actually hold them accountable for their assignments.

For my other 400+ students I still gather grades, but more for my benefit than anything else. Names have been a huge challenge. I’ve just had to accept that I won’t know everyone’s name and try to remember who I can!

Travel with Thais

So a couple weekends ago I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with some of my fellow teachers to Pattaya and Chonburi. At a mere 1500 Baht (about $50), I considered it a steal, but I had no idea what I signed up for.

Friday morning we all met at the school at 4 o’clock. This meant climbing over a fence at 3:30am and walking to school, because our landlord has still not managed to give us a key. We were then given a 4 hour grace period on the bus to rest and sleep before all of the teachers could no longer contain their excitement. They were running up and down the aisles, laughing, and waking up myself and the other foreigners to take a picture with us. They only laughed more when I looked confused at being woken up. Better yet, they then decided to grace us with their singing skills by plugging Thai karaoke into the bus sound system. This could have been amusing, if it hadn’t woken me up on an already rough morning. It could even have been fun, if there were a way to participate. I might have enjoyed watching, if it hadn’t gone on for at least SIX HOURS. I’ve gotta hand it to them, though, they did not lose steam or get bored with their karaoke, they just kept plowing through their songs with giant smiles, wondering why the foreigners were all trying to sleep or jamming headphones into their ears.

So after a very trying all-day bus ride, we made it to our fancy restaurant – the first tower restaurant in Pattaya that actually rotates! Though I found the concept pretty fun, it turned out to be a dizzying experience for many of my travel companions, who had to stay away from the windows in order to avoid the motion sickness that they’d been battling all day. This dinner proved to be yet another entertaining experience for the Thais. It was an all you can eat buffet, and they had real, Western-style bread!! This was an extremely satisfying dinner for me, and the Thai teachers got a kick out of watching myself and all of the other foreigners pile our plates high with bread time and time again. After dinner we all went to enjoy a cabaret show, starring the lady boys that Thailand is so famous for having. No stranger to lady boys by this point in the game, we all still end up giggling and pointing at the ‘ladies’ as they strut their stuff!

In Pattaya we became acutely aware of the Russian influence. There were Russians everywhere, and it was widely known that Pattaya is run by the Russian Mafia. When we walked around town before the show there were sketchy shops and huge ‘massage parlor’ buildings on every street. It was, for lack of a better term, creepy. I can honestly say that our evening in Pattaya was the first time in Thailand that I felt uncomfortable and worried about my general safety. It’s not a trip that I would make again, especially if I were alone.

The rest of the trip consisted of many more long and exhausting bus rides – which means more grueling hours of listening to the teachers sing karaoke and painfully trying to plaster a smile on my face whenever they looked at me. The highlight, oddly enough, was our stop at an interactive art museum. It’s actually a museum of murals, uniquely painted so that people standing by the wall look as though they are IN the painting. Not to promote Asian stereotypes, but it was honestly every Thai tourist’s dream come true! The whole purpose of the museum was to run around and take silly pictures – the Thai teachers (and I confess, I got sucked in too) were in photo heaven! Myself and the other foreigners finished taking pictures well before the Thai teachers, but it was still considered a win for the day.

So what did I learn about traveling in Thailand with Thai people?     1. REALLY long bus rides are expected – bring a blanket, pillow, book, basically anything and everything to occupy your time.      2. Expect loud and incredibly annoying Thai Karaoke to be playing for at least 3/4 of your time on the bus – Ear plugs are encouraged.        3. Lady boys are a source of entertainment for everyone – stare and enjoy, it’s okay.         4. Pattaya is creepy – Enough said.          5. If you don’t have your camera on you at all times, you’re a failure as a tourist.

Christmas Thaim

I hope that everyone has had a wonderful Christmas, wherever you are! Thailand is primarily a Buddhist country, so the holidays were not as blatant as they have been in the past. No holiday music in November, no commercials convincing you to buy this and that for your loved ones, and very little Christmas paraphernalia to stock up on. What was at first a refreshing break quickly led to memories of home when Christmas sneaked up on me this year.

Even though Thailand is Buddhist, they are very open to other religious holidays and know a surprising amount about Christmas (Though when Thai teachers call Santa’s wife “Santy” you can’t help but giggle). The Friday before Christmas my school asked all of the English teachers to put on a Christmas program in the morning. This consisted of getting up on a stage in front of our 3,000 students to sing songs, get them to sing with us, and have a quick round of trivia. Kids were wearing red, teachers were wearing antler headbands, there was even a small holiday feast with some of the other English teachers.

Needless to say, after Friday I was really feeling the Christmas spirit. I wanted to bring traditions over here, play Christmas music, watch movies, put up decorations… I was essentially all about the Christmas Train. My fellow foreigners were less interested, content with letting the holiday slide by – which I simply couldn’t allow. I enlisted them in Christmas card making, gift wrapping, painting socks into our own stockings and even set up a Secret Santa! And to complete the tackiness, I put up a tree in the hall using green tape and a magazine chain. If people weren’t going to jump on the train, I would drag them, just as happily!

Even though we were expected at work on Christmas, it was hardly a bother. The students are taking tests this week, so we aren’t teaching. I enjoyed a lazy day of reading, Skyping with family, and even a Christmas party that one of the teacher’s had that evening. Far from a typical Christmas, I really did enjoy bringing the holiday here and celebrating away from home. Though it brought on some nostalgia and wishes for time with friends and family back home, I had a fun day and love the memories that have come from our Thai Christmas.

Some English teachers by our 'Christmas tree'

Some English teachers by our ‘Christmas tree’

Backpacking – A land explored and cultures learned

I apologize for the length of this entry, but I had a lot to say and wanted to just get it all out in one go – since my blogging hasn’t been very consistent lately. So here is my backpacking trip in a nutshell:

Koh Phi Phi – The second stop on my journey was the lovely Koh Phi Phi. After a ferry ride and mad rush to grab our bags, we walked along the beach to get to our hotel. It was here that we saw the bay where the tsunami came across to destroy so much of the island. Excuse my brief history lesson, but I found it so interesting that I can’t help myself. On December 26, 2004 a massive tsunami hit Koh Phi Phi and the island was devastated. The island was hit from both sides, minutes apart – giving bungalows and ramshackle homes little chance. There is no exact number, but estimates guess that the deaths on the island reach approximately 2,000 people. 70% of the buildings were destroyed. The island was shut down while they decided the best way to rebuild, forcing many people to move to nearby refugee camps.                                              Since it has been rebuilt, the island has flourished. Koh Phi Phi caters to the typical tourist, providing a plethora of souvenir shops, restaurants, and excursions to satisfy any possible whim or need. Admittedly the island was full of more wants than needs as far as I was concerned. It was certainly not the Thai culture that I’ve become accustomed to, but the culture and traditions of the local tourist was still very fun to experience! While there, I had the opportunity to visit Maya Bay, where “The Beach” was filmed, saw a Muay Thai fight, went snorkeling, watched a fire dancing show, and even went scuba diving! The water was full of turtles, lion fish, and blacktip reef sharks, so there was never a dull moment. When the time came to leave Koh Phi Phi, I happily boarded the ferry knowing that I had experienced the island to its fullest.

Muay Thai Fight

Krabi – From Koh Phi Phi my tour moved on to Krabi/ Ao Nang. It was a beautiful area, with a lovely view and all of the shopping needs a tourist could possibly want. After the go-go-go pace in the other two cities, I took advantage of the hotel spa services and pool. I had time to build myself up for more traveling, while enjoying the company of my new friends. Krabi was where my tour ended, so this was where I had to say goodbye to twenty of the friendliest people I had ever spent time with. In just a few days we became close friends and I would happily meet up with any of them in a heartbeat. One of the many benefits of technology is that we can keep in touch even though we’re all over the world, so hopefully these are friendships that will last.

My awesome travel group on our last night

My awesome travel group on our last night

Phuket – When the tour ended, I was taken back to Phuket where I got my bearings and set myself up in my very first hostel. I felt like such a newb – walking into the dorm room and having absolutely no idea what to do with myself. True to backpacker form, however, everyone in the dorm was open and friendly, and only too happy to help me out.                                                     I was only in Phuket for a couple nights, just to relax and get my next travel plans set up, but while I was there I got a quick peek at the Chinese Vegetarian Festival. When I first heard that it was going on, I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t exactly impressed. I was expecting a group of stalls set up in market place form with tofu or vegetables on every shelf. I couldn’t be farther from the truth. No – it wasn’t a market full of meat, but it wasn’t a market either. Internationally, it is known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, during which the Chinese will worship the 9 Emperor Gods, represented by the stars making up the Big Dipper and Ursa Major. For nine days people will march from the temple to the sea or river to honor the Emperors. Oh, and did I mention that some people will pierce their cheeks with swords, hooks, bars, and other objects to protrude from their face on their journey? Such people have entered a trance to allow the gods into their bodies while they take in the evils of the world. It is said that they can’t feel pain. Needless to say, this sight completely blew my mind. Such dedication is impressive and somewhat scary – I can’t say that I would’ve done the same.

Because they are possessed by the Emperor Gods, they cannot feel any pain when they pierce their cheeks.

Because they are possessed by the Emperor Gods, they cannot feel any pain when they pierce their cheeks.

Koh Tao – Originally, I planned to go to northern Thailand after my tour. As I traveled, however, other backpackers told me that Koh Tao was amazing and that I should try to visit if I have time. So on a whim, I decided to go to Koh Tao for a few days and see what I found. The trip to get there was miserable, as I had to stop at Samui on the way and found myself completely alone in the hostel. The Thai people were all out to make a quick buck and being the trusting person that I am, I made for an easy target. I took everyone at their word and probably took the most round-about route to get to Koh Tao. By the time I finally got to the island I was a little fed up with people in general and just wanted to rest for a few hours before figuring out my next move.                                 Picture if you will: Exhausted and cranky, a little smelly, wandering off the ferry to the beautiful island of Koh Tao. You are bombarded by taxi drivers, holding up signs, yelling destinations at you and popping your personal bubble to find out where you’re going. Flustered, you shoulder your way past, pretending you don’t understand them, and pull out your address for the hostel hoping to stumble upon it. You walk up and down the same street three times, looking for your hostel, only to finally realize that the empty building in front of you IS your hostel.                                                              I felt so defeated. A neighbor informed me that the owner had packed up and moved to Bangkok – before trying to sell me an expensive room in her building. Another foreigner from the ferry spotted me and looked almost as lost – instant friendship! So my new Canadian friend, Spencer, and I ended up finding a nice restaurant to enjoy a cold drink, discuss our travels, and look for a place to stay. Spencer’s friends had recommended a resort, mentioning that you could get great deals if you dive with them, and I’m certainly glad I ran into him! Instead of a dingy hostel with a poor location, I found myself in a swanky resort located right in the thick of things!                                                       I was completely caught up in the lifestyle of the island and ended up going scuba diving for the next three days! I got my advanced diver certification, saw amazing reefs and even a sunken ship!                                        On my second day with the certification course, we were taken out to Chumphon for our deep dive. The weather was absolutely miserable. Rain had us drenched before we even got in the water and large waves were throwing us around to the point that a couple people got sick. We would be going 30 meters down and completing a few exercises before we got to explore the reef. We were relaxing on the bottom for about ten minutes and had just started to explore when I noticed all of the other divers. Divers were all over the site, but they all seemed to be swimming in the same direction. I heard people tapping on their tanks with knives to get others attention. Words cannot express my shock when I looked up and saw a WHALE SHARK, 3 meters long, swimming past. It was unbelievably exciting – there were 4 juvenile whale sharks at the site that day. Everyone was swimming around it, taking pictures, enjoying the feeling of euphoria at our insane luck. Completely made my trip.                                                  I became friends with the other people in my dive group and several of the instructors. The lifestyle was addicting. Essentially, all of the instructors had come to the island to do some diving, fell in love with the island, and next thing you know they were getting their diving instructor certification and they’d been on the island for 3 years! I was so tempted to drop everything and join them. I love diving and can’t get enough of it. Torn by my obligation to my students, I took the responsible route and left the island after 5 amazing days, insisting that I would be back in March or April to get my Rescue Diving certification. Contrary to boarding the ferry in Koh Phi Phi, leaving Koh Tao was incredibly difficult and even sad. I feel like I barely tapped into what that island has to offer and will need to find a way to get back there before my time on this side of the world is over.

The hostel that wasn't meant to be.

The hostel that wasn’t meant to be.

Oh just your average, everyday, drop dead gorgeous scenery on Koh Tao

Oh just your average, everyday, drop dead gorgeous scenery on Koh Tao

Koh Phangan – I took the ferry from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan, where I would meet up with 5 other teachers from my organization and spend 5 nights at a hostel on the beach. This island was so much fun and the people staying at the hostel were all fantastic. If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, stay away from this island! Music is blaring 24/7 (usually the same 20 songs, mind you) the beach is crowded, people are out at all hours of the day and night – basically this place is a party all day, every day. While I enjoyed beach days, motorbike excursions, the Wipe Out Zone, and shopping trips, it was the nighttime adventures that are the most memorable and I enjoyed staying up to watch more than one gorgeous sunrise. I had my fun, and wouldn’t trade a minute of it, but it definitely took its toll on me.

When myself and the group of teachers left the island we all took the train up to Chiang Mai to get our work visas sorted out… again. The strain that I had put on myself was too much and I was miserable for the next 3 days. I had a fever and terrible cough and just felt gross – my ‘happy backpacker’ demeanor was in short supply during this time. Arriving home was a huge relief and weight off my shoulders. I had a couple days to recuperate and then finally got myself back into the classroom. It was an amazing trip, and I met wonderful people who I hope to run into again, but there’s no denying that it was good to be back at school and surrounded by familiar faces. It’ll be a few months before I’m ready to put that backpack on again, but when it does – look out world! I can do it!

Phuket

After 19 hours on a bus, words could not have expressed my relief upon my arrival in Phuket. The journey was full of silent stares and wordless communication – I felt like the smelly kid on the playground that no one wants to talk to. Worried at first that this was a sign of things to come, I was overjoyed to be greeted with English in Phuket, and was able to find my way without stumbling over my rough Thai.

On a day exploring the city, I discovered there was more to Phuket than the rumors of crazy parties. Myself and a group of girls took up an offer for a ride from a Thai man while walking around. Expecting a tuk tuk, we were surprised when he led us to a pickup truck and motioned for us to climb in the truck bed. Not to be discouraged, I happily climbed in and found myself clinging to the side for dear life for the rest of the day. We saw some of the beautiful beaches that surrounded the area and bit our nails on the drive up steep mountain roads to see the Big Buddha Temple.

The temple is still under construction, but the view is breath taking. Despite its unfinished status, many tourists make this a must-see while in Phuket and I was happy to find myself among them. While in beach mode, I was wearing a tank top. Luckily, the temple had shawls and sarongs that they offer to tourists who were not appropriately dressed.

There was a building at the entrance that acted as a museum/ souvenir shop. It was in this building that my dream finally came true – I got to talk to a monk! While there are plenty of monks in Uttaradit, I’m very hesitant to approach them. From what I’ve gathered, monks are not allowed much interaction with women, this is in order to avoid temptation. For example, if I wanted to give a donation or anything to a monk, I could not hand it to him directly. I would have to place it next to him or, if he offered one, in a cloth that he is holding. In addition to that, Uttaradit has very few English speakers and I’m not yet confident enough in my Thai to attempt a conversation with a monk. So I was ecstatic to see a monk meeting with visitors.

After a few minutes of pacing I worked up the courage to go and talk to him. This required removing my shoes and sitting appropriately on my legs. It is considered an insult for the bottoms of your feet to face someone, especially a representation of Buddha. I got to speak with the monk, and he was just as happy to have an opportunity to practice his English. Then, he gave me a bracelet that they make at the temple and gave me a blessing for good luck. If getting a blessing from a monk doesn’t make your day then I don’t know what will!

My Banana Pancake Trail

The day has finally arrived! Tonight I will board the bus to Phuket to begin my backpacking experience! Needless to say, I’m slightly terrified – travelling alone in a country where I barely speak the language – but mostly I’m totally pumped! Months of research and planning are finally going to pay off as I blaze my way across my own banana pancake trail! I will start in the south, where I can finally see the beautiful Thai beaches, and work my way up to the north, to see the hill tribes.

If you’re curious as to why I keep referring to a fruity breakfast treat, the term “Banana Pancake Trail” is a term used to describe trips traveler’s take around Southeast Asia. It’s not a specific route or trail, but hotspots that foreigners like to visit. When foreigners backpack around Asia and go to these hotspots, there are many restaurants, cafes, hotels, and hostels that try to cater to their needs – namely by providing them with delicious comfort foods, such as banana pancakes!

So now I begin an epic travel experience to see new things and to finally be the goober tourist that I am! I expect to get lost, meet new people, and make a complete idiot out of myself in my attempts to communicate. But should I survive the next 3 weeks, I know that I’ll at least walk away with some great stories!

The backpack I will be living out of for the next 3 weeks

The White Temple: Heaven and Hell

A couple weeks ago a teacher invited me to go to Chiang Rai with a few students who won an essay competition. There would be a long, drawn out ceremony to congratulate all of the winners, and far be it from me to pass up the opportunity to travel! Keeping with Thai tradition, the ceremony started 3 hours after we got there and was entirely in Thai. I wish I could talk about how interesting it was, but unfortunately I found it boring and uneventful. My Thai is VERY limited, so there was no way I could understand any of the speakers, though I’m sure their speeches were thoughtful and inspirational. Nothing really caught my attention until we left Chiang Rai.

On our way home, we stopped at Wat Rong Khun – also known as the White Temple. It was completely different from any of the other temples I’ve visited, so I was interested in everything I saw. The temple is completely white, with pieces of mirror mixed into the structure, so it shines brightly in the sun. The white is meant to symbolize the purity of Buddha, while the glass is his wisdom shining all over the earth. The temple itself is situated in the middle of a pond, so you must cross a beautiful bridge to enter it.

As I got closer to the bridge, I was caught off guard by the statues surrounding the entrance. Instead of images of Buddha, flowers, or other aesthetically pleasing statues, I was faced with statues of terrifying and hideous monsters. There was a pit that the bridge crossed over, and the pit was filled with hands reaching out, skeletons, snakes, and still more monsters. Some monsters were eating people or tearing them apart. After crossing over what I can only assume to be a form of Hell, there is a demon king and fangs on either side of the large bridge. Representative of passion and desire, you are supposed to throw your passion and desire into the mouth of the demon to cleanse yourself before going into the main building. The other side of the bridge was much more pleasant, with statues that inspired peace and beauty.

When I removed my shoes and entered the main building, I was amazed by the merging of religious and modern ideas. Front and center was a statue of Buddha, with a beautiful mural of a swan and people praying behind it. Directly in front of the statue was a monk meditating – sitting so still that I thought he was a statue at first! When I turned around I was shocked by the mural of a huge beast, known as a naga. It was made up of the evils of the world, including guns and weapons around the face and evil people. The artist was actually there, still painting more of the mural. He was the one who pointed out the faces that he had painted into the eyes of the naga – On the left was John Wilkes Booth, and in the right eye was Osama Bin Laden. All around the naga were more weapons, images of destruction, and characters from movies, such as the Matrix, fighting.

The temple was designed in 1997, but it is still going through construction. It was so interesting, I will happily go back when it is finished! Wat Rong Khun is a Must-See for anyone who visits Thailand!

Tuk Tuk Fiasco

After multiple warnings and our first encounter with a taxi in Bangkok, I should have been more prepared, but I didn’t know what to expect. I was so overwhelmed by the city, I was willing to ask and receive help from anyone who would give it. We had managed to make our way onto the sky train and found ourselves in the middle of the city.

Armed with our guidebook, map, and a list of places to see, we walked along the street taking in the sights. Despite being in such a big city, I found myself shocked anytime I saw another foreigner. I’ve become so used to being one of very few foreigners in the area, I often caught myself staring. The Thai people, however, weren’t giving us a second glance. This was incredibly different from people staring me down in Uttaradit and eagerly practicing saying ‘Hello’ in English. This is not to say that we were completely ignored.

Far from it. By walking around the city we had marked ourselves as tourists. Tuk tuks would slow to a crawl beside my friend and I, calling out that it was only 10 Baht for an hour tour. Our guidebooks had warned us to avoid these tuk tuks, and even a stranger warned us as well. The Thai man who told us this also asked where we were going and then bombarded us with advice. He then went above and beyond the call of duty of being a random stranger met on the street and hailed us a tuk tuk – He gave the driver very specific instructions in Thai to take us to all the places we wanted to see and set the price for us.

So we happily enjoyed a tuk tuk  ride, experienced just how terrifying Thai traffic was, and saw a few famous locations in Bangkok. After seeing the giant standing Buddha, we asked the driver to drop us off at Wat Pho, the temple that houses the giant reclining Buddha. The driver asked us if we minded stopping at a shop first, explaining in broken English that they would give him a coupon for free gas if he brought tourists to the shop. I wanted to help him out, so we agreed. He took us to a very fancy tailor shop, where we awkwardly walked around for 5 minutes. The owners were on us as soon as we entered, so we were forced to make small talk before retreating without buying anything. When we got back to the driver, he said he was going to take us to another shop! I was more hesitant, but he didn’t give us much of a choice. So a few minutes later we found ourselves in an office with a travel agent, trying to think of a graceful way to leave.

When we got back to the driver I was feeling very frustrated. He again said he was taking us to another place. This time I said no, we wanted to go to Wat Pho. – What I have learned from my time in Thailand is that Thai people do NOT like the word ‘No’. If you don’t like something or don’t want to do something, you’d better find a nice way to put it, because ‘No’ is simply not accepted! This particular tuk tuk driver went so far as to pull his car over and stop.

He turned to me and took out his wallet, showing me a picture of his 3 children, pointing out his new baby. I immediately busted out laughing, just because the situation was so ridiculous. The driver took this for consent, said how much we were helping us out, and drove us to another tailor shop. Resigned to our fate, we endured another tailor shop and finally made it to Wat Pho. We paid the driver and left, confident we’d be better off with another driver when we were ready to go.

As we walked towards the temple, another tuk tuk driver called out to us. I stopped to talk to him, and told him we were going to Wat Pho. He informed us that the temple was closed for a Buddhist holiday, but offered to take us on an hour tour for only 10 Baht. Sad to hear the temple was closed, we told him no and decided to walk towards the river to start back home.

As we walked down a side road by Wat Pho, we noticed a group of tourists pouring from a doorway. Curious, we went closer for a better look and saw that the temple grounds were full of visitors! I couldn’t believe that the driver had blatantly lied to us! We strolled right in and got to explore the beautiful Wat Pho, which would have been lost to us if we’d gone with the tuk tuk. For the rest of the day we opted to avoid the tuk tuks. Most memorable lesson from this trip to Bangkok:

Don’t trust tuk tuk drivers!

Welcome to Bangkok!

After spending a couple months in Uttaradit I have become stir-crazy! Desperate for an opportunity to explore more than my small district. The olympics are on, but thailand is less than interested. The stares have gotten annoying and I needed something to do. So when the Buddhist holiday granted us a 4 day weekend, I jumped at the chance to get away. Thus, I find myself wandering around the largest city in Thailand – Bangkok.

Everyone was full of advice for our trip. We knew which bus to take and a Thai teacher even helped us purchase our tickets. Another teacher warned us of possible scam artists and gave us the names of a few tourist attractions to find. Most disconcerting was when a teacher told us to be very careful about taxi drivers, because sometimes they abduct girls and do terrible things to them… Not exactly encouraging!

We took a 6 hour bus ride at night and arrived at roughly 3:30 am. Before I had even stepped off the bus taxi drivers were yelling at me, asking where I wanted to go. I had been forewarned about taxi drivers taking advantage of tourists and I wasn’t eager to experience it firsthand. One driver offered us a ride for 600 baht. When we said no and asked for a meter taxi they looked appalled, shaking their heads and waving their hands furiously, insisting that there was no such thing. Another driver offered a ride for 450 baht. Being tired and flustered by the language barrier, we took it. Inretrospect, we probably could have gotten the price down lower. The entire ride I was running ‘what if’ scenarios in my mind, thanks to a vivid imagination. When we gave him a 500 baht bill, he announced that there was a 50 baht parking fee and continued on his merry way. Welcome to Bangkok.