Monday, January 28, 2013

The Tallest Mountain in Suphanburi

Eric and I have been wanting to visit our friends, Andrew and Jane, who are also teaching in Suphanburi province and live just an hour and a half van ride away and we finally made the quick trip last weekend! They are also interested in exploring the more rural parts of Thailand (like us) and their small town, Dan Chang, actually gives them access to some awesome wilderness! So Friday after school Eric and I left the big city (Suphan) for some outdoor adventures. Down the street from Jane and Andrew's apartment is a Swedish guy who makes some awesome pizza and we definitely indulged in the western treat Friday night. I haven't eaten pizza since our first weekend in Suphan since it is incredibly expensive (for living on a Thai salary) and not that great, so I definitely took advantage of dinner in Dan Chang.

Eric and I woke up Saturday morning to check out Dan Chang near Andrew and Jane's apartment before our 10 am scheduled meeting time with the guy who was going to take us to the mountain and camp site. Dan Chang is much much smaller than Suphan and has a really good vibe, which made Eric and I a bit jealous of Jane and Andrew. There is nothing wrong with Suphan, but it isn't a big city and it isn't a small town so it lies in that awkward size where it isn't like everyone knows each other but it doesn't have all the activities that a big city would have. After buying some snacks at the market for our camping overnight we left to meet up with our driver. 

Andrew and Jane have been trying to figure out how to get to the tallest mountain in Suphan that they had read about and finally figured it out a couple weeks ago by talking to this guy who they think runs the Dan Chang mafia (basically just one of those guys that is always on his phone and knows everyone). He arranged to have his friend (who also seems like a mob boss but has the best smile) pick us up and drive us to the camp site at the base of the mountain. He was running an hour late, so we walked to the big reservoir dam about 2 miles from their apartment. It was amazing being able to walk from their apartment to some country roads and to enjoy the company of some people we don't get to see that often. (sidenote: Jane is the only foreign girl in Dan Chang so she was really looking forward to girl time and Eric pretty much only interacts with girls in Suphan so he definitely needed some male company.)

The second mob boss picked us up (I will now refer to him as Smiley since I can't remember his name) from the reservoir in his pickup and we began the longer than expected cramped ride to the mountain. The only camping Eric and I have done here was at Erawan falls where there was a very official yet cheap camp site with food stalls near by and we had no idea what to expect with this camping experience. We stopped at Smiley's house on the way to buy a ridiculous amount of eggs to take with us (evidently no food stalls) and also stopped at this little water fall off of the dirt road (I think mostly so Smiley could get rid of us for a little so he could take a nap). We finally made it to our camping spot after some other stops by 4:15. At this point I was pretty tired and dehydrated so I decided to skip hiking the mountain Saturday afternoon with promises from everyone that they would do it again the next morning. 

They headed off and I enjoyed the start of a new book and appreciated the quiet and the beautiful views. It always surprises and pleases me that Thais like to camp and this campsite definitely filled up despite it being so far away from anything and up a long dirt road. By the time Jane, Andrew, and Eric got back from the hike, the newly arrived groups of our fellow campers had set up their giant tents, busted out the propane tanks, woks, variety of meats and vegetables, and had just put away their super fancy cameras for sunset photos. I hope to be invited to go camping by a Thai family because they do it in style. Unfortunately for us, they love to stay up late and wake up eeeeeearly. We were woken up between 6 and 7 am to "Noooong, Soooong, Saaaaam! Hehehehehehe!!!" (1, 2, 3) as the various groups photographed the sunrise and posed in their pictures. 

So we got up with them and left to hike up the tallest mountain in Suphan (which is actually only 800 meters from where we started). That sounds pretty pathetic, but it was 800 meters of straight up and was a great outdoor stair master workout. We were led by the two friendliest and most active dogs I have met in Thailand (who we named Kingston and Tukie after some of Eric's friend's dogs) and hiked up in the fog. We walked through various fields of vegetables and a small village (mostly just a collection of houses with their respective farms) and loved every minute of it. We made it to the top and enjoyed being in/above the clouds looking down on our campsite.  

Of course there was a giant Buddha statue at the top of the mountain that I'm pretty sure the guy that runs the campsite hikes up to every day to honor. Thais love their Buddha statues. We took some short naps and snacked on our treats from the Dan Chang market and waited for the fog to clear a bit, which it didn't, and descended back to our campsite, then back to Dan Chang, and eventually home to Suphan. It was a great weekend and I am definitely looking forward to spending more time in more rural areas of Thailand and Asia when we are finished teaching! Also, Eric and I are running a 10k in this coming weekend and Jane and Andrew are joining us! The race is outside of a national park that is supposed to be pretty amazing and we are going to do some more camping and exploring after the race! This is my first (and maybe only) training race for my half marathon so if you would like to show some support for my Run Vietnam for Literacy campaign, please donate at my website and join me by running or getting outdoors this Saturday! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More Hilarious English

We lesson this week involves group story writing where the students get into groups of 4 or 5 and write a story together, but each student writes one sentence at a time and then passes the paper on (so they are not actually creating the story as a group if that makes sense). Anyway, here are my favorite stories (I gave them the first line):

1. Once upon a time, there was a Thai boy who hated rice....because he dreamed that a rice to become worm. So he never eat rice. Finally he very fat until he can't walk anymore. The angel show up and blame him and tell him that he have to eat rice everyday. (Shows you how important rice is to them!)

2. Once upon a time, there was a rooster that could not it is sickness but it patients symptom. A man see rooster sickness. He cares it. He gets it to hospital and get to love it. When a rooster gets better. He takes it to his house. He care it such as feeds food and cleans feather's rooster. Once a day the rooster become beautiful boy. He says "I'm a fairy and I'll give a prize to you. What do you want?" The man say "I want you to be my wife, will you married me? I love you." He watches eyes to eyes with him and say yes. (This is a first of a series of stories where there is some interspecies, gay romance)

3. Once upon a time, there was a hunter who loved animals....but I don't love animals. But a hunter loved animals. Although he loved animals but he need to kill them for survival. One day, he found a cute rabbit and he fall in love it at first sight. In full moon day, rabbit become a very cute boy and hunter loves him very much and named him "Mildy." They are going in the room together and the hunter kissed the cute boy. They promise them are married and love together forever. After that they belong together. A hunter promises that he will not kill any animals. And a hunter changes his job to grow carrots for trading and Mildy. (unclear at the end here if Mildy is a rabbit again or if he is a boy who loves carrots)

4. Once upon a time, there was a girl with magic shoes....and she have a magic book. She is going to Hogwart by magic broom. Suddenly, she see the big storm. Three hours later, she is eating rabbit. Mommy made some cookies made from meat for us. Then she is die by poison in the cookie. After that she resurrect by the prince's kiss. Three year later she have three baby. (This one has some interesting plot point changes, kept me on my toes the entire read!)

5. Once upon a time, there was a princess who smelled very bad....She took a shower twice a week. She said "I had this shower!!" She liked to wear a dirty cloth. Everybody wouldn't like to get along with her. At last, the princess determined to scoop her eyes out so she can't see everybody who dislike her, cute he ears so she can't hear the irony of everybody so when the princess in handicapped, she is going to live in North Korea. (I found this one seriously disturbed/hilarious)

6. Once upon a time, there was a boy with magical sunglasses. He is very smart. He live in Bangkok. His name's Aut. He is going to Japan. He is looking for girlfriend. But he was gay. He uses magical sunglasses for see woman. After that he go to Tokyo. He earns money from wash dishes. He fell in love with Briget, will you marry me? (omgomogmogmogmg he proposed!--the collective he of five 17 year old Thai boys)

So you now see what I am working with! Pretty awesome. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hazards of Running in Thailand

When I first got to Thailand I thought there was no way I could ever run here. Most of this was based on the heat I experienced at our orientation in Bangkok. After a week or so of getting settled in Suphanburi, I was brave and motivated enough to give running a try here (how else can I continue to justify eating so much great food!) It is definitely possible and enjoyable, but here is a list of the top 5 things that make running in Thailand a bit hazardous.
This is the best time of day to run and it definitely helps being near water!
1. Heat—This was the first thing that turned me off from running in Thailand, but it has actually cooled down a lot since we got here (70 seems cold now) which has made running much more enjoyable. However, I should probably get used to running in the heat to train for my race which will be mid hot season in Vietnam.
A standard Thai restaurant set up before it gets busy with people. 
2. Sidewalks—We are fortunate enough to live in Suphan where one of the ex prime ministers is from. This means the city got a lot of funding when that prime minister was in power and we actually have sidewalks. However, it is very rare that I see a Thai person walking to their destinations, so sidewalks are not really used for walking. What are they used for? Eating. A sidewalk is like a restaurant’s or food cart’s outdoor dining room and I almost feel guilty when I am actually walking on the sidewalk and walk through their restaurant. So I either weave my way through people, tables, and chairs, or check the street a couple times to run in the road to get around the sidewalk restaurants. Also, there are a bunch of signs and poles in the middle of sidewalks to watch out for. At my height, I can usually walk under the signs and just have to avoid poles, but Eric being so tall makes him really have to pay attention.
The guardian of the river run.
3. Stray Dogs—Thailand has a huge number of stray dogs (although not as many as India) and the streets and sidewalks are their domain. I have heard of other Thai cities where you can’t really run because of the stray dogs chasing after you. I’m not sure what makes Suphan dogs different, but they are friendly or completely ignore you for the most part. I have only been scarily barked at and followed once while running, which I think is pretty good. In that dog’s defense, it was nighttime and it was probably protecting the food it had just been given. That’s the problem with stray dogs in Thailand—the people constantly feed them so they will always be around. Not sure if this is a Buddhism thing or what. All I know is that things dogs are almost overfed at times. 

4. Cars—The hierarchy of the Thai traffic system puts pedestrians and runners at the bottom of the food chain so you always have to be on your guard. Think you are safe looking just one way when you cross a one-way street? Think again! Traffic rules are more like suggestions and I have seen some sketchy maneuvers with cars going the wrong direction on a one-way street. I still have yet to see an accident though so this makes me feel a little safer. (There is actually very little traffic in Suphan on Sunday--probably because there is no school or special Saturday class so I didn't get a picture of the traffic)

5. Burning Trash—This is sadly an incredibly common practice here (and Anna tells me people still do it in South Carolina—come on US citizens, get some sense!) and is something to be avoided unless you want to suck in the fumes from burning plastic. I almost always run after school around 5:30 when it is cooler and still light out and this coincides with the time most people burn their trash, which is always a bummer for me. However, it does make me run faster when I am near one of these trash fires!

Bonus Hazard! Children with guns.
Don't worry, just toy guns. 
As you now know, running here is not necessarily the easiest or most convenient form of exercise but a runner has to do what a runner has to do. Please make my training in these less than ideal conditions worth it by donating to my Run Vietnam for Global Literacy campaign here

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bridget's Birthday Ball

Now don't confuse the title of this post with a extravagent party (ball). I am, of course, referring to one of the highlights of my 23rd birthday here in Thailand, which was a giant pork meatball. Let me explain.

I couldn't finish it, too much meat for one ball
I was very fortunate that my birthday fell on Teacher's Day in Thailand, which meant we had a day off midweek! Eric, Anna and I woke up Wednesday morning and met some of my students (obviously Nay was the one that invited us) to go to the 100 Year Market in Sam Chuk. Evidently this market has been around since the early 1900s and was settled by a largely Chinese population (something like 85% of Thais have Chinese ancestors) and the super old buildings are still around. We didn't eat before leaving so the first order of business was sitting down for a late breakfast at the market and a shop that was known for its huge pork meatballs. I obviously had to order one (50% to eat it and 50% to take a picture with it), but learned that it was meant to be shared between a much larger number of people. It was really good though and I got to call it my birthday ball the entire meal, which I still find more funny than it probably is.

We strolled around the market and tried the many weird and sometimes tasty Thai treats. In general, Thai desserts and sweet snack are not my thing but we did find some good ones! Most of the shops sold some type of food, but there were a few cool clothing stores, standard souvenir stores, and other random stores. INCLUDING one of those amazing places where you dress up in traditional wear depending on where you are and take an awesome black and white picture. My family took one of these types of photos in Virginia City when I was a kid and it hangs on our wall in Tahoe keeping the cabin classy. Eric, Anna, Nay, and I dressed up in some traditional Thai outfits, which are hilarious and posed for an ancient looking camera (is was 60 years old). The woman knew what she was doing and put us in different outfits and sat us or stood us where she wanted us. Unfortunately it takes a while to get the official picture (it will arrive at Nay's house in a couple weeks), but we were able to snap a few of our own! (which will be posted soon)

We finished the market outing at a cake shop where we ate some delicious cake that was half chocolate and half orange. Of course is did not compare to a cake my mom or sisters would make for me, but it was amazing for Thai standards and I got a couple pieces to go to eat after dinner. We headed back to Suphan and Eric and I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out at the hotel pool down the street and getting our bronze on (Sidenote: I accidentily bought lotion for making your skin whiter and have been using it the past couple weeks after every shower. I was wondering where my New Years tan was going!

We then made some pesto pasta made from Thai basil and asparagaus for dinner, which was awesome, finished off the cake I brought home, and may or may not have (we did) go buy icecream too. The three of us finished my birthday off playing Jenga and Uno. It was a very nice birthday and it was great to receive birthday wishes from my family and friends via email and facebook! I am also asking anyone who would get my a birthday gift if I were home to donate to my Run Vietnam for Literacy campaign here. Thank you to everyone who made 22 such a great year and I look forward to the adventures to come this year!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Children's Day in Song Phi Nong

After all the effort of traveling around New Years, I have been wanting to stay closer to Suphan these next couple weekends and this last weekend was the second weekend in a row (3rd overall) that I stayed in Suphan. Nay, my friend/student, invited us to a small Children's Day celebration in her home town of Song Phi Nong (about 45 minutes from Suphan). Evidently Children's Day is a common thing here that many cities celebrate. So, Nay's dad picked Anna and I up (Eric was golfing with the Japanese teacher) Saturday morning and drove us to their home.

I was really looking forward to going to Nay's house since she lives in more of a country setting in a traditional Thai style house. This was the first time I actually went inside a Thai person's house and spent time in a traditional Thai neighborhood besides running or walking through one. Thai houses are often on stilts because of the flooding during the rainy season and are all wood like Nay's house. The whole living set up was interesting to me because it is pretty different from western style homes. In the US, homes with an awesome kitchen and well decorated living rooms are the pride and joy of a home maker, but a home's appearance doesn't seem like it is that big of a deal here. In Nay's house and her aunt's house next door, we walked up the stairs to find a very large almost empty room. It would be awesome if you were having a dance party or something, but there was almost zero furniture and a few pictures on the walls. I think it is because people don't really hang out inside their houses, especially if they live in an older house that does not have air conditioning. Most of the people in her neighborhood actually hung out outside and underneath their houses and that was where most of their furniture was. So I assume everything is moved inside during the rainy season and it looks a little more like a living area that I am used to.

Anyway, back to Children's Day. We walked over to the stage a few blocks from Nay's house where her neighborhood organized activities for the kids in the neighborhood/town. There were around 40 or 50 kids/toddlers/babies and the community bought a ton of treats and other prizes for the kids. They played games like the pop the balloon game (which was one of my favorites at my childhood birthday parties and which got very violent), musical chairs, throw the ball through the holes in Psy's sunglasses, mouth, or man parts, spinning wheel, dance to Gangnam Style, and karaoke. I swear I heard Gangnam Styles at least 5 times in a 3 hour period and all the kids (even 2 year olds) were dancing along. It disturbs me that the first english words most of these kids are probably going to know are "Heeeeeey sexy lady!" instead of "Hello, how are you?"
Pop the balloon
Musical Chairs
Dancing to Gangnam Style

This kid is as sick of Gangnam Style as me!

The kids were really cute and Nay's dad and the mayor got us on stage to lead a song and give out prizes. They really wanted us to sing a song, which we reluctantly agreed to do. However, we thought they meant lead a song so we had the kids sing the ABCs with us. We then figured out that they wanted us to be the ones to kick off the karaoke. Oops! We were also given some delicious coconut icecream with sticky rice (so good) and lots of fruit. Unfortunately Anna was handed a plate of deep fried hot dogs, fish balls, and other standard fried meats, but Nay intervened before we felt like we had to eat it.

After the festival we went back to Nay's where her mom and aunt cut up a Som-o (huge grapfruit like thing) and amazing ripe mango from their tree. Mangoes are really common here, but ripe mango is not. The taste of unripe mango is growing on me and I think of it as eating an apple, but ripe mango is sooo much better! They then took us to their neighbor's house where we were given some more crazy fruits and sticky rice cooked in coconut milk with mango to eat later (and omg it was amazing!). As if we weren't full enough, Nay's parents then took us out to an awesome lunch! Evidently Song Phi Nong is known for having good fish and it was amazing! We had 4 different fish dishes and they were all so good--fish balls (but good ones), green curry with fish balls, small fried fish and amazing steamed fish.
By the time we got home we were exhausted and full of fruit and fish up to our eyeballs, so obviously is was nap time. The rest of the weekend was relatively uneventful and relaxing. Suphan is supposed to have a pretty big Children's Day festival when it comes around, so I am looking forward to that!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Eating in Thailand

I think I have been neglecting writing about the eating aspect of my blog so this post is all about food in Thailand. There were actually many many years in my life that I said that I didn't like Thai food and it took me a while to jump on the Thai food bandwagon like everyone else in the US. I ate it once in 6th grade and got food poisoning driving home from Santa Cruz with my friend's family, which was obviously awkward and uncomfortable so I decided I didn't like Thai food after that. I tried Pad Thai a year or so later and still wasn't impressed (this was before I became an adventurous eater willing to try most things) so it wasn't until about a year ago that I realized I actually did like Thai food.

Food here is pretty awesome and sometimes I have to remind myself of that when I start getting a little ungrateful. However, it can be very hit or miss if you don't stick to the staples that you know. Also, in places like Suphanburi where there are basically zero foreign tourists, menus are in Thai script so you just have to say the dishes that you know in Thai and hope they can make them, which they usually can (the alternative is pointing at something random on the menu which hasn't turned out well for me in the past). It is amazing how you can walk up to a typical street restaurant that has metal or plastic tables and some plastic chairs for seating and the cook has a wok or two and a pot of rice and they can whip up an awesome curry, a soup, and some meat dish in 10 minutes. The first couple weeks we were here we ate a lot of fried rice with chicken since we didn't know any Thai and we would walk up, sit down, smile and shrug our shoulders in hopes that they would bring us food. Fortunately my Thai has improved since then and I can order a  few different things, ask for it to go, and tell them the level of spicy I want. These are some of my go to dishes when I can't read a menu:
Pad Ka Praew (basil and meat in a spicy sauce--Eric's fav)

Pad Thai (lime makes all the difference)

Green Curry (Geng Panang, but sometimes you say geng panang and get sting beans in red sauce, so definitely a hit or miss situation)

Pa Boo Fi Den (fried thai vegetable in yummy sauce, but it can be very spicy)

Chicken with Cashews (Gai Pad Met Mammua)

Pad See Yu (reminds my of Chinese Chow Fun so I love it)

When Wattana or one of the other teachers takes us out to lunch or dinner we actually get to try new things which is always awesome, but can get a little weird. Yesterday Wattana took us to a really cool restaurant on our way back from the visa office where we ate a soupy curry with whole little fish and lotus flower stems. It was pretty good, but very salty and very fishy.

As the lead rice exporter, Thailand has a ton of rice and it is almost worshiped here. For example, one of the translations for eating a meal is "gin khao," which directly translated means eat rice. Unfortunately, Suphanburi pretty much only has crappy short grain rice, which we eat a lot of at school. Whenever I eat long grain rice or wild rice (super rare) I get really excited about eating rice again. However, it can definitely get a bit repetitive. Pad see yu is always a great way to change things up when I am sick of rice and almost all restaurants make it, although they are rice noodles so really there's no avoiding rice here.

Now let's talk about Thai desserts and snacks. In general, Thais are very heavy handed and this goes for spicy, salty, and sweet. They love sweets, but as we found out on Christmas when we gave them peanut butter balls, they are not into rich sweets. Also, things on a stick are super popular. There are some delicious meats on a stick, but all too common are various types of gross hot dogs on a stick and fish balls on a stick. Here are some Thai desserts and snacks:
Weird little sweet things that I think are soy bean paste coated in a jelly type thing.
Ka Nome Crook (coconut milk cooked in an ebble skiver pan with green onions on top--SO GOOD and one of my favorite breakfasts)
Crepe with egg and banana inside and topped with slightly thickened condensed milk and sugar (The first time I got this the woman acted out for me how fat I was going to get)
Hot dogs, sausages, squid, chicken, pork, etc (choose wisely)
Nam Keng Sai (a bowl of crushed ice topped with a milky sweet sauce and you can add a variety of gummy type things, sweet potato, corn, and sticky rice)

I have to admit that I have started to miss western food and splurged on some peanut butter and nutella the other day. Cheese is close to non existent here and I am starting to miss it along with Mexican food which is completely non existent here. However, it just takes one amazing Thai meal to remind me that food is awesome here. I think I just get sick of food at school since it can often be cold and is so focused on the rice. Overall, Thai food is pretty tough to beat, but I still think Indian food is better as my true loyalty will always be to India. So now you know a tiny bit about eating in Thailand and I will try to incorporate more of my eating experiences in this blog, now go eat some cheese and dense cake for me!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Run Vietnam for Global Literacy

Two things I love: running and reading. For those that don't know, I come from a family of runners and  am the offspring of two awesome marathoning parents. I have considered myself a runner since I was a fifth grader competing in the Petaluma West Side Relays

Fast forward about ten years later to 2009 when I ran the Boston Marathon, my first marathon, then 2010 when I ran the Washington DC Suntrust Marathon, and 2012 when I ran my first trail marathon in Susanville, California. (Susanville was a bit of a torturous event so I do not have pictures) 

More important and older than my running identity is my identity as a reader. My sisters and I were almost excessively read to from babyhood to young adulthood and we loved it. There was no stopping us when we learned to read and I have been a reader ever since. So what does this have to do with Thailand and my travels?

When Eric's mom and sister came to visit, we left school early after teaching a class or two to meet them in Bangkok. It was 11 am on a Thursday. A time where, in the US, absolutely every child is sitting in a classroom or playing at recess unless their parents are letting them play hooky (like my mom did from time to time to take us to museums and art exhibits in San Francisco). We drove by an elementary school on the way to our apartment and we saw a child in the road who looked about 6 or 7 years old. This child wasn't playing hooky from the elementary school near by. He was walking through traffic selling flowers; he was working. 

Now Thailand is by no means a developing country, but it still has work to do in its education system and getting all children into school and this small experience struck me (not to mention the thousands of girls and young women working in the sex industry instead of going to school). I worked with an amazing non-profit called Room to Read during my senior year at Cal Poly and planned a fundraiser for them with a few friends last spring. I learned about Room to Read while I was studying abroad and traveling in India. I read the founder's book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and was impressed by his passion (which led him to quit his exec job with Microsoft to start Room to Read) and purpose. I researched Room to Read and one of their employees came to speak at a conference I helped plan for my senior project. After meeting with someone who actually works for Room to Read, I went full steam ahead in planning a fundraiser and am now almost (or completely) annoyingly passionate about this organization. Room to Read has impacted the lives of over 6.7 million children and is not going to stop any time soon. Check out this video to see what Room to Read accomplished in 2012 due to support from people like you and me, local communities in the countries they work in, and Room to Read employees. 

Room to Read currently works in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Tanzania, Zambia, and South Africa and will continue to increase their impact in other countries when the time is right. Because I am living so close to three of the countries Room to Read works in, I had planned on visiting a few schools while I am on this side of the world. I don't really enjoy traveling as a standard tourist and prefer to do something to be more involved. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to raise more awareness about Room to Read's cause and contribute to their efforts while living and traveling to close to the children that need our help. 

I am combining my love of running and reading by racing the Phu Quoc Half Marathon and fundraising for Room to Read in order to instill a passion for reading in children who do not have the same opportunities I had growing up. I will also visit Room to Read's schools when traveling in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos so I can report back to my supporters on where their money is going and the difference they are making. I plan on blogging about my training progress regularly so check back to see how I am doing and learn more about Room to Read. 
So, if you received an education as a child (and I know you all did), please visit my fundraising page here to make your donation. A little really goes a long way on this side of the world, so no donation is too small. I am, however, challenging everyone to donate at least $13 to represent the number of miles I will be running to support literacy in May. You can also visit my Run Vietnam for Literacy facebook page to learn more. 

Thank you thank you thank you for your support! As Room to Read says: "World Change Starts with Educated Children." Let's help change the world one book and one mile at a time! 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year in Ko Maak/I Live in Postcard Land

This is pre-warning that this is probably going to be an excessively long post. Read what you wish. 

Although we celebrated Christmas at school, the real holiday this time of year is New Years. People started celebrating Thursday night and carried on until Tuesday night. Therefore, we were told that students wouldn't actually go to class on Friday. My typical efficiency-focused mind thought, "Well that is silly. Either make them go to class or cancel school if no one will go." But efficiency is not really a part of Thai culture. Anyway, we went to school on Friday ready for the kids to probably not go to class. My first class actually showed up and we did a New Years lesson, but the rest of the day kids hung out on campus having little parties with treats and giving each other and the teachers gifts. It was actually really fun seeing all the kids hanging out and having fun and we got some delicious coconut ice cream cones with sticky rice out of it, which was enough to make going to school worth it. By 11 the other teachers told us that they were all leaving (either to go to lunch and come back or just leaving) and we found out we could leave for the day. We had a taxi pick us up and vacation began!

Eric and I had booked a hotel in Bangkok for Friday night so we could get an early start for Ko Maak on Saturday, but with this change of plans we were able to go all the way to Trat (the port town for the islands on its coast). The bus station was crazy busy, but we were able to get an express bus to Trat, which was 5 hours and got us there around 10. We woke up Saturday morning and took a very crowded Song Taew (pick up truck with two benches faces each other) to the pier. It was a beautiful 45 minutes ride and the local Thais riding with us thought we were pretty silly and we thought the same as we sat with their huge sacks of produce from the market. Unfortunately, we went to the wrong pier and mild panic ensued. We eventually made it on another Song Taew to the right pier where we bought our 11 am boat ticket to Ko Maak. It turned out they overbooked the 11am and we had to wait for the 1 pm. This type of incident is all too common, so we sat down and waited. We eventually made it to Ko Maak and were overcome with excitement as we neared the island and drove to our pre-booked bungalows. 

The term bungalows is used very commonly here when talking about accommodations, but these were bungalows in every true sense of the word. Not just some cutesy hut, but a real hut that we were grateful enough to have a toilet (although not a typical flushing toilet--sidenote: They have toilets here that don't flush, but that you just keep pouring cups of water in into everything washes away). We also had a great view from our front door. It was a secluded little beach and the family running the bungalows was hilarious in the way they worked together and very laid back. 

We planned this trip with two other couples from orientation (yes, it was a couples vacation) and everyone made it by the evening (it was touch and go there for a bit). We had a great evening swim and dinner and met some of the other people that were staying at the bungalows, including an older Canadian man stuck in his 20's, two really nice (and not stereotypically creepy) Italian guys and one of their Thai girlfriends who was super cute. 

I woke up Sunday morning and went on a little run by the many rubber trees and palm trees. It was so humid that it felt like I was running at altitude since it was so hard to breath. Luckily, the ocean was right there and Eric and I went for a long and tiring swim to a beach north of our little beach. Everyone else left us to rent bikes and ride around the island and unfortunately the run and swim combo kind of wiped me out for the rest of the day. However, this wasn't all that unfortunate since I spent the afternoon reading and laying on the beach and that was okay with me!

Monday morning, we all woke up and got our bikes to ride to this bakery that the others had found the day before. It was great riding around the island, which is much more farming focused than tourist focused. This was the busiest weekend to travel in Thailand and besides the issue of getting a boat to the island, it was barely crowded compared to popular tourist spots. We hung out at this beautiful pier connected to a nicer and really neat hotel and I talked with a friendly British woman for a while staying there with her friend and friends. Someday I will travel in style like her, but for now I am happy doing it on a budget and with a backpack!

New Year's Eve was very relaxed at our bungalows and we spent the evening hanging out on the beach with the other people staying there. We also enjoyed some coconuts that we literally watched being plucked from the trees on our beach and hacked open to drink the coconut water and eat the coconut meat. There was a bon fire that kept us entertained and everyone let off lanterns and fireworks to bring in the New Year. Eric was sick after the big swim and until the morning we left so he didn't get to experience our vacation very much besides having some quality bungalow time. 

Tuesday morning we woke up and started our very long journey back to Suphan. It ended up taking 14 hours to get home, which put a little sour taste in our mouths about the trip, but Ko Maak really was wonderful and I would definitely go back if I could spend more time there.