Elephants, Scooters And Boats: 2 Friends in Thailand- Days 1, 2 & 3

Homesick is a real thing, and although I don’t get homesick often, it hits me hard when it does. So when one of my good friends, Chris, texted me saying he was thinking of stopping in Thailand for a week on his way home from his Nepal trip, most of the homesickness disappeared! It turned in to excitement! Excitement for not just planning a whole week vacation but also for getting to show off this amazing country I call home now, to a good friend, who has been ever so supportive in all of my crazy, Mapless Adventures!!!

One thing Chris told me was all he wanted to do was see elephants and to go ahead a plan the trip, which is quite a big responsibility and I really didn’t know where to start! I needed a little help from him, so I asked him to decide on beaches or mountains. This helped us determine the entry and exit point (which ended up being Bangkok regardless).

He mentioned he hasn’t really done a “beach” vacation, so after endless research (I’m a sucker for research), I decided on Phuket Island, in the city Patong. I understand Patong has a reputation for party and nightlife, but I choose the location simply because of the location! It was very central and not too far from anything! Once the city/location was selected the rest of the planning was pretty easy!

I felt like a kid at a candy store, waiting for his arrival in Bangkok! And practically burst into tears when I saw him walk out of the arrival area. I kind of felt bad for him as he was dressed for cold weather, and Thailand was anything but cold. He arrived in the late evening, so we didn’t do much that first night (our flight to Phuket was early the next morning), mostly just talked and looked at pictures from his Nepal adventure and I loved every minute of it!

Our journey from Bangkok to Phuket was pretty uneventful. The flight was about 1.5 hours, and then the taxi was for about an hour to our hostel. Once we arrived at our hostel, we got settled in then ventured out for Chris’s first authentic Thai food experience- Pad Thai! We ate at a place called No. 9, which was super popular and for a good reason. It was delicious! After lunch, we honestly didn’t do a whole lot the rest of the day. We mostly just wandered the streets of Patong, experiencing our first crazy Bangla Road heckling for “ping pong” shows, which obviously we DID NOT do. We had our elephant experience early the next morning, so we called it a relatively “early” night.

The next morning, it was time for elephants! I hadn’t done this before nor had Chris, so it was a first for both of us. We decided on the full day excursion with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket, which includes feeding, jungle hike, poo paper, kayaking, bathing with the elephants, and two meals. Seemed like a pretty good deal!

The morning part with the elephants was something special. We learned general information about the Asian elephant, we learned about their food and diet, and we got a chance to feed them corn, bananas, and sugar cane. There were quite a bit of people both on full day and half day excursions, and only 5 elephants, so a little chaotic. I did actually feel bad for the elephants, though. We did learn about the elephants’ backstories on how they came to be at EJS, and it broke my heart. Several came from logging camps, others came from riding camps, and one came from a hotel, where she was required to “dance” (which meant shake her head and sway her body) and was beaten if she didn’t.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was able to save two new elephants 3-days and the day before our visit. These elephants had two very different personalities. The one who came the day before was kind and gentle. The other female elephant had such badly broken spirit and couldn’t be around humans as it was aggressive. It had to be habilitated to learn how to be free from the abuse and riding.

It was heartbreaking to hear her story, but she was one of the elephants who we got to walk with in the jungle, and that was special. Chris and I spent our time during the hike with this precious elephant. I think we both enjoyed watching her get to be an elephant again in the jungle, pulling in trees and plants, scratching her body against a tree and just walking.

When we got back from the trek, it was water time. Chris held the hose for the two elephants to drink, and when it was Grandma’s turn (83year old elephant), she ran away so quickly when Chris attempted to rinse her off. We did get to witness a first with the newest elephant, named Aom Ngung. She got to experience the shower, and you can see the pure happiness in her eyes!

The mid-day break was a bit strange. To start, It was a two-hours long. It started out with lunch, which was delicious. It also included a 45-minute poo paper arts and crafts with a brief explanation of the process. I was hoping to get my hands dirty and attempt to make my own paper, as was Chris but whatever. We still made it fun, and the people in our group were easy to talk too.

Then the kayaking. Oh, the kayaking. It was kayaking, in the middle of a hot sunny day, in basically a swamp. Not to mention, there was no dock or stairs or platform or anything to help us get on or off the kayak. Kind of a complete waste of time, but whatever.

We were then shuttled to another one of the camps (they have 3 or 4) for the afternoon session. We joined with another decent sized group of tourists with 5 elephants.

It started with the “mud bath,” which was an odd experience, but the elephants seemed to enjoy as almost all were splashing themselves with mud.

It was off to the swimming hole next, which none of the elephants even hesitated to get into the water. They immediately dunked their bodies into the water. They kept spitting water and dunking their heads. It was quite a sight to see. Although our time at EJS was not perfect, and slightly a let down on some things, the time we spent with elephants was pretty special!

Our time with the elephants was completed, and it was time to head back into town. Once we returned, we showered then headed to find food. It was at dinner that we decided on our “free day’s” excursion, which we decided on scooters. After dinner, it was off to sleep. This actually became our norm for the trip: return from an excursion, shower, head out on the town for food, go back to the hostel, and go to bed. The best part was that as Chris and I headed to bed (every night of our trip in fact), our dorm mates were heading out on the town. Actually benefitted us in the long run as we were kind of able to get good night sleeps.

TO BE CONTINUED…because of the number of excursions and adventures Chris and I went on, I broke this trip into 3 different blogs to make for a better reading experience!

****Disclaimer: I know this isn’t going to make everyone who reads this happy. There is so much information: good, bad, correct, incorrect, false, and accurate information, going around about ethical animal travels and excursions. It’s tough to know what to think without truly experiencing it. I will not ride elephants, that much is clear, and I have my own opinions on the elephant excursion matter. I do live here in Thailand and hear, see, and learn A LOT about it, but I’m not going to get into it. I’m not one for cyberbullying, trolling, and cyber arguments, so I’m not going to get into it. I felt that our experience, although far from perfect, was insightful, and was special. Please keep your negative comments to yourself. This is a personal blog on personal experiences. Thank you.****

A Piece of Pai

Back in December, on a long weekend, a few of my fellow foreign teacher friends attempted to travel to a small town in the northwest corner of Thailand. This small town is a popular travel destination for many westerners, and we were all intrigued to visit. However, those plans did not happen according to plan. Welcome to the life of a traveling English teacher in a foreign country.

Thankfully, as the school year ended, I knew I’d have a little gap before my friend from America was here for a week visit, and it was the perfect opportunity to take the crazy route from Lampang to the town of Pai. Haven’t heard of Pai? That’s okay. Let me summarize it for you…one word…TURNS.

Read more

What My First Semester of Teaching Has Taught Me

The date was October 16th, 2018 and I was fresh off the mini-bus from Chiang Mai to Lampang. Little did I know what was going to be in store for me when I arrived at my high school English Department office. But then again, isn’t that was life and travel is really about, expect the unexpected?!

I’m not going to sit here ramble on about how, “I’m a different person than I was six months ago” or “my life has changed so much in six months”, because in all reality, if these statements weren’t true, I didn’t do this whole live and work-abroad thing correctly. Isn’t it sort of a given fact that these statements hold true?!

Read more

My Reality of Teaching English in Thailand

When I decided I was going to take a complete 180 from my career as a Speech Language Pathologist and move halfway around the world to teach English, I immediately began to scour the internet.

  • What clothes do I pack for Thailand?
  • What shoes do I bring?
  • Are there novelties from America I should bring with me?
  • Travel essentials for Thailand?
  • Where is better to live? North vs. South? City vs. country?

You get the idea.

However, one research topic that was challenging for me to search for was “teaching/teachers in Thailand.” Don’t get me wrong, I did find many posts, stories, and information about the Thailand School system, both positive and negative, but it was a hard topic actually to want to search.

Why???

Honestly, everyone’s experience is their own. It is this way with traveling too. Not everyone is going to love a particular location, not everyone is going to enjoy teaching English, and not everyone is going to like their school placement or the town they are placed into, and I just didn’t want to move to Thailand with any preconceived notion. I wanted to come in “sort of” blind, I guess you could say!

I dI did speak with a few people who’ve made this life-changing move and read one or two blog posts, but overall, I kept my research to a minimum.

When I first moved here to take the TESOL course in Chiang Mai, I wasn’t expecting to learn much. My job as a Speech Language Pathologist is focused heavily on teaching language and communication to children, usually as a first language, but occasionally students who are ELL. So, for me, the TESOL certificate was more or less a formality…TESOL certificate= more money.

Can I tell you I learned something new from the course… I guess I kind of did. I’ve never taught a full class of students, especially not a whole class of 40-50 students all with varying levels of English proficiencies, so the course helped me learn more about classroom management.

Many of the management techniques are ones I use on a regular basis, but it’s easier when you only have 1-4 students at a time, so it was helpful practicing during English camp before taking on an actual classroom.

What I have learned since I started teaching is that Thai students will talk NON-STOP in class and are ALWAYS on their phones. Even when I tell them I will take their phones and do, it doesn’t stop them. And honestly, most days it is not worth the fight between the 30-50 students in each class and me. The students also tend to do other classwork, NON-STOP during English class. This isn’t anything I take personally and have just accepted the fact that no matter how hard I try, there will be students completing homework. I mean I get it. These poor students have so many assignments and projects that need to be completed on a daily basis, that sometimes they just can’t get it all done.

Was I prepared for this factor? Absolutely not. There is not much I can do to stop the talking, the cell phone usage or the completing homework, and that has been something I’ve had to learn to adjust too. Now, my smaller classes and the classes with higher English proficiency are a little easier to manage, but the general rule of thumb, cell phones, talking and homework will happen during class, and I have begun to learn to accept it as best I can.

My secret weapon to try and minimize the chatter during class are two soft toy dice. These inexpensive, plush toys come to class with me every day and when they talk excessively, and after I repeatedly ask them to be quiet, I throw the dice to two students and make them talk to each other in Q & A format. It’s one of my greatest tools and very entertaining for me to watch the students plot who they will throw it too next. And by plot, I literally mean, plot! It’s the most enjoyable thing to watch them try and find someone who isn’t paying attention or plot to throw it to a boy and a girl, who are sometimes dating each other (or like each other, I’m assuming). There have been many times my students have hit each other in the head both purposefully and accidentally (the dices bounce).

In addition to management, it was helpful to learn how to teach “practical usage” of the English language, meaning focus more on conversational skills and functional purpose. Here in Thailand, many of the Thai English teachers focus heavily on grammar, while native English teachers usually focus on speaking English in a conversation style manner. However, let me emphasize, every school is VERY different in how they want their native English speakers to teach. Some schools have a strict style of teaching, including a curriculum, and as teachers, you must learn exactly what your school asks of you.

For me, I’ve been fortunate with a school, which gives me a lot of free reign in my classes and curriculum. I do have a general outline of what my Thai co-teachers are teaching, but I can generally teach what I want to teach and use whatever style works for me!

In regards to teaching style, the way the TESOL course taught seemed more directed towards younger children; present the vocabulary words with pictures, have Q & A sticks for practice, then play games for speaking. Since I am placed at the Mattayom level and teach 15 to 17-year-olds, I have had to slightly adjust the way I teach to support language growth and language function.

I still have a selected theme, a group of vocabulary words and try to incorporate questions and answers into each class; however, I give the students opportunities to guess the vocabulary words and or definition of each word to support memory recall and comprehension (very speech pathologist of me). I also try and get the students to figure out a full- sentence answer on their own. I tend to incorporate worksheets that follow a question-answer style vs. playing games. This allows them to have to speak to several students each time and practice conversation style English or at least I try to have them practice conversational English. In reality, the students copy each other in WHATEVER I have them do in class. It’s just my reality!

Why?!? They really, really, really don’t like getting things wrong, their English isn’t very proficient, and/or they just don’t understand what is going on in class, and all of that is okay. That is my reality as a native English speaking teacher. These things happen and I have to learn to adjust things based on each class, simplify the lesson, change the activity, change the vocabulary or terminology on the fly, and realize not every student is going to understand. Many students rely on what I have written on the board during the activities to “read” what they are supposed to say and that’s okay.

I do have the occasional 2-3 classes that finish everything I ask of them in 30-35 minutes, and I have to wing things because of a higher English proficiency, but in general, I have to keep things simple. And when in doubt…I throw the dice around the room (and I haven’t laughed harder or had more fun in my classes then the times the dice are out)!

Now don’t get me wrong, do try and incorporate games into class, but with older students and only 50 minutes (reality 45 minutes on a good day), the games don’t usually work out, and they don’t usually happen in English. Again, my reality!

It has been quite an adventure learning to teach English to high schoolers and vastly different from my job as a Speech Pathologist in St Thomas, where I was working primarily with preschool-3rd graders. I have learned how to have fun again with teaching language and less on the paperwork/legality aspect that my career holds. This has been the break I needed mentally, and my stress levels have reduced significantly. I can’t say I don’t miss my career, because, in all honesty, I genuinely do! I miss the little buggers I use to work with, I miss their smiles and their hugs, but my mental health needed this extended break, and I’m happy with where I am at and teaching English!

Lampang, Thailand: My Home

Moving to Thailand with a recruitment company, like Greenheart Travel, has its benefits. One of them, by far, is the amount of information they provide to you about budgeting, living abroad, and previous teacher-placement locations. For me, this was hugely important because I love doing research.

I didn’t know much about Thailand’s regions prior to my departure so it was nice to be provided with a list of different cities that I had the possibility of being placed. It also gave me a chance to narrow down where I might want to be placed to let Xplore Asia know more about my preferences. (They sent out a questionaire about a month prior to my arrival)

Read more