Elephants, Scooters, and Boats: 2 Friends in Thailand Final Days

It’s hard to believe how quickly a week vacation went with my friend Chris, but all good thing must come to an end, right? (okay, maybe not always)

Thankfully, it wasn’t quite over. Even though we were set to leave Phuket to head back towards Bangkok, Chris didn’t actually fly out till Sunday afternoon. So, technically, we had another day and a half, which between the two of us, was plenty of time to do a few more things!

We did allow ourselves to sleep-in Saturday morning, which was much needed before we wandered Patong Beach to find breakfast. After breakfast, we ended up finding smoothies and a fish massage place. I think that’s what it’s called. You know, those big tanks of tiny fish that you put your feet into and the tiny fish eat the dead skin. That’s what we decided to do on our last day in Phuket, fish massages.

It was one of the strangest feelings, and I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s like a mix between a pedicure, tickling sensation, and mini, painless pinches over your entire foot.

We originally paid for 15 minutes, but the guy allowed us to stay for like 30 minutes. It was pretty excessive but it’s Thailand! We even kept telling him we were ready to be done, but he just sat there.

Once we finished with our fish massage, it was time we started gathering our things to wait for our taxi, which itself was slightly stressful, as our taxi was quite late. Good thing Phuket International Airport was a smaller airport and we were only taking a domestic flight.

The flight back to Bangkok was uneventful, and we quickly found our way to our hostel. When we initially planned this trip, I booked the two of us in a dorm room, but after a few days, I changed to a private room, to allow Chris the ability to spread out and pack easier.

The hostel, Niras Bangkoc Cultural Hostel, was located in the heart of Bangkok and is located across the street from a very famous restaurant. However, I didn’t know that at the time of the booking, but defiantly good to know for future reference.

Our night wasn’t that eventful. It was mostly Chris gathering a few last-minute items and walking around the neighborhood we were staying. The neighborhood was full of beautiful temples, a bit of traffic, and was close to the Giant Swing, a common tourist spot. Honestly, it was a bit underwhelming and uneventful, but I guess I can say we’ve seen it.

The next day, we woke up with little plans. However, since it was a Sunday, Chatuchak Weekend Market would be open. It’s one of the top things to see in Bangkok, and it’s where Chris and I decided to spend our half day.

Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the world’s largest weekend markets. It covers nearly 27 acres of land, has well over 15,000 booths, and is the perfect place to gather souvenirs or wander around.

I’ve been before, and since I was at the start of my 6-week backpacking adventure, I wasn’t really in the market for shopping, but it sure was fun watching Chris look around.

Our time quickly came to an end, and before I knew it, Chris and I were in a Grab taxi heading to the airport. Saying goodbye to Chris was hard, as it was so refreshing having a friend who knows me well, but it also meant that I was about to embark on my longest solo adventure ever.

After Chris left, I only had two things on my to-do list before changing hostels. First thing I needed to do was…get my second anti-rabies shot at a local hospital (SUPER EASY). The second thing I needed to do was to head to a mall and purchase a new GoPro because mine decided to break while on our Phi Phi Islands boat tour.

Thankfully, regarding my GoPro, I pay for GoPro Plus, which means I can send in my broken GoPro under warranty and get a new one. However, since I’m in Thailand, I needed to send it home with Chris to the USA to be covered, which just meant, I GOT TO BUY THE GOPRO 7, which is AMAZING!!! And I did!

My night concluded with me changing hostels, showering, and sleeping. I was heading off to Cambodia in the morning on a bus, and I didn’t want to miss it or be too tired.

Stay tuned for stories and adventures of my 19th country and second country of Southeast Asia!!!

Elephants, Scooters, and Boats: 2 Friends in Thailand Day 6

Today was one of those days where we didn’t plan what we wanted to do until I think the day before, maybe two days earlier. I had a semi-rough idea of what we could do, but I didn’t want to set anything in stone until Chris arrived and we could see where the trip took us.

Together, after a few options were discussed, we decided on another boat day. Except for this time, instead of a sunset cruise, we decided on a sunrise speed boat tour to the Phi Phi Islands. The particular tour we decided on was called The Beach Sea Trips, which I’m pretty sure we found at the stand where we rented our motor scooters.

The Phi Phi Islands are kind of a MUST SEE when you come to the west coast of Thailand. They are what most people think of when they think of Thailand, and I’m not going to lie when I say, I was really excited about this particular trip! It would be the furthest south I’ve ever been (at this point in time).

As I mentioned early, this trip was a sunrise boat trip, which meant another super early morning after a late night (remember I was bitten by a monkey and was at the hospital till well close to, maybe even after midnight). Thankfully, Chris is a morning bird and had enough time before our pick up arrived to get us some coffee! (Coffee is a wonderful thing).

The driver drove us to the starting point of the tour, which was at a marina a decent 40-minute drive away, but thankfully, once we arrived and checked in, the company provided breakfast! During breakfast was when they went over the itinerary and the safety features, so no significant time was spent on the boat! Always a good perk to a sunrise not trip!

To say we were ready to board the boat is an understatement. I was, to be honest, just tired of standing around and listening to people talk. I wanted to be back on the water in a speed boat, jetting off towards the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved Thailand, but the boat life in the Caribbean has been something I’ve majorly missed.

I was so happy when we finally left the marina and speeded off directly into the sun towards the first stop of the day- Maya Bay located on Koh Phi Phi Ley.

Let me start off by saying this, Maya Bay is indefinitely closed as it succumbed to over tourism and Thailand decided that, to bring it back to its beauty, it needs to remain tourist-free. Maya Bay was made famous by the 2000 movie “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio and quickly rose to fame as a Thailand hotspot. Now, you can only witness this beautiful beach from a distance.

After a few short minutes, we headed to our next location, Loh Sama Bay, which literally was on the backside of the Koh Phi Phi Ley where Maya Bay is located. This time, we were FINALLY able to jump into the beyond crystal turquoise blue water! That wasn’t all, located in this little reef area behind Maya Beach, were cute and tiny baby reef sharks 🙂

We stayed in this spot for about 30ish minutes, and when we were ready to take off, Chris happened to be quite far from the boat and struggling to get back to the boat due to a current. According to Chris, swimming is not his thing. Makes for a great story though!!

The next location on this boat trip turned into an ultimate fail. Apparently, the tide doesn’t always work in favor of the boat, and on this particular day, the tide at Pileh Lagoon was just that. The entrance was just too shallow and the boat, with the motors practically out of the water, was unable to pass over the sand bar. It would have been a great spot for more swimming, but it was just in the plans.

Thankfully, it’s not like this was the end of the boat trip. We had barely just begun, so with little hesitation, we continued on our way with a small, just slow enough to see it, drive by, of a place called Viking Cave, which is still located on Koh Phi Phi Ley.

I wish I could tell you more about Viking Cave, but I just don’t have any answers. I was more curious about this Monkey Beach and Monkey Cliff I kept hearing our tour guide mentioning.

Did you read about yesterdays mishap with a monkey? Can you now understand my curiosity? A Monkey Beach with a monkey cliff?

It was pretty much exactly what it sounds like; a beach of monkeys and a cliff of monkeys. It was pretty entertaining watching these monkeys JUMP off the cliff and into the sea, then back up the ropes. It was slightly touristy, and boats were feeding the monkeys bananas, which I know might not be ethical and does cause monkeys to become aggressive when they are on the beach, but I still enjoyed it.

After a few entertaining jumps from the monkeys and soaking up the beautiful island cliffs, we continued to our next location, a beachside restaurant for our lunch. This restaurant is a part of a beach resort located on Laemtong Beach. That’s honestly all I remember. Well, that and that the food was delicious!

After lunch, we headed to Long Beach, located on Koh Phi Phi Don. I’ll explain this to you quickly. Koh Phi Phi Ley is the smaller of the two islands, and Koh Phi Phi Don is the larger island. Okay, let’s continue.

Long Beach is located on the southeast corner of Koh Phi Phi Don, between several resorts and this is where Chris finally got his “James Bond” long boat moment. This beach had several long boats anchored on the beach right next to each other and was a perfect location for his moment.

Chris and I being the crazy, non-stop movers as we are, decided to grab a beer and take a walk down the beach, over a rocky corner, down a smaller beach, and over another rocky corner. It was at this point that we noticed the “Viking” sign. Come to find out, this is the location of the Viking Resort, but I did not know that at the time.

It was here where we had a mini-photoshoot on the rocky corner with the picturesque Thailand background, long boats included. I, of course, struggled slightly with the rocky coastline and may have slipped a couple of times, but never fully fell. Chris, being the amazing photographer that he is, captured it ALL on camera.

Next, we continued on our way and headed to Bamboo Island, a tiny island located just north of Koh Phi Phi Don and home to a beautiful white, sandy beach. But, before we made anchor on our final white, sandy beach of the day, we anchored off the coastline and did some more snorkeling!

This was a huge highlight for me, because…I SAW A ZEBRA SHARK. This was my first and as of now, my only time seeing a zebra shark. Talk about a random wildlife encounter! Chris even got to swim with the shark! Talk about memories in the making!

It was finally time to head to our final stop along our Phi Phi tour, Bamboo Beach. Chris, at this point, had another item off his want list. He wanted to drink a coconut on a beach and thanks to our fellow boatmates, they gave us one of their coconuts, as they didn’t like it! You could say our boating day around the Phi Phi Islands have been an utter success!!

The best part was that our day didn’t end with the boat trip. When we returned to the marina, it was only like 3pm, but we were spent and knew we needed to rest before heading out on the town!

Our night was a pretty simple night, but one thing was certain, we needed to complete our week in paradise with one final Thai massage. After all, Chris’s first experience wasn’t a true Thai massage. But this one was. There were moments during our massages, where the masseuses and myself were laughing because of the noises Chris was making.

I will say this, a Thai massage is nothing like the typical massage you might think of in America. It’s not relaxing AT ALL, so I understood where Chris was coming from, but it was still kind of funny, and a perfect end to our amazing week in Phuket.

We still have one half day left in Phuket before our flight the next day, so stay tuned for one final post on my time in Thailand with my good friend Chris!

Elephants, Scooters, and Boats: 2 Friends in Thailand- Day 5

We woke up extremely early on our 5th day. Reason? We still had a few more hours left with our scooters, and we wanted to see the sunrise, but not just any regular sunrise. We wanted to see the sun come up at the famous Phuket landmark, The Great Buddha of Phuket, also known as Big Buddha.

Big Buddha is a beautifully built, 18-meter tall statue located high on a mountain facing east, towards Ao Chalong Bay. Although parts of the grounds are still under construction, you can see why Big Buddha is a popular destination for locals and tours alike.

Because Chris and I are both morning people (when I want to be, I should clarify), we jetted off towards Big Buddha during the wee hours of the morning. I think it was something like 4:45-5am. It only took us about 30 minutes to drive our scooters to the location, and about 10 of those minutes were spent driving around and up the mountain, arriving before the sky started to light up.

It wasn’t very crowded when we arrived, so I was able to search out a place to attempt to capture a timelapse of the sunrise with my GoPro. (This is an essential part to the story). Everything was going perfect. The sun started to wake, the sky was turning beautiful colors, and everything was quiet. That was until the monkeys appeared.

Monkeys are known to be ruthless little creatures and scavengers on the hunt for food. In my case, one monkey was heading right towards me and getting a little aggressive. Then it started towards my GoPro. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. So, I grabbed my GoPro, which of course, pissed this monkey off. Next thing I know, the monkey jumped on my back and attempted to bite me. It all happened so fast that I honestly couldn’t tell if he made contact with me or not, as he tried to bite my upper back between my shoulder blades. Two ladies, who were nearby, saw this event take place and were kind enough look on my back for any signs of bite marks. Sure enough, the little bugger broke the skin; not deep enough to cause bleeding, but he did break it.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Why did I reach for my GoPro? Monkeys are known to be carriers, though not frequent, for rabies, and I put myself at risk by going after my GoPro. GoPros are not cheap, and I knew if this monkey got it, it would be gone forever. So, I took a chance.

I told Chris what happened with the monkey and texted my mom, who I am sure LOVED getting that text message. The three of us went back and forth about the rabies vaccination and ultimately decided it would be stupid not to get the shots. It’s just not worth the risk EVER.

Unfortunately, Chris and I had a prebooked boat tour for the afternoon and knew we would not have enough time to go to the hospital before the tour. I understand this probably isn’t the smartest thing, but I wasn’t worried and didn’t want to miss out on Pha Nang Bay, so we postponed getting the vaccination until after the tour.

At this point, it is now 7 am. We were both starting to get hungry, and both in desperate need of coffee. What I didn’t mention from yesterday, was that Chris and I stumbled across this random coffee shop on our drive home from sunset. We were curious about it, so we decided that we needed to make a visit before returning to Patong.

Yes Coffee, we found, was established to support underprivileged people in Thailand. It is more than just a roastery. It is also a school, which provides Burmese migrant children with education and currently has about 50 students and employs three teachers. Talk about a hidden gem of Phuket. Stumbling across this coffee shop was, for me, a major highlight of the trip. I genuinely love supporting businesses like Yes Coffee.

With the time of the tour creeping close and our time with the scooters about to expire, we headed back to Patong and our hostel. We had enough time to change into our suits and gather our things before we headed out towards the marina for our tour.

Now, something you should know about Chris is that he is an incredibly active man, so when looking for tours, I knew I needed to find something more than just sitting on a boat. With all the research I conducted, this tour, John Gray Sea Canoe “Hong by Starlight” was rated exceptionally well. I knew it would be an excellent way to see the beautiful Phang Nga Bay, which I really wanted to see because this bay has what seems like hundreds of tiny islands clustered together creating a breathtaking scene. I couldn’t let either of us leave Phuket or Thailand without seeing this site, so this was the tour I decided we needed to experience.

Okay, back to the day. It didn’t take us long after our arrival to the marina before we boarded the double-decker boat. The main level is a full kitchen because shortly after we left the port and on our way towards the Hong Islands, we were served a delicious lunch with a beautiful selection of Thai food.

Something exceptional about this company is that one guide is assigned to each kayak and they paddle the sea canoe

“through “Tidal Nape” Sea Caves literally inside Phang Nga Bay’s marine limestone karstic islands into “Hongs “(Thai for “Room”)”

https://www.johngray-seacanoe.com/trips/thailand/day-trips/hong-by-starlight.html

Our first sea canoe adventure took us through a tight cave, requiring us to lay completely flat, before opening to an extremely shallow mangrove lagoon. We were even giving the chance to stand in the middle of this lagoon. I mean, really, a once in a lifetime opportunitiy.

We continued to our next location, which was a larger cluster of several islands and lagoons. These lagoons were a bit deeper, and after our first time through with the guide, we were given a chance to go back alone and explore. Chris took the paddle and guided our sea canoe back to the lagoons. This was another major highlight for both of us because once we headed back, we found ourselves alone in the middle of an island in the middle of Phang Nga Bay in Thailand. It was so beautiful and peaceful. Truly a special moment shared with two friends.

The next adventure, which was another reason I selected this tour, included making our own krathong with the help of our guide. A krathong, which is a floating flower offering/basket that is a part of a spiritual ceremony which pays respect to the water spirits during a festival called Loi Krathong. I had the opportunity to participate in the festival in November, and I thoroughly enjoyed the cultural symbolism of the festival and felt that Chris would too. So, after we finished creating our krathong, and after eating a delicious dinner while watching the sunset, our guide lead us through a dark cave with bioluminescence. The cave ended in a beautiful lagoon, where we found our own quiet corner, lit our krathong, and released it into the water, making our wish.

Unfortunately, these quiet, special moments can’t last forever, and it was time we started heading back into port. It was quite late by the time we finally arrived back to our hostel and knew we had another super early sunrise wake up the next day, so we quickly headed to bed.

Stay tuned for the next blog, where Chris and I take another boating adventure to the Phi Phi Islands!!

Elephants, Scooters, and Boats: 2 Friends in Thailand- Day 4

We had another peaceful morning in the dorm, as our dorm-mates did not arrive home until close to 6 am in the morning. We, mostly me, decided to sleep in a bit this particular morning since we knew we were going to have sunrise-early mornings over the next couple of days.

Our hostel, Bearpacker Hostel in Patong, had been EXTREMELY helpful with any questions we asked about “what to do” in Phuket and guided us to the decision of motor scooter rentals for the day. They were able to provide us with a motor scooter rental place near the hostel. The rental place charges 300 baht per day, which is roughly $10, and we knew we’d only really need the scooter for one day. We had another excursion per booked for Thursday and Wednesday was kind of our only free exploration day!

As I mentioned early, we had a late start to our morning but still managed to get out of Patong before noon. If you don’t know anything about Phuket then let me tell you this, Phuket is a decently sized island with very few main roads and Patong, where we were staying, is a beach town on the island but is not the main city of the island. That city is called Phuket City, or in Thai, Amphoe Mueang Phuket. Amphoe Mueang indicates the primary city of a province or island, Amphoe means the second largest city, and ban means a suburb or neighborhood of that specific location. For us, we knew our first destination of our “Tour de Phuket Motor-scooter Adventure” needed to be the main city to explore the historic “Old City of Phuket City.”

Chris, I must say, was quite the natural scooter driver! He didn’t hesitate to jump on his own bike and follow me as we headed eastbound on a hectic road. I didn’t really know where our final destination was going to be, but we had an area in mind. It didn’t take us very long to arrive into the Old City, and after driving for a tiny bit, we found a cute coffee shop called Old Phuket Coffee “Coffee Station” and decided to park and have something to drink.

I was kind of a lousy tour guide at this point because I honestly didn’t do much research on things to do in the Old City and wasn’t totally sure of what we should do. Thankfully, Chris is a pretty easy going guy, so he was up for just wandering and wandering we did.

After a while, we decided it was time to take off to another location, and this location I knew about beforehand. If you know anything about me, you’ll know I love a good beer or liquor tasting. I love learning about how each distillery or brewery makes their products and if there is anything special about these products. In Phuket, there just happens to be a unique rum distillery located in another neighborhood that I thought would be a fun destination. At the time I told Chris about it, I didn’t know just how unique it was,. I honestly thought it would just be fun to say we’ve toured a rum distillery in Thailand.

Chalong Bay Rum Distillery, located in Chalong Bay, makes their rum from sugarcane, which differs from other rums distilled. Most rum is made from molasses, including the rums made in the Caribbean. In fact, they told us that less than 5% of all white rum is made directly from sugarcane and that Thailand, which has over 200 types of sugarcane, is the 4th largest producer.

Did you know sugarcane actually originated in southeast Asia and was exported to the French Caribbean by Christopher Columbus? MIND BLOWN. I had NO IDEA. I’ve even been to rum distilleries before, but never knew this piece of information. It was quite a fantastic experience at Chalong Bay Rum Distillery learning about how uniquely special it was and getting my first taste of Thailand sugarcane white rum. We even got to try their famous mojito and 4 different flavored rums. Totally worth the visit!

From the rum distillery, we headed south towards an area called “Fit Street.” Why? Well, a friend of a friend of a friend of mine from Arizona actually coaches CrossFit at one of the big gyms in Chalong, and I thought it would be fun to see how these Muay Thai gyms run. Holy smokes, I was NOT prepared for what I witnessed. Her particular gym, Tiger Muay Thai, was MASSIVE. It was quite the sight to see how many people are training for mixed martial arts, Muay Thai and CrossFit all in the same area! Joy was a perfect tour guide to her gym, and I’m so thankful with her kindness to two complete strangers.

Since Joy lived in Phuket, she was also an excellent resource for things to do, and at this point of the evening, we were closing in on sunset. Joy was able to provide us with a few places we could go to watch the sunset along the western coastline.

One of the places she mentioned, which I’ve read about from other sources, was Promthep Cape. We thought it sounded like a great place to go, so we jumped back on our bikes and headed southwest to this cape. It was extremely populated with easily over 100+ humans, and unfortunately, the sunset was not that great…or, so we thought.

We ended up leaving the cape because of how non-climatic the sunset had been and began driving back north towards Patong with Chris in the lead. All of a sudden, Chris turns into a beach parking lot. This is one of those totally Mapless Adventures. It wasn’t a very large beach, but it had these beautiful rock formations. Once we arrived at this random beach (later found out it was called Yanui Beach), the sunset turned the sky into beautiful shades of pink and purple. Absolutely breathtaking. Of course, a mini photoshoot occurred with me totally not understanding what Chris was trying to tell me, and well the pictures speak for themselves.

After sunset, we continued on our way, driving through Kata Beach and Karon Beach before returning to Bearpacker Hostel. We both decided it was better to keep the bikes for the next morning even though we had a tour because our tour wasn’t until 11:30 and that was plenty of time to see the sunrise at another popular location.

Our night didn’t end here. Once we returned from our motor scooter adventure, we headed out for dinner and decided tonight was a perfect night for a Thai massage. We chose a place close to the market near our hostel, but unfortunately, Chris’s first experience with a Thai massage wasn’t very traditional. I was a bit sad because I was really hoping he’d get a great experience. It just meant we would need to get another one before the week was over.

As per usual, our night ended reasonably late even though we had another early, early morning for sunrise, but thankfully our dorm-mates went out partying, so we had the place to ourselves.

Stay tuned for our next day’s adventure, which I will call “MONKEY.” You won’t want to miss this travel story!

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.

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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?!

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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)

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Royal Caribbean Day 7: Day at Sea

Our final day on the Adventure of the Seas. After we set sail from Barbados, we knew it was going to be a long 36 hours aboard the ship, but we also knew it was going to be a good time with good friends.

As per usual, our day started with breakfast, but thankfully, it wasn’t as early as the past five days, so we were able to sleep in just a little. Darren and I knew there was ONE thing we had on our list for the day….POOL!

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Royal Caribbean Day 6: Barbados

Day 6: Bridgetown, Barbados

Date: 26 April 2018
Port: Bridgetown, Barbados
Time on Island: 8am-4:30pm
Distance between St. Lucia to Barbados: 174.60 km or 94.28 nautical miles (5108.49 miles

Barbados, our final island and final port before our return to Puerto Rico…also the day I have been dreading. It means our Southern Caribbean Cruise is coming to an end. I know all travels and vacations come to an end but it’s been such an amazing past 5 day that I’m not ready for it to end. BUT…at the same time, I’m ready to explore another new island in the Caribbean!

Like many of the other islands, I didn’t know much about Barbados, except that there was a popular cave attraction. We weren’t totally sure if we wanted to include this in our day, but in the end we voted it would be something cool to see. Because of that, Darren and I decided on a half day tour, that included the cave, would be a good idea. It was tough for us to narrow down the exact tour we wanted, as many of them included the cave. Initially, we thought maybe a cave/rum tour would be fun, but ultimately, we chose a tour that showed a little more of Barbados.

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One Swirl After Another

It took 3 hours of hard labor and some neighborly support to finally clear our drive. However, it didn’t really matter. The island was still under a 24 hour curfew, for good reason, of course. We were just annihilated by Hurricane Irma about 15 hours prior, so the day afterwards wasn’t much fun. We were safe, little damage to our apartment itself, and thankfully we still have phone service (which was a rarity and quite frankly didn’t really matter since only about 1/8th of the island had it- if that).

It took about 36 hours before we risked leaving the comfort of our apartment. Though none of us wanted to risk driving, so we decided to walk. We climbed the mountain to check on our friends apartment. We assisted with some minor clean up there before we made the trek into town.

This is where I’m still at a loss for words. Read more

When Family Visits the Island(s)

I have waited for this week to come since my family booked their flights nearly 3 months prior. It’s hard to live so far away from family at times but one of the best part is being able to show them a new part of me and a new country.

This wasn’t just a normal family trip however. This was my younger brother’s FIRST EVER time off the continental United States, and it would be his FIRST time receiving a PASSPORT STAMP.  I mean he’s 26 years old and has only ever traveled within the US and Mexico, so this older sister was beyond stoked. Alright, I get that you might not understand why this is a big deal, but I LOVE being able share travel adventures with my favorite people in the world!

I was eager for my parents too, Read more

Island Hopping the British Virgin Islands

Life in the Caribbean has taken off in a full sprint. In January, I ventured to another country and visited the British Virgin Islands for the very first time. Since then, I’ve been two more times and it’s ONLY the beginning of March. Three passport stamps in 3 months. Pretty sure that’s a new record for me, granted it is the SAME passport stamp, but a stamp is a stamp right?!?! However, with each additional stamp came with a new island, so it’s totally appropriate to count them.

Do you know anything about the BVIs? Read more