Two Friends in Thailand | Big Buddha and Phang Nga Bay, Phuket

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!!

Two Friends in Thailand | Scooters Around Phuket Island

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!

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!