Tonsai – SE End of the School Year Trip

At the end of every semester Peter usually throws all the teachers a party of some sorts to say “thank you” to everyone for their hard work throughout the semester. SE has provided some pretty awesome parties and weekend trips during my time here and they are always a good time. This time, we decided to take a weekend trip to Tonsai beach in Railay, a beautiful peninsula on the west coast of southern Thailand. After school last Friday, we all met up and hopped in the private minivan that Jade had set up for us, complete with 6 different types of mood lighting. Traveling in Thailand usually equals stopping every 10 minutes to pick up other passengers, for the driver to have a smoke break, etc, so it was really nice to have our own private van. We made it from point A to B with NO stops, which is pretty much unheard of here.

The bus dropped us off in Ao Nang, a beach town near Tonsai/Railay. We all hopped on a boat to Tonsai, as there are no roads connecting Tonsai to the rest of the island. Arriving at Tonsai at night was pretty awesome and kind of gave it a magical feeling. The moonlight revealed huge karst formations shooting up along the coast and straight out of the ocean.

When we arrived, we hiked up the hill to find our bungalows and get settled. A cool thing about Tonsai is that there are no paved roads, just dirt paths connecting all of the bungalows and shops. Our rustic bungalows were in a sweet location, nestled along the side of a hill. Thanks to Peter, we didn’t have to pay a dime for our accommodation all weekend.

The whole weekend was a lot of fun. Most people spent the days lounging around on the beach, soaking up the sun, taking naps in the shade, and enjoying the drinks that Peter bought for us. Railay is known for rock climbing, so a few people joined in on a climbing trip. A few others hiked over to the other beaches of Railay. Saturday evening, we all met up for dinner at a beach side restaurant that was offering 150 baht ($5) pizzas. Everyone had a great time hanging out and we then migrated next door and spent the night jammin’ away to this awesome Reggae Flamenco band. They were seriously awesome. Typical of many SE events, we hung out late in to the night and a good time was had by all. Did I mention Catherine hooped with fire?  That definitely happened and it was awesome.

To me, Railay is one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Thailand. I always enjoy a visit to Railay and going with all my friends/co-workers made for a very memorable weekend. It was nice to feel so appreciated by SE after a semester of hard work and barely having to pay anything out of my own pocket was the cherry on top.

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End of the Year

So, today is the last day of the school year. Yesterday was my last day of teaching. Today we’re sitting around the office, finalizing our grades, organizing stuff, and putting the finishing touches on the school year. 

 

It’s a bittersweet day. I’m really looking forward to this break and some time away from school. I need it. That being said, it’s going to be really hard to leave my students behind. I’ve spent so much time with them and we’ve gotten so close. Yesterday I had several crying students, sweet letters, gifts, hugs, goodbyes, and countless requests that I be their teacher next year. 

 

It is an odd thing, being a teacher. You spend so much time with a small group of students 5 days a week for almost a year, and then when it’s over, that’s it. It’s hard to not get attached. With some students, it’s not a big deal. You’re their teacher and they don’t talk to you unless they have to and they’re your student and that’s just how it is. It’s strictly business. But, there are those others who you really have some love for and they for you. The students who become your friends. The students who want to talk to you outside of class and want to know about your life and you want to know about theirs. The students who make you smile everyday.

 

I’m going to really miss them.

(Already) Time for Another Great Vacation!

Kristin and I moved here almost a year and a half ago, and our first semester flew by so fast. Before we knew it, we were looking at 2+ months off in Southeast Asia. We took full advantage, seeing tons of Thailand, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore. It was an amazing vacation. We came back to Thida, worked hard for a somewhat longer semester, then took off on another 3 week trip to Indonesia. Less than 2 months later, we were able to spend over a week in Cambodia at Christmas. And now it’s already time for our next big break.

Someone mentioned today at school how great teaching is because of the sense of completion. Not only do students finish a level, but there’s a nice chunk of time off for both teachers and kids to look forward to at the end. Friday is our last day of school for over 2 months. Some teachers are moving away (*tear). Most of us who are staying, though, are taking advantage of this time to adventure off to new places, visit family and friends, and recharge for next year. 

Kristin and I decided to split our break between visiting back home and traveling through China. First we’re spending a few days at beautiful Thai beaches, then it’s time to fly back to the states. We’re really excited to head home in about a week, see our families, eat tons of Mexican food, and get reverse culture-shocked by America. After about a month there, we’ll fly to China and… do who knows what. China things, I suppose. We’re pretty pumped about going there as well. It’s been near the top of my list of places I really want to see for a while, and while a month is nowhere near long enough to see that much of it, we’ll get a nice taste.

Two school days left, and then we’re on the road yet again!

A Lasting “Impression”

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Between Old Thida and New Thida sits one of the all-time favorites of SE teachers – Impression coffee shop. Run by “New”, a Thai guy who speaks great English, this place is a daily stop for many teachers. I myself visit about 3-4 times each week. Often after lunch, or during a long break in the afternoon, I’m in need of a little caffeine kick. I’ll head over and pick up a “Mocha Yen” (iced mocha coffee). Or perhaps I’m craving a tasty Thai tea or an Oreo shake. New will whip up whatever refreshing drink I want and chat away with me or the other teachers stopping through.

Two things set Impressions apart for me. The first is that the coffee is actually good. New grinds real coffee beans in the shop. None of that instant crap you’ll find in the carts on the street. And he spent a few years living in Portland, where coffee is a serious deal. So he knows what he’s doing. The drinks are fantastic.

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The second thing that makes Impression a great spot for a quick mid-day break is New himself. He’s one of the friendliest people I’ve met here, always asking us how we’re doing, how classes are going, if we enjoyed our vacations or weekend trips. Plenty of Thais are really friendly, but New is fluent in English, so it’s easier to chat with him than most others. He’ll talk about anything ranging from travel locations to Thai politics. I’ve learned a decent amount about Thailand from him, and he’s helped improve my Thai speaking. His shop is flooded with Thai kids after school, and he seems to genuinely enjoy having them all around hanging out at his place.

Sadly – nay – tragically, New is soon moving to Phetchabun, north of Bangkok. He’s passing the coffee shop off to some other guys who used to teach at Thida. They’re also really friendly, but… no more conversations with New. And while we’ll have to wait and see, I doubt the drinks will be as good either. Those of us staying for next year are all sad to see New go. We’ll have a tough adjustment when we come back from the break, but we’re always finding pleasant surprises around here, so we’ll cope.

Here’s to New, his fantastic drinks, his friendly spirit and great conversations! You’ll be missed. โชคดี / Chok dee (Good luck)!

End of the School Year

Tomorrow….is the last day of classes for this school year!

Well, today was actually the last class for one of Anuban/Kindergaren classes. It was a ton of fun. We spent the first part of class singing along to my students’ favorite videos, which was a great time. They LOVE dancing and singing along to these videos and it was a great way to review. We then played their favorite game, “Race the Clock,” in which the students had to erase specific vocabulary words from the whiteboard before the timer on my iPad went off. It’s always a huge hit. After that, I gave the students a fun color sheet, turned on some music, and just enjoyed hanging out with them. We all sat on the floor and colored together. At the end of class, I passed out stickers and taught them what a hug was. The best part of my day was receiving the most adorable hugs from all of them and hearing “I love Teacher Kristin!” or “I miss you go America!”

As much as I’m excited about going home for a visit and traveling over the break, I am really going to miss those kiddos! Luckily, I plan to move up with them and teach them again in Prathom 1 next school year. I’m definitely ready for this long break from school, but I know I’ll be excited to see them again come May!

Ride Once, Pay Twice

As amazing as traveling is, it can be stressful. You have to keep your cool, and you have to watch your back. Also, when you’re making baht, you’re thinking in baht. Unplanned expenses can throw your plans off.

Last weekend, I went to the Phantip office on Talad Mai to get a bus ticket to Aonang. It was easy, 350 baht, no problem. They speak English very well and it seems they have access to every travel destination, by air, land, or sea. The woman gave me a flyer with a picture of the bus I would be taking, and said it would pick me up in front of the Phantip office (where I was at the moment). She also wrote two phone numbers on the flyer, telling me to call them if I didn’t see a bus by 6AM, the pickup time.

When I arrived in front of Phantip at 5:55AM, a woman came over and asked, “Are you going to Phuket?” I said, “No, I’m going to Aonang.” She said, “Okay, follow me.” I figured this was the person who was “picking me up,” and that she was in charge of gathering people for other destinations, as well. I went along.

I got to the bus, which, at least at 5:55AM, looked like the one on the flyer. Before I could get on, however, I was told the ticket I had was a voucher, and that I would need to pay 150 more baht to get my ticket. I was confused and not readily willing to give more money. The woman at Phantip had said I was all set. The bus driver proceeded to scream at me, “TICKET! TICKET! TICKET!” Hey man, I get it. I gave up 150 baht and got my “ticket.”

I hadn’t bothered to ask at Phantip if the bus would take me to a bus station far from Aonang pier, or directly to the Long Tail Office on Aonang pier, where I needed to go. Turns out I wasn’t on the Phantip bus at all, so it wouldn’t have mattered. The bus I got on had sent a person on to Talad Mai, in front of Phantip, to look for travelers. Not that they were doing anything wrong, but I should have showed her my ticket, and asked “Are you picking up persons for this bus company?” Hopefully, she would have said no, and I would have stood my ground waiting for the bus I already paid for. It seems like something fishy is going on, though, if they would make up something about my ticket being a voucher, and needing then to get the ticket, when I had a ticket the whole time. He didn’t let me hold on to the voucher or the “ticket” once I got on that bus.

I went back to the Phantip office to find out why they charged me more, so that’s how I know what happened. She called the bus driver from that day and he said he came to Phantip looking for me that morning, but no one was there. I had already been pulled away towards the other bus.

Again with the drop off point, it is a very important piece of information. Just like when you fly, you know the plane isn’t going to land downtown. Do some research and find out where you will most likely be dropped off, or ask when you are purchasing a ticket. Be prepared for the fare from the airport, bus or train station into town, or if you are on a bus or mini bus, try to specify beforehand or to the driver where it is you would like to be dropped off. Some will, some will not, but it’s worth a try. When I got off the bus, it was at a bus station and not at the pier. I had to pay 300 baht to be brought to the Aonang Long Tail Office.

And again with the ticket, make sure you are accepting a service from the company you have already paid! If not, you’ll pay twice.

*Note: This happened to my boyfriend Charlie, but I wrote it in the first person to make it easier. I was there for most things, and on the phone for the rest.

**Phantip is a travel agency on Talad Mai, in the Talat Kaset “Downtown Transportation Hub” area. It is caddy corner to “King Math.”

My Neighbor, the Monkey

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Meet one of my neighbors, the monkey. This awesome dude lives down the street from me and I say hello to him every day on the way to/from school. He spends most of his days climbing trees and helping his owner pick coconuts. Most days I see him chillin’ in front of his stilt-bungalow and when I drive by, he gives me what I like to call the head nod. Upon making eye contact, he usually studies me for a moment, then proceeds to throws his head back and raises his eyebrows. I like to think of it as a friendly “What up, neighbor.” Like any good neighbor, I always respond with a “Sup, monkey” and sometimes stop by for a friendly chat about the quality of the local coconuts or to get the low-down on the latest neighborhood gossip. I suppose that everyone has their favorite neighbor and he’s definitely mine.