This year, I will spend Christmas and New Years in Cambodia. Holiday in Cambodia! Here are a few things you need to know before leaving.
So you’ll need a re-entry permit if you’re holding a Thai visa expecting to get back in. You’ll also need a Cambodian visa. This can be obtained online, at the airport, or at most border crossings. Online, the visa is $30 USD plus a $7 USD processing fee. It takes three days to process. I’ve heard and read that the immigration officers at the Thai borders will try to ask for the visa payment in baht, generously rounding up. I am going to have the $20 USD in hand, smile politely, and tell them I would like to pay $20 USD. If going in person, have two passport photos with you.
Many establishments or businesses in Cambodia accept USD, so if you have them, bring them along. Apparently you will sometimes get change in Riel, Cambodian money.
From Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Train Station, you can catch a train to the border town of Aranyaprathet. There are two trains you can take, one at 5:55 in the morning and one at 13:05. It is recommended to take the morning train as the afternoon train will not put you in Siem Reap, after the bus from Aranyaprathet, until midnight. This train is 48 baht. Yes, 48 baht.
One of the first things I noticed after moving here was the abundant use of plastic bags. I quickly learned the phrase, “mai sei tung ka/krup,” which means “without bag.” Usually when you don’t get the bag, you don’t get the plastic wrapped straw for your drink either, which is okay with me. With some light planning, we can greatly reduce the amount of plastic and styrofoam we use everyday.
I carry a small backpack everywhere to avoid needing a plastic bag. Inside I keep cloth bags just in case I do some shopping that will require more space. While grocery shopping, try to buy things that come in little to no packaging, like fresh produce. Keep an eye out for products that come in reusable containers, like glass jars and tupperware. You can use the product, and then save the containers for future storage. These will come in handy if you buy in bulk, another good way to cut down on using packaging. If you buy eggs from a store the first time, you’ll get the plastic holder. Save it and bring it to a market to be filled up again.
If you get take out a lot, bring a container with you. I’ve never found a problem handing my box over to the staff at a restaurant. They know what you want them to do, even if they still put your tupperware in a plastic bag. Another useful phrase is, “mai aow chaun,” or “don’t need spoon.” Use a metal spoon.
Thailand is so beautiful. I would love to come back again and again for many years, and see clean rivers and beaches. Let’s try to take care of it. This is our home after all, even if it’s temporary.
Back towards the end of October, Peter threw a big party for all of us at Rabiangsai Resort in Khanom, a nearby beach town about an hour from Surat. It was the end of the first semester for those of us that teach at Thida and it was also an appreciation party for a few of us that have been with SE for a few years.
We all arrived Saturday morning and spent the day relaxing on the beach. In the evening, we had the party and Peter provided everyone with nice rooms (A/C!!), an awesome Thai dinner, and lots of drinks. The appreciation part of the party was especially memorable for me. All of the other teachers performed skits about us, ran trivia games, and talked about memories we’ve made working and travelling together. Some teachers that worked for SE last year even sent in raps and letters to read which made for a really special night.
Peter and all the other teachers really took the time to make the appreciation party special for us and I definitely had a lot of fun. It is definitely one that I will remember for a long time!
Last year, Eric and I were travelling through northern Vietnam in March when we met a guy that was riding his bicycle all over Asia. He was doing a themed ride with 3 rules, one of which was that he tries not to create any trash on his journey. No single-use containers, no food that comes in any packaging, no plastic cups, no plastic bags. He only buys food that is not packaged, such as fresh fruits, veggies, and nuts. We talked with him for a while and he really got me thinking about how much of a problem waste is in many parts of Asia.
I only know a bit about environmental issues, waste disposal, and the sort, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Thailand has a pretty big waste problem. Not that Thailand is alone in this problem. Maybe it is just more visible here because you see trash everywhere. In my rural jungle neighborhood, the “trash can” is a large pile of stinky garbage near the road that is visibly polluting the local area. Almost all plastic bags end up in a landfill at best and are not recycled.
Recently, I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of waste I create. I’ve started by cutting out all single-use containers from food and not purchasing any pre-packaged food products. To do this, I’ve been bringing my own reusable containers when I get food or drinks for take-out and making sure to avoid those plastic bags that are around every turn. Whenever I cook at home, I’ve been purchasing fresh food at the market, where I put everything in a reusable cloth bag.
When you don’t want a plastic bag, in Thai you say “mai sai toong.” I can’t count the number of shocked, confused, and absolutely bewildered expressions that I’ve gotten in the past few months when I say I don’t want to put my reusable container in a plastic bag. In fact, half the time the Thai person responds by saying “mai bpen rai,” which basically means “Oh, don’t be silly! No worries, you can have the bag.” Since I don’t know how to explain in Thai the many reasons that I don’t want the bag, I usually have to say “no bag” a few more times followed by a polite “mai ou,” which means “I don’t want it.” Sometimes people still say “mai bpen rai” over and over and give me the bag anyway. It seems that many people really have no idea why I wouldn’t want a bag. It’s definitely been an interesting experience so far.
Right away, I learned to wear yellow on Mondays. I was told we do it for the King, but more so than that, it is Monday’s color and he was born on a Monday. Friday’s color is blue, and the Queen was born on a Friday, so her color is blue. This tradition comes from an astrological rule, which has its influence in Hindu mythology, that assigns a color for each day of the week. The color of the God who protects the day determines which color you should be wearing. Careful, though! A lucky color one day is an unlucky color on another day.
Have you ever noticed the tall buildings all throughout town with little uniform squares circling their exteriors? I found out these are built for the purpose of housing swallows. The hope is that they will like this little condo and build a nest. Swallow nests, particularly from the Swiftlet, are one the most expensive animal products to be consumed. They are used in the ever popular Bird’s Nest soup. It seems the packaged “essence of bird’s nest” is more popular here in Surat Thani. I did a little research, and an average nest sells for $2,500 per kilogram. These factories are best placed near the sea, as the birds like to stay close to it. Here’s a picture of one near the pier that even has a swallow sign.
Today, unsurprisingly, doesn’t feel anything like Thanksgiving here in Surat. There are no decorations, no parades, no turkey trots, no feasts, no football, no big family gatherings, and no days off from school. In fact, Thida served about the most farang-unfriendly meal possible today, with dried salted fish and a fishy fermented soup. Ugh.
But… in 46 hours and 36 minutes we’ll have our annual Super English Thanksgiving party at Sweet Kitchen! (who’s counting, though?…) This is our third Thanksgiving in Surat, and this has been one of my absolute favorite SE events throughout our time here. Each year that we’ve been here, Peter has bought us a massive Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant run by a chef who spent a long time in America. Stuffing, mac n’ cheese, and lots of other great food. It’s a taste of home and I can’t wait!
Only 46 hours and 34 minutes now!