Hit the Road, Jack

Friday was our last day of the school year at Thida. It was a fun day, filled with games, fruit-giving, and “thank-you-teacha-goodbye”s. I have enjoyed this last semester a lot. I had so much fun teaching the 3rd graders and I’m looking forward to moving up to 4th grade with them next year. But as much as I’ve liked teaching, I’m super stoked about the 2+ month vacation I’m now staring in the face!

This week on the agenda is Koh Samui and Khanom for some lazy days at the beach. Next week Kristin and I will head out to meet my family for their Thailand visit. Markets in Bangkok, ruins in Ayutthaya, more beaches and snorkeling in Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, night trains, longtail boats, and plenty of culinary exploration are all on the agenda. Next comes our trip to Vietnam – 3 1/2 weeks working our way from Sapa, Hanoi, and Halong Bay up north to Hue and Hoi An and then on to Ho Chi Minh down south. Then straight on to Chiang Mai for what will be a ridiculously epic 3 days for Songkran. After that, we’re hitting up Singapore and Malaysia and island-hopping / beach camping around Thailand until we have to report back for school.

The extensive time off to travel all around this area was one of the major draws for us in moving here. The break is here and I’m ready to hit the road!

Laundry in Surat

Around Surat there are a jillion different places to get your laundry done. If you drive down Karunrat Road, you will probably see 10 different laundry places in less than 3 minutes.  There is definitely no shortage of options when it comes to getting those smelly, sweat-drenched clothes of your fresh and clean. Since new teachers will be arriving soon, I thought it would be a good time to share a few of our favorite laundry places around Super housing.

Option #1 – The place across the street from the big house

From the big house, cross the street and walk to the right. This laundry shop is the 2nd shop you will see. You just give her your dirty clothes and she will tell you a day to come back and pick them up.

The Good – She is super nice and I usually end of talking to her for a while when I take my laundry here. She also gets stains out really well.

The BadShe is a little overpriced and always takes at least 3 days. One time we also ended up with some random clothes that weren’t ours, but she never lost any of our stuff.

The location is super convenient and she does a good job, so it is worth mentioning.

Option #2 – The place on the new house street

This place doesn’t look anything like a laundry shop – it actually looks like a duplex or something. From Amphur Rd, turn on the new house street. Look for the blue one-story apartments on the right. It is maybe the 4th door…usually there is someone standing around and they will show you where it is.

The Good – They have always charged us 60 baht (even when we had a HUGE bag of laundry) and the clothes come back soft and clean. They also always have our laundry finished the next day, which is nice.

The Bad – I think they lost one of someone’s shirts, but this has happened at other places around town, too. I can’t really think of anything bad and they have always done a good job with our clothes.

Option #3  – Do it yourself – The coin operated machines

Recently, Alyssa noticed some coin-operated washing machines near the big house. From the big house go right and walk down the street about 2 minutes. The machines are on our side of the street.

The Good – These machines look super new. They only cost 20 baht for a regular size machine (30-40 baht for the really big machines), which is really cheap. There is also a little store there where they sell laundry detergent and fabric softener. You get your clothes back right away and don’t have to wait a 1-3 days.

The Bad – Doing it yourself takes a little longer, but I just went back to the house while the washing machine finished. It was also a little difficult to dry the clothes. People don’t really use dryers here – they hang-dry everything. I ended up hanging everything around my wardrobe closet and pointing a fan on the wet clothes. I let it dry overnight and it was all dry in the morning.

There are plenty of other laundry places near Super housing (especially on Karunrat Rd), so there are plenty of options! These are just a few of the places conveniently located the houses.

Sticker EXPLOSION!

I’m sure most of us have at least vague memories of elementary school Valentine’s Day parties growing up. I remember the ‘Ninja Turtles’ and ‘My Little Ponies’ valentine cards that every kid brought to school to stuff into the boxes we’d crafted in the preceding days. Every kid was required to give every other kid a valentine, but you wanted to give the coolest ones to your best friends, and of course, you had to be strategic and make sure not to give the mushy ones to girls who might get the wrong impression. In recent years, I’ve chuckled upon seeing parents making a last-minute rush on Feb. 13th to pick up just the right cards for their kids to take the next day.

In Thailand, kids don’t give out witty Valentine cards. Instead they arrive at school armed with incalculable masses of stickers. They waste no time in smashing the stickers onto everything from their notebooks to their homework to – their favorite – teachers’ clothing. Immediately after setting down my bag in my first class, I was mobbed by all 55 students sticking hearts, puckered lips, pink bears, balloons (and Liverpool FC logos…?) with Thai phrases on my shirt. This continued throughout the day, and the first 5 minutes of every class were surrendered to “smother the teacher with stickers, plastic roses, and candy” time.

By the end of the day we were all covered in stickers. I counted over a hundred still attached to my shirt as I peeled them off after my last class and reapplied to a blank paper as evidence of the day’s craziness. Valentine’s Day in Thailand is a HUGE day for the young kids, and I’m glad as a teacher I got to enjoy the fun of it.

School Supply Store

Every day when I drive down Talad Mai, I see an office/school supply store. I’ve noticed it for a long time and decided to stop and check it out the other day. I’ve been wanting to get some magnets or tape to post flashcards on the board and a new notebook. At Thida you can buy notebooks, pencils, pens, colored pencils, etc, but this store has a wayyy better selection and a lot of supplies Thida doesn’t have at all.

First off, to find the store: From Amphur go left on Talad Mai. Pass Thaksin hospital. A little farther down you will see a huge white and red Isuzu dealership on the right. The office supply store is across the street from the Isuzu dealership.

Here you can find all the standard school supplies like notebooks, binders, pens, highlighters, tape, etc. I even saw a nice Post-It note section. Want stickers to give your students? They’ve got ’em. How about some paper or cardstock to make flashcards? They can hook you up. I even saw Popsicle sticks (Amanda!), magnets, stamps, and lots of paper. They also seemed to have some good art supplies. Plus, everything seemed pretty fairly priced and they have a really good selection. It is a school supply lovers dream, and on my nerdy days I do love some good school supplies.

This is a great little shop and centrally located, so be sure to check it out if you need school supplies. This semester is drawing to a close, but be sure to stop by at the beginning of next semester!

Mexican food night in Thailand

It’s a fact: Eric and I love Mexican food. Enchiladas, tacos, chips & salsa, nachos, burritos, you name it. Back in Texas, we would be known to eat Mexican food several times a week.

For Eric’s birthday last week, we decided to cook up a Mexican feast. We headed to Central Plaza, where we hoped to find all the necessary ingredients for some scrumptious Mexican tacos. Tops sells taco kits with taco shells, salsa, and seasoning, but we couldn’t find any ground beef. After scoping out all the other ingredients we decided it wasn’t worth the very high cost for what would probably be mediocre tacos. We settle on buying a few avocados (60 baht each) to make some guacamole, and also got some chips and salsa.

That night, we went to the Don Nok market to get all the other ingredients for some delicious guacamole – tomato, onion, cilantro, garlic, a hot pepper, and a lime. If you are wanting to cook, this where you should buy ingredients. It is cheap! We got all the things I just listed for less than 20 baht (about 65 cents).

The guacamole turned out perfect and was a nice taste of home. We had a great meal of guac, salsa, chips..oh and some fried rice. Mexican food with a Thai twist. We still want to cook up a real Mexican feast with some of the other teachers sometime soon though! Muy delicioso!

Planning for Vacation — by Catherine

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been super distracted these past couple of weeks. My mind has been thinking of nothing but train schedules, hostels, flights, buses, and budgets. As the school year is coming to an end, vacation time is coming closer and closer. I’ve been looking forward to this for some time and cannot wait to start my adventure. In fact, it’s making it hard to sleep at night because my mind is constantly racing!

If you’re like me, you have to plan everything. I’m pretty sure I inherited this quality from my mother as I remember her very planned out itinerary for Disney World. Granted, I do not think this is a bad quality, but living in Thailand has proved to me that it is impossible to plan EVERYTHING.

My first adventure is going to be to Vietnam. This is a place where some planning is needed as you have to have a visa planned before you get there. There are a few options to get your Vietnam visa before going. Option 1: Go to the embassy and get one there. It takes about 1-4 days of processing. If you’re like me and don’t have time to wait in Bangkok, then you can do options 2 or 3. Option 2: Get a visa from a travel agent in town for an extra fee. Option 3: Do a visa on arrival from a website and pick up your visa at the airport in Vietnam. Option 3 is the option I chose. I went through vietnam-visa.com, paid $21 and they had my approval letter ready the next day. It’s going to cost me another $45 when I get to the airport.

Okay, so that was part of my ‘Nam trip planned. Before doing so I had to choose where I was flying into. I decided to go to Hanoi as I was told Northern Vietnam is beautiful. Now I’m wrestling with what to do when I get there. I want to go to Sa Pa and Catba Island, but which one should I go to first? How am I going to get there? A lot of these kinds of questions are best answered in the country when you are able to talk to travel agents there as most information is not available online.

Not only are these questions about Vietnam racing through my head, but also questions about how am I going to get to Songkran. How long do I want to spend in Northern Thailand before going over to Laos?  What am I going to do when I get to Laos?  How am I going to get around?  How am I going to get down to Cambodia?  All of these questions and more are flooding my mind all of the time, causing me to be a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  Luckily, SE Asia seems like a country where everything seems to work itself out.  I’m sure all of the questions will be answered in time and I will have amazing adventures figuring out those answers.

As for now, I’m still on the brink of exploration with my mind still racing.  So, stay tuned to see what happens! 🙂

Chinese New Year

Today officially marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year — the year of the snake. Here in Thailand, people like to celebrate all the New Years. There is the modern New Year on January 1, Chinese New Year, and Thai New Year (Songkran festival). For all these New Years there are celebrations of some kind in Thailand, with the Thai New Year obviously being the biggest and grandest, where everyone heads to the streets for a massive country-wide water fight.

For the Chinese New Year, celebrations began early yesterday morning, at 6:45 A.M. to be exact. I was lying in bed when before the sun even came up I heard, “Boom! Boom! Boom!” Firecrackers. At 6:45 A.M. Progressively getting louder and louder. Around 9:00 A.M some of our neighbors set off what seemed to be a huge strand of fireworks that went from out front gate, down the sidewalk 100 feet, around and behind the building, and then filled our whole room with smoke.

While the fireworks were crackling their way down the sidewalk, we opened the door to our balcony at the big house, which overlooks the street. In front of our house there were 10-15 cars parked. Their front hoods were all adorned with a flower and propped open. In front of each car sat a table covered in TONS of food. A whole duck, rice, a massive platter of many fruits, a bottle of whiskey, a fanta, bottles of water, and many other foods. As we watched, we saw people putting burning incense sticks into the food and praying.

In the evening, we went downtown, where the streets looked magical lined in hundreds of red Chinese lanterns. These lanterns lined many of the streets all over town to mark the Chinese New Year celebration.

Besides the firecrackers, food offerings, and beautiful lanterns, I’m not sure if much as went on, but it was neat to see another celebration in Thailand. Every festival and holiday in Thailand seems to bring something new and exciting!

I’m on a Boat! — by Catherine

Last weekend I was invited by a friend to go on a boat out into the sea to go snorkeling. This conjured up an image of a nice-sized boat where we would be able to be somewhat mobile, and have a place to lounge while going in and out of the water. HA! How farang of me.

Heading north towards Chaiya, the tuk-tuk stopped at the riverside, dropping us off to await our “luxury cruise.” When my friend saw a tiny wooden long-tail boat, she jokingly said, “Hey, what if that’s our boat!” Guess what, what was our boat. How very Thailand.

We were told that the boat would be able to hold about 15 people. We barely squeezed 9. Walking onto the boat, hoping for it not to capsize, we all gently took our seats and were off for our adventure. The boat was owned by the uncle of a local friend. This friend had his uncle stop at different places and we were able to tour some new parts of Surat that we had never knew existed.

The first of these stops was his old elementary school. There was one classroom for each grade and the whole school was comprised of 60 students. I have about 60 students just in one of my classes! At the school, we were greeted by an older Thai gentleman with a raspy voice who showed us around. F

ollowing our tour, our Thai friend took us over to a house where some of his family were making fishing nets. It was interesting to see a real Thai dwelling in which there were multiple beds in the 2 large rooms.

After the tour of the school, we continued on our riverboat journey through some trees that were growing our of the water. It was here that there were supposedly monkeys, b

ut we did not see any that day. This part of the river went out to meet the see, and in the distance we could see little floating shacks that are

for clamming.

Another interesting stop we made was when we simply pulled over the boat, not getting out, but just a minor stop. At this stop there were what appeared to be palm trees growing out of the water. These trees grow a kind

of fruit that only grows in Surat Thani. It’s big and

round, but is comprised of many sections. It’s also very hard to pry into as I noticed by watching our guide beat the sections with a mini cleaver to only be rewarded with the tiniest pieces of fruit. The fruit however, was quite delicious. Somewhat simila

r to coconut, but almost jelly like.

Having this small snack made us all hungry, so we stopped at a riverside restaurant and enjoyed some wonderful seafood. We ordered Thai style, meaning family style, and shared an abundant lunch. Out back of the restaurant were a few cages housing peacocks, roosters, and a porcupine. But, the most exciting things about this place were the two ostriches fenced off in the very back. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an ostrich so closely before. Pretty intimidating.

After lunch, we headed back into town. It was a great, sun filled, and tiring day on the river. Even though it didn’t turn out the way any of us expected it, the day was a special one here in Surat Thani.

Friends in Far Places — by Catherine

As per request (Hi Mom!) I’ve decided to try to start blogging again. Sorry for the lapse, but I’ve been a busy lady!

This blog post is all somewhat of a special one as it is about the special people who came to visit. When you move to another country, you never think that people will actually come and visit you. Well, as luck has it, I was able to visit with 4 of my friends from Portland, OR!

These friends of mine had already planned on coming to SE Asia for their own backpacking adventures, so it really worked out for me that I was able to see them.

The first of these occasions was in Bangkok. I had to travel up there in order to renew my passport and decided to go when Thida had midterms, giving me a 5 day weekend. This break just happened to coincide with the arrival of my friends Noah and Tessa, coming into town on my last day in Bangkok.

They decided to stay on Khaoson Rd., so I met them there and we proceeded to drink Leo bee-as and eat crickets. Later in the evening, we went to some underground club that was lit up red and looked like Hell, and then upon emerging decided to order a beer tower from a neighboring bar. I’ll just say that it was very difficult catching my 8am train the next day.

It was great welcoming Noah and Tessa to Bangkok, and it was there that they told me 2 of our other friends were on their way as well. I got in touch with these friends on FB and we decided to meet in Surat for dinner. The night of the dinner came and as I awaited the 2 friends on the pier, I heard my name being called out by a familiar voice. Noah and Tessa had come down too to surprise me!

During dinner we made plans to all hang out that weekend on Koh Samui. So, as soon as school let out on Friday, I hopped on my motorbike and headed to Don Sak for the Raja Ferry. I made it to Koh Samui around 6:30pm, but didn’t find my friends until 3 hours later! Not only did I get lost, but I got a flat tire too! Luckily, Thailand has little bike shops everywhere, and no matter which one you go to, the price to fix a flat is always 120baht.

In Samui, we stayed at the Lemon Tree Resort on Big Buddha beach. The last time I was there I stayed in Mae Nam. Big Buddha is down the road, and up on the peninsula. Make sure you take the left that goes up the peninsula though, or you’ll be like me and practically drive all the way around the island before realizing you missed you turn. It’s not marked very well, but it’s a left turn at a light, pretty much when you get out of Mae Nam.

The following day, I took my friends to the same beach I went to last time on Mae Nam, but the bar that was there before had disappeared! I guess things come and go in Thailand. The beach day was nice. We sat in the sun, swam, and even built a little man out of wood, coconuts and palm trees. This isn’t too surprising considering we all like to go to Burning Man. We named our man Spalding, like Wilson from Castaway.

That night we went to the Big Buddha for sunset, which I recommend to everyone. The statue is surrounded by bells you can hit and hear reverberating all around; it’s very lovely. We then proceeded to Chaweng to go to Reggae Pub to hear some live music. This place was really cool. It was a 2 story open building with pool tables on the 2nd floor, many pictures of Bob Marley, instruments on the wall, and a view of the river. I think my favorite part was the old white men gettin’ jiggy with it. They’re hilarious.

The next day it was time to say adieux. I highly enjoyed my time with my friends and look forward to the next time we meet before they head back to the states. It’s a very special thing to have people you know so well in a place you don’t really know at all. I feel blessed to have my friends so close to me, even if it’s just for a short time.

Watching the Super Bowl (or not…)

Most people that know me well would tell you that I am more than a mere casual sports fan. I spend way too much time following sports, whether watching, reading, conjecturing, or memorizing meaningless statistics and trivia. I am a fanatic.

However, in Thailand it is difficult, if not impossible, to watch most live sporting events in America. Unless you are lucky enough to find a bootleg stream of your game somewhere online, you won’t have any way to watch it at all. Even if you do find a stream, the 12+ hour time difference will probably deter you from watching. I woke up at 4 am one Sunday morning to watch a college football game (Texas A&M beating Alabama!!), but found myself nodding off continuously during the contest. And then comes the biggest game of the year.

As the only single-game championship in major American professional sports, the Super Bowl is a big deal on its own. Add in the overhyped commercials and halftime shows, and you’ve got maybe the country’s biggest party event of the year. Even people who have zero interest in any sport often attend Super Bowl parties. I’ve enjoyed some awesome game-watching parties over the years, and the games themselves have been mostly thrilling competitions over the past decade. In fact, I have watched every Super Bowl since the Bills lost to the Giants (“wide right”) when I was 5.

Until this year.

Unfortunately, kickoff was at 6 am here in Surat Thani. On Monday morning – a school day. And with so much money on the line, the NFL puts a lot of effort into quickly shutting down any unofficial broadcasts online. So watching the game, even following the score in the 2nd half, was a no-go. Sounds like I missed quite a game, complete with a power outage and a thrilling not-quite comeback. I wish I could have seen it, and I even considered pulling the old How I Met Your Mother stunt. I have to say that watching live sports might be the thing I miss most here in Thailand.

But at the end of the day, I just missed a bunch of guys throwing a football around. And later this month, when I’m relaxing in a floating bungalow on a beautiful lake in the middle of a rainforest… or hammocking on a picture-perfect beach… I don’t think I’ll regret having to miss the Super Bowl. Especially if I can figure out a way to get Papa Johns to deliver out here!