Hat Yai, a.k.a mini Hong Kong

Do you like Chinese food?  How about lots and lots of Chinese people?  How about shopping?  And more shopping?  Maybe some western food?  Lots of knock-offs like this:

A bit of Hat Yai gold

A bit of Hat Yai gold

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then Hat Yai is worth a visit!

A partial view of Hat Yai

A partial view of Hat Yai

Solo, Jeab and I recently took a weekend trip to Hat Yai.  The city is one of the largest in Thailand (3rd, I think, after Bangkok and Chiang Mai) and is about 4-5 hours south of Surat.  It has a Surat-like feel to it, in that everything is conveniently located in the center of town, but if you have your own transportation, or if you like to walk, you can venture down hundreds of little side roads and who knows what you’ll discover.  The town is even less organized than Surat, with roads running every which way.  But the center of town is usually where people end up.  There is an older Central department store (complete with Sizzler), lots of hotels, lots of Chinese restaurants, and thousands of stalls selling all kinds of stuff.   It’s a very busy place, usually getting the most active at night.  There are huge crowds of Chinese tourists, as well visitors from Malaysia, so you’ll hear all kinds of languages being spoken.   Nearly everything outside the department stores is knock-offs and pretty cheap.  Solo cleaned up on toys.  

Just a few minutes drive away from downtown is Central Festival Hat Yai, which just opened in mid-December.  It is the largest shopping mall in the South, a distinction the Central Plaza in Surat had until recently.  It’s a big place, complete with ice skating rink, bowling alleys, toys r’ us, movie theater, and lots of other fun stuff.  Right down the street from Central Festival is yet another market, this one only open at night.  This place has stuff that’s even cheaper than the main market downtown.  Also, there is a 3-D museum (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152069582359660.1073741849.276059974659&type=3) at this market.  We’re saving that one for our next visit, along with the Hat Yai Ice Dome.

Overall, Hat Yai reminded me a lot of Hong Kong, although a lot smaller and with things much more centrally located.   And, like HK, it takes a while to get there.  But once you’re in Hat Yai there is lots to do!

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MEP Olympics Camp

This past Saturday was the first ever camp for MEP (Mini English Program) students. Basically all the students came up to school on Saturday morning, played crazy games, sang songs, and participated in competitions for half the day. Camps are always a lot of fun. The students always get SUPER excited, and it’s fun to see the students in their street clothes (no uniforms). I, along with the other Super English MEP teachers were in charge of planning the camp, and we are happy to announce that the camp was awesome!

The theme of the camp was “The Olympics.” At the assemblies we taught the kids fun songs like “We Will Rock You” and of course we HAD to dance to “What Does the Fox Say?” We also played some awesome “Minute to Win It” games. My favorite was a game where 1 student from each team had to move cotton balls from the floor to a cup using only a straw placed in their mouth. Funny stuff. We even got to play in a fun match of student v. teacher soccer and I’m pretty sure the students crushed us.

For the stations, the students were split into teams and each team earned points at the various competitions and stations. At the end of the camp the points were totaled up, and the winner ended up being the P2 “Care Bears” team. Did I mention they came up with the best team names?

The camp was a lot of fun and the students all really enjoyed it. We were all really happy that it went so well, since we were in charge of planning everything and it was the first ever MEP camp. I’m sure the MEP camp next year will be even bigger and better!

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Street Food

I found myself standing in front of many a street food stall holding one finger up and smiling. It seems to work, but if you want to call some of these things by their names, this might help!

Coconut Roasties (available at the Night Market by Super English) – ka-nom krok

Deep-Fried Dough (a breakfast favorite) – bah-torng-goh

Steamed Buns (cross the bridge heading north, make your first right, stop at the lady just a bit up on the left. just do it.) – sah-lah-bow

Mixed Nuts (protein on the go!) – gai sahm yahng

If you’re eating something you like, say “a-roy mahk.” It means “That was delicious!”

Christmas morning sunrise

On the advice of a bunch of other teachers, we decided to visit Cave Lodge for Christmas. It’s located about an hour or so outside of Pai on the way to Mae Hong Son. It was a really nice, low key place to relax, among the mountains of northern Thailand with a river flowing nearby. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the weather warnings seriously and we were freezing.

Christmas morning we woke up before 6am to drive to a supposedly amazing sunset viewpoint. I followed our guide, in freezing weather, wearing a sweatshirt and shorts. My hands have never been so cold in my life. We pulled up to the lookout about 15 minutes later, and you can decide for yourself if it was worth it.

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panorama - sunrise - Copy

(For the record, it was definitely worth it, despite the risk of frostbite.)

Cafe Review, part 1

One of the only negatives of living way out in the jungle is that we don’t have internet to our house. That means we spend a lot of time in town at coffee shops using the internet when we have to.

I’ll review some of the coffee shops we go to based on a few different criteria – beverages (including pricing), comfort/atmosphere, and internet quality. Since we’re in Surat, just assume that all places have extremely friendly staff unless otherwise noted. These are all mostly subjective, but feedback is always welcome.

IMPRESSION(S)

This is a favorite of Thida teachers not just because of its convenient location between the two Thidas, but because the owner New is really friendly and speaks English fluently due to his time living in the US. He’ll go out of his way to make you whatever you want if he has the ingredients. The fruit smoothies, teas, and other milk drinks are really tasty. According to my official coffee taster, his is one of the best in town and I agree.

It’s spacious and comfortable, especially the big couches in the back. The only thing is that it’s pretty bright and feels a little sterile. The internet is nice and fast.

The negatives are that he charges you if you plug your computer in – maybe due to an agreement he has with the hotel he rents it from. Also, it closes pretty early – 7pm weeknights and 4pm weekends. Still, it’s probably my favorite place in town.
Ask for David’s Special if you like a blended Oreo drink with caramel.

**NEWS FLASH** – He will be closing his doors at the end of Feb 2014. 😦

CAFE BLYTHE

Cafe Blythe is located right near the market on Karun Rat between Don Nok and Wat Pho. It’s on Rat Bum Rung Soi 1.
The coffee there is really good also, as confirmed by my coffee taster. It’s a little more expensive than average, though. It’s a small location, but is really nicely decorated and has a separate room to the side if you need even more quiet than it already offers. The owners are extremely friendly and Boat speaks English really well also. The internet quality is also good enough to not notice any problems.

It’s open until 7pm as well, which is early enough to prevent us from going here during the week. Yes, it’s named after the dolls.

NINE COFFEE

Nine Coffee is located on Chalokrat, in the opposite direction to the stadium and Big House from Amphur Rd. It’s open until 9pm, which is really good if you have to get some work done. The drinks there are OK, but the coffee leaves a lot to be desired. They’re a little expensive as well, as evidenced by the prices of the food. The desserts there are tasty, however. The interior is large and comfortable, and it also has a nice outdoor area which many coffee shops around here lack. The seats inside are large and soft. The internet quality is generally pretty good as well. Despite the average coffee, we go there often, mainly because the internet is dependable and they’re open relatively late.

COFFEE MILK

This is a new cafe that is attached to the “Under the Bridge” Isaan restaurant on the far side of the river. It’s owned by the same people, who are really friendly. The drinks are alright – nothing special. The coffee is average, so I usually get the iced green tea latte. Unfortunately they don’t make hot green tea lattes for some reason.

The internet is hit or miss, but they are more than happy to reset the router for you, and it works fine afterwards. Being attached to the Isaan restaurant, I’ve seen people eat meals in there, which is a plus. It also seems to be a work in progress, so hopefully there will be some seating on the riverside patio soon, though the view certainly doesn’t hurt right now.

They’re also open pretty late – 10pm – so it’s really useful for people on the far side of the bridge that need to get work done.

Obviously, this is all just one man’s opinion. But it helps to have a catalogue of cafes to visit, in case you need one. Let me know what you guys think. I’ll post about 4 more next time.

Christmas in Cambodia

I’m sure you’ve heard it before and I’m sure you’ll hear it again – one of the biggest perks of working at Thida is getting at least a week and a half or so off for Christmas and New Years. Most other schools in town only get New Years off, and my friends that work for other agencies and Thai schools are always jealous of this big chunk of holiday time.

For Christmas break, my husband and I were planning to go to Koh Lipe, an island off the west coast of Thailand, just about as far south as you can get before you hit Malaysia, but the break had other plans in store for us and we had to change our plans after having a spill on our motorbike right after the last day of school before the break. Nothing too bad, but we ended up with just enough scrapes and road rash to make scuba diving, snorkeling, and any contact with salt water sound like a terrible idea.

We ended up going to Cambodia and had a great time! We toured the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat, learned about the daunting history of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Phen, visited lots of cool markets, ate lots of delicious Cambodian food, and spent more than a fair share of time on long bus rides over terribly paved roads. Oh, and we found DR. PEPPER in Cambodia at a little convenience store with Western foods. Who would have guessed?!

One of my favorite things about living in Thailand is how so many incredible places are right at my fingertips. Our plans to go to a beautiful tropical island didn’t work out, so we just hopped on a train and a few buses to Cambodia and got to see the largest religious monument in the world. Pretty awesome stuff.

sunrise over Angkor Wat on Christmas morning

sunrise over Angkor Wat on Christmas morning

 

Thida Christmas Dance Assembly! (or, what the fox said)

We weren’t required to be at Thida on Friday, Dec 20th for the students’ dance shows, but Amanda and I went anyway. It was chaos. Thousands of students everywhere. Each section had their own dance set up; and each student in each section wore extravagant costumes and makeup as well. It was a conveyor belt of cute little dances, but eventually each Thai pop song blended into the next.

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Finally, what I was waiting for, after 2 hours, was finally happening:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYtQsCX7GXQ

Most of them are in my P1 MEP class, but there are a few P2 students as well. Chon is the one in the center wearing jeans. He’ll be a superstar one day.