Tuesday, December 27, 2016

4 Months Later - Where Has The {Thai}me Gone?

Somehow, four months have passed since I arrived in Thailand and I can honestly say it feels like the fastest four months of my life. The days seem to turn into weeks before I can even blink. 

I’ll try and recap as best as I can, starting with my trip to Chiang Mai, which was amazing. Erin, Ruth and I took a long weekend and explored this beautiful, ancient city in the north of Thailand. I really enjoyed this trip. 

We spent a lot of time just walking around Chiang Mai and exploring. The city used to be surrounded by a mote and big walls but now there are only a few parts left of the walls that made up the gates to the city. 

We visited the night market on Saturday which was alright by mainly the same as what you would find in markets in Phuket. 

The food in Chiang Mai was especially amazing! They had great western food as well as really good northern Thai food specialties that aren’t as common here in Phuket. I actually found my new favorite Thai dish: Khao Soi. It’s kind of like a spicy noodle soup/curry combination with crunchy fried noodly-things on top. It’s delicious. Luckily we’ve found a place not too far from me here at home that has good Khao Soi. Now we try to plan our meetings around being able to stop at Noodle House and grab some for lunch!

Also, the coffee was amazing in Chiang Mai. I was in heaven.

On one of our days there we rented motor bikes and visited a beautiful temple on our way outside of the city.

It's interesting to me how places of worship are always so magnificent. From massive arches and stained glass displays in ancient churches in Europe, to the bright, bold ambiance of the temples in Asia.

This was actually the area outside of the main temple area.

We ended up driving about 20-30 minutes outside of Chiang Mai to visit a local lake, Huay Trung Tao, which was great. It was a small private lake surrounded by mountains and sprinkled with private little huts. There were a lot of Thai people there and hardly any farangs. We spent the day relaxing in the lake and ate Thai food for lunch.

We also visited Doi Suthep, a temple high up in the mountains that overlooked the city of Chiang Mai.  Of course, we had to hike up a massive staircase to get there. The temple was beautiful but all of the tourists drove me insane. It’s crazy how oblivious and disrespectful some people can be. Obviously when you visit a temple or religious area in Southeast Asia, you’re required to cover your knees and shoulders. This is common knowledge. Yet there were hoards of tourists wearing short shorts and dress with tank tops. And then said tourists would walk up to a gong or bell at the temple that has a large sign affixed to it that says ‘Do not touch’ and proceed to hit the gong or read the bell. It was slightly ridiculous. But I guess that’s what you would expect at such a popular temple. 

Massive, intricate, and amazing staircase up to Doi Suthep. Note: this is not fun when it's 95 degrees and you were out late drinking the night before.

I'm fascinated by the architecture in Asia. I love all of the funny little creatures. 

We were lucky and our hostel was awesome and even had a pool, so in the afternoons when the heat was unbearable we would retreat for a swim to cool off. 

One of my favorite parts about Chiang Mai was the Sunday Walking Market. It had a lot of handmade goods and other great items. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of it. Woops.

One sad day that I had the experience of witnessing first hand, was the passing of the King on October 13th. The King of Thailand was at the time, the longest reigning monarch still alive. He was absolutely beloved by his people and it was an extremely sad day for all of Thailand and the Thai people. His passing commenced a thirty-day period of mourning, in which there were no celebrations allowed. It also began a year-long period of mourning as well, in which all government employees must wear black, including our teachers and our office staff when we are at the school during school hours. The vast majority of Thai people will also continue to wear black for a year. My heart is truly sad for the Thai people. Government policies aside, the people here are so kind and really loved their king, so my thoughts have gone out to all of them.

Not long after my trip to Chiang Mai, I had to go on a visa run. It’s frustrating because even though we are a registered charity and non-profit that solely works to help the local community, we still have issues with immigration and all the staff members recently had to start making visa runs again. It is of course a nice opportunity to explore other parts of Southeast Asia, but it’s quite costly for our organization to send everyone out of the country every three months and it takes up a lot of work time. We’re currently trying to resolve the situation, but for now, visa runs it is. 

Erin and I went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for our new visa. It was definitely an experience. Funnily enough, in sixth grade we were required to do an intensive project on a country off of a specific list. I choose Malaysia because at the time my extended family had recently moved to Singapore, so I took the opportunity to learn about Malaysian culture since it was the closest to Singapore I could get. 

So here I am, ten years later, in a country I had never really foreseen myself visiting. 

We stayed in a hostel in Chinatown, right in the heart of KL, which turned out to be quite nice as I forgot to bring an adapter for my phone charger. So at 11pm at night, when my phone was on 1% I realized I had to venture out and cross my fingers that I would find an adapter. Sure enough, Chinatown has everything. 

The food in KL was also a good change from Thai food. There is quite a large Indian population so there was a plethora of cheap Indian food which we enjoyed. 

In between our visits to the Thai embassy to drop off our paperwork and then pick up our visas, we did a lot of exploring. My favorite part of the trip was visiting the Batu Caves, which was about a 45-minute train ride from KL. 

Of course, like every monument I visit including the Trevi Fountain in Rome, the giant statue and much of the outside of the cave area was under construction. 

It was really neat to experience the Hindu religion first hand. The statues and creature they worship are really interesting and beautiful. 

Monkeys wandered everywhere around the caves, both inside and out. 

To get to the caves, you have to hike up a huge staircase. (What’s with all the staircases SEA??) There were many people who were going up to the caves to worship so they were also transporting buckets of rocks and concrete to the top as well for construction purposes. It was also a hot day so you can imagine that it wasn’t an easy climb. 

The caves themselves were beautiful. They were massive! There were several worship areas inside the caves. Then when you walked through to the other side you could walk up and out some more, to a serene alcove where another worship area was set up. It was beautiful how the light cascaded in and created a small fortress surrounded by stone.

The skyline of KL.

We also went to a Helipad lounge to watch the sunset one night that was really great. It was a helipad that they turn into a bar at night. We had a bucket of beers and watched as the sky turned dark and the buildings lit up all around us. It was beautiful. 

Overall I enjoyed my trip to KL. It was nice to be back in a big city with public transport and shopping and more food options.

The Petronus Towers. They were massive and beautiful. The architecture of all the big buildings in KL were really neat. All of the skyscrapers have obviously been built before ours in the U.S. due to their slower development, so all of their buildings have really modern architecture. 

 A few days after my return from Malaysia, my parents arrived here in Thailand! There flight landed at around 3am, so I was up around 4am waiting for them to get to Kamala. It’s really difficult to explain to taxi drivers where to go because they are used to driving people to hotels, not random houses. So there I was, sitting in the dark at the corner of my road and High Street petting a stray dog when I glance up and see a cab with my parents in the backseat.

It was a great moment of “oh hey, I know them!”. I brought them back to my place where they were able to relax before we grabbed some breakfast and they checked into their hotel. 

My mom and I chatting on my roof the morning they arrived. 

Mai-{Thais} because why not?

My dad left his infamous shark-signature here in Phuket.

They stayed at the Hyatt which is down the road a little way from our Kamala School. My friend Frei, who works with us at the Foundation, was kind enough to hook my parents up with an amazing upgrade. Their room was seriously bigger than my apartment and had its own outdoor area and Jacuzzi.

I showed them around Kamala and took them to one of my favorite beaches, Laem Sing. We also went to Patong and did some shopping. We walked down Bangla road at night and they were able to get a taste of the utter madness that is Patong. As I’ve said before, Bangla is like an Asian-Vegas on steroids. We had a beer and did some people watching. 

Kamala Beach at sunset.

Laem Sing, one of my favorite beaches that I took my parents to. 


I had to work a bit while they were here so they went on a day trip to a nearby island and did some snorkeling. They also took their motorbike and did some exploring on their own.

My parents were also lucky enough to get to attend our after school program, Coconut Club, and meet some of our adorable students. We played games and did some puzzles. I think they enjoyed it. I’m glad they got to experience first hand what the Foundation I work for actually does and the difference I’m contributing to and working for everyday. It was great.

My mom and dad with Peet. This is possibly my favorite picture ever. 

Later in the week, the three of us went to Ao Nang, which is about an hour ferry ride away. Ao Nang is a great little beach town that I really liked. There was a lot of good western food which my dad liked and I also enjoyed since I don’t get to eat it that often. 

Just your average junk-boats at the pier. 

We did of course arrive to our hotel in Ao Nang to catch the tail-end of the presidential election in time to see Donald Trump win, which was notable. One of the first questions I get as an American living abroad is undoubtably “What do you think of Trump?”. It has been very interesting to see the election from a global perspective and see how much it affects the rest of the world. 

My dad and I did some diving while they were here as well! My mom also came along one of the days and snorkeled. Our first day of diving was just off of Koh Phi Phi and was very nice. On our second dive of the day we saw tons of black tip reef sharks that just swam around us. I love sharks so this was really exciting. We also saw a turtle missing it’s front leg which was sad. 

The landscape both on the ferry ride and around our dive sites was beautiful with giant limestone towers everywhere. We also dove really close to the famous Maya bay.

Maya Bay, above.

The next day my dad and I did some diving at Anemone Reef, Sharkpoint, and the King Cruiser Wreck, which are well-known dive sites. These dives were awesome! We saw leopard sharks (!!) a bunch of baby yellow box fish, a seahorse (!!!) and a lot of great species of fish.

The corals were absolutely beautiful. They were so colorful and big and bright and amazing. Anemone Reef was a really neat dive. The reef is actually a giant cone in shape, so you start at the bottom and just continuously circle up to the top. There were so many fish. It was incredible. I feel like it was more fish than I’ve seen in my entire life combined. 

The King Cruiser Wreck was really cool but the visibility was really bad unfortunately. To start out with though, after jumping in we had to swim against the current to the mooring line to descend. It was a really difficult swim and I felt lucky just to make it to the mooring line, haha.

Shark Point!

I put together a video of our dives. If you'd like to check it out: 

 I really had such a great time with my parents. It was so nice having them here and getting to spend time with them. I loved getting to show them around where I live and giving them a glimpse of my life here in Thailand. 

It’s actually been over seven months now since I left Texas. So between then and now, I obviously haven’t been able to see them nearly enough. I feel so lucky that they made the trip all the way out here. I know it’s a really long trip all the way to the other side of the world, so for them to make the effort is just amazing. I can’t wait till the next time I see them.

After my parents left, I became extremely busy at work getting ready for the event I was managing, Black Tie Muay Thai III. 

The event was a huge success and raised over 900,000baht ($25,000 USD). The night ran really smoothly and I couldn’t be happier. It was nice to see all the hard work that I and everyone else put in come to fruition and turn out so well. It was also great to see first hand that the work I’m doing here is actually making a difference. It was so exciting and I’m so happy to have had this opportunity. I’m also so thankful for all the support from my wonderful coworkers. It’s been a fantastic learning experience so far and I can honestly say I’m learning from the best. Not only is our team a ton of fun to work with, but everyone has the biggest hearts. It’s amazing. I truly love my job. Now at work I’m focusing on other projects and helping get ready for our next events, both big and small!

Staff picture from Black Tie Muay Thai III.

See? Hard at work riding a golden, leather llama.

A few weeks ago was Loy Krathong, a religious ceremony here. We took part and visited the temple next to the school. It is traditional to light a small boat made of flowers and push it off into the river as you make a wish. It’s common to place a coin on the float as well as an offering to the gods in the river. You can also place a lock of hair or a finger nail clipping, too. 

It was really fun when we went because some of our students were just leaving the temple. So there they were in their pajamas eating funny food and running up saying “Teacher, teacher!”. They’re seriously so adorable sometimes that I can’t handle it. 

I was actually really proud of myself here. These girls wanted to make the little string people that were pictured on a book. It took me a minute to remember how to do this. Getting to go to Coconut Club is such a nice break in my day. There's nothing like some arts and crafts to refresh after sitting at a desk most of the day.

Bottom to top: Garfield, Peet, and Got, the cutest and sweetest boys in all of Thailand. They wanted their picture taken after completing the puzzle.

Another sad day was having to say goodbye to Ruth, who has been working here at PHBGTU for over a year. It's amazing how you can spend such a short time with some people and make such great friends. Travel has a special way of that.

Don't mind us. We haven't had a single drink all night.

One new and exciting thing is that I’m doing a Dive Master Internship on the weekends. After diving when my parents were here I couldn’t fathom staying out of the water, so I spoke with one of the dive shops here and they agreed to let me work on the weekends! 

So now on Saturdays and Sundays I’m up early on a dive boat! It’s quite a busy schedule considering I work full time during the week and then another 15+ hours on the weekend, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Honestly if I wasn’t diving on the weekends I wouldn’t have much else to do. So this way, I get to dive and increase my certification level at the same time. This has however cut a big chunk into my budget, since I’ve had to pay for my books which aren’t cheap. It also means I’ve had tons of studying to do! Dive Master is a long, long process with lots of tests and studying and practicals and a million other things to do. I really enjoy it though honestly. And again, I’m lucky to work with a great group of people there as well. The owners are a German family who are really nice and a lot of fun! Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am.

I mean, here I am, living on a beautiful island in Thailand, working at a job I love for a non-profit during the week, and diving on the weekends. It’s easy to get jaded and forget that 99% of the world would gladly trade me places in a heart beat. I try to keep it in perspective though and appreciate each and every day. I can honestly say at the very least that I’m making the most of my time here. 

Something funny that I realized the other week though, is that I’m literally working two jobs for free, technically speaking. I am however, getting a lot out of my jobs, intrinsically speaking. I’m getting to make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate than me while living in a beautiful country and meeting tons of new people and making life long friends. I’m also getting to accomplish some of my goals and pursue one of my passions which is, to most, a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

I think this is an experience everyone should have though, working for free. It brings new meaning to the idea of a job and puts into perspective what you should really be getting out of both your job and your life. It’s not always about money or buying things. It’s about the experiences. It’s about what you can do to make the world a better place and following your dreams and passions each and everyday. Living the way I do now makes me realize this and really puts into perspective the lives that most people lead. It also makes me really appreciate this experience.

To change the subject a bit, today is Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas. 

I quite enjoy this picture. Of course Diego is being weird. Nana is of course looking pretty. And Hamant is of course confused at what Erin is doing and Erin is of course trying to make Hamant and his Santa hat behave.

Christmas was really great here! I woke up and went diving as usual. We were lucky and had awesome conditions so we went to a really nice dive site, Thai Po. The dives were beautiful and I actually saw three species of nudibranchs I had never seen before. So that was a Christmas present in itself. 

After diving, we moored the boat in a small cove, surrounded by cliffs, palm trees, and the most beautiful, turquoise waters I’ve ever seen. We sat around on the boat and had drinks and were merry. 
And there I was again in another ‘Pinch Me’ moment, on a boat in Thailand surrounded by people from Germany, Russia, Australia, France, Sweden, and Thailand enjoying Christmas Eve Day. It was great. 

Later that evening was also our PHBGTU staff party, that I was actually in charge of organizing, so obviously we ate delicious food, drank some festive drinks, and played games! We also did a Secret Santa gift exchange which is always a lot of fun. Food included a variety of appetizers and lasagna as the main course, cooked by one of our teachers who is a chef from Italy, so you can imagine how delicious everything was. Games included Pin The Tail On The Reindeer and Christmas Pictionary, that also had PHBGTU themed words. I think everyone had a really good time. I know I sure did. 

I actually have found that I really enjoy celebrating Christmas outside of the US. I feel like it’s so much less commercialized and much more about friends, family, food, and fun. There’s no pressure to spend hundreds of dollars on gifts or worry about what you’re wearing. Maybe that’s part of the fun for some people, but I personally enjoy receiving a thoughtful gift instead and spending the evening with a make-shift family of people from all corners of the world. 

MJ is really the only Christmas gift I needed.

Funny story actually, my favorite gift this year is something that my bosses made me. Working for a charity means that we are always short on office supplies. So it’s a bit of a long running joke that I hoard rubber bands. My amazing bosses actually bought a bag of rubber bands and took the time to make me a giant rubber band ball. If that’s not the true spirit of Christmas, then I don’t know what is. 

Currently however, I’m extremely excited because the BEST CHRISTMAS GIFT EVER arrives here tomorrow night: my best friend Haley. I’m so looking forward to a familiar face and having one of my favorite people and my absolute best travel buddy here to visit. I’m seriously the luckiest person in the whole world to have had so many people make the trip out here to see me. We are going to hang out in Phuket for a few days and then do some traveling to a few of the other islands surrounding Thailand.

I really don’t know what I did to deserve to deserve this absolutely wonderful life I’ve been living. Some days it just really doesn’t feel real. I guess all I can do now is keep waking up and living everyday to the fullest.

Bonus: Here is an actual article from the Phuket News. Give it a read and have a good laugh.

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