Friday, October 30, 2009

Our Elaborate Plans

Since arriving in Cambodia after some long drives, I've been keeping busy. I ate a silk worm. I met some cool people. I've been climbing all over Angkor temples for the last three days. I saw some breathtaking sunsets and got up super early this morning to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. I'm safe and sound, I just don't have much access to the Internet.

Some quick observations about Cambodia, as compared to Thailand:

The Tuk-tuk are different! Instead of being self-contained they are just motorbikes with cute little two-wheeled carriages attached.

The roads are mostly terrible.

The curry isn't hot! It's spicy, and curry-tasting, but not hot at all.

THEY HAVE BREAD HERE. I didn't realize I would miss bread, but after a month without I could just gnaw on baguettes all day.

On a similar note, wine and cheese.

The wats have been spectacular. I don't want to blog about it though until I can upload pictures. I've been very lucky to have a lovely photographer traveling with me. I will say that my legs are ridiculously sore from climbing all the steep, narrow steps up and down temples all day.

I will have better access to the Internet at some point. I'll probably be in Thailand again sometime next week, but that doesn't mean that I'll have regular Internet access again.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

You thought the leaden winter would bring you down forever

I visited a magical island this weekend. Ko Samet is the reason Ban Phe is on the map, but this was my first visit. I was deliriously happy all weekend until the very end, which was still a perfect ending.

On Saturday after being booted out of Condochain and bidding farewell to the folks who won't stay in Ban Phe, I caught the ferry with two girls from my TEFL class. On arriving on the island we found some available bungalows (very rustic accommodation) and went down to the beach for drinks. We met a cute, sarcastic, whiny Canadian who we joined for dinner at a restaurant on the beach a while later. The food was wonderful. The sand was white. The drinks were abundant.

After dinner, we walked to a hookah bar on the beach. Rugs were laid out on the sand, and there were pillows to lean upon and short tables. The four of us shared a hookah and I listened to the music from the bar and watched the fire dancers down the beach and the lanterns floating up to the heavens for good luck and it was beautiful. This island's culture and inhabitants are so intentional and warm and transient, like Ren Faire or Khao San without the touts.

Paisley Glen or beachside hookah bar?

I didn't think it could get better, but inside the club at the hookah bar there was a wonderful cover band. They played the Cranberries and Guns and Roses and... uh... Shawty got Low. It was FANTASTIC. The singers, the guitar, the dancing, the energy, the music.

We left when the band finished their set and it went back to a dj and walked back the other way to a gay bar on the beach. I dipped in the ocean with one of my companions and it was beautiful. Then we headed back to our bungalows, and found that one of them was full of ants, everywhere. We all slept in one big bed then and in the morning realized we had shared the bungalow with this guy:

I am very glad that we didn't see the spider until the morning. Otherwise we would have had to sleep outside. It is by far the largest spider I've seen outside of a tarantula, and it is fast.


In the morning, we met up with another friend and found a secluded beach with white sand and still turquoise water and just played and swam in the ocean, laid on the beach and ate delicious food. I had an ovaltine shake and banana with coconut milk. While resting for awhile I played some music (it's odd that I haven't listened to my ipod at all on this trip until now.) I put it on shuffle and "Tales of Brave Ulysses" came on and it was perfect.

The mermaids here are whiter than the sand.

I was completely enchanted by Ko Samet, but had to leave to catch the ferry at around 5 pm. I came back to the school here in Ban Phe where I am spending one night before leaving tomorrow for Cambodia with a couple of others. After dinner I walked back to the school with a friend and we stopped at a restaurant that was having a lawn karaoke party with two of the TEFL employees, including our trainer. Both of them are leaving in the coming weeks, one to Singapore and one to England. It was wonderful to sing karaoke with them. I sang three songs--Proud Mary was a duet, it was great. I Will Survive was great. The other was Take it to the Limit by the Eagles. But the music was not right. It was just a generic drumbeat and I couldn't sing to it! Especially with a song that is so slow, Emily singing that song was the most horrible thing I have ever heard. It was better to watch them sing karaoke. When I left it was bittersweet because they're both leaving while I'll be in Cambodia and they're pretty cool people who it would have been fun to get to know outside of the TEFL-trainee relationship. They'll have great adventures though.

I realized when I got back to my room here that my phone was missing! It must have fallen out of my purse at the karaoke place. I called the place but there was a language barrier and a loud karaoke happening in the background barrier so I'm not sure they know what's happening, but I will stop by tomorrow in the hope that they have my phone. If losing my phone is payment for the amazing weekend I had, it was worth it. But I still want it back.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kicks just keep getting harder to find.

The hottest trend among novice monks here in Ban Phe is flipflip carving. It makes sense, since their clothing is standard-issue saffron robes, that these teenagers would want to show a little bit of originality. Here's a sampling.


I got myself some new kicks yesterday too. I hope they'll take me on a great journey.


There has been a change of plans. I finished my TEFL training today. Goodbye, monastery school.


but the company that brough me over had a falling out with their biggest recruiter, which means that most of my class was not able to get placement at schools in other parts of Thailand. Instead, about 10 or 11 of our 18-person class (including me) are going to stay here in Ban Phe and work at Siam English Training School. There are worse places to live, for sure.


The monkey wrench is that the new positions don't start until early November which means I get a two week vacation. So instead of traveling around Southeast Asia after my teaching is finished (and worrying about where to store my stuff during that time,) I'm leaving my luggage safely at the TEFL school and traveling now. I'm not bringing my laptop, but I hope to visit Internet cafes to keep you up to date. I might not post any pictures. I'm tentatively going to visit Cambodia and maybe Laos, and be back here to start work around November 9th. That date is tentative; this is Thailand.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

One of the first things I noticed on the beach here in Ban Phe was these little balls of sand on the damp area of the beach just above where the waves reach. Closer inspection revealed that they are the result of tiny crabs building cavernous crab-mansions under the sand. Their palaces disappear at every high tide, and they work diligently when the water gets low again to rebuild. I wonder if they use the same plans for each attempt, or whether each crab-mansion is a unique, fleeting masterpiece.


I only see elephants on weekends, when they lumber up and down the beach with their masters, seeking tourists to buy elephant food and pose for photos. Sometimes they do tricks, like twirling hula-hoops on their trunks. I saw this one stopping periodically to help himself to some greenery growing on the side of the road. I'd like to see him try to take some fruit from one of the food carts. I wonder if anyone would try to stop him.


There are plenty of vehicles that drive up and down the beach all day: musical ice cream trucks, honking drink carts, and the amazing floaty toy parade float. It's difficult not to smile when you see this thing coming up the road. This is the front; the floaty toys are denser on the sides and in back where visibility isn't important. Under everything is a humble motorbike. I asked the fella for a picture and he said yes and then hid behind an airplane.


This beach is supposed to be a booming resort area, and it is the low season here but Condochain is nearly empty. It seems that the boom faded at some point, leaving a number of skeletal resort buildings along the water. With the strength of the forces of nature here (thunderstorms, humidity, ocean, jungle) it's difficult to say how long ago these buildings were abandoned.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Monkey Baron vs 10 Humans in Helmets: The Musical

There is an abandoned temple near Ban Phe that is overrun with monkeys. I love monkeys! My decorating scheme at home is mostly pictures, figures and masks of monkeys. It's kind of ridiculous. So I jumped at the opportunity to visit the monkey temple on Saturday.

I hopped on the back of a motorbike and ventured with a group of ten TEFLers to the fabled temple. One of our group had visited the temple on his own before, and he led the way. We made a brief stop at a roadside stand to buy big bunches of green bananas for 20 baht (about 70 cents) a bunch. It had been suggested that we leave our helmets on. I joked that we might end up barricaded in the abandoned temple, subsisting on bananas as monkeys methodically sought a way in. Ha.

As we approached the sacred grounds, we entered a less-abandoned area with a huge staircase going up the hill. The railings of the staircase were five-headed snakes. Rather than climb the stairs, we followed the road up the hill to the beautiful temple. The surrounding trees were infested with small monkeys. One or two was carrying a baby on its stomach or back. The monkeys were adorable and a little shy. They loved bananas but only a few of them were brave enough to come very close for them.




Then there was this guy. He's the Baron of this particular band of monkeys and he did not seem to appreciate our visit. When one of our group bent down to hand him a banana, he bared his teeth and ran at her, which was terrifying. We tried throwing what was left of our bananas at him to make him happy, but he had no interest in them and continued towards the group of six or seven of us as we backed away from the temple, the angry Monkey Baron, our motorbikes and our companions.

Inside the temple gate, the others continued to feed the nice monkeys and take some amazing pictures. Outside the gate, I was completely terrified and so were most of my companions. Monkey Baron ran at us a couple of times and we backed further down the hill. He sat and stared at us. In our frantic fear, we attempted to scare him by singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." He was not amused. Finally we realized that there were still some bananas in one of the backpacks. In the hope that the Baron could smell them and that was why he hated us, these last bananas were tossed toward the jungle in an attempt to get him to follow. It worked, after a fashion, and he moved to the side of the road. We hurried past him, back to the temple and our bikes.

Back at the temple, the few people who had stayed behind were still taking pictures. At some silent signal, the monkeys retreated suddenly into the jungle.


We cautiously rode back down to the base of the staircase, wary of any attempts the Baron might make to have his troops jump from the trees and attack our faces as we tried to leave.

Safe at the bottom of the staircase, we put on our best monkey faces and laughed at ourselves.


Friday, October 16, 2009


I don't get to actually sit down with the Internet very often, but hopefully within the next couple of weeks when I get my teaching placement it will be in a place where the Internet is a little more convenient. This week I taught my first two classes. It was a learning experience, and I teach more classes next week. In the afternoons and evenings I've spent a lot of quality time with the ocean.


My hotel sits across the street from the beach. On the side of the street with the hotel, there are other (mostly empty this time of year) hotels and some small restaurants. On the beach side, there are lots of beach chairs and umbrellas and tables. Sometimes people order food and then walk across the street to eat on the beach. Sometimes at night people drag sound equipment down there and throw karaoke beach parties.

On Wednesday after school I joined some of my fellow TEFLers at the beach. There was a huge jellyfish in the water, and some of them were trying to play with it while others were keeping their distance. These shots are from my underwater camera.



The top feels like nubbly plastic. It's not at all what I expected. That is not my hand; one of the brave gentlemen was making sure it was safe.

The jellyfish had a live crab inside of it, which later escaped when it was herded to shore for further investigation. Afterward, jellyfish was promptly returned to the water alive. Crab wandered away.

On Thursday I headed down to the beach with a book after class. The sky was clear with some haziness at the horizon and wispy white clouds overhead. Behind me, inland, the sky was overcast but light gray. I was hoping for a spectacular sunset. I sat down with my book (The Masked Rider, by Neil Peart) and started to read. I noticed a flash on the page, which I thought could absolutely not be lightning behind me, until a good few seconds later thunder rumbled above me. This was the longest, loudest thunderclap I have ever heard. I looked around behind me and the sky was still light gray. This happened again until the sky started to downpour on me, and I hurried across the street to take shelter at a restaurant and eat dinner (garlicky squid on rice.) Sudden weather changes are typical this time of year.

Most of my TEFL class was going to go out Friday night for karaoke to celebrate the birthday of one of my fellow students. Our instructor mentioned that a bunch of the TEFL employees and students from the other TEFL class were going to Rayong (the big city with the giant TESCO Lotus) for karaoke that night and that we were welcome to join them. This sounded like a great idea!

So we rented a songthaew (that's a pickup truck with two benches in the bed and a roof on top) and 14 of us rode into Rayong. We joined the TEFL group at a huge restaurant/bar where a cover band was playing songs in Thai and English. After an hour or so of this, the whole horde (about 25 people) walked to the karaoke place where we had a private room. This was amazingly fun. There were a fair number of English selections. I sang "A Whole New World" from Aladdin and "Desperado." I also sang "Yesterday." While I had a great time, I'm glad that I don't work at the karaoke bar. Having to listen to other people's karaoke parties all night long might be one of the worst jobs.


I'll leave you with Chaoying. She seems to live in the Condochain lobby. Her coloring reminds me of my kitty Clarice. She's chewing on my camera strap here.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

First Weekend in Ban Phe

My first week of teacher training is complete.

Saturday I rode on the back of a motorbike around Ban Phe. I actually tried to drive a motorbike, much to the amusement of the hotel housekeepers who were hanging out of the window laughing at me. Jerk forward, screech to a halt, jerk forward, lean sideways, screech to a halt. I'm sure you'll have no difficulty visualizing this. I'm much better as a passenger. I don't think they make motorbikes with training wheels.

In Bangkok and here in Ban Phe there are motorbikes all over the roads but helmets are rare. Some of them pile on three plus people, including children on their laps. I've seen women ride sidesaddle. They don't really have enforced traffic rules so the motorbikes dart in between cars when they can. As a result, at a stoplight there is always a hoarde of motorbikes blazing forward first when the light turns green.

This fella was hanging out in my condiment tray.

Is it sad that it took me until Saturday to get past my knees in the ocean? It was a hot day, and shortly after sundown I took a dip in the warm ocean. I've never been in a warm ocean before, and it was wonderful. I luckily missed the torrential end-of-monsoon thunderstorm, which waited until I was safe and dry in the restaurant/motorbike rental/convenience store/Internet cafe next to the Condochain.

When the rain let up, I walked back to Condochain to the cacophony of the competing karaoke bars on either side of the hotel. I think that the one next to my side of the building has the advantage. Being in a covered pavilion outdoors, the flashing disco lights draw people and moths alike and the music has a much straighter path through the crack where my sliding glass door doesn't slide all the way shut.

Sunday five of us went to Khao Chamao national park. This trip was amazing. I don't know what I was expecting; we knew there were waterfalls and wildlife (elephants and tigers and bears, oh my!)

The first wildlife I saw was this gigantic black and yellow spider:

The hike to the waterfalls required a park ranger as an escort, and they did not let us bring food or water to the hiking trail. It turned out to be a 2.6 kilometer hike each way, but it was very intense. It was an uphill climb through the jungle. The trail went up and through little streams, and required a lot of energy to find the best place to step among the rocks and tree roots. There were about six waterfalls along the trail, and of course they were beautiful but so was just walking through the jungle. The sounds were amazing, the flora was amazing, the sudden drop in temperature as I stepped around a corner and into view of a waterfall was just amazing!


I bought a bag of fish food for 10 baht (33 cents) at the desk where we gave up our water bottles. The first (or second?) waterfall we passed had hoards of fish beaching themselves to get at this food. I tried out my camera's underwater capabilities here, which was a little tricky since I couldn't see the viewfinder.


The hike was grueling, especially without water. Up near the top, we passed an area with a very zoo-ish smell. The guide said it was tiger. We didn't actually meet a tiger. When I emerged from the jungle after four hours (I think?) I was covered in a slimy film of sweat, sunscreen and insect repellant. And leeches. Also leeches.

I pulled this sucker off my ankle:


It was so worth it though!



It started to rain just as we were leaving the jungle, and I had lunch at the park under a little pavilion while the rain turned into a downpour. The largest animal we met at the park was a deer.


One can rent a bungalow and stay the night at the park, which I think would be amazing. After returning to the Condochain I took a dip in the warm ocean and took pictures.


I tried to get a picture with an awesome wave crashing behind me, but it didn't work.



Thursday, October 8, 2009

Giant White Lady goes shopping

I now have a Thai bank account with an ATM card and everything. Last night I visited Rayong (the largest city in the province) with most of my classmates for a shopping trip. The mall was disheartening. I don't enjoy clothes shopping, but I was looking for short-sleeved button-up shirts and I found some pretty ones. I asked the sales lady if she had big ones (with an accompanying gesture--I am very eloquent.) She dug around and presented me with a shirt.

The tag said "XL - US 8."

The next stop was the giant TESCO-LOTUS. Tesco is from the UK, and is a lot like Wal*Mart. They sell clothes and electronics and groceries. Here I was so pleased to find shirts up to 3X, for 200 to 250 baht! I bought four XXL's.

Behind the Tesco in Rayong there was a night market. The night market sold pirated cds and games, clothing and all sorts of tasty food. For dinner I bought squid-on-a-stick and was happily looking forward to walking around the market eating my squid from its stick. Instead, the vendor slid the squid off of the stick for me, cut it up into bite-size pieces, and put it into a small bag with cucumber and some sort of sweet sauce. I did get a new stick with which to eat my squid pieces, so it wasn't a disappointment. It was tasty.

Today's picture is a gecko on a sign at the monastery where I go to school.


(I posted this the morning after I wrote it, and my intestines might regret the squid-on-a-stick.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Spotty Internet

Alas, my accommodation at TEFL training lacks Internet! The Buddhist monastery where I learn to teach and practice teaching has Wi-Fi (is that weird?) but it was quite spotty during the end-of-monsoon season thunderstorm this afternoon.

My first night here, I watched the sunset over the gulf of Thailand.



I probably won't be blogging much here. I hope you understand.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Up on the roof

My room is on the second floor, and today I walked up to the top (fourth) floor of my hotel to see what there is to see. Little did I know, there is a rooftop garden and shrine above the second floor.


The bit on the right covered in tarps is a walkway to Khao San Road. I'm grateful that I'm off the road a bit here because it stays very loud very late out there.

In the afternoon I visited Banglamphu Weekend Market.


I didn't buy anything. There was lots of street food that tasted and smelled heavenly, but I had just gone to McDonalds. It sounds kind of awful to eat at McDonalds, but I went because the McThai web site lists "Corn Pie" in the dessert section and I just had to try it. This McDonalds didn't have corn pie, but I had pineapple pie which tasted like you would expect.

I didn't try this:

Wat Bowoniwet is visible from the market. Here is a picture of its chedi.


A chedi, I learned, is the bell shaped structure at a temple that usually houses a relic of the Buddha. Most Thai men spend some time as monks before they get married. It's perfectly acceptable in Thailand to be a monk for a few months and then stop. Members of the royal family usually choose to do their time at this temple.

I'm leaving Bangkok tomorrow and heading to Ban Phe to start my teacher training. I don't know how reliable the Internet will be for me there.

Oh, and I went back tonight and bought the tee shirt.

Friday, October 2, 2009

In which Emily fails at haggling, or The Most Amazing Tee Shirt I Never Bought

I've found that Khao San Road is infinitely better at night than during the day. Apart from the impromptu breakdance party my first night here, the music is better (and some of it is live!) it's cooler, there are more people, as a result of there being more people taxis don't go down the road at night (tuk-tuks do) and there are more food carts. Some of the street vendors pack up and leave, and some are just getting started. It really makes it clear that this is a sort of cultural bubble, a community created for and by these weird hippie backpackers and the locals who love their money.

Khao San 01

I wasn't going to buy any souvenirs for myself in Bangkok, or on Khao San Road specifically. I researched everything I could about Thailand before coming here, and one of the big things is that everything on Khao San Road is 1) overpriced and 2) available elsewhere in Bangkok.

My rule doesn't apply to souvenirs for other people though, and in addition to pirated cds and dvds, fake IDs and touristy knick-knacks, the biggest thing for sale here is the Tee Shirt. Shirts range from simple "Bangkok City" and the label designs from Chang and Singha beers, to musicians and scraggly-looking guys with cigarettes who I assume are musicians, to naked ladies and naughty words, and the just plain weird (Tree: "hug me." Man: "No.") There are a couple of people in my life who wear tee shirts (I do not...) so I took a couple of pictures in a stall yesterday and sent them to Saul and my brother. My brother said he would wear a certain shirt, so I went out looking for it again today.

No. No, no, no. For one, the street vendors set up shop in different places every day. For two, they don't put all of their stock on display. I couldn't find it! There are a lot of shirts that feature in four or five stalls along the road. This one, nowhere. At the Burger King end of the road, there is a big tee shirt vendor that seems to have set up shop for the evening. This:

Khao San 7

Put a ridiculous grin on my face, which was probably my first error. You should probably know that Queen is my favoritest band in the world. I wasn't going to buy it; I don't even wear tee shirts. But someone put "Love of My Life" on a tee shirt and they decided to feature it prominently on the wall instead of on the rack and that made me happy. I dug through the shirts on the rack, hoping to find something for Saul or Nathan. I did not find something for Saul or Nathan. But I did find this:


Amazing. The print gives Important Biographical Information about our hero. Weight: 8.5 stone. Favorite Actress: Liza Minelli. Favorite Drink: Champagne. I don't wear tee shirts, it's big and will fit weird, the sleeves are a funny length. But it is also the most amazing tee shirt I have ever seen in my entire life. I ask how much it costs. "250 baht, but for you I'll give a discount. It costs 200 baht." I was really taken aback, not fake haggle-taken aback. 200 baht is six dollars! The other shirt vendors on the road ask for 100-120 baht, although they are the same shirts that everyone sells, and this baby is unique. There are only two of them, that I saw.

I think I displayed my taken-abackness quite well. I said that's too expensive and offered 100 baht. The man said that the discount was only down to 200 baht. I started to put the shirt back on the rack, and then I put the shirt back on the rack. I started to walk away, and then I walked away. And he didn't stop me. It's not supposed to work like this.

I bought myself a plate of pad thai and walked down the road to the other end, contemplating whether I really wanted this shirt and making sure that none of the other vendors had one (they didn't.)

When I got to the end of the road, the pad thai had kicked in and I was thirsty, so I bought myself a coconut shake. It's blending behind the carrots.

Khao San 9

I sipped it as I walked back down the road again. I'm getting very good at politely brushing off the tuk-tuk drivers, by the way. As I approached the end with the amazing shirt I couldn't figure out what to do.

Ronald offered me no guidance.


Captain Jack wanted only for me to buy one of his bracelets.


I reached the shirts and decided that I needed to take a picture at least. As the man saw me approach he made the smuggest of smug faces, which I think was the universe trying to remind me that I don't wear tee shirts and I said I wouldn't buy myself anything on Khao San road. I took the picture and turned around for good.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rain O'er Me

It's the tail end of the rainy season here. Last night I ordered dinner (palak paneer) from an outdoor restaurant on the street. It had just started to sprinkle, a raindrop landing here and there on my arm or face. This had been a long, hot day and each drop of water felt delicious. The man who took my order directed me under the canopy to wait for my meal, but I savored the rain for a few moments.

As I ate under the canopy, I noticed people with umbrellas and more than one person walked by with a plastic bag on his head. It wasn't more than a drizzle, even as I walked back to my guesthouse. I guess it's a Washington thing that people don't mind when it drizzles a little. Overnight it rained. I wondered before I opened my door this morning, whether that faint smell of decay that seems to be everywhere in Bangkok (covered briefly by street food or jasmine or incense, but always there) was going to be cleaned away by the rain, or whether instead the water would saturate the ground and let whatever putrid smell is there float up to the surface.

Either the rain cleaned the air, or I'm getting used to the smell of Bangkok. It was a great morning. There was still a slight mist, and I brought my umbrella just in case when I went for my walk. My feet were sore from all of the walking I did yesterday, so today I would just visit Santichaiprakarn Park a few blocks north of Khao San Road.


The first thing to greet me when I crossed the street into the park was this pavilion.


Santichaiprakarn Park is on the Chao Phraya River. That's the Rama VIII bridge. There was a wonderful breeze at the park today which combined with the mist to make the most perfect day.


That's a little boat in the canal next to the park. The vegetation reminds me that this is a jungle. I made a new favorite tree at the park. It's a Malay Banyan (thankfully there were signs on the trees which gave their names in English.)


I think it would be absolutely perfect for a Swiss Family Robinson-style treehouse.

Prasumen Fort is one of the biggest draws to this park. It used to be a part of the wall around the old city.


I walked across a little bridge next to the park that took me over the canal. The canals are supposed to be the stinkiest thing about Bangkok, and yesterday the one I crossed to visit the Grand Palace almost made me retch. It might be because of the rain last night and today, but this one didn't smell.


On the other side I saw this kitten on a roof next to a spirit house. I thought it was a perfect representation of Bangkok: cat, spirit house and sattelite dish. I also thought it was a cute picture.