Thursday, November 19, 2009

Work all night on a drink of rum.


On Monday I started work here in Ban Phe at the Siam English Training School. I'm one of two teachers (the other is a girl from the same TEFL class as me) doing the Immersion English program right now. The program involves 3 hours of English lessons in the morning and then an activity for a few hours in the evening, and it's geared toward people who come here for a few weeks at a time on holiday. The English lessons are English lessons, but the activities make the job fairly interesting.

Yesterday the lesson and activity were combined: I took my ward (right now there is only one immersion student, but this will change next week when there will be two) to Ko Samet (which I learned in preparing for my lesson is also called "Magical Crystal Island" as it shall henceforth be known on this blog) and we had our lesson there and then went swimming and lay in the sun. It's a hard life.

This afternoon's activity was a visit to the Monkey Temple. I was trepidatious on seeing this in the list of activities, and it was a surprise this morning that the temple would be the day's activity. I changed to my most monkey-proof outfit and pinned up my hair. I got to ride in a sweet 1957 Mercedes. As the car slowly chugged up the hill to the temple, I noticed that some of the forest had been cleared to widen the road. At the top of the hill, the temple awaited. This time, though, there were about 20 monks milling about, music playing from a boom box near the temple, and folks were actively working on renovations.

It's a beautiful building so I'm glad that it won't be abandoned anymore, but at the same time it makes me sad that it probably won't be overrun with monkeys for much longer. Eventually the monkeys came out of the forest and we handed them our bananas, but there were too many people inside the gate of the temple for them to venture in at all. It was a fairly benign excursion.



There were many more babies than I saw before, but no sign of the Baron. I think he's either planning a large-scale attack to coincide with the temple reopening, or scouting a better location for his Barony. Or both.


After shooing the monkey off of the Mercedes, we went to the night market where I bought the second best tee shirt I've ever seen.

ban phe 035

This is hard work, but somebody has to do it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

on the train to Bangkok

My last night in Pai, a Japanese artist called Harajuku Matisse made me beautiful.


I slept in a bamboo hut under a functional mosquito net, and awoke early for the rollercoaster of a bus ride back to Chiang Mai where I bid farewell to miss Elle, who stayed in Chiang Mai before a different adventure. It was a long weekend of travel, and I took a few seconds of video as my train approached Bangkok in the morning.

Hualamphang station greeted me, and didn't feel quite as underdressed as before. I'm comfortable in my dirty backpacker uniform.



The second-class night trains are like the one in Some Like it Hot with curtains and ladders. This train was not as luxurious as the one I took up to Chiang Mai, but I think that next time I'm going all out and bringing a maribou-trimmed dressing gown just like Marilyn.

When I arrived in Ban Phe I was tired and dirty and the skies were grey and melancholy. In the morning, my other travel companion Jamie left for a teaching job a few hours away. The cast of characters here is different, and the settings are a little different. Today I explored some of the places I had never been before (a park, the Rayong aquarium) and some that I had missed (I had some quality time with the ocean and ate street food for dinner at the evening market) and I think this place will be home, at least for awhile.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

...Pai, cool drink of water, such a sweet surprise

Pai is a quiet mountain town about 3 and a half swervy hours north of Chiang Mai. Tee shirts for sale in town boast of the 762 curves in the road from Chiang Mai. As I bumped along, higher and higher into the mountains, I started to notice pine trees!

Pai is a small town, but it is becoming popular with backpackers and the main drag in town turns into a bustling market every evening, selling bracelets and belly dancer pants and scarves. I did buy a pair of fisherman pants, after going back and forth about it over the last couple of weeks.

The best thing about Pai, besides the town's love for puns, is that the backpacker culture is easy to escape. On an adventure yesterday, my companions and I visited (and swam below) a waterfall where we saw only a couple of other visitors.


This is one of the glorious views at Pai Canyon.


It's great in any direction.

In the evening, we went back to civilization and had our portrait done by an artist.


After walking through the streets, trying not to buy anything (aside from my fisherman pants,) the three of us settled down for a bit to watch this great funky jazz cover band.


I am completely in love with the lead singer and her fabulous hair and husky voice, and satisfied to know that Oscar Bluth ended up as a sax player in a funky ladyboy band in Pai.

Tomorrow I'll take on those 762 curves once again and start my two-day journey back to Ban Phe.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Yub Nub


I found it a little amusing that the tourist brochures here in Chiang Mai are littered with claims like "non-touristic!" I signed up for Jungle Flight anyway and zipped through the forest for a few hours yesterday (I take my jungles sagging with vines and dense with snakes, thanks.)

The geography around Chiang Mai reminds me a lot of home and the Cascade foothills. Even the bus ride up through windy mountain roads with views of the valleys below was exciting (and bumpy.) Zipping was fun, and the guides were hilarious (as is proper.) The last abseil (that's where they lower you straight down on a rope) was 40 meters and probably the most thrilling part.

That was the first 20-meter abseil.

I'm leaving Chiang Mai today for a destination yet-undecided. It should be good.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I ate a million dinners brought to me on silver trays

I've been staying busy here in Chiang Mai. I visited Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, a temple on a mountain with a 309 step climb to reach it.

The view from the top:
You can see the moat around the old city.

The temple was great, and one of the vendors at the bottom sold bananas on a stick, wrapped in waffles and drizzled in chocolate! That night I went to a touristy all-you-can-eat dinner with traditional dancing. And LAST night I had dinner at a wonderful vegetarian restaurant.

Continuing my enjoying-life-through-food approach, today I went to an all-day cooking school with the lovely Miss Elle.

After taking in the sights and smells of the market, and touring the organic farm where the class took place, I learned to make green curry paste and then make curry out of it. I also made Tom Yam soup, cashew tofu, pad thai and mango sticky rice. And then I had to eat it. My life is very hard.

Here are some pictures of food:

Tom Yam Soup:

Green curry:
I learned that those little green fruity things are actually a variety of eggplant.

Stir-fried not chicken with cashew nut in mushroom sauce:

Pad Thai:
I had to wrap it up to go to save room for...

The food of the gods: Mango Sticky Rice

If this post has made you at all hungry, please come to Thailand and eat my leftovers. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

hitchin' on a twilight train

I arrived in Chiang Mai this morning after taking the overnight train from Bangkok. My only other train experience was Tacoma to Portland, so this was a glorious adventure for which I was sorely underdressed. As I approached the platform and saw the train waiting, I squealed with glee and regretted not bringing white gloves, a jaunty hat and a tailored dress in my backpack. Instead, I wore a $5 dress from Cambodia and a pair of decomposing flip-flops. It was still glorious.

I won the coin-toss for the bottom bunk and was grateful for a window. I didn't sleep very well, but our fourteen-hour train ride offered interesting views, the opportunity to use a squat toilet on the train, and a satisfactory ipod soundtrack (including "Murder Train A-Coming" by Dethklok and "Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat" but not including "The Gambler" or "Midnight Train to Georgia.") My book was equally appropriate (Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux.)

I can confidently say that I am in love with trains.

I also have a few pictures to share from my adventures in Cambodia. The staff photographer hasn't had the chance to upload her pictures yet, but these give the general idea.

Woke up at 4 am to get this:

I felt ickily colonial on this part of the trip. It was very National Geographic.

Elephant convoy at the gate to Angkor Thom:

Expect more and better pictures when I'm not at an Internet cafe. It might be a week and a half, or just a few days, or maybe longer. I must soon acquire new flip flops though, before this pair rots off of my feet.