Tuesday Travel Photo

Not sure how I missed out on this given I was living in Asia for two years. Yes, that’s a forty-foot inflatable rubber ducky floating in Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. This came to my attention because this duck will floating in Pittsburgh in just a few months as part of the International Festival of Firsts. I think I’d want to be anywhere where there’s a 40 foot plaything is drifting along the river for this week’s TTP.

For more about the floating duck coming to Pittsburgh, check this out.

Some Goodbyes

It’s really hard to believe a month ago I was leaving the village and Thailand. In many ways it feels like a far away dream, but in others it doesn’t seem like I’ve completely left either. This is part of my journey to say goodbye to Thailand.

These little nuggets of cuteness were graduating kindergarten and put on a play.

These little nuggets of cuteness were graduating kindergarten and put on a play.

The start of the blessings bracelets. This is a traditional Thai ceremony reserved for special occasions like graduations and weddings.

The start of the blessings bracelets. This is a traditional Thai ceremony reserved for special occasions like graduations and weddings. It was suiting my last day in the village was the sixth grade graduation celebration.

All of the parents and important village leaders stacked these on my wrist. It's almost mystical in a way when they murmur over you.

All of the parents and important village leaders stacked these on my wrist. It’s almost mystical in a way when they murmur over you.

These are all my bracelets (and banana/rice ball I had to carry around all morning, no idea why) by the time I made it through everyone.

These are all my bracelets (and banana/rice ball I had to carry around all morning, no idea why) by the time I made it through everyone.

I try not to play favorites, but these two are literally my most cherished students in the entire country. When they wanted to add bracelets to my wrist, I couldn't hold it in anymore and broke down sobbing (which you can sort of see in this picture). The amount of love and gratitude I have for these two little girls is unexplainable in words.

I try not to play favorites, but these two are literally my most cherished students in the entire country. When they wanted to add bracelets to my wrist, I couldn’t hold it in anymore and broke down sobbing (which you can sort of see in this picture). The amount of love and gratitude I have for these two little girls is unexplainable in words.

Apparently graduation day also means it's sticker day

Apparently graduation day also means it’s sticker day

One of the gifts I got from a sixth grade girl. It naturally made the trip home with me.

One of the gifts I got from a sixth grade girl. It naturally made the trip home with me.

My real Thai friends that rented a van and brought me to the airport and as a last meal we had... Chinese food

My adult Thai friends that rented a van and brought me to the airport and as a last meal we had… Chinese food. These are the women I could be my true self with and they accepted me, American faults and all. 

My village Thais were a little surprised at the variety of races in their airport... and how cold it was in there. I'm so glad I had some last minute goofing around with one of my best Thai friends. I miss her so much already.

My village Thais were a little surprised at the variety of races in their airport… and how cold it was in there. I’m so glad I had some last-minute goofing around with one of my best Thai friends. I miss her so much already.

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My all time favorite coffee shop in Thailand. I really wish I could bring this peaceful place home with me.

The longest ticket combination of my traveling to date. This is my 'see you on the other side of the world' face.

The longest ticket combination of my traveling to date. This is my ‘see you on the other side of the world’ face.

Friday Five

Five Things I Won’t Miss About Thailand– Part One of Two (maybe three… or four). These are things I generally encounter on a regular basis and sometimes pushed me to the end of my sanity rope.

Feeling Hot, hot, hot
I really like wearing flip-flops everyday. I really like not being so cold my skin turns a purplish hue. And I really like not shoveling snow. But more than all those things put together, I would really love to stop sweating 98% of the time. Going through my closet, the amount of clothes I had to toss because of sweat stains was truly depressing. And some things, I either didn’t or couldn’t wear because I didn’t want to get it too sweaty or it was too tight and made me sweat more. And I’d do almost anything to sweat less. So, so soon, the time will come that I will not need a fan on 24 hours a day and I’ll need to wear, dare I say it, layers! This tropical Thai heat is not to be messed with and I’ll happily wave the white flag to lose that battle. Just don’t get the flag too sweaty. Thailand is where white comes to die.

A Life with Creepy Crawlers
Mosquitos, cockroaches, mice, red ants, scorpions, lizards, snakes and a wild assortment of bugs I don’t know the word for in English are a daily nuisance in Thailand. Discovering I’m allergic to most bug bites hasn’t been a walk in the park. Throw in the nights the mice kept me up all night or the mornings rabid dogs chased after me while their owners looked on and I’m so looking forward to living in a real ‘inside’ again. Even inside my house, in my screened off bedroom, it’s not safe. Last week, while nursing a stomach issue that literally knocked me off my feet, I had an uninvited rodent guest in bed with me that was curious as to what my back had it store for it. With my minimal reaction, it was then I realized how much I had adjusted to the pests of this country and it wasn’t exactly a good thing. I so look forward to a clean environment that I don’t have to worry if I leave some food unattended for five minutes, the things will descend or a wisp of air has me slapping at my leg in fear of the bug bite swelling up to the size of my palm.

Why?
When I get to stop asking myself ridiculous questions about my life… that’ll be a good day. Things like: Why is there a cockroach graveyard in my bathroom? Why is that teacher smacking that student? Why is that person still staring at me? Why isn’t the water coming out of the shower head? Why did my landlord let herself into my house with talking to me about it? Why am I the only teacher in the third through sixth grade building? Why is the music blasting at 5am? Why are those kids staring at me through my window? Why hasn’t the bus come yet? Why haven’t I had electricity for 36 hours? Why did the internet stop working? Why doesn’t anyone tell that dog to get off the lunch table next to us? Or maybe it’s not that I have to ask these questions, it’s just that rarely do I get more of an answer than an awkward laugh and a shrug.

The F Word
And not, I don’t mean the four letter one. I mean the farang one, that means ‘white person’ in Thai. I tried really hard to get used to it, but the prospect that I could never be shouted at for being white is something I’m swallowing with relish. Thai people group ALL white people together and call them farang. Many people I’ve met think there is some universal language we all speak, we all understand each other, we all have the same culture, we all live in the same climate, but most of all, we’re all just… not them. And for a long period of time in the village, you’re only known as farang. You don’t have a name. You are farang. You’re rich, have blonde hair, blue eyes, and are much fatter than Thai people. You eat bread every day. You can’t eat spicy food. You don’t have feelings. And that is all you will ever be to most of the Thais you meet. Since I don’t teach at the school in front of my house, the kids there don’t really know me. But they do know a white person lives in my house. So every time I walk out my door or sometimes when I’m home from school, kids will line up and shout, ‘OH, FARANG!!!’ I’ve been told multiple times, by multiple people, that it doesn’t have a negative connotation in Thai and people don’t mean to hurt your feelings calling you that. Then again, if I don’t mean to step on your foot, that doesn’t stop you from feeling pain does it? The ‘nigga’ vs. ‘nigger’ debate and who can say what has taken a completely different meaning for me. Just don’t call me the f-word.

Being An Other
One of my all time favorite TV shows, ‘Lost,’ called the group of people who did not crash with them on the plane with them, ‘The Others.’ And in Thailand, if you’re not Thai, you are an Other. Thais are known across the world for their friendliness and immense giving spirit, which I’ve relied on for the past two years. But it’ll only get you so far. Unless you are Thai or have at least one Thai parent, you’ll rarely be considered one of them (even if you’ve lived here your entire life). There is a select group of ladies that I feel at home with, but other than them, most Thais I know (which, granted are mostly village Thais and not the most forward thinking/educated bunch) see you as an alien life form. Suggestions of a different kind of lifestyle or way of thinking are hardly ever truly accepted. Rare is the time your point of view is taken into account or considered before some decision is made about or for you. When people see me here, they are almost immediately (and visibly) uncomfortable and want to deal with me as quickly as possible so they don’t have to put in the extra effort to listen to my accented Thai or cope with the unexpected. This is coupled with the farang calls. I could go on and on, and I think I will in an actual post, but I cannot wait for my existence to not be newsworthy and considered an oddity amongst the people I live around. I’ll just be a regular person, doing regular things, and no one will think I’m wrong for not being exactly like them.

Tuesday Travel Photo

One last week in my rural village. It’s feeling bittersweet. There’s been many ups and downs and I’m looking forward to the next step. But this week, I want to be completely here, in the middle of nowhere, even in my travel dreams. I won’t be able to wander these back roads through the rice fields for much longer.

Took this whilst on a stroll with Momma Coop

Took this whilst on a stroll with Momma Coop

Chiang Rai Video Part Two: The White Temple

Wat Rong Kun, or the White Temple as most international travelers know it as, has become one of my favorite things I’ve seen/done in Thailand. Nothing beats the back drop of the green grass, blue sky, and white sparkling temple. Once we got sight of it, I found it difficult to take my eyes off this masterpiece, designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. It’s nowhere near complete being about fifteen years in to construction and an estimated fifty more to go to finish what will be a collection of temples. This contemporary Buddhist temple is a must see for any traveler coming to Thailand.

I didn’t get to take any pictures inside, but it is more explosive than the outside.

Tourist Thailand: Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai first came to my attention from several other PCVs mentioning their trip and the bugs they had placed on various parts of their body. Planning my Mom’s visit to Thailand, I knew we had to make a stop after reading again and again how staggeringly beautiful this park is.

On the edge of Nakon Ratchasima (Khorat to any Thai person), you get off the bus (or train) in Pak Chong. Most accommodation is somewhere within town or close by. Our guesthouse, Greenleaf, picked us up on the side of the road and swept us out-of-town. We arrived with just enough time to get some lunch before the half-day afternoon tour started. It felt a little rushed at the time, but looking back, I’m so glad we did it.

Our first stop was a natural spring that was beyond magnificent. I saw it through my Mom’s winter-tired eyes that made it seem like an explosion of green and blue with the crystal clear water that we swam around in. We weren’t the only ones, with a few groups of Thais joining in the water and armed with picnic lunches. It wasn’t crowded despite it being the start of high tourist time (winter for Thailand), but I imagine during the long afternoons of hot season, it would be packed.

Water looks inviting doesn't it?

Water looks inviting doesn’t it?

After our swim we were off to the bat cave, Bruce Wayne not included. I was a little freaked out as we descended underground, but once we got there, I was ready to get up close and personal with some creepy crawlers. And boy, did we.

This is the same kind of bug they used in Harry Potter.

This is the same kind of bug they used in Harry Potter.

This temple is just outside of the bat cave. I loved how the light was hitting it at the end of the day.

This temple is just outside of the bat cave. I loved how the light was hitting it at the end of the day.

The guide picked these little guys up and told us to put them in our mouths as tasty snacks. They surprised us by popping the moment they touched our wet tongues.

The guide picked these little guys up and told us to put them in our mouths as tasty snacks. It surprised us by popping open the moment they touched our wet tongues.

I found the bats equal parts fascinating and disgusting. More than once I felt wings flapping in front of my face once we turned our flashlights off. Never before had I seen so many bats in one place, and babies too! The cave we went inside was apparently quite small compared to our next stop outside of a different one. As the sky turned dark we watched millions upon millions of bats flood out in search for dinner. It was really difficult to capture in a photo or on video, so dear blogette, you’ll just have to go yourself one day to take it all in.

Oh hey, what's up guys?

Oh hey, what’s up guys?

The next day we were in for a whole day of hiking within the national park. We spotted gibbons up in the trees, toucans in the sky, and a family of wild elephants who roam freely (they have a couple hundred within the park). The hike we did with our guesthouse was very doable, even if you aren’t in any sort of exercise shape. More difficult treks are available though too with camping in the park. I’ll let the photos tell the story from here.

These guys were bold enough to accept food from people's hands. We were told not to encourage them though.

These guys were bold enough to accept food from people’s hands. We were told not to encourage them though.

Not the first photo I've imitated a bear in a national park...

Not the first photo I’ve imitated a bear in a national park… don’t forget your leech socks!

Didn't hurt but it wouldn't be comfortable either.

Didn’t hurt but it wouldn’t be comfortable either.

This day I learned female spiders are usually bigger than their male counterparts so the gals can eat them after mating. Must be nice.

This day I learned female spiders are usually bigger than their male counterparts so the gals can eat them after mating. Must be nice.

This is one of the coolest trees I've ever seen. You could climb inside and no one would even know you were there if you didn't want them to.

This is one of the coolest trees I’ve ever seen. You could climb inside and no one would even know you were there if you didn’t want them to.

No the bugs weren't done after day one.

No the bugs weren’t done after day one.

Mid-hike, we leave the rain forest for the grasslands. It was so beautiful watching the different directions of the wind in the grass.

Mid-hike, we leave the rain forest for the grasslands. It was so beautiful watching the different directions of the wind in the grass.

One of the guides taught us a little scorpion lullaby... clearly this guy is in need of one.

One of the guides taught us a little scorpion lullaby… clearly this guy is in need of one.

Totally uninterested in us.

Totally uninterested in us.

Mid-day lunch break (provided) at this scenic spot. I'd say they picked a good one.

Mid-day lunch break (provided) at this scenic spot. I’d say they picked a good one.

We ended the day with a visit to one of the many waterfalls within the park.

We ended the day with a visit to one of the many waterfalls within the park.

Even if you’re not a nature or hiking kind of person, I would definitely suggest a visit to Khao Yai. I cut a few days off of Bangkok sites so that my Mom and I could have time in Khao Yai instead and I think we were both glad for that schedule change. It’s developed enough for non-Thai speakers to be able to get in and out easily, but not overcrowded in the least. An awesome alternative to the Bangkok-Chiang Mai-Phuket itinerary that many travelers stick to.

Chiang Rai: Part One

This will be part one of three videos about Chiang Rai. Yes, I liked this city that much. This one covers our first day and a half exploring the city, there are a lot of temples along the way. Our two favorite things within the city were the original Wat Pra Kaew (there are temples of the same name in Chiang Mai and Bangkok that display a jade Buddha that was supposedly exposed by a bolt of lightning from this temple (the real one is in the capital)) and the stunning clock tower. Chiang Rai is a breath of fresh air with the mountains to your back, flowers exploding everywhere, and the comfortable size of the city itself (compared to Bangkok and even Chiang Mai). I hope I captured that in this video.