Last Night in Koh Chang

Sadly, yesterday was our last full day on Koh Chang Island. We decided to give ourselves our own little personal tour of the island.  We started out pretty early in the morning with a 5 K walk to the nearest waterfall.  We did well navigating and since it was early the sun wasn’t too strong yet.  We walked to the sign that said “Klong Plu Waterfall” and then a native in a pickup truck offered to give us a ride for free to the waterfall.  In the US this would be considered hitchhiking, but in Thailand this is pretty much the norm.  Knowing the waterfall was at least another 30 minute walk we accepted.  The five of us piled into the back of the pickup truck and reminded ourselves: safety in numbers 🙂 After a 5 minute ride we arrived at the national park and soon found out that the random guy who gave us a ride was actually the park manager.  We got to the gates and realized that you had to pay to get in.  We had some money, but were running low, so we didn’t want to pay the full price.  One of my friends tried to explain that we didn’t know that it cost money so we didn’t bring any, but the lady wasn’t buying it.  She offered that if we had student IDs we could get in for half the price.  Instead we told her we were teachers in Korea and pulled out our Korean ARCs.  She bought it and let us all in for half price.  We were so proud to be the first people to get in to this park with the “Korean Teacher’s Discount.” Love it! We walked another 700m through the forest until we got to the waterfall.  Because it is the dry season the waterfall is not that big, but there was enough water to take a nice swim.  The water was cool and refreshing.  We spent some time at the waterfall and then took a taxi to a really nice lookout point to get some last-minute pictures.  I figured out that I had a panoramic setting on my camera so I was able to take some really nice panoramic shots.

After our little adventure we stopped for some lunch.  My friends headed back to the rooms for a nap, but I decided to nap on the beach and enjoy the little time we had left there.  Around sunset I got one last massage and shopped for some last minute gifts and souvenirs.  Later that night while eating my last authentic pad thai, I looked at the street and noticed my two girlfriends from Seoul! I knew they were coming this week and I messaged them where I was staying, but I never thought I would actually see them.  I was so excited to see them. They were walking around with their backpacks still on and they looked exhausted so I told them I would wait for them to find a place to stay and then we would hang for a bit.  We ended up meeting up and I showed them where to eat.  We had a few drinks and danced a little.  It was nice to see them and I was glad they made it safely.  It’s so surreal that my trip here has come to an end.  There are some things I didn’t get to do.  I didn’t get to play with any baby tigers, I didn’t get a traditional bamboo tattoo done, I didn’t see any “Lady boy” shows or “ping pong” shows (I’ll let you google that one).  But there is always next time! I’ve enjoyed every minute of the trip and now I’m looking forward to getting back to Seoul and my routine of teaching again with a refreshed new outlook.  Can’t wait to post some pics!

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A View Of Thailand From Up Above and Down Below

All the days have blended together so I am trying my best to get a few minutes here and there on the computer to update.  It’s about 8:00 P.M. here and I am already ready for bed after a long and adventurous day.  First I will backtrack to yesterday.  Yesterday I woke up a little earlier to get some beach time by myself.  I love traveling with the group, but it was nice to get some alone time.  As I relaxed on the beach I watched a few people go parasailing and I decided that it was something I had to do before I left.  Unfortunately most of my friends are running low on cash and weren’t really up to it so I ended up going by myself, but it was amazing! It was much cheaper than parasailing in the Caribbean so the cost was no problem.  I was driven by one of the natives to a small speed boat, which was then filled up with 6 more natives that were in charge of getting me strapped into my gear.  So yes I was alone with about six strange men, but since I was twice the size of each of them I wasn’t that terrified.  Southeastern Asian men are pretty small.  They strap me into the parachute and yell , “1,2, run okay?” So I say, “1, 2, and then I run?” Then I start panicking and think, “What if I can’t run fast enough? or What if I don’t run at the right time? I am not good at these things…. but before I could think anymore they yelled, “1. 2….” and  I took a step forward and was launched hundreds of feet into the air. I don’t know exactly how high I got, but it was high enough to have a great view of the coast and the open ocean.  It was pretty windy that day so I was getting blown around quite a bit.  For me, it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to flying.  The speed boat carried me around for about 10 minutes and then I started to wonder about how exactly I would land and I felt a little nervous.  But no worries.  I made a smooth landing and as quickly as I was strapped up I was on my way back to meet my friends.  I felt such a rush of excitement and freedom.  Amazing.

Today was the big snorkeling trip.  My friends and I signed up to go on a day-long snorkeling tour that goes to four islands. We left the hostel around 830 A.M. and went for a 2 hour boat ride to some islands surrounded by coral reef.  With goggles and snorkel strapped on I was ready to go.  As I started swimming I realized that I forgot how tiring swimming actually was.  Thankfully I swam a lot as a kid so it was like riding a bike again, but I knew I would sleep well that night.  We snorkeled around four small islands and I even kayaked for a bit too.  The water wasn’t too deep, probably about 10-12 feet at the deepest.  We saw some amazing fish though.  We saw bright colored fish, schools of fish, starfish, sea cucumbers, and even an eel.  The sad part was that there is a lot of dead coral and the little bit that is left around the island will eventually be destroyed from the boats and people touching it.  I snorkeled for probably a total of 3 hours straight.  Its so peaceful swimming in the water surrounded by fish. They don’t bother you.  They just swim around you like you’re one of them.  It was also a relief not to have any scary sharks or octopus lurking around.  I don’t think I could ever do any scuba diving but a little light snorkeling is pretty nice.  It was nice to experience Thailand from high in the sky and in the depths of the ocean.  Only one more full day left….but I have to say that we have done our best to make the most of this vacation so I can leave here with no regrets 🙂

Straddling 3 Tons in Chiang-Mai

Day 2 of our Chiang-Mai trip was full of excitement.  We booked a tour that included Elephant trekking, visits to the indiginous tribes, and bamboo rafting.  We took a 1 hour bus ride to an elephant camp where you can ride on elephants through a small jungle.  As much as I do feel sad for the environment that these elephants are living in, riding on one is something you have to do when in Thailand.  Upon seeing the elephants for the first time I realized how big they actually were and I was a little nervous to get on.  The tour guide talked about the elephants and we fed them some bananas.  Then we climbed up on the scaffolding and boarded the elephants. We thought the bus ride was bumpy, but nothing could compare to sitting on top of the elephants back.  I sat on a chair that was strapped to the back of the elephant with my friend Toni.

We had a Thai man sitting on the elephant’s neck steering him.  Before we even left the starting point our guide jumped off the elephant and we were left sitting on the moving animal scared to death while everyone else went ahead.  When the guide came back the elephant had to bend down for him to climb up and we were screaming and hanging on for dear life.  I found out later that these Thai people love to give the tourists a little thrill.  They get a lot of entertainment from watching us scream.  So we ambled our way up the mountain side on elephants which was a great exprience.  Towards the end I switched places with the guide and was actually able to sit on the elephant’s neck.  It was scary but so cool to feel such a massive animal moving and breathing underneath you.

After the elephant trekking we went on a hike to see some of the indiginous village people.  They live in small huts and sell many handmade crafts.  We weren’t able to see the authentic long-neck tribe because they are much farther away, but we got a good taste of Thai life.  We stopped to eat some Thai food and made our way to bamboo rafting.  Since the rafts could only hold 4 people, I decided to join another group, which I later became thankful for.  Like I said, Thai people love to have a little fun with us.  We got on the rafts which are made of 9 thick bamboo chutes and already the guide was splashing us and getting us soaking wet. I was on a raft with a couple from Switzerland and we had some interesting conversations. For the most part my ride was peaceful except for a few rapids and “snake” scares, but unfortunately for my friends, they did not have such a pleasant experience.  A couple of the Thai rafters decided to team up and tip over their raft and get them drenched for fun.  As I was sailing along I heard piercing screeches from behind coming from my friends.  I arrived back first and waited for about 15 minutes before seeing my friends drenched from head to toe walking up the hill.  It was all in good fun but I was glad to be on a different raft.  We all made back to our hostel safely but just a little damp. Right now everyone is napping and I am sitting here blogging at the hostel so I don’t forget too many details to include 🙂 More to come soon! Next stop…..Koh Chang!

ICN-> BKK

I never thought the day would come that I could say I would be walking through the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, but here I am.  Saturday morning my five girlfriends and I woke up bright and early to catch our 9:30 A.M. flight to Bejing to transfer to our destination. We had been waiting in anticipation for this day to come for many months now and when arriving in Bangkok it felt so surreal that our plans had actually come to fruition.  After almost 9 hours of traveling time we couldn’t wait to find our hostel and put down our heavy backpacks.  Stepping out of the airport we were quickly ushered to a taxi and we were on our way.  The first surprise to me was that here they drive on the opposite side of the road and the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car.  It was my first time riding in a country with cars that way.  The second surprise was that the cab driver spoke pretty good English.  And the third surprise was that Bangkok was a way more developed and beautiful city than I expected.  Having been to only developing countries in Central America, I was expecting bumpy dirt roads and slums.  Instead our taxi drive to our hostel was all on highways and once we got off the main roads we were surrounded by gorgeous Buddhist temples on every corner.  I was so relieved to see that our hostel was fairly close to the major tourist attractions, but also right in the center of the happening nightlife.  Our hostel was located right off of Khao San Road, which is a major tourist spot.  After being in Korea for so long it was a little overwhelming to see so many foreigners, but it was also a breath of fresh air to see the diverse groups of people walking around.  The weather was perfect.  I had been frozen in Seoul for the past few months so it was nice to finally thaw out and relax. We checked into our hostel called Nap Park.  The lobby was nicely decorated with authentic Thai style and many hippie foreigners were lounging about and welcoming us.  We went up to our room, which was clean and consisted of three bunkbeds.  There was five of us so we knew there would be one more person sharing the room with us. (I will get to that a little later)…. Anyways so after plopping our bags down we were ready to explore a little.  Even though it was after 9 p.m. we all had a second wind and couldn’t wait to be in the middle of Bangkok nightlife.  We walked through the main streets and were surrounded by friendly faces, great smells of food, and music.  I was amazed by the diversity of people and the atmosphere.  Everyone is so laid back here.  Many of the tourists are young hippies and backpackers, but there is also a large population of older couples and families just enjoying the atmosphere.  The majority of people are Europeans because I believe they have holiday around this time as well.  We sat down at a nice Thai restaurant and enjoyed the yummy food and people watching.

1st Thai Meal

Getting used to the currency is a challenge at first and the exchange rate was really bad, but everything is so cheap here it’s amazing.  You can get a great meal and a drink for the equivalent of 4 USD.  The first night out was really nice and I was happy that everything exceeded my expectations.  As you know nothing can ever be perfect.  After going to bed around midnight we were all woken up at about 5 a.m. by what sounded like a fire breathing dragon snoring in the bunk next to us.  We all started making comments and asking each other who could be making such a horrendous noise and we found out it was none of us.  Then his alarm clock started going off on his phone and instead of turning it off he kept pressing snooze for the next hour.  It got to the point where one of us had to move his phone closer to his pillow and yell in his ear a few times.  Nothing worked.  So we had to deal with the noise for another 2 hours before getting up and out of there.  Luckily we wanted to wake up early to get a head start on the day.  We never found out who the perpetrator was but we were happy to see that he left the next day.

Chillin outside the Hostel

Bangkok Day 2:

We were only staying in Bangkok for one more day so we had to make the most of it and that we did.  We walked to the closest Buddhist temples and started there.  The temples are absolutely gorgeous.  They are ornately decorated with gold, jewels, marble, and beautiful mosaic patterns.  Even though I don’t know that much about the Buddhist religion it was a nice cultural experience to tour the temples.

We happened to meet a Thai man who was happy to give us some advice on how to make the most of our day.  We trusted his advice and went for it.  In Thailand there is a mode of transportation called a “Tuk Tuk” that can be fairly cheap.  The tuk tuk is like a motorized bike with a roof that sits three in the back.  The minute I got on the tuk tuk and started zooming in and out of traffic I felt like I was really in Thailand.

Tuk Tuking It

We started our day with a river tour on a traditional boat. On the river tour we saw the traditional homes of the Thai people and we saw some floating markets where people are selling fruits and other food out of small canoes.

Floating Market

The people’s backyards are basically the river so it was really cool to see.  After the river tour we walked around and grabbed some food while window shopping.  We took another tuk tuk around the city.  This time we paid the driver 40 baht, which is about 1 USD to bring us to 3-4 specific destinations and he waited for us at each destination.  We spent about 4 hours going from temple to temple and seeing all the sights.  It’s so hard to believe that in 4 hours these drivers only made $1 from us but in Thailand 40 baht can buy a meal so that is a lot of money to them.  After a full day of walking we were ready to take a nap.  We rested for about an hour and then headed out to the streets again.  We ate some more delicious Thai food and went to a nightclub that was completely empty but played good music so we had a drink and danced together.  In Bangkok there are hundreds of people on the sides of the street with chairs waiting to give you massages.  I opted out for the time being, but my friends all got foot massages for a half hour for about $2 each.  I relaxed and did some people watching and socializing with some Europeans.  It’s so interesting to be around so many different languages and people from so many different backgrounds.  Most people speak English as a second language so it was great to make friends from all over the world.  Bangkok was such a diverse, laid-back, and beautiful city.  If you ever plan on traveling to Southeast Asia Thailand is a must!

Fresh Coconut Juice