A Day in The Life of An XploreAsia Intern

A Day in The Life of An XploreAsia Intern

07:00:  Rise and Shine
Open your eyes to another glorious day of LIVING IN THAILAND! Take a nice, cold shower (because there’s no hot water, but also because you’ll be sticky with sweat). Slip into some professional and modest work attire (so as not to offend your Thai co-workers), grab your bags, and head outside to slip on your shoes.

07:30: Catching the Songtao
TukTukDepending where you are housed, you may have the luxury of walking to work every day; but here on Soi 94 we prefer to sleep in and take the songtao (taxi bus). A green one or a white one will do (I prefer the white ones, as they will take you all the way for just 10 baht; whereas the green ones stop at the market, and will cost you 20 baht to go the full route). You can ask them to stop right at Soi 43, but if you take my advice, you’ll keep going till you hit Soi 39 for

08:00:   Breakfast at the Baguette
The Baguette is a popular Thai-European Bakery located just a few blocks down from the office, and is a staff favorite. Why get your morning dose of carbs, milk, and sugar from a bowl of over-priced Frosted Flakes when you can enjoy a delicious pastry and sweet creamy beverage for a fraction of what you’d pay at Starbucks? I was going to list my recommendations here, but I don’t need you judging me for the amount of food I’ve managed to consume from this restaurant alone in the last two months (and I’ve yet to order something from the Baguette I wouldn’t recommend).

08:30: Work Day Begins
To recap: XploreAsia is an NGO which offers a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course here in Hua Hin (and another in Chiang Mai), and places teachers with their TESOL certification in schools across Asia (including Thailand, China, Myanmar, South Korea, and Vietnam).

The view from outside of the office

Work in the Programs office can vary immensely. Basic responsibilities of the job include administrative work such as drafting emails, formatting documents, creating presentations, inputting data into spreadsheets, organizing and coordinating participants and events, administering surveys, gossiping by the water cooler, taking photographs, posting on social media, and acting as a liaison between XA, its partner agencies (like Greenheart), and the TESOL program participants.

12:00:  Break for Lunch
There are so many great options for grabbing lunch near Soi 43, but perhaps the greatest of them all is “The Corner Lady,” so-called because her eatery sits on a corner, around the corner, (make that three corners,) from the office. Here you will find some of the best (and cheapest) Thai food around. Lunch will cost you an average of 40 baht, and my favorite dish by far has to be the pad see ew.

Pad See Ew

13:00:  Resume Work
Okay, so it sounds like a pretty typical office job so far…but working in Thailand is not without its benefits! Every month, a new group of TESOL participants fly in from all over the world to participate in XA’s Teach in Thailand Program. That makes for plenty of time spent out of the office coordinating participants and helping to ensure things run smoothly – a great opportunity to share your acquired wisdom and learn from fellow travelers!

The program kicks off with a week of cultural excursions, which include activities such as kicking-ass in Muay Thai class, visiting a local pineapple Farm, feeding the elephants at Hutsadin Elephant Foundation, shopping and exploring a local Thai market, learning how to cook your own somtam and pad Thai, meditating with a Buddhist monk, hiking up the Khao Tao temple, and running with the pack at Rescue Paws. As an intern, you have the opportunity to join in all the fun!

17:30: End of Work Day
Which is really just the beginning.

You live in Thailand; the possibilities are endless! Grab a beer with your new friends, or watch the sun set from a rooftop. Walk to the beach. Take a kite-surfing lesson. Enjoy a Thai massage. Go shopping for clothes and goodies at the mall, or practice your language skills at the night market. Watch a movie at the Cineplex. Hop the bento bars on Soi 55. Go dancing at the club. Try a new restaurant. Explore a new neighborhood. Make a new friend. Play with your local street dog(s) or cat(s). Relish the moment. Take pictures of everything. Write a blog post about how awesome your life is.

Written by: Tabitha Frahm

It’s a Dogs Life

It’s a Dogs Life

Rascal ThankYouIt was a scorching Sunday morning in Hua Hin Thailand when four of us XA staff members set out to Khao Takiab to volunteer with Rescue Paws, a non-profit institution that’s been fighting the good fight for street dogs in Thailand since 2013 If you’ve ever been in Thailand during the hot season you’ll know what I mean when I tell you it was utterly boiling and this particular Sunday was, the kind of day that burned you within 5 minutes, would leave you drenched in sweat, and strips you of all your energy.

We had mission though, our goal today was to volunteer at Rescue Paws, a non-profit institution that’s been fighting the good fight for street dogs in Thailand since 2013. They’re doing an amazing job providing vaccinations, surgery, adoptions, food, and affection to these beautiful creatures. Their main goal is to reduce the ever growing population in Thailand, as well as educate locals on how to adequately care for dogs in their possession or area. They are an incredible organization and having the opportunity to assist them in any way, as well as spend a day caring for and learning about the dogs in their care, is worth dealing with much more discomfort than we had to endure on that sweltering day.

Brian, Kristine, Brittany and I ventured out there on this particular day, and man did it kick off from the moment we got there. As we arrived all of the dogs came trampling towards us in a not so harmonious greeting. We were smothered with licks, rubs, barks, and yelps all at the same time, each dog demanding your undivided attention despite the fact that you’re supposed to be cleaning everything up and ensuring that the conditions are spic and span.

Sprite (formally known as Half-Pipe, who also happens to be my favourite), is outside, settled into his doggie wheelchair, barking, playing, and nestling up to me, trying to get as close as he can. Sprite’s hindquarters are paralyzed and he has been through quite the turmoil in his short time here. If you had seen this pup 6 months prior, you would not believe the change in him. At that point you could barely approach him. He was scared, over protective of everything around him, and he snatched at food like he’d quite possibly never eat again. Thanks to the breath-taking passion of the Rescue Paws staff, he’s been transformed. With his new name came a change in behavior; he’s friendly, playful, and you can feed him out of your hands without fear of losing a digit. I am in awe of the magic that happens at this place.

Soon the greetings had been done and it was time to get to work. The job for today was to ensure that all of the dogs from the kennels were given a run around. As a result of lack of funding, Rescue Paws are unable to build more spacious kennels, as well as a recovery section, which they are desperately trying to raise money for. The dogs are kept in smaller kennels, when there are enough volunteers they get to be taken to the beach. As you can imagine, they’re quite the excited bunch when they see you approaching. All dogs need exercise, and these pups love it as much as any other.

Kristine approached the kennel gate first, as she tried to open it a loud screech pierced the air and the gate fell right off its rusty hinges, clanged to the floor, and frightened everyone, humans and dogs alike. There’s barking and yelping as we desperately tried to put the gate back up and figure out whether we broke it or not. It turns out the gate had been broken a few days prior, if only these kinds of problems were avoidable huh?

Once the kennel gate scandal had passed, it was time to get the dogs out of the kennels, put collars and leads on them and start making our way through the exquisite temple grounds and down to the beach for a run, jump, swim, whatever they wish.

Forgetting the previously mentioned gate issue, we started opening kennel doors as usual so the dogs could mingle before we headed out, only this time their mingling included darting out the front gate and disappearing into the temple grounds. Take a second here to imagine the excitement of any dog you’ve had the privilege of seeing, discover that sweet taste of freedom and you get a small picture of the escapee madness we were now confronted with.

Needless to say it took us a good long while to track down the runaway pups, complete with lots of clapping, whistling, and shameless coaxing . The noise was endless, with shouts and barks being carried through the air and all of us frantically running after giddy dogs in the scorching heat. It was a sight to behold, I tell you.

Thirty minutes later, after gathered all the pups, we began our relatively paced meander towards the edge of the temple, where the ancient old steps meet the sandy beach front. The sun glistening off the water, barely a breeze in the air, and the ocean dead quiet – until we got there. We released the dogs, and they bolted down the steps, heading straight for the water, heads bobbing up and down as they bounded across the sand. You have never seen a bunch of happier dogs in your life.

We ran with them on the beach, through the water, back up the bank. We sat back and watched them play with each other in the sand, picking up fish that had washed up on the shore, teasing and goading one another before sprinting off again to devour their newfound morsel.

It was exhilarating to watch these dogs having the time of their lives, and knowing that without Rescue Paws, they may not have made it this far. They were happy, healthy, well-fed, loved, and looked after. Even if you are not an avid dog lover as I am, I promise that if you were in that moment, it would be impossible to escape the overwhelming appreciation that an organization like Rescue Paws exists.

The rest of the day ran smoothly. We ensured that all the dogs had their run on the beach, cleaned their kennels and hosed them off before putting them back in. They were utterly spent, which meant feeding time was a breeze. They quietly sat there while we gave them each their allotted amount of food, some medication disguised with a healthy portion of wet food (they were none the wiser) and made our way back to the main clinic. Here we got to play with a few puppies that were dropped off a week or so ago. Things don’t get much better than a litter of puppies swarming you as you sit near them, biting everything in sight, licking you, biting each other, barking rather pathetically, and with more energy than one could ever imagine. It was the perfect end to an incredible day.

At the end of it all, just another day at Rescue Paws. I know that some are harder than others, and some come with tears of sadness while others with tears of utter joy. Regardless of the events of the day, every volunteer walks away feeling hopeful and optimistic about the world, knowing they have made a difference in the life of at least one creature. There’s no better way to end a day than that.

Written by: Douglas Ray

Sawadee Pee Mai- Experience Songkran

Sawadee Pee Mai- Experience Songkran

Sawadee pee mai! Songkran is a Thai New Years festival with a long history. Teaching in Thailand gives you an incredible opportunity to soak up the culture and get involved in these local events. Our TESOL graduate Brian tells us what it was like to take part in Songkran, which despite being an ancient tradition, hasn’t lost its appeal today.

Sawadee pee mai!Sawadee pee mai! I recently had my first Songkran experience. Back in the day, the tradition was to take some scented water and pour it over a statue of the Buddha. The water was then saved and poured onto loved ones as a blessing. That is not how it went down on Wednesday.

The modern Songkran festival in Thailand is a nationwide super-soaker, bucket-dumping splash fest of epic proportions. The new tradition seems to be to soak everybody you see in a tsunami of unrelenting bucket water. Literally everyone is involved and nobody is off limits. See that police officer over there? Yep, you can splash him too. That sweet little ol’ grandma on the street, you better watch out because she has a bucket of ice-water hiding under that shawl, and she’s gonna get you good.

What’s great about Songkran is that everyone is in such good spirits. People come around with wet chalk and camphor and gently rub it on your cheek as a sign of good will. The camphor burns like minty freshness on the skin, and combined with the shock of the ice-cold water it keeps your heart skipping to the crazy tune of Songkran all day. Likewise, everybody is smiling and wishing you a happy new year. You can’t help but get into the spirit of this wet and wild Thai holiday, which is exactly how I felt at XploreAsia’s Songkran get-together on Wednesday afternoon.

The day was hot and the sun was unrelenting. Dozens of XploreAsia teachers and teachers-in-training came by in their best Songkran themed floral island-shirts, tank-tops, and colorful shorts. Some carried super-soakers that had backpack attachments, some had buckets, and some only brought their wavering sense of security, but all were dry and that was soon about to change. The first buckets of water started pouring from one giant man carrying one giant bucket, and the screams that followed were hilarious to behold. I couldn’t help but crack a wide smile myself before someone behind me dumped a bucket of ice-water on my head and sent me running like a frightened squirrel. Oh it was on! My little water gun never pumped so fast! Streams of icy water streaked through the air like zooming projectiles in a war zone. Waves of double-team bucket attacks would come out of nowhere.

Every time you needed to refill you left yourself vulnerable to a sneak attack, so you had to keep your senses sharp. A Thai family a couple of meters down the street were overseeing a barrel of the coldest water that was ever your misfortune to experience. I’m not sure what type of magic they were doing on that thing but it was so icy that I had to summon up courage every time I wanted to get a refill. It was worth it though, to see your victims scream and jump as you poured the frigid water down their backs. Oh, they will remember that shock for the rest of their lives.

Trucks drove by with families and extended families throwing water and shooting super-soakers. Smiling faces walked by with bowls of wet chalk and smeared the colorful paste on your face like a monk’s blessing. Foreigners and Thai people alike shared the streets and washed the heat of the day away in a bath of smiles and good vibes. As the afternoon progressed, XploreAsia staff brought out food o’plenty for us rascals and laid it out in our dry area where we could lounge around and eat in peace.

The food was good, the company was great, and the memories will be cherished. I raise my bucket to you Thailand, once again you have shown me the time of my life.

Written by: Brian Mule

If you want an authentic experience of Thai culture, why not look into becoming a teacher? Not only can you make the difference to hundreds of children in the community, you can also get paid whilst you travel and finiance your own international adventure! We make sure our teachers are ready to take on the world with our in-class internationally accredited TESOL course that gives them the tools to be a confident English teacher in Thailand. Start your adventure today!

Sawadee pee mai!

Do You Make a Difference? The Answer May Surprise You!

If you can look past the cheesy click-bait title, I’d like to share with you a deeply held belief about the impact we all have on each other. Even in times where you feel insignificant or small, you are in fact changing the world each moment, a little bit at a time. Your very presence is influencing those around you. We all swim in the same pool. The way we move in it, even subtly, creates ripples in the water that can extend to all of us. Often times this impact goes unseen, but it is held secretly in the hearts and minds of those you’ve touched to blossom later in time. Let me demonstrate this through a story:

When I first started teaching English at my placement I went into it with the belief that I generally did not make any difference. My actions reflected that. If I was tired I would show up and not put in any effort, or prepare adequately for a lesson. I did this believing that ultimately it didn’t make much of a difference to the kids. The honesty of children was the mirror that allowed me to see the impact I was really having.

I remember one day a fight broke out between a girl and a boy, both of them started crying. I had to take them outside and talk to them about being nice to each other and about forgiveness. I gave them both a hug, when I went back inside to the classroom I gave the rest of the students the same talk, emphasizing kindness and forgiveness. The rest of the period had a special air about it and I watched as the boy and girl who had been fighting smiled at each other and worked together to complete a project. The whole class seemed to have undergone a collective shift in spirit, from rowdy and pushy to kind and cooperative. A few simple words impacted the attitude of an entire classroom for the rest of the day.

It can be even more subtle than that, and I continue to be stunned by how my smallest actions and attitudes have a deep and lasting impact on the students. On a day that I was particularly exhausted, after giving a half-hearted and half-assed presentation on communication I saw the students begin to put their heads down and look genuinely disheartened. I instilled in them the spirit of apathy that I appeared to have.

At that moment I realized how simply my presence, my energy, had a huge impact on the minds of these children. From then on I went into every class with a clearly displayed interest in their learning and a visible excitement that would emerge every time a student raised their hand. Over time I saw that this renewed spirit changed the attitudes of those in class, and they too found joy and energy in learning and participating.

These students taught me that to see change in the world, you have to become the change, and in that way we all affect each other. Our very spirit colors the waters of those around us, and collectively we shape each other’s development. Teaching English to in Thailand has revealed to me how deeply we influence one another. The children that were my students actually became the teachers that would further develop me into a conscious and socially aware person. We all DO make a difference. With every moment and every action we have the potential to change the trajectory of lives.

Written by: Brian Mule

TESOL – A Life Changing Journey

TESOL – A Life Changing Journey

Where It All Began

So let me tell you about this crazy adventure known as the “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages course” (or TESOL, for short). It all begins as soon as you step onto the ground floor at the airport in Bangkok. XploreAsia arranges for an airport pickup in one of their spacious, air conditioned vans (groovy, right?) and brings you straight to your temporary accommodation where you can meet up with all your co-teachers and friends-to-be.

After some rest and relaxation, the journey to becoming a TESOL certified teacher begins. This process is filled with both essential information and training for becoming an effective teacher, as well as a cultural orientation that involves sights and experiences that give you an intimate look into the face of Thailand. From a gorgeous mountain-top Buddhist temple, a pineapple plantation, to an elephant sanctuary where you actually get to FEED the elephants pineapples, you will find yourself falling in love with this tropical country. But let’s not forget the most important part: learning the art of teaching. Let’s get into the details:

The Cultural Orientation

The cultural orientation experience includes in-class learning and in-the-field excursions to an amazing variety of exotic locations. The orientation begins with a series of animated and engaging lectures on Thai culture and politics by Michael Volpe. He gives you the low-down on the customs, politics, history, and taboos of the nation.

These discussions are followed by some stunning field trips that expose you to the look and feel of Thai geography and culture. The trip to the mountain-top temple on the beach was a deeply calming and spiritual experience. After climbing up the gnarled and winding steps carved into the mountain, I sat under an ornate stone gazebo that lay at the foot of a giant, golden meditating Buddha statue. I just sat there listening to the soft whisper of the waves and the breath of the wind, and it was beautiful. Likewise, going to the pineapple plantation and collecting pineapples to feed elephants was equally inspiring.

It was amazing to behold such giant and powerful creatures that could crush you in an instant, yet had the ability to be so gentle when they took the pineapple out of your hands with their trunks.

Now, I’m not trying to scare you, but you have to fight a Muay Thai boxer and survive in order to pass the orientation. Just kidding, you don’t have to survive. But seriously, XploreAsia offers an exciting Muay Thai boxing lesson with REAL Muay Thai specialists! The realest of the real! They’re actually Thai! And if you enjoy physical activity or martial arts this excursion offers a safe and respectful learning environment to practice Thailand’s most famous martial art.

These excursions are all topped off with Thai language classes that will help you learn how to speak like the locals. Upon completion of the course, you will be welcomed to your new TESOL certified world with a beautiful beach barbeque and ceremony with all your new friends!

Let’s take a look at the course itself.

The TESOL Course

The TESOL course is taught by individuals who have been on the front lines of teaching. They are seasoned with real-life experience and are here to guide you in everything from setting up a bank account, to finding a placement, to teaching a classroom full of children. The course itself has been hugely instrumental in my ability as a teacher and has equipped me with the tools to navigate the teaching environment. The course includes:

  • Teaching theory and different teaching methods
  • How to structure a lesson plan and curriculum
  • How to teach language skills
  • Classroom management techniques
  • What various age groups mean and school expectations
  • CAMP!

Notice the “Camp” there in all caps? Yeah, pretty eye-catching isn’t it. Well this event will probably be one of the most exciting of the entire course. After weeks of training and practice lessons in the security of your TESOL cocoon, you will dive into the wild waters of an actual Thai school! Don’t worry, mama bird will be nearby to help you fly if you need it, but you will mostly be making your own lessons for the 2-day camp with your partner and then letting it loose upon several classrooms filled with adorable Thai children. This is the testing grounds that will catapult you into teaching readiness. I am so grateful that the camp was part of the curriculum because not only did it prepare me like nothing else could, but it also was huge relief from the emotional burden of doubt.

After actually experiencing a Thai classroom I realized that the students aren’t sharks hungry for my tears, they are in fact mostly cooperative and polite students who only occasionally need to be reminded to be respectful. This allowed me to go into the first day of my new job as a TESOL teacher with confidence and knowledge.

Written by: Brian Mule

A Beautiful Backyard – Phetchabun Thailand

A Beautiful Backyard – Phetchabun Thailand

Another in our series of blog posts by Xplore Asia Teachers. Thanks to Kelsey Madison for letting us share.

xplore asia teachersI have now successfully finished teaching my second week of classes, have a mode of transportation, and paid my rent. This all means that it is time to explore Phetchabun! I am so eager to see all of the wonderful things that this province holds. This past weekend a little group of us teachers decided to adventure 30 minutes outside of town to a little local waterfall hidden away that was actually found on accident by a previous teacher when they were looking for the airport.

The scooter ride there, in itself was nothing short of jaw dropping. We buzzed by fields upon fields of foliage, wilderness, rice patties, tamarind and who knows what else but it was all such vibrant shades of green I was in awe. In the background of these beautiful patches were insanely huge white puffy clouds and below, silhouettes of large mountains in the distance.

Once we arrived, and biked through a small little creek we parked and went the rest of the way on foot. We crossed a bridge made of three stalks of bamboo, waded through some water and eventually made it to our destination. It was a peaceful spot, where no other people were except a very mangy dog that had followed us, he looked like he had seen some better days, but regardless it was beautiful. White water cascaded down a multitier rock formation and flowed down into a little swimming hole. Bamboo shoots and leafy greenery surrounded us, and as we swam it actually began to rain as well. It was such a serene moment.

mountainsAfter the waterfall we motor-biked up to a nearby reservoir, which had the most beautiful views of the surrounding area, the pictures I took don’t do it justice at all.  There were mountains on mountains all covered in trees, the light shone through the clouds and was the perfect shade of gold. Just as I thought it couldn’t have gotten any prettier, dragonflies and butterflies, hundreds of them surrounded us. Then out of nowhere a rainbow emerged out of the already miraculous view. It was an unreal experience.

Story by Kelsey Madison. You can read about more of her adventures at https://kelsey-madison.squarespace.com/

Angkor Wat Cambodia– A Place You Do Not Want to Miss

Angkor Wat Cambodia– A Place You Do Not Want to Miss

angkor wat cambodiaMy wife and I are calling Hua Hin, Thailand, home for a couple months. I’m working as an intern for Xplore Asia and Amy earned her TESOL certification. Of course, part of goal in coming here was travel. Chiang Mai and Angkor Wat in Cambodia came up high on Amy’s list. Below are my thoughts on this adventure.

Before I continue, I wasn’t familiar with Angkor Wat when Amy put it on the must-do list. I knew two things, there were temple ruins and they were located in the opposite direction of our trip’s ultimate destination, Chiang Mai. Being a typical guy, I whined a bit about cramming too much into too little time. As you can guess, I lost and Cambodia was added to our itinerary.

Thank the gods, I was out voted. Angkor Wat is a place not to be missed. Let’s get on to the story.

Amy did the research and found a flight to Siem Reap, the city close by the Angkor Wat ruins. BTW, Amy’s a good shopper and found the best deals on Air Asia. The flight from Bangkok was quick, up and down in an hour.

The Airport at Siem Reap was fantastic. Very modern and customs was a snap. They process your Visa on the spot. NOTE: Make sure and have a couple passport style pictures for your Visa application. The cost of the visa was $30 US.

Interestingly, US currency is the payment of choice in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Don’t convert to Cambodian Reils and make sure you have plenty of one dollar bills (US). Lot’s of things cost a buck or two.

There are a lot of hotel options in Siem Reap. From refined luxury like Raffels Grand Hotel to simple hostels, they have it all. We found a cheap and cheerful place that worked fine for our budget lifestyle. I’d say, look for a place closer to the downtown/night market region… it’s better for nightlife fun.

We set up a group tour to the Angkor Wat ruins. I’d advise getting a guide. We would have missed a lot of cool info and history. There are two basic options for the day long tour… sunrise or not. We were not up to a 6:00 am departure so we took a 8:30 start that lasted into mid-afternoon.

We visited 3 of the temples. For us it was enough. One of our tour mates was staying on for a few days and planned on seeing closer to a dozen. Each of the four we saw was radically different and remarkable.

FYI: Angkor Wat is the catch all name for the area but it is also the name of one of the many sites. Yeah, a bit confusing.

angkor wat (26 of 38)We visited…

Angkor Wat: Quite a stunning piece of Hindu and Cambodian history. You can see they were once the rulers of SE Asia by the scope of their religious cities.

Bayon Temple: Located within the ancient city of Angkor Tom, it is known for its many faces of the king and massive structures.

Ta Prohm:
Known for the colossal trees that appear to grow right out of the rocks and stones of the temple.

I’ve hot linked to online info about each of these temple sites verses giving full descriptions of each. I do have to say I ta prohn siem reapwas most blown away by Ta Prohm. Many of you would recognize it from the Laura Croft Tomb Raider movie. All I can say is it was magical, like a Disney movie, only real.

The evening after our tour we spent time exploring Siem Reap. Since Amy has a background in international travel we took a Tuk Tuk ride to Raffles. It is considered one of the World’s premier hotel chains. It was sweet and we felt like prosperous European travelers having a cocktail in the bar.

ankgor night marketNext we were off to the Night Market. We’ve been to night markets in China and Thailand but this one was very different. Most night markets are what I’d call “pop-up” events. Seim Reap’s market is much more formal with flooring, deep aisles, lots of color and dramatic lighting. The real treat was the variety and quality of the merchandise. Many night markets are filled with trinkets, food and the same clothing aisle after aisle. Seim Reap’s Angkor Market had lots of unusual and artsy items. Make sure check this out.

We flew out the next day going back to Bangkok and then on to Chiang Mai. Perhaps another day in Seim Reap would have been fun, yet we got a good taste of the town and ruins in our 1.5 days in country. Below is a slide show/movie of the trip. Hope it gives you a taste of the adventure.

Watch Our Angkor Wat Video

Gene Urban… Explore Asia Intern

It was a Good Day in BKK

It was a Good Day in BKK

girl in thailandI have lived in Bangkok, yes, Thailand, for just shy of a month at this point. If roughly two months ago you told me that my daily routine would be what I am experiencing now I would have looked at you with bewilderment in my eyes, certain judgment. If you even mentioned city life I would have scoffed it off and claimed, “Only lucky people who don’t want a “Thai Experience” would wind up living there.” Oh how wrong could I have been.

My first experience with Bangkok was almost two months ago when I flew here, stayed a few days, did some touristy activities, and then peaced out to my safety bubble two and half hours south on the coast in Hua Hin. Yes, I saw Bangkok. I walked around, took a Tuk Tuk, almost got pulled into a Ping Pong show, walked around Khao San Road, got ripped off by a taxi driver. I was basically a seasoned Bangkok visitor after my three days here. Wrong. Wrong in so many ways.

Bangkok stretches well over an hour north to south, and well over an hour east to west, and that doesn’t even include the sub-urban areas (not to be confused with the common western word “suburban” which would allow you to believe in an existence of those little town homes with cookie cutter yards, yeah, those don’t exist here, sub-urban here is literally a lesser city that is still city, just even more grimy). Bangkok is huge. HUGE. At this point I feel like I could live here for ten or fifteen more years and still hardly make it to every district, let alone every cool thing to do here.

That being said, I finally found an apartment, I committed. I moved in last week after a span of couch surfing that led me to chew all my nails off and invest in anxiety meds, ok not entirely, but I definitely considered it. The thing about Bangkok is you have two options, cheap “Thai” housing, or expensive “Western” housing. . . there is very little in between. UNTIL, I was lucky enough to get back in touch with Brian (we had been separated after Hua Hin) who led me to his apartment complex. So I tried the commute out, it was much further than I originally wanted to be from my school, but it worked.

I committed to a super cute one bedroom “Smart Condo” in Bang Bon near the intersection of Rama II and Bon Khun Thian, for my friends who have no idea what that means. . . it means I rented a tiny apartment that happens to have a makeshift kitchen that consists of a fridge and a microwave near a six lane highway that smashes into a SIXTEEN lane highway. The area surrounding my apartment is as safe as living in a Thai neighborhood could be. We have security guards around the perimeters of the apartments, and I am surrounded by super smiley lovely Thai people. There are about four other westerners I have managed to find in the seven different buildings. The living is cozy, ohhhh, and today I got internet. Win!

As I banter on about my chaotic, but turning into routine life, here in Bangkok, I’ve been brought back to the title and reason for posting on my blog tonight. Today was a good day here. For the past few weeks I feel like I have hardly been staying afloat. Somewhere between lesson plans, my commute, the extra workload at school, and the need to find food, water, and shelter for survival, I was only able to fit in the negative emotions that came as a reaction to the culture shock and workload. My negativity, which I rarely ever let dig so deep in my mind, was making even what should have been relaxing or fun time. . . not that fun.

Today, Wednesday here, is my hardest workload of the week. I have six classes and hardly any free time. Yet this morning as I started my hectic day I could see things were working out. My lesson plans all went decent, my high schoolers reacted positively to my favorite “Build a Burger” activity, and my commute home went smoothly and decently. I got a phone call from a new South African friend asking me to meet her for dinner. My land lady called to let me know my new internet username and password. I had a phenomenal dinner of spaghetti carbonara. My spirits were lifted as I remembered the Thai phrases I learned the day before. I made a new friend. I pulled Brian out of his apartment and we strolled to Seven to buy chocolate milk and I was able to think of quite a few great things that were going for me. My best friend in Hua Hin, Lacey is coming up this weekend. I was able to go to Hua Hin last weekend. My Thai community is accepting me and trying to teach me. I can think of several places I know how to navigate to without issue. I’m adjusting here. I’m not out of the culture shock woods yet, but I’m beginning to enjoy my time here.

I thought back on my original opinion of coming to Bangkok and I giggled. What did I know? Clearly nothing. I’m certainly getting the Thai experience here, I am just very lucky to be getting this Thai experience. There may not be jungles or kids who have never seen a westerner. I may not be changing the lives of my students in some story book impacting way, but I am here making changes, for my students, and my life. I’m lucky.

Today was a good day in the BKK.

This post comes from Kayleigh Spicer. Her blog site is:  https://imanoriginal.wordpress.com/. We love the authenticity of this piece and hope you enjoy as well.

Being a Girl Teaching in Thailand

Being a Girl Teaching in Thailand

One woman’s experience living and working as a teacher in The Land of Smiles

By Carla Gott

The idea of living and working overseas can be daunting. The rewards can be self-discovery, lifelong memories and friends.

While preparing for my trip to Thailand, everyone in my family and my small group of friends had something negative to say. I understand and appreciate their concern, but what was my alternative? Stay home my whole life? No thanks.

My mom, who has never been to Asia, came up with a handful of questions no one could answer. Friends told her different stories, and her worries only seemed to grow. ‘What if they kidnap you and take you to the Philippines?’ She asked, and, ‘Can you really trust people?’ Perhaps at the core of their worries, they pointed out: “You are a girl. You can’t do things boys do.”

TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet and Yahoo! Answers do a fair job giving general advice to travelers, but as was the case with my mother she wanted more direct reassurance. I am a real person who took the big jump and now have real experience of Thailand. I can answer your inquiries and those your own parents might have. I am here for you. Consider me your friend, your pen pal and your adviser to help you navigate Thailand – and hopefully to ease your mother’s concerns as well.

So what’s to be worried about?

Safety? As a 20-something woman who moved to Thailand alone and has traveled in other foreign destinations, I can say that that this is a remarkably safe country. Even in my home state, Maryland, I don’t feel as safe as I do in Thailand. However, common sense helps here just like at home. Don’t walk around with $1,000 in your pocket when you don’t have to. But we will get to the things to avoid in a bit.

Creepy crawlies used to top my list of things to be scared of, way ahead of meeting new people or having to stand in front of new students and grab their attention from the start of a lesson. Bugs? Uggh! I was afraid I would see a snake in my room and I also feared spiders. And all those mosquitoes…

Well, after several months in Thailand I haven’t seen a snake so far – and I hope not to see one any time soon (if you do see one, just steer clear – they don’t like the sight of you anymore than you like the sight of them. It will head off quickly enough). I have seen bugs the size of my pinky – but these have been slow-moving things and are easily avoided. And any spiders keep to where they belong – bushes and corners well out of most folks’ sight. However when it comes to mosquitoes this is the one bug to give decent amount of consideration to and prepare for. Most of the day, they are not around. Come dusk on a still night, and they can be a nuisance if you are not prepared.
I have learned to carry mosquito repellent – everywhere.

I recommend you buy repellent as soon as you land. It comes in all sizes of containers at any drug store, most corner shops and general goods shops such as 7/11s – from mega-sized cans for your bedroom to scented, pocket-friendly mini-sprays and sachets of cotton wipes that are great for use on legs and arms as the sun goes down. They’re easy to spot – most carry a picture of a mosquito.

The other big worry is who do you know? You are out there, all by yourself, and your family advice will almost invariably be: Don’t travel alone!

The fact is – sometimes you have to. But unless you are determined, it is almost impossible to travel solo. Wherever you go, there will always seem to be someone looking just as lost as you might feel and keen to meet up with a friendly face, share a bus or train ride, or test out a street stall loaded with unfamiliar goodies that are going to be your dinner.

So don’t be scared to come to this side of the world all on your on. Surprise! You’ll soon have more friends than you had at home. After a few months in Thailand, my circle of friends has widened hugely. My closest friends are from different parts of the world. Making friends here is easy – unless you decide to stay in your room the whole day.
Fears sensibly put in their place, let’s get down to the packing. I graduated from Uni, packed three suitcases and I was gone. With one terrible mistake and that was the three suitcases. Within a week or two, I had given away half of my clothes.

Thailand is in the tropics which means sunshine, lots of it and often humid, sticky weather. And sometimes gorgeous cool breezes.

That means you need a few T-shirts or other light tops, and a two or three easy-to-wash trousers, dresses, or skirts – they will dry overnight. Don’t bring dress suits and three pairs of high heels. Do bring comfortable shoes for walking.

When you need more clothes, you can have fun buying stuff as and when you need it at unbelievably cheap markets and road-side stalls.

Personal accessories – obviously take what you need from day one. But don’t overdo it – Thailand has most everything you will want, unless you are in one of the smaller villages. Even in the smallest town, you will see the same brand names that you use at home. One exception and one useful tip: If you use tampons, pack a few boxes of them. They can be difficult to find in Thailand.

But above all, remember – if you pack it, you carry it. And in the tropics, that can be hot work, especially by the time you add some souvenirs to bring home. So pack light, travel light, and enjoy the experience.
Once you’ve arrived, is it all plain sailing? If only… I’ve had good times; I’ve had bad times, but overall I have loved my experience.

So what’s not to love?

We all react differently to tropical weather. Your skin can glow – or break out in spots; your hair can decide to shed itself more than is usual – or not. If it does, don’t panic – it is called acclimatization. The climate forces some changes, eating exciting new foods brings others.

One common change – new eating habits mean many of us lose excess weight. Another plus – except for special occasions, I no longer wear makeup because I soon sweat it off, sometimes almost as soon as it goes on. Who said with travel comes freedom?

Then there are the basics: toilets. Standard Western-style toilets are now common, but squat toilets are still the default type, particularly in trains and public conveniences. Your hotel might have either – or both. Squat toilets can call for a bit of unfamiliar balancing at first – but you soon get used to them. It’s good idea to keep a bit of toilet paper and hand sanitizer handy.

When you have found wherever you are staying, and before you head out into the great unknown, ask your landlord to provide you with your address in Thai. It will be handy when you are taking a cab back to your place. (Yes – I’ve seen more than one person telling a cab driver – try this road, try that, I’ll recognize it soon…) For this reason, keep your landlord’s phone number on speed dial.

Now you can get to know your surroundings. Familiarize yourself with your neighborhood. Walk around your apartment building, guesthouse, or hotel and take mental notes. How many blocks to the nearest 7/11? Are there any traffic lights or other easy-to-remember signs that will guide you back to your hotel? Plenty of folks can speak rudimentary English, but helping yourself first makes sense.

An early purchase is likely to be a sim card for your phone – or buying a new phone if you left yours at home. Getting one in Thailand is the easiest thing on the planet – and cheap. You can either buy a dumb phone or use your smart phone. Simcards (and top-ups) are available at 7/11s (you will have no trouble finding one), or from numerous other street outlets. If you want internet on your phone, pay a fee of 300 Baht (10 US dollars) and have unlimited access for a month. If you don’t want to unlock your smart phone, you can buy a dumb phone and use your smart phone just for WiFi.

Yes, there is WiFi! You don’t have to try to rely on WiFi cards from back home. You will have Internet at school, there are plenty of internet cafés, and numerous venues and hotels, restaurants and bars have WiFi.
We come from far-off countries with different ways of doing things. So it helps to recognize local culture and norms. These can read like a regime of do’s and don’ts, but recognizing basic courtesies will help bring you quiet acknowledgement from folk you pass by, and easily offered help on the smallest matter when you want it.

A Few Cultural Things:

Cover up – please wear a bra at all times. Thailand isn’t California, and it makes sense to recognize different attitudes to what is good and bad taste.

Being topless on the beach is a no-no. Do not wear tank tops or shorts when visiting temples.

You will be teaching young boys and girls, so be sure you don’t reveal cleavage and thighs in the classroom. It might seem conservative to you, but you are bringing to your classroom the best of the West – not what the kids’ parents might think is the worst.

It is recommended that you buy teachers’ skirts and a plain white blouse. They are very cheap and will never get you into trouble with or offend your co-workers. You can find them in any street market for less than $5 dollars.
More generally, don’t do things you wouldn’t do back home.

That can be tough, given your new-found freedom. You will want to experiment a little bit, let your hair down. However, public intoxication, for example, is never ok. You have to remember that you are in a different country; foreigners already have a reputation for being potentially disturbing.

And the locals are not always angels – so don’t walk around with that $1,000 in your pocket. Pick pocketing does happen quite often especially in areas flooded with tourists so leave your passport at home and carry a copy instead.
If you accept a drink from a stranger, make sure it’s a bottled or canned beer that you see opened.

Thais have a well-earned reputation for being endearingly and genuinely friendly. If someone touches your arm, it’s not sexual harassment.

However, Thai men tend to be shy comparatively and certainly respectful. And it’s ok to have dinner with strangers – I do it all the time! It is often unavoidable. Street food is cheap, tables are often crowded. And when eating among friends, it is the norm for everyone to help themselves from common bowls of soup or plates of chicken. So you will quickly learn to share food, and in the process pick up a few words in Thai and make new friends.

Getting around:

Transport can be remarkably cheap, particularly buses and communal taxis. Tuk-tuks are fun, can be scary, and can be expensive. Make sure you ask the price for your destination before you get on. Motorbikes are cheaper, but can take some getting used to. If you reckon yours is going too fast, tap on the driver’s shoulder and wave him to stop or slow down. Prices are generally negotiated before you get on the bike. After a few days, you will have a fair idea of the general going rates.

Taxis are generally safe. In Bangkok, they are metered, and are not unduly expensive – but make sure the meter is always on.

If you are taking a cab after midnight, you can negotiate prices with cabdrivers. If you encounter a moody driver (it can happen at the end of their shifts, when they have to change with another driver at a predesignated time and place), you can always take the next one. Still, as in any city, it always makes sense to play safe. So it is recommended that you sit in the back. Play with your phone, text a friend. Pretend to be talking to someone or better yet, talk to someone! Have your address in hand.

And last but not least:

Bangkok has phenomenal shopping malls. Some are more glitzy than others, but they all have bargains, and many have top-end international brand-name outlets. If you want to spend $100 in Zara, you can. If you want to spend $10 on an entire outfit at a street market, you can – and can often haggle the price even lower.

However, it is difficult to find good bras and underwear in street markets, so pack light – but pack wisely.

You will have a one-month break in October. Your long break will be in March – May. There are plenty of activities to do during break. They include volunteering across Southeast Asia, English camps, acting gigs or relaxing in the islands. This might be the first time you will be traveling solo since you arrived in Thailand – it doesn’t mean you will be traveling alone. You will meet plenty of people along your way who will become friends and traveling companions. And you will already have plenty of experiences to share with them.

Carla Gott has taught at Thai schools through XploreAsia.

Easy Rider – Riding a Motorbike in Thailand Safely

Many people choose to rent or buy a scooter in Thailand. Read about riding a motorbike in Thailand safely.

By Todd W John
Staff Writer, XploreAsia

Thailand is a country where the preferred mode of transportation, especially for the individual, is the motorbike. Every city, town and village seems to have motorbike rentals available at reasonable prices. They can often be purchased without breaking the bank.

If you do decide to get a scooter, there are some considerations you should make. First and foremost is you should have ‘some’ experience driving a motorbike, hopefully previously in your home country. If you do not have any experience it is not a deal breaker, however, be realistic. Start out slow, very slow. Look for an outlying, low traffic area to practice getting comfortable with your new skills as a ‘biker’.

Next, take the time to acquaint yourself with the rules of the road and how they may differ from your home country. Americans, for example, must come to terms that Thais drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. This can be very disorienting, especially with the way people drive in Thailand.

You must understand that the Thai people interpret traffic laws as ‘polite suggestions’ as to how they should drive. They are very free form and abstract in their driving behavior and this presents a whole new world of challenges when motoring in the Land of Smiles. As westerners we have been taught very strict rules and even a minor failure to adhere to the law is quickly enforced.

You will quickly find that this is not quite the case in Thailand. Ignoring a traffic signal in Britain? That’s a ticket. Broken taillight in Chicago? That’s an ordinance violation. Does your vehicle have a headlamp that is even just too dim on your vehicle in New Zealand? That’s a fine you’ll have to pay.

While these are technically against the law in Thailand, enforcement is largely nonexistent. That being said, there will be road blocks and occasional safety checks that are essentially random in their time and location. As a foreigner living and driving in Thailand you will be stopped as a matter of course so that they can make sure your papers are in order.

Note: It is a good idea to get an international driver’s license in your home country before traveling here, which is usually quite easy and inexpensive.

There is a mandatory helmet law in Thailand. Authorities began enforcing it with much more vigor a few years ago. Indeed you will notice that locals will often forego wearing one and get away with it. For a foreigner it is much different… so make sure and wear one.

facebook-dog-and-bike-950x550The same can also be said when it comes to general traffic rules and signals.  It is not unusual for Thais to drive down the wrong side of the street to make it to the side road or business. Thus be careful to look both ways when pulling into traffic, not just in the direction of where you expect traffic to be coming from.

Night time driving may also be precarious. People driving motorbikes, and even cars, operate in what some people have come to refer to as ‘stealth mode’. This is when the vehicle has absolutely no lights on. There is no rational for this but it happens, a lot.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then is Thailand, on a per capita basis, consistently ranks as one of ‘most dangerous places to drive in the world’. You must take care to look after your own safety and drive defensively and be very alert.

As in any country, drinking and driving is a miserable choice. As the XploreAsia video discusses, there are a myriad of ways to get around Thailand via public transportation that will keep you safe should you decide to have a night out on the town.

Above all be aware of your environment and use sound judgment when taking to the roads. Thailand is a beautiful country with a vibrant culture and you’ll want to make sure that you are around to enjoy it for a long time.

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