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Guide to Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Thailand

Guide to Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Thailand

Teaching in Thailand gives you the chance to explore this beautiful country, but finding suitable food can be a concern for vegans and vegetarians. Never fear! We’re here to help! Check out our guide to veggie Thai delicacies below!

Eating vegetarian and vegan food in Thailand can be tricky at times as there is so much food that contains meat or fish products. However, there are ways around it and you do not have to miss out on the wonders of Thai cuisine just because you’ve got a few restrictions.

To start off, when in Thailand, you may be overwhelmed with the selection of tropical & tasty fruit that is available. Delicious dragon fruit, mangoes, papayas, guavas, coconuts, and countless other exotic fruits are easily available at every market, and fruit stalls along the streets. Just take your pick. Furthermore, occasionally you may find an interesting addition at many stalls, sweet potatoes. Surprisingly, you can also find the purple variety!

Mango Sticky Rice, Vegetarian Food in Thailand

Mango Sticky Rice

Vegetarian Food in Thailand, XploreAsia

Green Coconuts

Vegetarian Food in Thailand

Fruit Selection

Sweet Potatoes, Vegetarian Food in Thailand

Sweet Potatoes

Additionally, there are quite a few options for all sorts of snacks, like tofu, spring rolls, rice cakes, corn, and vegetables.  This can often be found in a deep-fried variety (yum).

Papaya Salad, Vegetarian Food in Thailand

Som Tam

One of the  staple dishes in Thailand is Papaya Salad. This is widely available, just remember to order it without shrimp (mai sai koong) and without fish sauce (mai sai nam bplaa) to stay on the safe side. Or just order Som Tam Jay (papaya salad, vegan).

At first, when you try to order vegetarian or vegan food at a restaurant it might seem like a bit of challenge, and you may be faced with confused looks from the waiter or chef at the food stall, or restaurant. Don’t worry, this is mainly due to the language barrier and to combat this we have put together a list of our favourite vegetarian, and vegan foods, along with a guide on how to order them.

However, before we go into details, it is good to know the difference between ordering your food as VEGETARIAN, OR VEGAN:

I am vegetarian = “bpen mang sawirat ”. This means that you do not eat pieces of meat and fish, including seafood, but other animal products like fish sauce, eggs etc. are ok.

I am vegan = “gin jay”, this means you do not eat any animal products and also no garlic, onion and few other herbs and vegetable that have a certain type of strong flavour. With this knowledge it’s often better to ask for food without meat, and animal products instead of ‘jay’ as you may find the food bland for your tastes.

There are different specialities in various regions around in Thailand. To make it even easier for you, we have put together a list of basic phrases that you can print out or save so you can bring it along with you and order your favourite foods with ease.

 

Here is a guide to COMMON VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN FOOD in Thailand and how to order it:

Pad Pak Bung (Morning Glory) mai sai nam maan hoi (no oyster sauce)

Kow phad pak (fried rice with vegetables) / mai sai kai (do not put egg) / sai kai (put egg)

Phad pak luam (stir fried mixed vegetable) / mai sai nam maan hoi (no oyster sauce)
Pad pak ruam prik gaeng mixed vegetables, fried with chili paste and kaffir lime
(however, be aware that many of the curry pastes have shrimp paste in them)

Phad thai jay (fried noodles vegan),
Phad thai (fried noodles), mai sai kai (do not put egg), mai sai koong (no shrimp)

Phad Thai, Vegetarian Food in Thailand

Phad Thai

Fried Rice Noodles

Phad see ew phak (fried wide noodles with soy sauce vegetables)

Phad see ew (fried wide noodles) with eggs (sai khai)

Tom Yam Het (mixed mushroom soup, can have either with coconut milk or clear)

Pad Gra Pao Het Jay Most of the restaurants can make this. It includes fried mushrooms, or tofu, and it’s fried with chillies and basil.

Yam Tuo Poo (green beans with peanut sauce). This is a crispy and savoury side dish to accompany any type of noodle or plain steamed rice.

Vegetarian Food in Thailand

Khao Soi Jay

 Rice noodle with sweet and sour peanut sauce. This dish may sometimes be hard to find, however, if you do, you’re in for a treat.

Vegetarian Food in Thailand

Phad faktoong (stir-fried pumpkin)

It  includes egg, but it is something that we would definitely recommend to try, because it is absolutely delicious

Additionally, if you have a sweet tooth, Thailand`s cuisine offers a vast variety of desserts for you to enjoy. Some of our favourite classics are:

Vegetarian Food in Thailand

KaNom Thai

Box of various Thai sweets, made with steamed coconut, toddy palm, banana and corn.

 

Kai Nokratha

Deep fried breaded banana and potato balls.

Kanom Krog

Sweet and Savory Grilled Coconut-Rice Hotcakes

KaNom Beaung

Crispy Coconut Pancake, and the black ones in the middle are even made with bamboo charcoal.

Vegetarian Food in Thailand

Sakuu Rad Num Kathi

Pandanus leaf pudding, topped with sweet coconut cream.

 

Vegetarian Food in Thailand

Rotee

Even though Rotee, is not a traditional Thai dish, it is available in every market and in various flavours and toppings.

What do you think? Want to sample some vegetarian and vegan food in Thailand? Maybe teaching in Thailand could be for you! Teaching English can make a huge difference in the community, expanding the horizons of your students and allowing them to lift their families out of poverty. It also gives people confidence and leadership skills that can be transferrable to other careers. Start your adventure today by taking our accredited TESOL course. We can’t wait to see where your journey will take you.

Thai Street Food: A Tasty and Terrifying World.

Thai Street Food: A Tasty and Terrifying World.

A Thai Street Food Experience

Hua Hin, Thailand
thai street food, thai market, hua hin, thai food, xploreasia, teach english, Thailand

When you first walk into a local Thai market it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the seemingly never-ending line-up of food stalls, along with the mixture of scents that float all around as you attempt to find your way. But you shouldn’t let that turn you off from trying some of the local cuisine because on the other side lies a magical world of possibilities with some very interesting and delicious delicacies for your taste buds to feast on!

Most Thai street food is incredibly cheap. Therefore, you won’t ever have to pay more than a few dollars to have a full meal at any local Thai Market. I’ve often found the best places to eat are the ones that locals frequent. Although it may be hard to deal with the language barrier, if you have an inquisitive palate and try to keep an open mind there are many rewards to be gained!

As a foreigner (Farang, as the Thai would say) it is not easy to delve into the world of Thai street food. Therefore, this guide will serve to highlight some of the most curious and tasty treats you can find at a local market that are sure to provide that thrill factor you know you crave.

These photos were taken at the PAE MAI (Wood Pier) Market in Hua Hin. This is a market geared to locals. It is only open on Tuesdays and offers a wide variety of fresh produce as well as Thai finger foods and staples. Many families come here to buy their food for the week, it is a great place to interact with locals and get a break from what the tourists markets have to offer.

The following are only some of the many tasty and interesting treats you can find at PAE MAI Market:

STEAMED WONTON PORK BALLS

These tasty little balls are filled with minced pork which is then wrapped in wonton and
steamed to perfection. It is often accompanied with some soy sauce for dipping.

thai street food, thai market, Thailand, hua hin, thai food, xploreasia, teach english

DEEP FRIED PICKLED EGGS

As the name suggest, these are preserved eggs that have been deep fried and cut up for snacking!

 thai street food, thai market, Thailand, hua hin, thai food, xploreasia, teach english

STICK FOOD

You can find pretty much anything at the market either on a stick or in a bag. If you are adventurous enough, you can try one of the various options you can find at the market. Besides, who doesn’t love eating food off a stick!

Thai street food in Thailand, Hua Hin

THAI OMELETTE

A Thai take on a classic, this popular dish adds a mix of spices and your choice of tofu or chicken to go along with your omelet. However, this doesn’t have to be eaten only in the morning.. I’ve actually found there is no real concept of breakfast in Thailand. But the wide availability of fresh fruit and produce makes it easy to have multiple choices for every meal!

thai street food, thai market, Thailand, hua hin, thai food, xploreasia, teach english

DEEP FRIED CREEPY CRAWLIES

Don’t let the appearance of these tiny deep fried creatures fool you, aside from being a great source of protein, these crunchy little bugs are actually quite tasty!

Thai street food in Thailand, Hua Hin - Deep Fried Creepy Crawlies

STEAMED TARO (special root vegetable) topped with coconut milk

This is something you would definitely have to try and make your own conclusion, as some people love it and some people don’t love it that much again, to say the least.

Thai street food in Thailand, Hua Hin - Deep Fried Pickled Eggs

MANGO STICKY RICE
(Khao Neeo Mamuang)

This is perhaps one of the most delicious and widely available Thai desserts. Definitely a must when in Thailand!

thai street food, thai market, Thailand, hua hin, thai food, xploreasia, teach english

 

Whether you want to stick to what’s familiar or try something a little different, a trip to a local market is a must when visiting Thailand!

Three Days in Seoul, South Korea

Three Days in Seoul, South Korea

A Trip to One of South Korea's Coolest Cities

Before I started my internship at XploreAsia, I wanted to see more of Asia.  First on my list was Seoul, as South Korea had been on my bucket list for the past few years.  As a girl who loves fashion and makeup, the trends in South Korea have grabbed my attention. I’ll also admit that I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie, and consequently a fan of Korean dramas and K-pop.   After seeing so many beautiful images of South Korea while watching dramas, I couldn’t wait to see this amazing country in person!

Day 1

Before arriving, I was a bit nervous about getting around Seoul as a solo traveler, as I don’t speak any Korean.  As soon as I got to the airport, however, these fears were calmed.  The airport was organized intuitively, and signs in English were everywhere.  As I took my seat on the cleanest train I have ever been on, I felt the joy and peace that comes with traveling to a new country that just feels “right”. 

I made my way to Hongdae, a neighborhood known for its nightlife and hip restaurants and shops.  I quickly found my hostel, and settled in for breakfast.  Soon after, a group of people came down and we started chatting.  I found out they were all teaching English in South Korea, and were here for a holiday weekend.  They were some of the nicest people I have met in my travels, and they were even kind enough to invite me to join them for the day.

South Korea, adventure, new friends, teach abroad

Our first stop was the Korean War Museum, which was one of the most informative, well-curated museums I have ever visited.  Most of the displays contained both Korean and English descriptions, so it was easy to follow along.  The museum also contained striking art pieces, and a section that simulated what it was like to be on the battleground in the Korean War.  For me, the highlight of the visit came when an older man approached me.  He put Korean flags in each of my hands, and told me to strike a pose.  He then took my friend’s phone and began taking what seemed like hundreds of photos.  He came closer and closer to my face, finishing by showing me one of the extreme close-ups and proclaiming “movie star!”

We then headed to lunch at a Korean-Mexican restaurant.  It may sound like a strange combination, but the kimchi burrito I had there was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. As we ate, my new friends told me about their lives as teachers and how they had all fallen in love with South Korea.  Almost all of them mentioned staying longer than their original one-year contracts and a few were discussing the possibility of staying there for the next 5 years.  They talked about their placements in the city of Busan and smaller towns, the hikes they went on, and their trips to the lovely coast.  Listening to them, it was hard not to be inspired.  I started to think that I might like to teach in South Korea in the future.

South Korea, adventure, teach abroad, XploreAsia

To finish out the evening, we did some shopping and exploring.  One of my favorite things about Seoul was that shops are everywhere, including at train stations.  Walking to your train, you’re bound to see some adorable tops and skirts.  We wandered and browsed the stores, including Western shops like Forever XXI.  Done shopping, we walked down a bustling street filled with street vendors selling everything from meat on a stick to oddly shaped ice creams.  I found myself quickly falling in love with this place.

Day 2

The next day, we grabbed some delicious green tea lattes then headed back out into the city.  Getting on the train, one of the guys I was with had some difficulties with his transit card.  A Korean woman walked him over to the attendant, and stayed with him until it was worked out.  I was shocked by this level of kindness.  Back in Chicago, a similar situation would have most likely resulted in the person in line behind him getting annoyed.  To see a stranger jump in to help without a moment’s hesitation was a pleasant surprise, especially in such a large city. 

In the afternoon, we went to a local park.  I love when cities have both skyscrapers and green spaces, and Seoul fit the bill.  The park was as pristine as I had come to expect from South Korea.  We walked by the water, and headed towards a bridge where there would later be a water show.

As the sun began to set, we made it to what would be my favorite section of the city.  Large flower sculptures sat on the water, with the skyline as a perfect backdrop.  We checked out the nearby buildings, featuring all kinds of restaurants and souvenir shops as we waited for the show to start.

South Korea, adventure, teach abroad, XploreAsia

The show itself, while nice, wasn’t much to see.  However, the night was still great.  Being in this beautiful new place, with these cool new people, was more than enough.

Day 3

South Korea, adventure, teach abroad, XploreAsia

My new group of friends left the next morning, so I spent my last day in Seoul exploring on my own.  After hearing from multiple people that it was a must-see, I made my way to Gyeoungbokgung Palace.  It more than lived up to the hype.  The palace is made up of multiple buildings, all built in a classic style of Korean architecture.  The grounds are a joy to walk around, taking in the beautiful mountain views and peaking in the windows of different buildings.

Done with the palace, I headed to the area of Ewha, which is located near a women’s university and consequently has some amazing shopping.  I browsed shop after shop, and had to be careful as I easily could have maxed out my credit card there!  I purchased some nice sheet masks for about 1 USD each, and received some free samples of perfume.  I stumbled upon one particularly nice clothing shop, and found an adorable button-down skirt.  The shop attendant, who was wearing green colored contacts, asked if I needed any help.  As we made eye contact, she smiled and exclaimed, “Green eyes!  So lucky!”  She showed me a few other cute items, but I ultimately settled on the skirt.  She looked at me, and as if considering, said, “For you, because you are so pretty, 10% off!”  While I’m sure she gives that discount to everyone, it made my day.

I wandered the neighborhood in search of somewhere to get dinner.  I ended up stopping in a cute little diner.  I ordered some bibimbap, a dish consisting of a bowl of rice and veggies topped with a fried egg.  It is both delicious and one of the cheaper meal options available in Seoul.  As I fumbled with my chopsticks, I reflected on how lucky I was to be there.  I had made it to South Korea on my own, and there I was, enjoying a nice meal in this country I wasn’t sure I would ever be fortunate enough to visit.  My only complaint about my trip was that it was much too short.  I vowed to myself that this would not be my last time in South Korea, and to look into teaching there.  I knew I could easily spend years experiencing this amazing place and culture that I had so quickly fallen in love with.

Gyeoungbokgung Palace, South Korea, adventure, teach abroad, XploreAsia

Gyeoungbokgung Palace

Mary Leonard is an intern at XploreAsia.  You can follow her adventures in Thailand on her blog, Wide Eyes and Wanderlust

Our Beloved King

Our Beloved King

beloved Thai King, Thailand, XploreAsia
beloved Thai King, Thailand, XploreAsia

December 5th marks a special holiday in Thailand, Father’s Day! It is celebrated nationwide to recognize the contribution that fathers and father figures make to the lives of their children. This also marks the birthday anniversary of Thailand’s beloved King Rama IX – King Bhumibol. 

King Bhumibol was seen as a father figure to Thailand and Thai people celebrate this occasion on a grand scale to show gratitude to their beloved King, who is “more than a monarch.”

From the day His Majesty the King ascended to the throne as King Rama IX, words cannot describe the immense kindness and compassion he demonstrates toward the people of Thailand. King Bhumibol has continuously devoted himself to the improvement of the nation and the people that call it home. He is regarded as a symbol of unity and social harmony in Thai society. Reigning as King for exactly 70 years and 127 days, we celebrate this beloved father.

beloved Thai King, Thailand, XploreAsia
beloved Thai King, Thailand, family, XploreAsia

As we celebrate the life of King Bhumibol, which is actually pronounced Pu-mee-pon. Meaning ‘Strength of the land, incomparable power’, we look back on his early life and how a young boy became one of Thailand’s most beloved King’s.

  • Born on December 5, 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, King Bhumibol is the only monarch ever born in the United States.
  • His father, Mahidol Adulyadej, studied medicine at Harvard and his mother, Princess Srinagarindra née Sangwan Talapat, a nurse. Bhumibol was the youngest of three children with an older sister Princess Galyani Vadhana and an older brother, Prince Ananda Mahidol.
  • After his fathers death in 1929 the family returned to Thailand when Bhumibol was around 2 years old. Bhumibol’s mother took him, his older brother Ananda and sister Galyani to live in Lausanne, Switzerland.
  • King Bhumibol’s brother became King in 1935 after their uncle Prajadhipok abdicated the throne, making his 9 year old brother Ananda the King.
  • After mourning his brother’s death and assuming the role of king in 1946, Bhumibol made the bold decision to return to Switzerland to continue his studies. Originally majoring in science at Luasanne University, he switched to law and political science to better prepare for the demands of his reign.

 “I have to leave this capital and leave you because it is essential that I re-create myself,” he said in a radio address before his departure

  • While in Switzerland, Bhumibol’s met Sirikit Kitiyakara, the daughter of the Thai ambassador to France. The couple married in Bangkok a week before his coronation on May 5th, 1950, and spent their honeymoon in Hua Hin. They went on to have three daughters and a son. Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, and Princess Chulabhorn Walailak.
  • Bhumibol is often referred to as King Rama IX in English, however many Thais referred to him as Nai Luangor Phra Chao Yu Hua, which translated to “the King” and “Lord Upon our Heads”. He was also called Chao Chiwit “Lord of Life”.

Heart of The Nation: 5 Ways King Bhumibol Transformed Thailand

As the world’s longest serving head of state, King Bhumibol is enormously popular and so highly revered in Thailand, regarded as the heart of the nation.

King Bhumibol was a tireless worker with a kind heart and superior devotion to the people of Thailand. His accomplishments within 70 years are insurmountable, with his majesty receiving over 2000 honorary doctorates, initiating and developing over 4,000 development projects, both in rural and urban areas, and registering 20 patents and 19 trademarks under his name with some earning international awards.

His efforts to improve the life and state of Thailand are clearly evident in his work that far exceeded his kingly duties. He was an inventor, philosopher, professional painter, photographer, Jazz musician, composer, engineer, architect, book author and translator, an inventor and a visionary thinker. Here are 5 ways King Bhumibol transformed Thailand:

Developed the royal rainmaking technology
    • This technology took the form of cloud-seeding, a method whereby pilots disperse environmentally friendly chemicals to form cool and warm clouds at different altitudes in order to induce rain over drought-stricken areas. This was dubbed the “super sandwich”.
Industrialized the Chai Pattana wastewater aerator
    • With an effort to reduce the level of water pollution Bhumibol developed an irrigation system using a Thai-made aerator to treat polluted water by adding air.
Introduced ‘Doi Kham’ Royal Project
    • A rural farm development project aimed to provide income for Northern Hill Tribes by employing people who might otherwise be unemployed, and produce an amazing variety of vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers for the commercial market.
    • The word “doi” means “hill” while the word “kham” is a shortened word for “thongcome” which means “gold”.
Designed a system of small ‘Monkey Cheek’ dams to regulate water flow
  • An initiative to prevent annual flooding in Bangkok by featuring reservoirs along the borders of the city to which surging water was diverted and later flushed into the sea or used for irrigation.
Conceived the philosophy of ‘Sufficiency Economy’
    • A philosophy based on the fundamental principle of Thai culture. It is a method of development based on moderation, practicality, and social immunity.
    • Sufficiency Economy encourages producers and consumers to produce or consume within the limit or limitation of existing income or resources.

“Economic development must be done step by step. It should begin with the strengthening of our economic foundation, by assuring that the majority if our population has enough to live on.”

Thailand’s beloved King Rama IX – King Bhumibol, family
Thailand’s beloved King Rama IX – King Bhumibol

King Rama XI has for many years captivated the world with his ability to lead an extraordinary life independent from his kingly duties.

It was during his earlier years in Lausanne, Switzerland where Bhumibol became interested in music. He began piano lessons that lead to a love for jazz music, into which he also began playing the trumpet, clarinet, and saxophone. At the age of 18 Bhumibol begin composing his own pieces and over several years he had composed over 50 songs, including a three-movement ballet previewed in Vienna and songs that are still frequently heard in Thailand. He also composed songs that were featured in the Broadway musical, Peepshow.

At 8 years old Bhumibol was given his first camera, a Coronet Midget. It was said that this Coronet never left his hands, as he developed a passion for photography and the arts. King Bhumibol was a professional self-taught artist, creating surrealistic oil pieces, along with sculptures, abstract and contemporary pieces, and frequently drew pictures of the Queen.

He was also an author, creating literature that spoke to his personal life and the life of the Thai people. One of his pieces was inspired from a beloved stray dog that he had adopted named Thongdaeng. Not surprisingly, he was also an avid sportsman, winning a gold medal at the SEAP Games in 1967 as a rather accomplished sailor and navigator.

King Bhumibol was a lifelong advocate of education. As an extremely well-educated man, he saw the importance of educating the people of Thailand, particularly those from poor and rural areas.  

“Education is for everyone and endless.  It is not one’s duty in any particular time.  We have to learn since we are born.  Once we reach higher education we still have to continue learning, otherwise we cannot survive.”

This message was crucial, as educating the populace is an important part of the development of Thailand. For example, by learning English, Thai people can get higher-level jobs in the business sector. They can then spend their salaries in their communities, supporting local business owners and the Thai economy as a whole. Those business owners can then afford to send their children to school to learn English, creating a cycle of growth.

We here at XploreAsia hope to honor the King’s legacy by educating and placing capable, compassionate English teachers throughout Thailand. We want to encourage our teachers to serve as positive role models and valuable members of their communities.  

“In order to develop the nation, one should have not only knowledge but other necessary qualifications. These include being ashamed to commit a sin, honest in thought and action, grateful to the country and benefactors, unselfish, unwilling to exploit others, but being good hearted and kind to others.”

What They Don’t Tell You About Being a Foreigner in Thailand

What They Don’t Tell You About Being a Foreigner in Thailand

Before I arrived in Thailand, a lot of people told me about their positive experiences in the country. I heard about the breathtaking beaches, the friendly locals, and the stunning temples. I found all of their stories to be completely true. Thailand has fully lived up to my high expectations! However, there are a lot of other things that happen as a foreigner in Thailand that none of these people mentioned.

You will often be stared at, and may even have your picture taken.

On our first day in Hua Hin, the other interns and I got into our first songtaew (local bus) to head to the mall. One of the other girls mentioned that someone was taking our picture. Since then, I’ve grown used to being an object of interest, and have come to enjoy when a stranger says “Hello!” to me in their best English. I have had my picture taken on beaches and in front of the Embassy to the Philippines in Bangkok, for no other reason than that my friends and I are farangs (foreigners). My personal favorite was when one of my co-workers here at XploreAsia informed me that I was the Facebook cover photo for a local salon. If you have ever wondered what it is like to be famous, you can get a small taste of it by simply moving to Thailand.

foreigner, photo taken, spa, famous

My claim to fame: the photo from the salon's Facebook page

People will be kind, unbelievably kind.

I had heard that the people of Thailand were friendly and generally lovely. However, this did not prepare me for the amount of generosity and kindness I have experienced here in Thailand. There is a woman at a café in town who not only makes delicious juices and Thai green curry, but has offered to let the other interns and I practice Thai with her. When my friend had to go to the hospital with an injured foot, the taxi driver took us all the way to our front door. A tuk tuk driver who drove us back from the mall helped us load our groceries into our apartment. Strangers in Bangkok have offered directions to me when I looked lost on the street, a kindness that in my experience is rarely seen in large cities. One of the most meaningful moments of kindness for me took place at a staff dinner for XploreAsia. Mae, the office mother and all-around V.I.P., made sure that, as a vegetarian, I had enough to eat, passing down dish after dish of delicious vegetables and rice. In that moment, I felt so cared for. That is a feeling you rarely get from strangers in America, and one I truly appreciate experiencing so often in Thailand.

locals, friends, Thailand, Hua Hin, adventure

My roommate, Angelique, and I with a new Thai friend. He liked us more than his facial expression suggests!

You can treat yourself without spending a fortune.

Before coming to Thailand, I was aware of the low cost of living here. I knew that food was easily a fifth of the cost it is at home in the U.S., and that other products were similarly affordable. What I did not realize, however, was how affordable spa treatments are here. At home, I never got massages because I found the cost prohibitive. Here, I can get an hour-long Thai massage for less than the cost of a movie back home. Pedicures can be even cheaper, costing about as much as a nice cup of coffee. After a hike or a long day at work, there is nothing better than popping into one of the many fantastic spas in Thailand to get pampered for an hour or two.

You will eat a lot of foods that you have never seen before. You will love them.

Most people in the West have some concept of Thai food. Back home I loved pad Thai, pineapple fried rice, and deep fried tofu. I was pleased to learn all of these dishes are widely available in Thailand, and even more delicious than those at my local Thai restaurant. I had no idea of the full range of delicious foods available here. I’ve eaten all kinds of fruit that I have never seen in the U.S., and each one was more delicious than the last. I often go to restaurants or food stands and simply say mang saw wee rat, the Thai phrase for vegetarian. I will then eat whatever the vendor gives me, and I have yet to be disappointed. My favorite is tom yum soup, which is always made to perfection at a small café on Soi 51. Generally these meals only cost between 30 and 60 baht, which is one or two U.S. dollars.

There are street dogs and cats everywhere.

Walking around Hua Hin, you are bound to see a few stray dogs and cats. Most of them will leave you alone, and some of them are even friendly. My street is home to a very sweet cat that my roommate and I have named McGonagall. Unfortunately, many of these animals have tough lives. It can be heartbreaking to see dogs with injured legs and stubbed tails. Luckily, there is a way to help these dogs. XploreAsia has a wonderful partner organization called Rescue Paws, which works to help care for, feed, and sterilize these street dogs and cats. With XploreAsia, I have been fortunate enough to spend some time at Rescue Paws, and the work they are doing is truly amazing. If you are interested in donating or volunteering at Rescue Paws, you can visit their website here.

You will change and grow in ways you didn’t expect.

If you stay open, you will experience many new and wonderful things in Thailand. You will learn about a beautiful and fascinating culture. It’s not always easy. Some days I struggle with the language, or figuring out how to get around. All of these struggles have helped me grow as a person. I have gained greater empathy for non-English speakers back home, and confidence that I can always find my way back eventually. Traveling to Thailand offers not only adventure, but the opportunity to truly widen your worldview and grow.

Rescue Paws, volunteer, foreigner, Hua Hin, adventure

Holding one of the adorable residents of Rescue Paws!

Mary Leonard is an intern at XploreAsia.  You can follow her adventures in Thailand on her blog, Wide Eyes and Wanderlust

The XploreAsia Blog – Teach Abroad – A Myanmar Adventure

The XploreAsia Blog – Teach Abroad – A Myanmar Adventure

An English Teaching Adventure in the City of Gold - Yangon, Myanmar

Justin Ruhe

 

“Hello Sir, how are you today?” A thick Myanmar accent rang from far in the corners of my perception. I stood mesmerized by the reflection of the setting sun underneath the glistening golden bell of Schwedagon Pagoda,

                                    “Hello Sir. Sir, How are you today?” There was that voice again, but this time closer.

It took every ounce of my power to break away from the sight of the gleaming temple towering over me, but finally, like a bug tickling my the top of my skin, those far off words had travelled through my ear canal and into the registration area of my brain.

Someone is talking to me.

“I’m doing quite well,” I think I said.

I don’t remember exactly, but what I do remember was the mischievous smile of the chubby-cheeked monk standing in front of me. He commented on the clarity of my accent, and asked me what I was doing in Myanmar. What am I doing?

                  Wait, what was I doing?

Staring at this giant landmark I had seen endless pictures of on travel blogs and newsfeeds? Trying to get over my irking irritation at the lady at the front of the temple who took my shoes out of my hand, and threw them in a locker before telling me about the 2,000 Kyat storage fee? Trying to find a way to pack as much authentic Yangon culture into two days of jetlagged travel as possible?

                  We continued with the small chat, my thoughts marathoning way ahead of the actual words coming out of my mouth. A suspicious feeling was eating at the back of my brain.

It was clear the monk wanted something, but it was impossible to tell just what it was. A million tripadvisor scams montaged in my head.

Myanmar, Schwedagon Pagoda, adventure, teach abroad

The incredible Schwedagon Pagoda, even more beautiful in the evening!

“Am I a teacher?” He asks.

Ok, now we’re getting kind of personal. I’m supposed to be on vacation here, but yes, actually I am a teacher back in Thailand.

There was a flash of excitement in the monk’s eyes. I could feel it coming. The inevitable wind-up, and…pitch!

“Oh that’s wonderful,” I think he might have said.

He produced a card, one for me, and one for Krissy. He told me about his conversational English class, and invited me to go the next day at 9 AM.

“This isn’t a scam is it?” I asked, feeling dirty for even asking a monk that question.

“No scam, see you at 9 am! The address is here. We’ll even make breakfast.”

Krissy and I shared a look…

What have we got to lose?

Myanmar, traffic, locals, adventure, teach abroad

Similar sights in Thailand..

Flash forward to the next morning, we hailed a cab and I greeted the driver with an optimistic grin and a heart full of adventure. Two seconds later we’re beeping and swerving our way through the chaotic mess of roadway that is Yangon.

Reassuringly, about every five minutes our cab driver would study the address on the monk’s business card, and then shake his head. My grin grew wider each time, eventually turning into an uncomfortable cheek-splitting smile I continually flashed at Krissy with the same manic certainty the cab driver insisted he knew the way.

I promise we won’t be human-trafficked today! I smile at Krissy.  

One hour of beeps and bumper hugging later, and we had reached a destination. A destination I was fairly certain wasn’t my intended destination.

“There?” I said, looking where the man’s outstretched finger pointed.

He smiled and nodded. I had expected a temple, or a Learn English sign or something, anything but the shoddy and unimpressive house in front of us.

I started to protest, pointing at the business card again, but it was too late. The cab driver reached across me to open the passenger door. He was clearly done with the goose chase.

So Krissy and I hit the street, not sure whether to feel adventurous, scared, or irritated by the fact that we were obviously in the wrong area, with nothing to guide us but a misleading business card.

I look up to see a group of old ladies on the porch staring right at us.

Quick, engage Thai diffusion mechanism!

I smiled as wide as I could, and walked up to them.

Through a song and dance that looked something like disco-directional charades, I was able to get my point across and the kindhearted ladies pointed us off into a new direction.

Well, this is the best we’ve got, and we’ve already come this far.

We walked through stony corridors, past sewing shops, beetlenut huts, and more than few wily street mutts.

We were both feeling a little downtrodden by this time. It was already past nine o’ clock, and we were late for the English class, or scam, or wherever the hell we were going.

I checked the card again, and started paying attention to the addresses on the walls around us. The cab driver had surprisingly gotten us pretty close. The numbers on the walls were just a few off from the address on the card.

The numbers ticked up one by one as we moved down the street, and before long, we found ourselves standing at the gate of a modest temple.

So much for a welcoming party, I thought, tiptoeing into the ghost-like courtyard.

Helllllooooo! It’s the nervous foreigners who are 45% certain they may be abducted and have their organs stolen today…

english class, teach abroad, Myanmar, adventure, XploreAsia

Our Class!

And then the assault happened—four puppies came out of nowhere, viciously jumping up and licking our knees.

It didn’t take long for Krissy to dote on the dogs.

I tried to find someone who could tell me where the conversation class was, but other than a few wide-eyed monk children who spoke zero English, and apparently didn’t understand my hand gestures, there was no one to be found.

After looking a bit like a lost parking lot surveyor, I finally spotted a senior monk. It wasn’t the monk from Schwedagon, but at least it was someone.

Feeling a glimmer of hope, I tried my best to communicate with him.

Fairly certain he didn’t understand anything other than hello, the monk replied.

“3 o’ clock.”

Then he waved goodbye and shut the door of the small building he was standing in.

Are you kidding me?—was just one of the frustrated phrases that came into my mind at that moment.

I headed towards the gate feeling confused, and cheated.

“Any luck?” Krissy asks, stroking a couple of pups.

Just as I’m about to say, No, I’m a failed adventurer, let’s get the hell out of here and drown our sorrows in a bowl of curry, a group of young men and a monk approach us.

I show the monk the business card, and we chat for a minute in a language of grunts and gestures. I’m beginning to think the monk at Schwedagon was nothing more than some ancient Nat my jetlagged mind had created.

Then this new monk in front of me smiled, and led us to a huge flatbed truck. He motioned to the back.

This is it, I smiled at Krissy. I can hear my grandpa’s overprotective advice flashing like a red alarm in my head—you’re heading straight towards Isis headquarters!

We jumped in the back of the truck, and the vehicle peeled out of the road. It wasn’t long before we were on a major roadway, sliding around the back of the truck-bed like penguins in greased high heels.

Are monk affiliates even allowed to drive this fast? I think, clutching the metal handles.

We flew under large buildings, over bridges, and through dusty streets with vendors walking and hawing every which way. Then I felt the truck come to a screeching halt. We sat parked in front of an unmarked three story building sandwiched in the middle of a packed downtown street.

And what do you know, there was the monk from Schwedagon! He led us into building, and up an elevator that looked like it could have been the set for a horror movie.

Krissy and I walked into the classroom, a long room with a decayed whiteboard at the front, and long wooden benches and tables layering the space. Like a lot of Myanmar, everything had this dusty antique feel to it.

Krissy and I each sat at a separate bench, and it wasn’t long until droves of local Myanmar people sat around us. Even though they were from all different ages and professions, one thing was very clear—these people were desperate to learn English. There must have been over 50 people in the room.

lunch in Myanmar, locals, adventure, teach abroad

Getting to know our new friends whilst sharing stories

Question after question came, some of the talkers more outgoing than others. We chatted about America, Thailand, my job, their jobs, my favorite things, their favorite things, love… They painted my face in Tannaka powder, gave me a Myanmar name, and wrote a list of foods that I could take to local restaurants.

I asked them about restaurants in the area near the end of the lesson, and a couple of the students agreed to take Krissy and I to a local food shop around the corner. Nothing could have made me happier.

I had gone out on a limb to sample the local food, doing a point and prey at more than enough Myanmar-script menus since I had been in the country, and while some of the dishes had been delish, some had been a pallet challenge.

Now I felt safe with our new tour guides ushering us into the beautiful world of local Myanmar cuisine. We chatted some more about food, dating, and our guide’s love of Eminem’s music.

Feeling full and humbled, Krissy and I paid for the meal and thanked our guides for the amazing experience.

Our new friends offered to take us to Maha Bandula Park, where both the Independence Monument and Sule Pagoda were situated.

We tried our best to politely decline, feeling like we were intruding on their day. But the young guides assured us we were the furthest thing from an unwelcome intrusion. They aspired to work as tour guides, and they warmly welcomed the chance to have us be some of their first tour-goers.

Once again I was flabbergasted with just how motivated these new friends of ours were to learn English. They walked us around the park, and explained the history of the beautiful area. They showed us the sights, and after a while we thanked them and went our separate ways.

The boys asked us to come back and teach another class at the school that night, but we already booked a bus to Inle Lake.

As I stood in the shadow of Independence Monument, feeling the hot sun on my face, I immediately felt a sense of intense gratitude. Admiring the landmarks of Myanmar had been a great experience, sure, but it was but a sliver compared to the immense headfirst dive into the local culture this chance conversation class had afforded me.

I took a deep breath in and embraced the warm blossoming sensation of gratitude spreading through me. Teaching English has allowed me to experience so many amazing opportunities.

It’s easy to lose track of the human nature that unites us all, but its experiences like these that keep me humble, and remind me of the things that are truly important to me in life.

Teaching is one hell of a way to meet the world.

This is the life!

Justin Ruhe

XploreAsia Education Supervisor

www.jaiguytravels.com

What Lies Between Worlds

What Lies Between Worlds

Travel will change you.

Your departure into unknown lands marks a beginning, an ending, an interlude. You seek novelty? Adventure? Growth? You will find it. And in pursuit of all this, you will inadvertently stumble over your own worldview, trip over your own expectations and preconceptions, and collide with unfamiliar ground. Then you get up, dust yourself off, and look around to see a world that appears a little clearer, a little brighter. Of course, the world hasn’t changed— it’s the same as it ever was.  

I’ve had my share of confusion and made more than a few cultural blunders in Thailand. In exploring a country so different from the United States, I’ve had to adapt in ways that cause me to analyze my own values. So, here are three observations about Thai culture, and what might be learned from them:

One of the many beautiful temples in Thailand

Perceptions of Time: Sabai Sabai

In school, my teachers called me the White Rabbit. I was always looking at my watch, always hurrying to get to the next place, spread thin between too many classes and sports and extracurriculars. It worked well enough in a competitive, individualistic society where we’re raised to seek achievement and accolade.

It is not the Thai way. Here, people seek fulfillment.

Conceptually speaking, time is different in Thailand; in the West, time is our linear master and we follow, clocking in and out with a tick-tock synchronicity, in perfect time to the minute-hand. In Thailand, people are at ease with all four dimensions of space-time; centered; 0, 0, 0; not straying from their axis; flowing around obstructions and inconveniences much the way that time flows across their beings. In Thailand, time isn’t a master but a companion. Sometimes, an irrelevant one. Needless to say, most punctual Westerners struggle with that aspect of the society. Particularly those of us who identify with a certain Wonderland character.

“You’ll need to fly to Bangkok next week” I was told. Oh, alright. A week would be more than enough time to prepare. Coworkers were to pick me up and together we would catch our 4:30 am bus to Chiang Rai.

4:25 rolled around.

4:28.

4:28:30. I snatched my bike from the lot and sped into the bus station at 4:30 am, breathless. A bus was just pulling out. I’d missed it, but maybe there was another bus that morning. While I was desperately pantomiming to a ticket attendant, a familiar voice called out “Look, she’s already here”. My coworkers were sauntering across the parking lot, waving, as if everything were fine. They had a few words with the very confused ticket attendant and then told me our bus was delayed until 5:00 am anyway. And so it goes in easygoing Thailand.

I call it thaiming… that slow, deliberate movement that characterizes life here. “No hurry” the Thai teachers tell me as I speed through the halls to my next class. “Not so serious” they say when I sit hunched over my work, brow furrowed and fingers flying across a keyboard. Or my favorite: “Stop working, come eat.” If you’re the kind of personality that gets caught up thinking about the future (or, alternatively, stuck in the past), come to Thailand for a free course in learning how to embrace the present. There’s a Thai expression that summarizes this quite nicely: “sabai sabai.” It’s a bit like “hakuna mattata” in that it means no worries; everything is fine; all is as it should be; easygoing.

To me, ‘sabai sabai’ serves as a reminder to slow down. Breathe deeply. Life isn’t a race but a gift; and above all, there is no finish line to be crossed, only a journey to be enjoyed.  

Chiang Kham Wittayakhom School, where Chiara teaches

Communication: What Goes Around, Sometimes Maybe Might Come Back Around 

One morning, my agent asked me what I had been doing the night prior. I told her I’d eaten dinner and gone to bed early. Whereupon she was most surprised, because the hairdressers who live/work under my apartment said I was being very loud in the wee hours of the morning.

“They want to know why you were up and what are you doing?”

“I was asleep, I wasn’t doing anything. Are they sure it was me? And…how did you hear about this?”

Apparently, the hairdressers had told their neighbor, who told the landlord, who told a fellow teacher housed in the same apartment, who told another teacher, who told my agent. Transpiring in less than twelve hours was the most elaborate, real life game of telephone I’d ever encountered. This is an element of Thai culture that I find particularly frustrating, because it stands in stark contrast to American assertiveness. If someone in the States thought I was being too noisy, they might say “Could you quiet down?” Or, as I’ve said on more than one occasion: “Kindly shut the [redacted] up, please.”  

Personally, I don’t find indirectness palatable. But quite often this conflict-avoidance has to do with “saving face”, which is an important social construct in many Asian countries. Consequently, rarely will a Thai person tell you what to do, but they will imply it. You learn to pay attention to subtle body language, as well as words like “should”, “could”, or “it would be better”… because chances are someone is trying to clue you into a crucial detail that’s gone right over your barbaric, unrefined head. For example, “maybe you could wear longer pants under your Muay Thai shorts” isn’t gentle fashion advice. It means that wearing shorts isn’t appropriate in a modest town like Chiang Kham, and you need to cover up.

To an extent, the Thai style of communication has only reinforced my preference for directness. On the other hand, we don’t have a true equivalent to losing/saving/gaining face. Being a disruptive force in the community is a sure way to lose face. While this can make communication frustrating, I’ve also come to admire the emphasis placed on social harmony. It manifests in some truly wonderful ways. For instance…

Chiara's students enjoy taking part in an engaging lesson

Kindness as a Duty: Living in a Collective Society

Regardless of their proficiency, there is one phrase every student at Chiang Kham Wittayokhom knows: “May I help you?” I get it a lot. When I’m carrying (and dropping) too many things. When my skirt gets caught in the tire of a bicycle. When I’m lost. “Teachuh, teachuh, may I help you?” And before I can answer, a student has swept my papers up off the ground, untangled me from a bike chain, or is leading me by the hand to my next class. 

One day, I had to walk to work. It’s not far, but when the elderly lady who lives across the street saw me, she hopped onto her moped and insisted on giving me a ride to the school. I’d never met her before. During my first few weeks, my supervisor was frequently at my apartment, helping me adjust or taking me into town. Whenever I thanked her she always responded with “no problem, it is my duty.” It’s a powerful statement.

This is the idea I want to capture. I want to wrap it up with ribbons and take it back with me to the States, giving it to every human being I ever encounter. Regardless of how you feel about the recent election, there is no denying that the U.S.A.’s political climate is polarized and volatile. Now, more than ever, we could serve to learn one of the most important lessons to be gleaned from collectivist societies; the significance of social harmony.

As an ESL teacher, I think this is particularly visible in a classroom setting. They’re microcosmic by nature. So, if you want to get an idea of a country’s cultural values, step inside a public school for a bite-sized overview of what a place is like. There are a dozen points I could make about Thai classrooms in particular, but foremost in my mind is that I have never seen an outsider. They’re a type that is fairly easy to spot in Western culture—students who sit alone, who are often subjected to bullying. I’m not at all saying that loners don’t exist in Thai culture, only that they don’t exist to the same extent that they do in the States. There is an effort to bring everyone into the fold. Part of this is likely due to a set hierarchy, but I believe it especially has to do with the fact that Thai people take care of one another.

They go out of their way to express courtesy. Where in the West kindness might be described as a desirable personality trait, here it appears to be more of a standard. Imagine what our global community could look like if we all treated kindness as a duty.   

All smiles in Chiara's classroom!

Closing Thoughts                                   

Ultimately, travel is an amplifier. It intensifies the human experience; the joys, the struggles, the setbacks. If you’ve moved abroad to be a teacher, you might be surprised at how often you find yourself instead taking on the role of student. In fact, many wanderers I’ve met talk about ‘growth’ as being a motivation to travel. What exactly does that mean? When you choose to live in a foreign society, you are constantly met with the new and the different. Often it doesn’t make sense—why is no one on time? Why won’t people talk to me directly? Why are people so nice? If you’re willing to delve into a foreign culture and try to decipher some of these mysteries, you’re bound to learn something. Your understanding of people will broaden. Your capacity for sympathy will expand. Your own values and notions will be called into question. In challenging your own beliefs like this, you may be forced to reevaluate. Perhaps nothing will change. But it’s far more likely that you’ll discover new truths to questions you’d never had to ask before, and consequently, be changed for the better.

by Chiara Burns

For more from Chiara, follow her adventures over on her personal blog! – http://www.theroadtoeverwhere.com/

Traveling Alone as a Woman in Asia

Traveling Alone as a Woman in Asia

I had flown alone before, but my current trip to Asia was the first time I truly traveled alone.  On my trips to France, Ireland, and Mexico I had people to pick me up at the airport, and an instant group of friends awaiting me when I arrived.  While I knew that would be true when I reached Thailand to begin my internship at XploreAsia, my trip to South Korea was my first real solo travel experience.  I not only flew alone, but got myself to my hostel on my own.  I was nervous before I left, as I don’t speak a word of Korean.  However, my fears proved to be unfounded.  I was easily able to deal with the things I was concerned about, such as:

Getting Around

English is very present in cities like Seoul and Bangkok.  Most signs, particularly those at airports and on trains, display both the native language and English. This makes getting around on your own easy.  Trains, especially those in major cities, are incredibly easy to navigate.  Particularly if you have experience with a train system like the El in Chicago or London’s Underground, you shouldn’t have any issues.  The trains I’ve seen were also cleaner, larger and generally safer feeling than the ones back in Chicago.

On the off-chance you do get lost, I have found people in South Korea and Thailand to be very helpful.  Whenever I stopped to look at a map in Seoul, someone would approach me and ask if they could help.  In Thailand, people are similarly kind.  The only thing to be wary of is that, in my experience, Thai people will nod and give you the impression they know what you’re talking about, when they have no idea.  This means it may take a bit longer than anticipated to get where you’re going, but eventually you’ll find someone who is not only able to help you, but very happy to do so.

The train stations in Bangkok have gorgeous views!

Catcalling

One of the pleasant surprises of traveling alone in Asia was the way men reacted to me, or, rather, didn’t react to me.  I’m used to walking around alone in Chicago and Europe, where catcalling is a pretty regular occurrence.  Men in Chicago aren’t always the most polite, and I have had a few instances where I felt threatened.  European men seem to have picked up a lot of their English skills from rap songs, and it shows in the way they speak to women.  Even in small-town Ireland, as soon as summer rolled around and I began wearing shorts, honks and odd groaning noises became a regular occurrence.  Completely on my own in Seoul, I expected more of the same.  While I received my fair share of stares, men didn’t yell things at me or catcall at all.

Thailand is a bit different.  Men will call out to you in the street, especially if you are wearing shorts or are otherwise dressed less modestly than the typical Thai woman.  However, the things they say are generally far less offensive than what I have heard in other countries.  While I would prefer to just be ignored, I’ve always preferred “Hey, beautiful!” to the more aggressive and sexual catcalls I get back home.  In Thailand, most men just say “Hello!”  I can even say hello back, and the conversation usually ends there.  If not, I’ll hear “How are you?  You’re beautiful.  I like you.  You have boyfriend?”  That is generally the extent of their English, and personally, none of these interactions have left me feeling shaken or worried. 

Obviously it’s still important to be careful, especially in a country where saving face is so important.  Just as I always ignore men back home so as not to provoke violence, here I generally smile as I walk away when strange men approach me.  Saving face is very important in Thai culture, and people can react very badly when they feel embarrassed.  As such, I try to maintain my distance without offending the man in question.  Just like back home, no matter how annoying I find being approached, I never tell the man off or get visibly angry. 

Walking across a London street, keeping an eye out for catcallers

Walking Around at Night

As most women have been told since we were little girls, you should always avoid walking home alone at night.  However, at some point, you might get into a situation where you do walk by yourself at night.  Personally, I have always felt much safer doing this in other countries than back in America.  I never walked alone after dark in Korea, but I have done so a couple of times in Thailand.  While it’s not something I would advise anyone to do, regardless of gender, I haven’t had any scares or issues. 

Taxis are also readily available in Thailand, so there shouldn’t be any real need to walk alone.  I’ve found that taxi drivers here are great about taking you straight to your door, particularly at night.

Judgment

As a woman traveling on your own, other people are going to have a lot of opinions about what you’re doing.  They may think you’re crazy or reckless.  They may tell you horror stories to try to convince you not to go.  Even when you leave home, you may still get comments.  When I went to Mexico, many people expressed shock that I was there on my own.  “You’re so young!” they would exclaim.  I look quite a bit younger than my age of 25, and this doesn’t help the number of people who are concerned for me.  These people are generally very well-intentioned, but I wouldn’t take what they say to heart.  Do your research, be mindful of your surroundings, and use your street smarts, but don’t let the opinions of others dissuade you from following your dreams of traveling.  Before I moved to Ireland, my family told me it was a bad idea.  I didn’t listen, and trusted that I knew myself better than they did.  It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made, and now my family are supportive of my travels as they see how good traveling is for me.

When traveling alone, don't be afraid to ask a stranger to take your picture. The nice girls who took this one for me were happy to do it!

It’s great to travel with friends or family, but sometimes there’s no one in your life who can take off work or afford to go with you.  Rather than letting the fear of going alone hold you back, I recommend taking the plunge and traveling alone.  You’ll get to do what you want, when you want, and discover that you are more independent and capable than you ever believed.  Deciding to travel alone as a woman is the greatest thing I have ever done for myself.  I hope that other women that have considered traveling alone embrace adventure and discover not only the joys of seeing the world, but their own inner strength and confidence.

Mary Leonard is an intern at XploreAsia.  You can follow her travels on her blog, Wide Eyes and Wanderlust

Why I Choose to Work Abroad Instead of Just Vacation

Why I Choose to Work Abroad Instead of Just Vacation

Live Like a Local

When I was twenty, I went abroad for the first time.  I spent six weeks studying in Aix-en-Provence, France.  That trip ruined simple vacations for me. 

Work abroad

Although I was only there a short time, I felt like I truly got to know Aix.  I learned my way around the winding streets, figured out which shops had the best gelato, and formed a close bond with my host mom and her family.  It was these people and places that made me fall in love with France, in a deeper way than a week in Paris ever could.

 After graduating from college, I felt the urge to travel again.  Having learned from my time in France, I knew I wanted to live abroad rather than just backpack around Europe.  I found a job as an au pair in Ballina-Killaloe, Ireland.  My year in Ireland was filled with ups and downs.  When I studied in France, life was like a party.   My classes were easy, and I had very little responsibility.  In Ireland, I had a real job and responsibilities.  I got a true sense of what it’s like to live in Ireland, without the rose-colored glasses of study abroad.

Prior to coming to Ireland, I had always romanticized small towns.  I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and went to school in the city, but had never lived in a town where everyone knew each other.  That was the case in Ballina-Killaloe, two twin towns where you saw the same few people in the same few pubs every weekend.   This had its upsides.  I often ran into people I knew in the street, and for the first time in my life became a regular at a pub.  I felt safe walking by myself at night, or putting my purse down to dance.   It was also quite a bit cheaper than a city like Dublin.  Despite these positives, on the whole, I learned that in the long run I’d like to live in a city.  I love the energy of cities, and the possibility of meeting new people every time you walk outside. 

The fact that Ireland wasn’t my ideal was in its own way a positive thing that led to a lot of self-discovery.   Au pairing was my first full-time job, and I learned that getting through the work week is much easier when you have plans to travel around your new country on the weekends.  This has inspired me to continue to look for jobs in foreign locales that allow me to travel in my free time.

Work abroad

After Ireland, I found my current position as an intern at XploreAsia.  I feel like I’m getting a much more accurate picture of how life really is in Thailand than those who come and stay at a resort.  I’ve met some amazing locals, like the little girl who greets the other interns and I every time we walk by, or our neighbor, who gave us candles as he worried we wouldn’t have light if the power went out.  I do get to enjoy the beautiful beaches and go on hikes on the weekends, but I also get to accurately judge how I feel about the country.  Any place is wonderful if you spend your time there relaxing.  You get a more realistic perspective of whether or not you truly like the culture and atmosphere if you live more like a local, working and running errands in addition to the tourist activities.

Work abroad

I still enjoy traditional vacations; a week-long yoga retreat on the beach in Mexico is undeniably a wonderful experience.  However, this and other short trips I have taken have never been as satisfying as my experiences living abroad.  I do not know Mexico or understand its culture the way I understand Ireland and Thailand.  For me, living and working in a country, fully seeing its good and bad sides, is the most fulfilling and rewarding way to travel. 

Mary Leonard is an intern at XploreAsia.  You can follow her adventures in Thailand on her blog, Wide Eyes and Wanderlust

TESOL Interview – Rebecca Illingworth

TESOL Interview – Rebecca Illingworth

The XploreAsia TESOL Experience

Rebecca Illingworth

We interviewed Rebecca during her TESOL course to get her thoughts on the XploreAsia experience, teaching overseas, and advice to all future teachers!

Right: Rebecca with her partner Keanu, during orientation week in Hua Hin.

Have you lived or traveled abroad before?

Yes, I lived in China for six months last year, I’ve also lived in new Zealand and Australia

How do you expect those experiences to help you with teaching in Thailand?

I think they will help me adapt and integrate into the culture more easily because I’ve had experience doing that before. From teaching English in China, I know what to expect in a sense of culture shock – I know things will seem a bit weird at first, but they’ll get easier. I truly believe that to really get to know the people and see society you have to stick around for at least six months, to really get a feel for the country and culture.

What made you decide to teach abroad?

I’d heard that schools have a different attitude to towards teaching. It would be fun, it’s new. I think you can get to know the people and children through teaching, you get a sense of what life is like for children in that society and culture. I’m currently in school for childhood studies. Teaching abroad helps in my studies, it’s good that I have studied it and now I can actually see it.

Why did you decide to teach in Thailand?

I’d heard that Thailand was nicknamed the land of smiles, so it seemed very friendly and laid-back, just a beautiful country to spend a lot of time in. I’d back packed in Thailand before so I’ve seen all the hot spots, but I wanted to spend time to get to know the people, getting to know the culture.

What were you most excited about in coming to Thailand?

Getting to know the Thai people more, and that it’s sunny almost every day, England isn’t this sunny.

What do you wish you’d known before coming to Thailand?

I wish I’d made the effort to learn a little Thai before I came here. We had Thai language during orientation week, but it’d have been nice to know more. Or maybe researching a little more about the geography, since we can be placed in areas throughout Thailand, and I don’t know as much about the south or the east.

What are some of your impressions of XploreAsia?

Very professional, lots of people here to help you with a wide variety of questions you might have. If you need visa help, or placement help, or even if you want to know where to eat. Very knowledgeable friendly people. 

 

Eating freshly prepared papaya salad during the Thai cooking class!

Did you know about or research XploreAsia at all before getting here?

We watched all the videos, and compared it with the other companies – we thought that XploreAsia seemed more professional and the best option. They had connections with lots of schools and really gave help/support.

What are your highlights from the Orientation Week with XploreAsia?

Meditating with the monk was really cool. You’d never have gotten to do something like that if you were just backpacking, unless it was specifically organized for us the way it was through XploreAsia. 

How do you feel this TESOL course is preparing you to succeed in a teaching job?

I have a TEFL and I did it online. Doing a TESOL in class with an actual lesson plan and having the class to bounce ideas around is very helpful and very useful. It’s a reflective type of learning. What I think they do really well is because they don’t just teach the course, they teach what attitudes we need to adopt to teach in Thai schools.

How do you feel the TESOL instructors are preparing you to teach in other cities in Thailand?

I feel like they’re very truthful and honest in painting a picture of what it will be like in a Thai school, and the best way to interact with your colleagues, the best attitude to have to get the most out of the experience. Not to sweat the small stuff, not to take things to heart when you have any classroom management issues. They tell us what it‘s like to be a child in Thai society. They’re very knowledgeable, funny, engaging, they always have personal stories that bring their lesson to life, very experienced. They know what they’re talking about.

What do you find most interesting about the TESOL course so far?

The curriculum project – I like that we’re doing that because in the future we might have to make our own curriculum so it prepares us for that. It’s nice to work with other teachers to collaborate ideas. Gets you thinking that all your lessons lead on from each other, makes you think about how each lesson should build on the last when youre lesson planning.

Did you have any fears before coming here?

The usual kind of fears, am I going to fit into the society, culture? Am I going to fit into the school, are the students going to like me, will I get along with co-workers? Will I be a successful teacher?

How have those fears changed since being here?

Last night we had street food, ate dinner with other Thai people. They tried to talk to us and gave us food to try. Even doing that, it made us feel like part of the society. They had also just finished work and were having dinner before going home.  We tried speaking Thai, and you could tell they appreciated the effort, and the friendliness of it all was quite nice.

Gaining invaluable teaching experience at an English camp during the TESOL course in Hua Hin

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone considering teaching in Thailand, what would you say?

Come with an open mind, be open to every possibility. Seize every opportunity and try to live!

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