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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!

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

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/

Medicine for the Soul

Medicine for the Soul

The Medicine for the Soul

The World Is A Book

Traveling and working abroad has been surprisingly transformative for me. I have to admit, I did not expect the change that took place simply from moving to another location, but this experience has been medicine for my soul.

If I had to have a conversation with my previous self from about a year ago, I might not recognize the person I was. My inner landscape has changed so dramatically that I can feel the difference every day. I dove into the cleansing waters of change and this country washed away the parts of my being that were doing me no good.

It’s weird to think that something so powerful can come from just living abroad, but it is that very act of diving into the unfamiliar and unknown that is so cleansing to the psyche. You can no longer hang on to habits or preconceived notions when you are presented with such a novel experience. You can no longer be in a comfortably sedated haze when everything is so bright, new, and present. Yes, that’s the word I’m looking for. Everything therapeutic about traveling condensed into one word: Presence.

Travel forces you to come to the surface of life and intimately connects you to the present moment. You forget about any heavy mental baggage and become as light as the air kissing your skin. You become the jagged mountain steps you’re climbing or the salty sea water you’re swimming through or the lights of Bangkok dazzling your eyes. You become the moment. And with that constant exposure to presence, your soul settles and becomes more grounded. It is like developing a habit of presence and seeing the sparkling beauty of every moment in life. There is no more room for heavy rumination. My spirit feels lighter as a result. Through exposing myself to the people and nature of Thailand I feel like I’ve cleared myself of those mental habits that pull me away from the moment. My sight has become clearer and now the present moment is always in view.

In Buddhism they make the claim that the doorway to enlightenment is in the moment. According to the Buddha, the roots of pristine happiness grow from presence. After being exposed to living abroad I can say this is true for me. In my home in the United States I was stuck in, what seemed to be, a fog of habitual thinking and ruminating. Similar to the feeling you get when you’re trying to sleep and you can’t stop thinking. Being lost in constant brain-chatter. Television static played over the symphony of your life. And you know what? I was not happy. I felt a dissonance, a weird sense of misalignment in life, like the tuning of my soul was slightly off and every time I tried to play it the music came out sour and left me wondering “What’s wrong?”. I was lost in time. Thinking about the past, worrying about the future, and never seeing the present. It’s a sort of illness, really. An illness who’s primary symptom is a deep sense of dissatisfaction.

The medicine for that which ailed me has been travel. Living abroad has washed away that diluted sense of presence with the dazzling brightness of the unknown and new experiences. I feel awakened to the beauty of life and I look back on my days of familiar and automatic routines as a time when I was kind of asleep and in a haze. But how can I convey this to you, dear reader, when it is something that can only be experienced firsthand. I implore you to dive into the unfamiliar. Travel, meet new people, and encounter new cultures and ways of thinking. See the world in all its stunning beauty. Walk the path less traveled and then forge a new one. I can guarantee this with all my heart, travel can be the medicine to heal the discontent in your soul.

Sawadee Pee Mai

Sawadee Pee Mai

SongkranI 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.

Beers were had, spices were shared, and war stories were told. 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

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.

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