Category Archives: Thailand

Friends-giving Rumble in the Jungle

American Thanksgiving being the travel-worthy Holiday that it is, last weekend I made my way down to Khao Yai National Park, about two hours outside of Bangkok, to celebrate with my TESOL friends/family. There was amazing food, amazing company, and a jungle trek- what more could you ask for? The Jungle Trek was nothing of an adventure, however, compared to the journey we had just getting to the park!

The short version of the story, part 1: Wonderful lady in Bangkok offers to drive us to Khao Yai because she has a house there. We realize when we’re almost there that we’re going to the wrong side of the park- park is closed and a 4 hour drive to go around. No transport. Try to see if we can go through with the park rangers, because said wonderful lady is apparently very important and knows the colonel, who comes with us to the park gate. Entry denied due to fear of Elephant trampling. Only option to stay with wonderful lady at her Thai Mansion…

Just your average house that looks like a mansion

Just your average house of a Thai stranger

Part 2: Wake up at 5am. Ride in back of pick-up truck (with seats, so the luxury variety) to park gate. Manage to enter park for half what it should cost. Freezing, can’t feel fingers. Ride 2 hours through the park in said truck. Stop for a view, food stolen from truck and persons by monkeys. Evil monkeys. Exit park and attempt to reach the others at the house on phone. Finally get through. Drive 45 minutes. Convinced we’re lost. Enter sugar cane field. Find house full of friends in the middle of nowhere. Relief ensues.

After finally meeting up with the rest of the group at the house, we set off on an amazing tour of the Park (yes, the same one we had just driven through), featuring a 3 hour trek through the jungle and an amazing waterfall!

We headed back to the house, and some of us got straight to cooking our makeshift Thanksgiving meal. Featuring amazing food- both American and Thai, plenty of great music, a bonfire, and wonderful people, this was certainly a Thanksgiving for the books! Couldn’t have asked for a better holiday weekend or friends to spend it with.

Thankfully the journey back was considerably less eventful than the one there. It even included a trip to this awesome waterfall for a mid-day swim!

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Kwan Phayao

A sunset walk along Kwan (lake) Phayao and boat trip out to the sunken temple. I love my town!

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Yi Peng: Mae Jo Lantern Release

(Because professional photographers are professionals for a reason)
 

In what is perhaps the most iconic and well-known component of the Yi Peng festivities, there is a mass lantern release held every year at Mae Jo University, about 30 minutes from Chiang Mai-proper. In this celebration, thousands of lanterns (it’s estimated at around 10,000) are released in unison, creating what will go down as one of the most amazing things that I have ever experienced. This is all before the night took a traumatic and dangerous turn, but more on that later.

The event is so popular with both Thais and foreign tourists that the organizing committee now holds a separate ceremony, “Yee Peng International” about a week after the Loy Krathong full moon aimed specifically at international tourists. Tickets for this event run at a pricey $100-US, but includes luxurious amenities such as a bottle of water. I bought a water at 7-11 for 20 cents and saved the other $99.80, heading to the free, local ceremony instead.

The local lantern release at Mae Jo is held  a Saturday or two before the Loy Krathong full moon. This year that the full moon fell on a Sunday, and thus the release was the night before, making for a great weekend of fun festivities in Chiang Mai, but forcing us to choose between the parade downtown and the lantern release. We definitely made the right choice.


Despite the repeated, multi-language, instructions of “please do not light or release the sky lanterns until we say so,” many people apparently did not speak Thai, English, Japanese, or Chinese and released their lanterns early. Our group was more interested in taking pictures and appreciating the experience, so we decided to forgo lighting a lantern for the actual mass release. If we had arrived earlier, in time to secure a “ground lantern” from which to light the floating lantern, we likely would have done so, but alas in typical fashion we arrived much too late for things requiring such forethought.

Then the instructions came for everyone to light their sky lanterns. The anticipation was killing me. The beautiful balloon lanterns began to plump up all around me, waiting for the final signal. Then the go-ahead and the fireworks- it was time! Thousands of floating, glowing rice paper balloons were released into the sky, floating up and carrying away everyone’s bad luck. It was truly, breathtakingly beautiful. My camera doesn’t being to do it justice…

AT THE RELEASE!

AT THE RELEASE!

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After taking hundreds of pictures and marveling at our shared humanity, we made our way onto the field with the “ground lanterns”, and laid down to gaze up at the lanterns continuing to be released, floating high in the sky. And here’s where things got interesting. I still don’t know exactly how this happened- perhaps it was me, perhaps someone else- but somehow the lantern I was laying next to was jolted, and these lanterns aren’t exactly sturdy. So the base gets kicked, and hot wax projects out of the lantern and…all over me, of course. And I really so mean all over me- covering my face(!), body, and clothing. By some miracle, the wax narrowly missed my actual eyes, or this ordeal may have ended in a trip to the emergency room rather than simply a dramatic and befuddled freak-out with some minor burns. If there is an accident to be had, I’ll find it. I guess we really should have released a lantern and our bad luck along with it, because I certainly ran into some…

After collecting my sanity, having wax picked off me like a monkey, and managing to beg some ice via sign language off a nice family selling drinks, we headed out through the packed crowds and caught a song-tau (pick-up truck) back to our guest house.

The lantern release was truly one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced, and I will certainly return one day- hopefully with a nicer camera!

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Loy Krathong and Yi Peng: Festivities

There were many layers to my Loy Krathong celebrations last weekend, and all were wonderful! With its amazing array of colors, lights, and sensory experiences, I think that Loy Krathong will always be my favorite Thai celebration!

Festivities at School
Thai Kindergarten’s main goal is fun, and as such we celebrated Loy Krathong in wonderful fashion. Thursday we made our own Krathong as a class, while Friday provided a morning of celebrations. On all Thai or Buddhist holidays, may of the students come dressed in traditional attire, and Loy Krathong was no exception. Students came dressed in elaborate outfits, and most brought their own Krathongs from home. After about 45 minutes of arranging the students for various pictures, we were all (all 12 of the kindergarten classes, a total of about 400 kids) lined up holding krathongs, lanterns, and banners for our parade around the school. Or so I thought. The parade actually carried on down the main street in front of the school, holding up traffic for a good 45 minutes as the students completed their circuit.

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The parade concluded with the classes releasing their krathongs into the small moat next to the school, which looked surprisingly clean for the occasion. We then proceeded onto the field where we released some lanterns. If I ever thought that I acted like an over-excited five-year-old around these lanterns, it was nothing compared to my actual 26 over-excited five-year-olds. But it was such a perfect day and celebration with my class.

Festivities in Chiang Mai
As the former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai is the epicenter of Yi Peng celebrations in Thailand, and as it’s just a few hours from us here in Phayao we couldn’t miss an opportunity to go. The entire city was decorated with beautiful hanging lantern displays, and the nights leading up to the full moon featured plenty of lanterns, fireworks, and good times.

On Saturday we made the trek out to Mae Jo University for the huge, coordinated lantern release. I’ve gone ahead and elaborated on that in a separate post, but here’s a teaser…

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Festivities in Phayao
Despite being one of the locations where Loy Krathong was “cancelled,” Phayao still celebrated in great fashion- just minus the parades and some of the performances. The lake-front was still decorated with beautiful lantern displays, filled with people, and the site of many krathong and lantern releases. I arrived back into Phayao on Sunday evening just in time to head down to the lake for some of the amazing displays and celebrations on the night of the actual full moon. While I loved celebrating in Chiang Mai and seeing the lantern release, it was really cool to be able to be back in my own town for many of the festivities as well.

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Loi Krathong and Yi Peng: Background

Last weekend I, along with the rest of Thailand, celebrated the Thai holidays of Loi Krathong and Yi Peng. First, a note about spelling Thai words in Roman script. You may see these things written as Loy Krathong, Loi Kratong, Yee Ping, Yi Peng, or some combination of all of the above spellings. This is completely normal and yes, horribly confusing.

Now, a bit of history and background information that I’ll try not to butcher too terribly. Blame Google for any errors of fact…

Loi Krathong
Loi Krathong, celebrated throughout all of Thailand on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, is largely to be adapted from an Indian Bramanic festival paying homage to several gods. For Thai Buddhists, the festival honors the Lord Buddha of course, but is primarily dedicated to thanking the river (or lake, pond, puddle- whatever body of water happens to be around) for providing life and asking forgiveness for pollution of the waterways. Thais construct small floats, called Krathongs, and float them down the river during the festival as a symbol of floating away bad luck stemming from poor treatment of the water. Krathongs are usually constructed from Banana leaves, flowers (often orchids), incense, and candles, and are made to resemble the shape of a lotus flower.

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Yi Peng
Yi Peng is often confused or combined with Loy Krathong in descriptions of the festival, especially those which focus on celebrations in the north. While technically different, the two holidays always fall on the same full moon of the lunar calendar, and thus are celebrated together. Yi Peng is a Lanna (Ancient Northern Thai Kingdom) festival of lights, in which lanterns are released into the sky as an offering to the Lord Buddha. Colorful lanterns and lights decorate temples, homes, and businesses, and some are even made to be carried around. As beautiful as these are, the most famous are the Khom loi, or floating lanterns. The khom loi are essentially mini hot-air-balloons usually constructed from rice paper, are lit and fill with hot air before being released into the sky as a symbol of releasing all of the negative energy and bad luck from one’s life.

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As with most Thai Festivals, the celebrations are accompanied by parades, beauty pageants, and much traditional music, dance, and food. Due to the recent passing of Thailand’s supreme patriarch (the most revered of the nation’s monks), celebrations in many places throughout the country were cancelled or “subdued,” yet remained a spectacular experience.

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Meet my class…

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Hello from MEP Kindergarten class 1! I get to see these 26 [usually] adorable, smiling faces every day at “work”.

The lake poster I made with all of my students' fish!

The lake poster I made with all of my students’ fish!

In Thailand Kindergarten is a two-year program. I teach K-1, would be roughly the equivalent of Pre-K in the U.S., so my students are 4 and 5 years old. As I mentioned in a previous post, they are at school from 8-4 (at least), which is quite a long day for kids so young! Perhaps this schedule breakdown will provide a better understanding of what my students up to:

  • 7:30-8: Arrive at school, watch an English cartoon in classroom
  • 8: School Assembly
  • 8:15: All- kindergarten exercise dance songs
  • 8:45: Thai teacher instructs students
  • 9:30: Students go to “activity” (Swimming, Music, Computers, Playground, PE)
  • 10: English teacher (me) instructs students
  • 11: Lunch
  • 11:30: Wash hands, change into PJ’s, settle into nap time
  • 12-2:30: Nap Time
  • 2:30: Kids woken up, change back to uniformes, wash faces, snack time
  • 3:15: English teacher leads English songs, games, cartoons, and “fun” time
  • 4-5: Students are picked up to go home

This means that my schedule looks roughly like this:

  • By 8: Arrive at school, sign in
  • 8: Supervise students at assembly
  • 8:45: Prepare my lesson- create worksheets, make copies, find videos, etc
  • 10: 1 hour English instruction
  • 11: Walk students to lunch and supervise
  • 11:30: My lunch break
  • 12-3: Lesson planning and grading during nap time
  • 3:15: Play games, dance songs, and educational English cartoons
  • 4: Head home or stay late to finish lessons or projects
Kids in music class. That one's my favorite of the naughty boys

Kids in music class. That one’s my favorite of the naughty boys

One of the coolest things for me to see is that my students have swimming, music class, and computer lab once a week. It’s awesome for me to see my school’s commitment to these activities, even with children so young!

My classroom is quite nice and we have all the resources I could need- a computer and projector, art supplies (crayons, paints, construction paper), and a cheery, colorful atmosphere. I have my own desk, as do the Thai teacher and mentor, and there’s even AC in the classroom- quite a luxury in Thailand.

The best part of my job? They’re just so darned cute…

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Anuban Phayao School

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I teach at a really wonderful school called Anuban Phayao School, a primary school that serves grades K-6 located in Phayao town. The school has nearly 2,000 students- huge for an Elementary school by American standards! Many of the students live in the town, however many also commute up to an hour to attend the school because of its stellar reputation.

In Thailand there are several different qualifications of schools and their funding, differing greatly from the largely public/private (and charters, but that’s a different case) binary in the U.S. My school is best described with the analogy of the public university in the states- we are a quasi-public school with government teachers and funding, but the students also pay school fees which allow us to have great facilities and some wonderful program offerings.

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One of these programs is MEP, or the Mini English Program, in which I teach. The model for the program, present at many of the best schools in the country, is a dual-language program of Thai and English, in which five subjects- English, Math, Science, Health, and Art- are taught by both a Thai and a Foreign English-speaking teacher. Because this program is in its first year, there are only two grades- Kindergarten 1 and First Grade. However, by design, the program will grow and expand with these pilot classes, eventually leading to an MEP option for all grades K-6. It’s a fantastic program and opportunity for the school and town, as most MEP programs are located in larger cities. The school fees for students enrolled in this program are higher, I suspect largely in order to cover the salaries of the foreign teachers.

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Kindergarten Playground!

My school has a fabulous A/V room in which students film and produce a TV show every morning covering the announcements and a mini-English lesson. Watching the primary school students working the cameras, sound equipment, and editing projects is really amazing! We also have A POOL, several music and dance rooms, computer labs, a library, soccer field, play equipment, and more.

Our Pool(s)!

Our Pool(s)!

The Library

The Library

The thai teachers here are incredibly welcoming and friendly, constantly offering their assistance with whatever they can. They even serve a decent lunch at school, saving me some extra money. I’ve been sure to make fast friends with Tuie, the teacher in charge of planning lunches, and she’s already slipped me a few extra pieces of my favorite- Thai fried chicken!

I am so fortunate to be working at such a wonderful school!

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Welcome to Phayao

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A bit about my town! I’m living in Phayao, sometimes called Meung Phayao, the capital “city” of Phayao province. It’s in the far north of Thailand, an 8 hour drive from Bangkok (11 hours by bus). The province is bordered by Chiang Rai, Lampang, Phrae, and Nan provinces. We also share a border with Laos for about 50km in the northeast corner. We’re an hour south of Chiang Rai, and two hours east of Chiang Mai- both easily accessible by bus for weekend excursions or flights out to other parts of the country.

Phayao

Phayao is home to approximately 20,000 people, but in Thailand town size is more accurately measured in number of 7-11’s- we have four of them. The town sits right on the largest man-made lake in Thailand, and has a wide, well-maintained walking path that borders part of the lake, with bars and restaurants along it. A beautiful town, Phayao remains quite quaint and is not a stop on many tourist itineraries, allowing for the conveniences of a small city while retaining a more rural atmosphere.

Sunset over Lake Phayao

Sunset over Lake Phayao

In the foothills of the mountains of Northern Thailand, with wonderful food and a beautiful lake, I couldn’t imagine a better place for me to be!

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So many new things!

So much has changed since my last post, I hardly know where to begin. I’ll spare the long version of the story, but in a whirlwind few days I finished up my TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) course down in Phuket, flew up to Bangkok Saturday evening and spent one night there (13 hours) before getting on a bus and heading up to my teaching placement at Anuban Phayao School in Phayao province, in the far north of the country. I completed my course on Friday at 4pm, and began teaching on the other side of the country Monday morning at 8am. Because my school had an earlier start date than nearly all others in the country, I wasn’t able to attend my agency’s orientation in Bangkok, as I had originally planned. This has made things difficult and confusing, but is certainly more than made up for by the fantastic quality of my school and job.

I’m a Kindergarten teacher! I share a class of 26 students with a Thai co-teacher in a special English Immersion program, called MEP, that my school just launched this year. I don’t know if it’s what I would have picked for myself going into the experience, because I had very different expectations, but I can honestly say that it’s been loads of fun thus far and I think it’s going to be a great fit. I teach new English material for about an hour every morning, and have art, games, and music in the afternoon for about 45 minutes. In the middle of the day, the students take a three hour nap, flanked by a half-hour for lunch and a half-hour for snack. The students, and I, arrive at 8am and go until 4pm- it’s quite a long day for kids so young!

Considering that I was prepared for 18-24 contact hours of teaching a week, classes of 40-50 students, no co-teacher, and seeing classes only once per week as an elective (with totals of nearly a thousand students), I feel incredibly fortunate to have what I do, which is about 8-10 hours of actual teaching/instruction, 26 students whom I see all-day, every day, and a co-teacher and class assistant. On the other side, Kindergartners are exhausting and spending that long a day with them is certainly not easy. Additionally, it can be tiring teaching things so simple and it’s not the most intellectually stimulating of jobs. The positives, however, far outweigh any negatives and I’m incredibly happy and lucky with this placement. And you can’t really beat how dang cute they are!

Some of my kiddos!

Some of my kiddos!

There are seven “western” foreign English teachers at my school, three Filipinos, and two fluent Thai teachers with a western education background. Five of us are in the MEP program (two Kindergarten, three first grade), and all of the others teach English to the rest of the students in the school who aren’t in the program. It’s nice to have so many other people with whom to share this experience! We all live in the same “apartment” complex, which is quite nice and makes socializing really convenient. I use the quotations because my apartment is a very small studio room with a bed, armoire, fridge, table/chairs, and a bathroom. There’s also a TV, but I re-purposed it as a night-stand. It’s small, but certainly nice enough and plenty of space for me here!

 

Several more updates (and pictures, if I can get strong enough internet to upload them!) coming soon about my town, school, teaching, and more! Just wanted to get the basics out as soon as I could. Loving my life here thus far!

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Greetings from Thailand!

Sawadee Kha, family and friends!

I believe most of you who are reading this know that I have decided to move to Thailand to teach English for six months to a year. As I entered my Senior year at UNC and began to think about what I wanted to do after graduation, I determined that what I loved most in life was new experiences, and that my favorite of those experiences were international ones. Thus, I decided to find ways to support a spontaneous and international lifestyle, heavy on the travel. Teaching English became an obvious route for this, and Southeast Asia has always been a dream destination for me, so when I came across this opportunity to teach English in Thailand I had to jump on it.

This all leads me here, to a safe arrival in Phuket, Thailand! Phuket is the largest of Thailand’s many islands, and is the site of our teacher training course in order to attain a TESOL/TEFL certificate. This certificate will be internationally recognized allowing me, if I love teaching English, the ability to do so in other locations after the completion of one or two semesters here in Thailand. At this point the opportunities are quite endless!

I flew here on an adventurous journey through Tokyo and Singapore, with a post on Singapore to come in the next few days. It was definitely an experience worth commenting on.

We just began the one week course today, with instruction from 9am-4:30pm, and will continue with more or less that schedule until Friday, when I head up to Bangkok for an orientation with some of my fellow teachers. Sparing the logistical details, I only some of the teachers I am being trained with now will be working for the same agency, acting as an intermediary, for Thai schools in the northern and northeastern provinces of Thailand, while others will be primarily in Bangkok and the surrounding areas. 

There are 19 of us total in the program, mostly Americans but also 2 Irish, 1 Brit, 1 Canadian, and one Turkish-American. It’s a wonderful group, and I am so excited to continue to get to know them in this short week we have together. In just one day, it already feels like we have all known each other forever, which is so wonderful to find in any group like this. It’s wonderful to think of all of the friends I will now have teaching around Thailand in the coming months- plenty of people to visit and to travel with!

I promise to try to update this relatively regularly, depending on the quality and availability of internet in my home and school! I’m quite excited for this next adventure, and hope to be able to keep in touch with everyone!

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