Home and Away

Well well! Where do I begin! My visa run to Cambodia feels like such a long time ago now, urgh and what an experience…I won’t be crossing into Cambodia anytime soon that’s for sure (sorry Cambodian’s!)

The past few weeks go something like this; panicking my credentials are somewhere out there in the world, teaching next to nothing, having observers in the school, bird rescuing, eating toxic fruit (!), partying in Bangkok, visiting markets that float on water (well, sort of) and preparing for Australia, phew! A mixed bag of fun and excitement sadly seasoned with a pinch of boredom hah! So if you’re sitting comfortably, the Readders reveals all…

Helen the Hamster! 

“Hey, I’m Helen the Hammy! I’m the schools pet Hamster! You can feed me tit bits if you like and watch me run across the floor from time to time but be careful…let me out and I might not want to come back!” Haha, well, I’m sorry to say, but that is exactly how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks. My teaching services were slowing down until they came to a complete halt! I got the ‘It’s not you, it’s the curriculum’ story which is fine but I’ve been pretty darn bored haha! Although, on the plus side, I have been able to do a lot of planning etc…

We’ve also had a lot of observers coming and going…you know…the kind that are watching you, watching them! They’ve actually been staying in my house so I’ve had to learn to share my toys for a few weeks after having the place to myself hah! Some have been really nice but some have just been really quiet and said hello but then they’ll run up to their rooms haha, quite funny actually.

Deliciously Toxic! 

Of course, being the schools pet, the children kindly came over to my house one weekend to ‘feed me’ some tit bits hah! They brought me some kind of savory fruit that was encased in a green tough shell…it looked like a giant broad bean! Well, a few bashes to the ground later and it opens…you then peel it open like a banana and reveal what I would describe as white acorns inside. There isn’t much taste but the texture is like a soft moist nut…like a wet hazlenut (strange description I know but that is exactly how it is!). So it was quite nice actually.

Later on over at the office, I showed one of the teachers some photos of this funny wet nutty fruit to find out what it was….

“How much did you eat?” The teacher nicknamed Star, said the words in a sharp and slightly raised voice almost as though she was telling me off but there was a tinge of concern in her tone…she then eyeballed me waiting for my response. With her reaction to my photo, almost instantaneously I could feel panic starting to rise up from the pit of my stomach! ‘Oh great, have I gone and poisoned myself?’ ‘What have I just eaten?’ With wide panicked eyes I replied with “Oh, not much at all”. Star looked relieved which seemed to instantly banish my feelings of panic. Isn’t that funny how you can make someone ‘feel’ with just a few words? “Ok, that’s good then. This fruit is toxic. If you eat a lot you will get a tummy ache”. Phew, well, I’m sure I have a tummy made of steel now but still, I was glad I’d only had a few nibbles hehe! So yeh, thanks kiddo’s, trying to kill off the pet hamster haha!

Mynah Encounter

So it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in the schools office. Photocopying some bits and bobs I spot something behind the machine! ‘What the….’ Moving the machine slightly, I can see it’s a small brownish bird trying to keep it’s presence hidden from my curious eyes! But it’s too late, he’s been revealed hah. Then suddenly, all these kids came out of nowhere all trying to get a look and play with the baby bird…it was as though the kids all had ‘spidey senses’ that suddenly alerted them to a distressed bird hiding behind the photocopier haha. Well, I told them he needed looking after so we put him in a box with some straw and a bowl of water.

I took him back to the house to give him space from all the small nibble fingers prodding and poking him about. He actually didn’t look too bad, well, I couldn’t see anything physically wrong with him. Maybe he’d just been attacked by a cat and he probably flapped his way into the office to seek solace from behind the photocopier haha. So apart from looking a bit scraggly, I guessed he probably just needed a few days rest to get over the shock and recover a bit. I took a few snaps of him and again when I was back in the office, I showed one of the teachers to determine what he was.

“Oh that looks like a Mynah bird” Creasing her face, June was studying my photo through her thick rimmed glasses…”We get them a lot here in Thailand, they are the birds that you can teach to talk” A Mynah bird hey! “Oh wow! I’m just looking after him for a few days until he’s well enough to set free. I think he was attacked by a cat…I found him just over there” I enthusiastically pointed at the huge grey industrial sized photocopying machine. “You are so kind Helen!” Ah that was nice of June to say so but then I was thinking, wouldn’t anyone else do this kind of thing then? So it was then I decided to comically call my bird Morris! (Morris Mynah)

Later on back at the house, I spoon fed Morris water…that was quite funny actually. He was acting like a baby and wouldn’t open his beak so I practically ended up showering the water all over him so he had no choice but to drink! ‘Hmm..now what to feed you’ I thought. Well, I had plenty of boiled rice so chucked some of that in the corner of his box along with some of the giant juicy ants that are always in my bathroom oh and one of those clumsy army beetles that was flying around my lounge and repeatedly bashing itself into the TV! So in the box he goes too haha! Not a bad selection I thought, a bit of pick and mix!

A few days passed and Morris seemed to be making a fine and fast recovery. I had to shut him in my room when the observers were in…well, I didn’t want them to see him and let him go if he wasn’t ready. One day when I came back to the house after school, I rushed up to my room to see if he needed any water…I opened the box and he wasn’t there! ‘Oh no! Where has he gone?’ I then heard a noisy squawk above me and there he was…clinging to the net curtains hah! He was clearly peering out the window wanting to get a taste of freedom. I gently tugged his little clawed feet from off the curtains and lowered him back into the box so I could take him outside to set him free. It was so funny, he turned his little head towards me and let out a series of super loud squawks! I think he was swearing at me! “Alright, alright! I am letting you go silly!” But as soon as I popped Morris into the box, he flew straight back out of it! He was flapping all over my room…from curtain…to cupboards…to stopping for a min to poop on my clean clothes…thanks Morris! He finally came to a halt on the top of my head! “Awww isn’t that sweet Morris! You do like me after all then!” Admiring our reflection in the mirror I was thinking that we were sharing a moment together….then felt a warm wet trickling down my back! “Oh well, that’s just super Morris…thanks a bunch! It’s definitely time you were leaving hahah”

Outside, I reopened the box to see Morris’ little face staring up at me but his gazed soon looked past me and over to the fields and trees behind me. Within seconds he’d hopped onto the edge of the box, got his bearings and then flew onto the lawn. He was letting out a series of calls to his buddies to come and collect him but it was rather sad because no one came 😦 Well, I’d done my bit and couldn’t mess with mother nature anymore…I’m sure he’s now reunited with his buddies and is living a normal Mynah’s life out there somewhere 🙂

Bangkok here I come (again!)

Yep, I decided to take myself off to BKK again for another break hah! Yes I know, smelly BKK is not my favourite place in the world but it makes for such a great base, plus, I have friends there now.

I guess I’m getting bored quicker with the lack of teaching but also I am missing my independence and um also the small matter that I am supposed to be travelling here and I seem to be getting stale in this current situation…It’s not that I am ungrateful for having this wonderful opportunity at my feet, I’m just getting itchy feet! Also, the school was going to be closed for 4 days due to it being a Buddhists holiday so everyone was going home anyways so perfect time for me to get away.

So I took a whole week off and caught up with some of my pals and I had a fab time! Love doing my own thing! I get such a buzz when I take myself off for a day out somewhere exploring…it’s like a sense of  achievement! I never would have done anything like this before, I would have been to ‘afraid’ of ‘oh no how do I get there, where do I go when…..’ etc..but now, I absolutely love it!

Just like before, I crammed a lot in on my week off! Shopping, partying, going to the Saxophone bar and cinema oh and a floating market! I was going to scoot down South and see the islands but there simply wasn’t enough time to do all of that and to be honest…I wanted to see more culture than actually staying on a party island…sounds strange for party girl to not want to go to Koh Phi Phi hey but perhaps another time but for now, the floating market actually appealed more! The party islands are usually filled with drunken tourists anyways and I’d rather see and do what the locals are doing…you know, emerse myself in their culture, not the tourist scene! I mean yes, I did do some partying, I just didn’t need to do it every night.

Oh and the cinema was funny! I am getting used to the timings of when they are abouts to play the Kings short film now (you know, when everyone in the cinema has to stand up!). To avoid the embarrassment, I can almost time it right so I can sneak off to the ladies just like my friend Ken did the last time hah! So anyways, Ken and I went to see a film one evening  and I was laughing so much that apparently a Thai guy turned round and said “Who the hell is that girl?!” haha! Oh well, I can’t help it that I have an infectious cackle of a laugh hehe, I was enjoying myself!

Hostels not such a fav!  

Ok, so I did check into my fav hostel but only stayed for a night ha! It was more of a convenience thing for me though because I’d booked a tour through the hotel next door (which was pretty expensive to stay in) to take me to the floating market in the morning….and get this, I had to be up by 5.30am gasp!

I wasn’t so lucky this time of getting the 6 bed dorm to myself…each and every bed was taken. I’d made friends with a couple of people in the hostel though who were also from the UK and we decided to rent a Dvd from reception and chill for the evening. Well, the dvd didn’t work, actually, a whole bunch of them didn’t work hah so we decided to just sit and watch family guy repeats and exchange travel stories.

When it was eventually bedtime, I flopped onto my lower bunk and soon fell asleep but my blissful coma was soon interrupted by 2 giggling girlies! Bright blinding light filled the room but only for about 3 seconds after they’d realised there were 3 stirring bodies in the bunks! Finally, once all their banging and bashing about with the lockers was over, everyone was falling asleep once more…….then another person waltz’d on in…oh great! Well, that’s hostels for you…revolving doors of travellers coming and going. Oh well, I knew I’d be getting my own back in the morning getting up at the crack of dawn for the market hehe!

I then thought to myself, with the money I’m saving at the school, I may as well take myself off and stay someone nice and reasonable (and all to myself)…so I did just that 😉 And I can highly recommended it to the flash backpacker: Prom Ratchada near to Thailand Cultural Centre. The rooms are super comfy and offer free wifi in the room as well as free use of the computers downstairs along with the gym and pool woo hoo!

A Market that floats – Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

What’s that awful cheap electric sound? The music sounded like something from a bad Amiga computer game which was slowly getting louder and louder and rudely entering my dream! I could picture the Mario Brothers running along platforms and jumping over spikes or crocodiles….I then realised it was my alarm – I also realised it had woken all 5 of the other log like bodies which were now stirring and groaning haha! Well, I said I’d get my payback! 😉

So I had a quick shower, packed all my stuff up (in the dark I might add!) and checked out in reception. I quickly whizzed over to a 7 Eleven store to grab something for brekkie and then met all the other market tourists in the hotels reception next door. There were only 5 others…A cute Brazilian guy (who sadly didn’t speak a word of english!), a Swiss couple and 2 Chinese girls who just kept themselves to themselves.

Well, of course, Thai time meant the minibus driver actually arrived at 7am and not 6.30am but I didn’t mind, it gave me chance to gobble my greasy croissant! (all their pastry products do leave the roof of your mouth coasted with somekind of grease…and I know this but still seem to buy the dam things hah!).

So we’re on the bus and the ‘guide’ tells us the journey will take about 1.5hrs to the pier followed by a short 10 minute boat ride over to the market. Well, it must have only been 30 minutes into the journey and already I was fighting to keep heavy eyes open when suddenly the bus driver slammed on the brakes and skidded and swerved sharply to the left! Naturally everybody looked at each other as if one of us had an explanation and then diverted our eyes to the front of the bus….the sound of screeching tyres and the smell of rubber filled the minibus when…….BANG……….BANG!! It felt as though the whole bus tilted to the left as the right side rammed into and over something….’What the hell?’ I have a terrible feeling we hit a dog but I never did look back over my shoulder at the road behind us and I was too afraid to ask so I blocked that thought from my mind 😦

Well, the bus was now tilting to the right! It was clear we had 2 flats from the intermittent ‘flapping’ rhythm of slackened rubber hitting the road. The gaps of the loose ‘flapping’ noise increased as the minibus slowed down. We finally came to a natural halt on a rocky hard shoulder. Oh and what a coincidence….you won’t believe this but we actually stopped right by a tyre company…of all the chances hey! 30 minutes later and 2 brand new tyres and we’re back on our way to market!

Ok, so an hour later and we arrive at a small pier. All 5 of us boarded a narrow long boat which took us to the market. First thing I noticed is how dirty the water was! We’re going at a relatively good pace too and I can feel the occasional splash of this dirty water land on my cheek or upper lip – so I held my hand over my mouth to prevent any ‘sprays’ actually going IN my mouth, gross hah!

I sat at the back just in front of the driver so with the splashes, the constant ‘buzzing’ sound of the engine and the fumes of smoke and fuel surrounding me, it’s no wonder I felt a little nauseous! Sights reminded me of some parts of Thailand I’d already seen before or Cambodia even. Houses on stilts and people living in awful conditions. I even saw one woman washing her dishes in this dirty brown water and there I was, hand over my mouth terrified of even getting a drop in my mouth – it made me feel as though I was being stuck up but of course I wasn’t. I’m sure our immune systems are set up differently. The waters seemed pretty quiet at this point too…apart from the odd boat going our way, kicking up a few mini waves as they scooted on past!

Finally! We’ve arrived at the market. The ‘tour’ guide showed us where we could get the boat around the market and also our meeting point for ‘home time’. To be honest, I wouldn’t class this guy as a tour guide…just someone who was on our bus who got out and pointed us in the directions we should go and that was it! Great job! He didn’t come back with us either so I don’t know where he went.

Anyways, I headed straight for the boat trip around the actual market, it was 150 baht for 30 minutes (which is a little over 3 quid). I think we got slightly more than 30 mins too because of the traffic on the waters, loved it! So glad I booked this tour, it was 450 baht for half a day (10 quid) and that included all transport to and from however, no lunch but it’s so cheap to eat at the markets I wouldn’t worry! Just bring snacks for the bus and your ipod!

So an even narrower boat pulls up which you just ‘step’ into and omg, it’s so wobbly! You all have to sit in perfect balance to avoid it tipping hah! I was 2nd in front – in front of me was the rather cute Brazilian who I noticed was also into photography! Enviously eyeing up his Canon, I found it interesting watching what he was taking snaps of but I also remember thinking ‘Why isn’t he taking this shot, or that one?’ But hey, that’s the beauty of everyone being unique and individual right?

What an experience! I absolutely loved this place and could have stayed all day long! You sail past static stands either side selling all sorts from hats, to shades, scarves and ‘tourist tat’ and if you even so much as made the slightest bit of eye contact, they’d pull your boats in hah! But my favourites were the mobile boat ‘shops’ The boaters would slowly row past you with rich offerings of mango’s and sticky rice, tins of Chang beer or spring rolls or you’d see boats piled high with banana’s or coconuts…it’s a wonder they didn’t sink hah! One boat even had furnace going….heating up oil so the ladies could fry some bananas for you as a tasty treat! Yummy, gobble gobble! The UK’s health and safety commissioner would have had a field day here I tell thee!

Every sense gets a treat here! Smells of spice clashing with sweet aromas hit my nose with such explosions and my eyes were treated to authentic sights of how I imagined a ‘true Asia’ to be. Bright colours, hustle and bustle, people chanting (or yelling!) “For you Miss, special price”, exotic smells and explosive tastes! Was I in fact in India?? It also felt like the set of a James Bond movie! I’m sure Roger Moore was filmed running along the top of these narrow boats in one scene hah?

After a few hours exploring and much fun bartering, it was time to get back on the bus. An underground train later and I now had Prom Ratchada in my sights!

Colourblind Colourist! 

Well…I decided to finally face the choppers and go in search of a much needed haircut for my locks were now seriously matching those of Worzel Gummidge! (for those who don’t remember him, search google images)

I found a nice local hairdresser who seemed to understand what an inch was. Heck, she even convinced me to have a splash of colour….yeh why not, 26 quid was considerably cheaper than the UK and it could do with ‘something’ to make it look anything but scarecrow like! So a nice looking caramel / honey blonde and a trim sounded great right…..wrong!!

The colour was on and gradually setting. I remember looking in the mirror thinking ‘hmmm, it’s looking a little orange up top! Ah maybe that’s just the inbetween stage?’ Well……it wasn’t!! Once everything was finished, washed out and cut….I was just lost for words! Yup, I had a carrot top hahaha! I actually find it funny now but at the time I wanted to cry. The hair dresser knew I didn’t like it and offered to change it but after she showed me photos of how she thought it’d looked (glamorous photos of blonde actresses etc) I could see she saw differently to me and kindly declined! Oh my goodness….her version of blonde was actually borderline ginge – and of course there is nothing wrong with ginger, it just doesn’t suit me!

Well feeling a little sorry for myself, I decided to take me, myself and my carrot top out shopping! I picked a place on the map and went for it!

Victory Monument

Victory Monument in Bangkok is a great place to shop. It’s full of markets for one – yes, yes, you’d think I would have had enough of markets by now but I just love the bartering too much! I’m not always good at it…some market owners just won’t budge but it’s fun trying all the same and you get such a buzz when you ‘win’ haha! It’s like real life ebaying I guess!

I just love getting around BKK too, it is SO easy. I have attached a map below for other travellers to have a look but you’ll get an idea of how easy it it! To get to Victory Monument from Thailand Cultural Centre…I needed to get the underground (pale blue line) to Sukhumvit where you then change to the Sky Train (blue line) at Asoke station (just across the road from the Underground) and that’s it! So much easier than London.

Later on, I arranged to meet my pal Tomo for a night of partying oooh yehhh! Being a Buddhist holiday though most places were closed (and no alcohol will be sold for a further 3mths!! Boo!) Tomo found a place that would be open – Red Sky Bar in Grand Centara Hotel which is by Chid Lom station….so again it would be a trip on Underground followed by a few stops on the Sky Train = sorted!

Party at S39! 

Finally reaching Chid Lom Station, the Grand Centara hotel was about a 10 minute walk from there. I’m hoping it’s nothing like the Hangover’s Sky Bar as that was ridiculously expensive (remember hah!) Note to self: No very berry cocktails for sure tonight!! 😉

So I get to the hotel and you then have to get a series of lifts to reach floor 55 where the bar is…finally reaching the top, I’m walking around and spot my friend Tomo…”You hoo!” It was great to catch up over a raspberry vodka (ok, not quite a very berry though hehe!). I was telling her about my next plans to hit Oz when coincidentally a pair of Aussie guys were sitting behind us! “Firstly, you need to work on your accent!” Said the darker haired one of the pair! ‘Oh no!’ I was thinking ‘how long have they been there?!’ Anyways, they were giving me tips of where to go and what to do etc and then before we knew it, the bar tender announced last orders. We felt like staying out but everywhere was shut! Walking outside, Tomo and I asked a cabbie if he knew of anywhere open…the 2 Aussie guys were still ‘hanging’ around and asked if they could join us…hmmm, ok. After I warned them I had a whole can of mace in my bag and a Thai kick boxing boyfriend they promised we’d be safe hah!

Well, the taxi man knew of a club called S39 that was open to the wee small hours, sounded great! “I take you for free but you must go in” The cabbie man was beckoning all 4 of us inside the taxi. Well, of course we were all ‘should we, shouldn’t we’. There are horror stories of tourists being robbed down alleys etc but we figured with 4 of us together, we should be alright. “So, what’s in it for you if the ride is free?” I asked…..”I get bonus” He replied with a wink. “I see, Ok, let’s do it”.

Pulling up at the club, we could see a mix of locals and tourists coming and going. Entry fee was 300 baht (just under 7 quid) but you get a free drink with your entry ticket. On the way in you get searched by security. Just as I was asked to open my handbag, I jokingly said “I have a whole bunch of drugs and weapons in there!” but the security guy didn’t actually understand what I was saying so the joke was lost on him hah! The 2 Aussie guys offered to buy a round but don’t worry….I made them drink our drinks first so we knew they were ok hah! But they were harmless, they were just tourists like myself (Tomo lives in BKK you see so she’s a ‘local’ now) and we had a good night of dancing and socialising until the morning sun shone in…..By 8am we were all sat around in MacDonalds having breakfast! Woo hoo! Go hard or go home right!

By the time I got back to my hotel, well, that was it….out for the count Zzzz…..

I did skype my Papz later on in the evening and it was SO lovely to see and hear him as it always is when I get the chance to speak to ma folks 🙂 My Dad interestingly pointed out that whenever I mention the school, I call it ‘Home’ ! Oh dear! I never noticed that myself hah!

Home and Away! (Wednesday 24th July)

Ok, so I’m up, packed and checked out to head for the bus ‘home’ to the school! So it’s the underground to Kamphaeng Phet station, a short cab ride to Morchit Bus Station and then the Nakhorn Chai Air bus headed for Buriram. To be honest, I’m not overly joyed at the thought of going back…the hamster was set free for a week and she really didn’t want to get back in her cage, ho hum! Only another week and then I will be going to Sydney, Australia woo hoo!! And I can’t wait for a change of scenery! I feel as though my itchy feet have now developed into more of a bad case of Athletes foot, nice! So not too much longer until Helen the explorer can finally satisfy that itch!

5 hours later and I’m back! I see there’s a canister of food just inside the front porch too…”Aww, maybe they left me some dinner for my arrival?” WRONG….I opened up the first compartment and nearly dropped it in horror!! The rice was moving….yep, it was filled with hundreds of maggots YUK! I casually replaced the lid and then had my freak out haha! How gross.

Moving to the bathroom, I also noticed the giant ants had set up a full blown nest in the sink!! They’d blocked every hole with dirt of somekind and made smaller entry and exit holes within the hole if that makes sense….very strange! So the house had been taken over and needed a darn good scrubbing! I also noticed my family of geckos had laid a few more eggs too 🙂 Still no sign of the older ones hatching yet and it seems I won’t ever get to see them hatch now that I’m leaving soon.

Thursday and Friday I wasn’t asked to teach one lesson = a very bored and dull Readders. Oh well, this is ok for me now as my last and final week will be a week of ‘Home and Away’ planning and oh boy how I can’t wait to get back on that running machine of adventure and onto new and exciting ventures 😀

p.s. I have put more photos of the market in to the ‘Kodak Moments’ page 😉

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Chong Jom / O’Smach visa run…

As you may remember from my last blog, I was quite worried about this visa run. Having an over-active imagination as well as hearing about visa scams etc, it was only natural for the Readders to fret a little. All I could hear in my head was the ‘What if I do get scammed?’ ‘What if I get refused a visa?’ ‘What if they detain me?’ Haha. My busy mind was soon put to rest when I found out my lovely colleague and friend Beau would be accompanying me 😀

I wanted to write about my personal experiences (and include photographs) to help other travellers who may be independently entering (and exiting) via the same border entry point.  I found it quite difficult to find all the information so I really hope fellow border trippers find this of use (of course, feel free to message me and I will happily help if I can).

Today has been a rather eventful day and one which I care to forget! Most people don’t have any problems I’m sure but just mark my words…have your wits about you and never let your guard down, not even for a second! Here’s why…..

Road Trip! 

Ok, a few days earlier than planned…Beau offered me a lift to Cambodia (Thursday 11th July) for my visa run. I snapped the offer up otherwise, I was looking at 2/3 buses plus an overnight stay which I really didn’t fancy much! With my passport packed, a passport photograph, 2,000 Thai Baht currency (overboard incase!) my camera, ipod and mini speakers for the car journey (of course!), we were readdy to rock!

The drive from Nang Rong, (Buriram Province) to the Chong Jom / O’ Smach Cambodian border didn’t take as long as I thought, about 2hrs tops with the traffic. It’s pretty much a straight road from Nang Rong which connects you to Surin, Sisaket, Ubon Ratchathani. It’s a pleasant drive too, lots of beautiful scenery to take in – rice paddies, buffalo oh and there was one field that had lots of suspicious looking plants growing on it haha!

We pulled into a coffee shop for a quick fix. “Oh can we stop by a foreign exchange place en-route so I can make sure I have $20 USD for immigration?” I asked, whilst ordering an iced chocolate over the usual cappuccino. “Sure, we can find a bank on the way”. Fab! At the current exchange rate, I calculated $20 to be around 627 THB so I rounded this up to 650 THB to be sure. Back in the car, it only felt like 10 minutes before we came across a bank! Beau did all the talking for me (useful hey!) and it turned out the bank only had $3 or a $100 dollar bill?! Very strange! Well, I certainly didn’t need $100 and $3…you call yourselves a bank of ‘money’ hah! “Don’t worry, immigration accept Thai Baht” The Cashier convinced me it would be alright but I’d read on other peoples blogs that you should show up with the correct money – well heed this warning fellow border trippers…YOU DO!!

“We’re here!” (best said in the style of the little girl from poltergeist!)

An album or 2 later from the ipod and we finally arrive at the border line. We are soon ushered into a car park so we can walk in to sort the necessary paperwork. There are 2 car parks…the first one is rather expensive so if you can, enter the 2nd one (which is literally straight after the expensive one!).

With all relevant documents, we take a walk over to the first check point which is the ‘Passport Control Departure’. For me, I had to pass through  3 points (the 2nd was where I had to obtain my Cambodian visa so for those of you who already have the visa, you won’t need to worry about this bit).

1st point: 

Nice and easy. Here you will complete your Thai departure card and be given new ones to complete and keep for if and when you return to Thailand. These are normally stapled into your passport but here they are not so put them in your pocket or bag!

Once you’ve filled in your departure card, you will then hand this to the Thai Immigration Officer through the small window at the border pass office so they have a record of you ‘leaving’. I got a telling off here because you’re not allowed to take photos! So I snapped what I could and am happy to share them at the end hehe!

Once the easy bit is over with, you then walk through to what I call ‘no man’s land’ You are greeted by all sorts of people here…listen to no one and just keep walking! Tuk Tuk drivers, people promising you ‘help’ with your visa oh and then there are the beggers.

As cute as these kids may be and as harsh as this may seem, I would encourage you NOT to give them any money. Thai people have always told me to give them things like empty plastic bottles which may seem odd but they can use these bottles to earn a living from (recycling or something). But anyway, these kids are professional pick-pocketers! Fagin would certainly be a very proud old git!

With small, nimble and very fast fingers, even the most savvy person needs to be weary! To give you an example of how good they are; say you’re watching a magician and you’re watching good and hard and even with your sharpest pair of eyes on, you still can’t figure out how he did it…well yup, that is how good these lil kids are!

As soon as Beau and I entered ‘no mans land’…we were swarmed by small begging children. In fact, I think this is how they are so good because it confuses you, you don’t know where to look first! Well, it certainly made me feel bewildered. My eyes were busy darting all over the place when suddenly, the swarms seemed to disappeared as quick as they had arrived! Finally having the space to breathe, Beau and I had a walk around. Most people were going into the nearby Casino – apparently this crossing point is known for visa running athletes  or casino spenders!

After a bit of fun of taking each others photos with one foot in Thailand and one foot in Cambodia I realise my arrivals / departure card is missing! “Oh my god, where is it?” Panicking, I turned all my pockets out and practically tipped the contents of my bag on the floor. I routed through everything…nothing! We even retraced our steps and did a huge sweep of the area and still nothing. I then gasped… “Those kids….those lil beggers!” Beau agreed, “Oh no, they must have taken it” Beau came with me to report it to the Thai Immigration Officer who assured me it will be Ok. “Don’t worry about the card, you receive a new one when you leave Cambodia and re-enter Thailand. And no one can do anything with your passport number unless they have the actual passport” Ah well that’s ok then isn’t it, I’m sooo relieved, not!

Finally giving up the hunt and accepting that someone somewhere now had my ‘details’, we moved onto stage 2.

2nd point: One Visa please…?! 

Ok, so this part only concerned me as Beau is a Thai national so she didn’t need a visa to enter Cambodia.

Walking over to ‘part 2’ I had to fill out the required documents for my Cambodian tourist visa.

Immediately, the Officers had a different ‘air’ about them…I certainly didn’t get a good feeling from them and Beau (having chatted with the officials) told me she found them to be very rude.

Filling out the paperwork with my right hand, my left hand was tightly clutching my 600 THB and I made sure they could see my wad as I wanted them to know that I ‘knew’ the procedure and also that I had figured how much was needed! Handing it all over a new ‘Officer’ appeared. He spat the words “1,100 THB” and looked down his nose at me. “No it isn’t. A visa is $20, the conversion is just over 600 THB!!” Even in my most assertive voice he simply shook his head and said “1,100 THB or no stamp” Trying my best not to get annoyed (as this is called losing face remember) again I ‘politely’ disagreed with him. At deadlock point and neither party budging, Beau asked what the problem was. The ‘Officer’ said he’d only accept the right currency but he wanted $25 and if not, then it had to be 1,100 THB! We put our foot down and said no way, the visa is $20 and that’s all they’d get. Finally, agreeing at $20 the Officer told us to change the money in the building just across from us (which was the final check in point).

So, off we trot to the ‘sign in’ point to get the Thai Baht changed into Dollars. “No, you can’t change the money here, you must go into Cambodia to change the money!” WHAT!! Ok, I was really starting to get annoyed now for there was no way I was overpaying for a visa that is officially $20. How dare they try this on. Were both check points syndicate to some kind of scam here? Both say no so you end up having to cough up the money to get your stamp?! Poor Beau agreed to run into Cambodia for me to change my money as she was pretty much good to go…all Beau needed was a quick stamp in. Handing Beau 700 THB, I stood in wait and watched her hop on a motorbike taxi and disappear into Cambodia! Luckily, Beau was only about 10 mins. Handing me a $20 bill, I then marched on over to check point 2.

“20 dollars” I barked! Wow, I never thought I could do the ‘mean face’ but I definitely found it that day! Well, after having my arrivals card stolen from right under my nose and then all of this visa pa-larva, strewth, it’s enough to give anyone a bad case of the grumps right?

The ‘Officer’ snatched the money and issued me with my Cambodian visa. We later found out that this ‘Officer’ was indeed not an official officer! What the! It just gets worse. What a strange set up…the officers at the check point were real of course but looking back, they seemed like ‘silent sitting puppets’…they issued the visa (don’t worry, that was real too) and did the paperwork for me but the guy demanding the money said to Beau afterwards that he ‘knew’ the officers and would give them the money?! Huh. In other words, he would have pocketed the extra if I had paid in Baht! What surprises me is that this actually happens in front of the official officers? It all seems very corrupt to me. And I would suggest you DO NOT give in and just ‘pay up’ as it will only encourage this kind of behaviour further.

Beau and I did report it when we finally left Cambodia but the Thai Immigration Officer didn’t even seem surprised by it..clearly a regular occurrence. He said we did the right thing though. It doesn’t even bear thinking about what the hell I’d have done if Beau wasn’t there! She was my angel that day and I’m so very grateful.

Final check point

Phew! With all the ‘dramas’ over with, I walked over to the final check point and filled another form out. Here you have to state where you are going so it’s fine to just pop down ‘Siem Reap’ – in fact, the Officers pretty much told me to state that!

Both possessing ‘legal’ entry into Cambodia, Beau and I decided to each hop on a motorbike taxi and visit the local market to find something to eat. That was our original plan to go into Cambodia for lunch and then straight back out again haha! Beau had already been to the market as this was where she exchanged my money earlier.

The market felt so dodgy and again, I’m really glad Beau was with me! For it felt as though people were ‘watching our every move’ – The market has eyes haha! ‘The square shaped market felt more like a second hand jumble sale. Similar to ordinary markets, we could see an array of clothing stalls, fake handbags and fragrance brands, displays of  jewellery and various food stalls trying to entice us but to be honest, neither of us really fancied eating there.

Locals were either sitting by the roadside on dirty old knackered plastic chairs (or actually on the curb’s edge) or they were chatting to each other in their groups whilst sitting on the backs of motorbikes as if waiting for business. Wide, dirty and dusty roads guided us round to more stalls and new aromas (most of which were all bad). Well, we’d seen enough so after a quick walk round, we hopped back on a motorbike and went to the border once more.

The Exit

Easy peasey of course! You simply get stamped ‘out’ at the point you were stamped ‘in’ ! The Officers didn’t look too happy though for whatever reason. I’d heard of people being asked for money to exit but I wasn’t asked for a dime, dollar, pound, nothing! You are NOT required to pay anything so do not let yourself be fooled by them if you are indeed asked!

The Officer just looked at me , raised an eyebrow and questionably said “So you are not going to Siem Reap?” I cheekily replied with “Nope!” With that, I was officially stamped out.

You simply then walk back over to the Thai Immigration point, fill in your Thailand arrival card and come on back in! Woo hoo! 🙂

“Right Beau….let’s go find something nice to eat!” And with that, we practically wheel spinned outta there!

Summary

– Go in with the right money IN the right currency

– Stand your ground

– Be vigilant

– Trust no one!!

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Great Adaptations!

Wow, so I’ve now survived 3wks, nearly 4 as an English Teacher, phewie! The past 2wks have been all about adapting and learning to set boundaries. Whilst it has been a good couple of weeks, it has also left a ‘serious after thought’ in my mind. My first week was all about ‘Wow, there’s an english person here to help us learn and teach’ ‘Wow, look at the white person’ etc..but now, life at the school has had to get real. I guess, if I could just pick words to summarize the past few weeks…I would choose; ‘frustration, heart-ache, hard work, thought provoking, and yes…tears’ !!

Always on call! 

I tell ya, I have a whole new respect for teachers! Well, I mean, not that I didn’t respect them before of course, but now having played a part in their routines and lessons and ‘worn the teachers hat’, I just don’t know how they do it each and everyday! Oh my word have I been tired! Instead of being the newbie who is meant to be full of energy, I am just tired all the time! I guess this is because I am living onsite at the school so wherever you go, whatever you do, you will always bump into a kid or 3! You literally have to be on your best behavior, giving the biggest smiles and the ever attentive ears at all times! Even at the weekends, you get ‘disturbed’…the kiddies will come to the house to see what you’re doing or come to drag you out to play which is rather sweet but at the same time, I do like my own space just like we all do and all need at times. Swearing has far left my vocab now (for my Mum and Dads ears – not that I swore a lot of course haha! 😉 ) but anything you say, they will mimic and remember! Actually, now there’s a thought…why do kids always seem to remember the bad words hah! I bet if you taught a lesson swearing throughout, they’d remember the dam lot haha! Swearing the phonics at them, they’d be b****y geniuses!

Clingons….not in the star wars sense, nor any other sense!

Ok, now the serious part! It became evident after the first week that I had the beginning of a small fan club. I’m not saying this to sound big headed but the teachers did warn me that you may experience a few ‘clingons’ haha. Being new and different, the children naturally see you as a new play mate right! Well, Lek (the lady boy who I introduced you to in week 1) was my main clingon, then there is Gun, another cute little fella who is just lacking love and attention! Other followers include a few young girls who just want to play with my hair and draw pictures of me…so cute!

Lek was really my own main problem. From the start we were watching Youtube videos together almost everyday! Well I had no idea that the students weren’t allowed in the computer rooms unless they were doing homework / projects etc…oops! The students are fully aware of the rules of which I wasn’t so he took advantage of my ‘newness’! But other problems arose…Lek really wanted the DVD collection of the British hit Merlin! One evening I was skyping my Mum and Nana’s and he came over and interrupted asking them “Have you ever heard of Merlin? I want the Dvds, series 1,2,3 and 4!” Well, of course my poor Mum and Nana’s agreed to get them for him to which he replied “Don’t lie to me!” Well, in the end, I had to tell him this wasn’t going to happen for 3 reasons: 1. Dvd regions are different 2. It will all be in English and 3. I can’t be seen getting one student a Dvd and not all other 700 of them! Eventually (and even though he didn’t look happy about it), Lek understood!

Finally with that drama over with another one started! “I’m staying at my sisters on the weekend. We can take you to Phanom Rung Ruins” Lek sounded really excited! My first response was “Sure” but then he asked to borrow my mobile to call his sister which I stupidly let him! “Great, she said it’s all fine! I can’t wait!” He then clapped his hands and then ran off to class. Um, hang on a minute…what just happened here? At lunch time in the canteen I consulted Tomb and Pinto…”I may have got this wrong but I think Lek just invited me to stay at his sisters house for the weekend and he’s taking me to see the ruins?!” I explained! “Can someone just talk to him for me and let him know that I’m not comfortable with that. I don’t mind a day out but not to stay over!” “Oh no! Of course, we’ll speak to him Helen don’t worry!” A surprised looking Tomb exchanged a glance and nodd with Pinto for they would deal with him after lunch! Later on in the day, Tomb and Pinto explained that Lek had been spoken to and they were really pleased I informed them both. Not sure I can go into details but it didn’t exactly sound ‘safe’ for me to stay at the house (not that I was planning to anyway) but they also brought it to my attention that even if I did have a ‘day out’ with him and his sister…should anything happen to either of us, I would be the one liable! Umm…Ok, I was thinking, can we just forget the whole thing!? I’m more than happy to take myself off to see the ruins anyway! Lek did come and find me a few days later saying how upset he was that he couldn’t take me to see the ruins but I just laughed it off. I later found out that he even asked one of the teachers to drive us both there and back seeing as I couldn’t stay over…the cheeky lil thing! Anyways, drama dealt with! Since then, Lek has backed off and he seems to be leaving me to get on and ‘teach’ which is a good thing!

It’s one thing being a friend to the students, but my first lesson has taught me that you must set the boundaries!

Summary of Week 2!

With the tiredness aside and clingons finally loosing their grip, I am now pretty much set up here! I share a timetable with Pinto so I know what I am teaching and as long as I have my lesson plans in place and enough material to last a 50 minute session I’m fine. I am treated more as a ‘floating’ teacher. If another english teacher wants to ‘borrow’ me for a lesson, I now get ‘booked’ up which is rather funny…I feel like an english consultant or something hah!

– Thai Time

Yes, there really is such a thing as ‘Thai time’ if I haven’t already banged on about it! The 2nd week was a bit of shambles in my opinion. Teachers booking me up but then either showing up 20 minutes late or sometimes not at all…well, we all know that famous saying ‘The show must go on’…well, I had to make it happen, I couldn’t just not teach right? That was funny, teaching english without having a translator in the room! I could have waffled on about anything I liked and no one would have known a thing haha. The older grades were a pleasure to teach, they wanted to learn and even though they probably didn’t understand everything I was saying, at least they tried. The younger kids however, well, they would just run riot and if there wasn’t another teacher present..they were little monsters but saying that, as soon as the bell went, they would turn into angels and fetch my paper work and other bits and pieces and carry them back to the office for me! Huh! Annoyingly cute eh!

I’ve mostly been teaching the parts of the human body and also the names of english food for all of my 2nd week. The kids no matter the age, all loved the stickers game (sticking the word of the body part on to the volunteer!) and also the part where I would invite one of them up to draw me a skeleton on the blackboard (mainly because I simply can’t draw one of those hehe!)…They love it when they have to do something be it, singing, drawing or colouring in and each and everyone of them are amazing at drawing! Are kids just budding artists the minute they are born? I remember a time when I was good at drawing cartoons…I’d love to tell them to never stop drawing, no matter how old they get hah!

Oh one little boy has stuck in my mind actually, he is so funny! I was teaching his class about singular and plural…so I would go through the body parts and point out 1 eye or 2 and invite them to suggest what the plural word would sound like. Well, every time a pair came up, this little boy would shout out really loud at the top of his voice in a monotone pitch “S”  “Yes! Correct, well done, but how does it sound with the word?” I would reply…but again I got….”S” haha! Oh dear, we’ll get there eventually (I hope). Then I taught the same subject to a different class and right at that very moment, I asked them all the same question…this little boy walked past, popped his head around the door and shouted “S” through the doorway, I shouldn’t laugh but it was so funny! One of those moments where you had to be there really.

– Dinner lady…there’s a fly in my lunch, oh and another, and another!

Yup! The School’s canteen (well, everywhere you go in Buriram is riddled with flies to be honest) may as well open a separate tuck shop just for the flies! I can think of 5 types of flies that I’ve seen buzzing about but only 2 species are super annoying. You have the normal black fly that you get back at home and then there are the eeny weeny tiny flies which are massively annoying!!

The common black flies will land on you, your glass, your forks, chopsticks, plates and of course – your food! No matter how many times you swot and sway your arms about, they just don’t give up! I’m almost certain I ate one the other lunch time, they are that determined to grab themselves a free lunch! In fact, someone told me that it’s not a bad thing?! Really!! Because apparently it shows your food is natural and not full of chemicals. Hmm..not sure if I’d rather have a mouthful of flies or mouthful of chemicals?

So you have the ‘I love food and I love annoying humans’ kind of fly but hang on…keep your eyes out for the teeny weeny flies, literally – if you don’t look out for them, they’re certain to look out for you! Yep, they have a weird fetish for the human eye ball! I don’t know why but these little fella’s are determined to get inside your eye! You are constantly swotting them away! Being a contact lens wearer it’s a ‘germ concern’ well, of course even if you’re not but they are so irritating! I sit outside of an evening to skype my Mum, Dad and Nana’s and these flies are persistently buzzing around your face, your eyes!

Health wise, I haven’t actually been 100% since I started here at the school you know. My guess is because I haven’t stayed somewhere for too long so have been lucky to avoid bugs and germs but being surrounded by children, different food and fly infested food at that…I’m sure I’ve have had more tummy troubles than a bottle of Pepto Bismol could keep up with ha! I’ve even had all kinds of rashes and some in places I can’t even reach to scratch hah! Well, I’m sure by the time I move on, I will have an immune system as strong as an ox 🙂

– Plotting and planning

Among all the teaching, I have very busy getting back to basics, yep, plotting and planning again! Lesson plans, new ideas / subjects to teach and talk about  as well as trying to think ahead…I have also been busy planning a careers workshop ‘Route to Recruit’. It was like a light bulb suddenly exploded in my head “OMG, why don’t I hold a careers workshop after school for the 18 year olds?! I mean, that’s what my job was back in the UK, to get other people jobs right?” Bingo…I went straight into see June and she thought it was a great idea. Coincidentally I was teaching the 12th graders that day so we put the idea to them…”Yes, yes!” They all shrieked! Fab, sounds like a good plan then. So in the computer rooms of an evening (whilst flitting between facebook and hotmail) I have been putting together a 4 week course for them. This isn’t about teaching english, this will be teaching young adults how to prepare themselves for an interview and hopefully what to expect. I have been allocated a translator for all my speakers notes as well as on the night as I’m sure they’ll all have questions!

I have also been (trying!) to make my own personal plans…what the hell am I doing after this…where and when?! Well, I think I almost have the where’s covered, but I just need to figure out the when’s. I’ve had one dream to visit the beach where the ‘Beach’ was filmed…yes, yes, cliche whatever you want to call it. You can’t come to Thailand and not do that ‘beach’ right! It’s like going to Paris and NOT going up the Eiffel Tower right? But we are now in the rainy season and there have been storms a plenty over that way plus there is the threat of the dreaded dengue fever in the air. I know at least 2 people who have contracted the infection since going near this place…hmmm…maybe I’ll go there for a few days and back but I can only plan this around the weather. Then I’d like to whizz over to Australia for 4-6wks and then hit Indonesia for 4wks! I’d love to do another jungle trek but this time on the hunt for the illusive Orangutan! After Indo, I’ll fly back over to KL for 2-3wks before heading home!! Wow, home time is coming up faster than I thought! *Sighs*

I also need to plan a visa run in all of this too! Being close to Cambodia is such a bonus…I will bus or train it there, get stamped out of Thailand and into Cambodia and hang about for a few hours, maybe the night? Then it’ll be a quick stamp out of Cambodia and back into Thailand for my 3rd and final stamp! I will need to have my wits about me too as there are a lot of visa scams entering cambodia. I have also heard the immigration like to try their luck and ask you for money just to exit again! I read on someone’s blog that they laid down on the floor and pretended to ‘go to sleep’  to avoid parting with any cash..well the immigration wanted to get rid of him sharpish to avoid any embarrassment but I’m not sure I’d have the guts to do that haha! I’ll have to think of something..

– Readdy for the weekend! 

Friday 21st of June was a knightmare! Everything just seemed to go wrong that day. The kids forgot to bring me my brekkie canister so I was pretty hungry by the time I’d got into the office. Then I was booked up for lessons in which again, the teachers were either late or just didn’t show at all. Oh and I even taught the wrong class haha! Only the Readders could do that right! Ok, I can laugh about it now but at the time I was pretty frustrated and totally embarrassed! I was asked to teach the 11th grade (16-17yr olds). Great I thought, a nice age and a good subject. Well, I couldn’t remember where the classroom was! Unfortunately I inherited my Dad’s shocking sense of direction hah! (sorry Papz). Mine is pretty appalling…I will sometimes go into a shop and then come out thinking…um…which way did I come in?! Oh dear haha…how have I survived travelling for this long I wonder? Well, anyway, I asked a group of passing students “Where is Grade 11, class 3?” They all pointed me to a building at the far end, “Lovely, thank you!” I replied, and then carried along my merry way! I can imagine my pony tail was whooshing and whipping from side to side at this point too hah! So, I get to the ‘building’ and I’m faced with corridor after corridor of rooms and doors! Most of them open and each filled with kids off all ages. Oh crap! Ok, ask someone…I found 3 teachers all hanging about doing well, nothing really so I asked them the same question. They soon pointed me into a room full of 35 odd screaming kids! Oh my god, are they serious? They don’t look 16-17yrs old, they looked about 10-11! Despite my protests and resorting to drawing the grade and class number in the air and asking them repeatedly “Are you sure?”, I was soon ushered into the room so I had no choice but to teach. Before the door was even shut, one of the Thai teachers ordered the little people up on their feet to do their welcome chant of  “Good morning Teacher, how are you?” Oh no…so after uttering a silent sigh under my breath, I went for it! It was terrible! Well, they didn’t understand me without a translator but to be honest, I don’t think they wanted to either! So I struggled on through and thanked the skies when bell when it went off! Then the monsters turned into little angels and helped me pack my props away!

– Sing us another song!

Finally, it’s 3.30pm and it’s Friday afternoon…school’s officially out oooh yeehhh! Pinto and ‘M’ one of the lady boy teachers invite me out for dinner and karaoke for the evening, hell yes, I could do with a beer or 3 to help dull my memory of teaching the wrong class. We had a fun night munching on grilled fish (they eat that a lot here…it’s funny seeing a huge grilled fish laid out on a plate staring up at you with it’s ‘popped’ yellow eye! You just each grab a fork and well, tuck in!), drinking Leo beer and singing our hearts out to a random selection of Thailands greatest hits to some good old classic Brit hits! M has the voice of an angel by the way! He used to enter competitions when he was younger and apparently he won every time. Well, as soon as he opened his mouth, wow! I couldn’t speak and I felt as though I must have looked like a puddle of melted butter on the floor haha! I loved it. He sang all in Thai though so I have no idea what he was saying or singing about but I didn’t care!

Saturday was a pretty rubbish day. The kids didn’t feed me at all that day so I was famished. There are no shops nearby, nothing is in walking distance and there are no taxi’s or tuk tuks around either. Plus there are some dodgy looking dogs just at the entrance of the school and after my experience with that dog from the monkey school in Surat Thani, I really didn’t fancy another run in. That’s the thing actually, I have developed a small fear of dogs. I believe that to be a good thing in Thailand anyways as you never know if they have rabies right? I think once I get back to the UK I will be fine. So Saturday I ended up tidying and hand washing my clothes in a huge bucket that I found on the porch. Oh and I found a yellow scorpion in my bin! Thankfully it was dead but it still sent shivers down my spine! Even though it was awesome, it was a clear reminder that these things are very real over here and apparently living in bins hah! So from now on, I always check my shoes and even my sleeping bag just incase one crawls inside for a night cap!

– Not completely ruined

Sunday was pretty cool. Beau invited me along to see the ruins – the place Lek wanted to take me to! We were to have a day out at Phanom Rung Ruins with 5 other students. So the schools truck toots outside at 10am to pick me. Beau greets me and ushers me into the truck where I see 5 excited students all sitting in the back, gossiping and taking photos of each other before they embark on their day out! Pulling the heavy truck door shut, we’re off! We stopped along the way to grab some coffee (and I was glad because I was feeling sleepy as usual hah!) and snacks and then carried on.

It took us about an hour to reach Phanom Rung Ruins. My ears were tuned in to the chatter from Beau and the students but both my eyes were busy taking in the views and sights along the way. We passed many lakes that were covered by blankets of beautiful pink Lotus Flowers, it was just like being back in Nam! They are amazing, they only open when the sun shines down on them and as soon as the moon rises, they close up for the night! Down each dusty, bumpy road we travelled, I would see locals going about their usual business, families (yep, Mum, Dad AND the kids) all miraculously balanced on their dodgy looking motorbikes and lone stray dogs either sleeping in the odd patch of shade or sniffing about the food stalls. We also pass lush green rice paddies and also another field full of plants that looked suspiciously like cannibus plants!? I was thinking to myself, if I was to hire a motorbike for the day, I’d never find my way back to the school you know! I’m not kidding, all the roads look the same hah!

So we finally get to the ruins and the school very kindly pay for my entrance fee, bonus! I guess it’s because it’s classed as an educational day out hey! I can see hoards of visitors (mostly of Asian ethnicity) snapping away with their huge Canons or Nikons reminding me why the hell didn’t I bring mine with me? Hey my Sammy will do just fine for now (Samsung!). And I can also see the usual tatty souvenir shops all lined up next to each other each displaying the same stock; ‘I heart Phanom Rung Ruins’ T-Shirts, pens, caps, keyrings and fridge magnets etc.. As soon as we walked through the entrance gates, I can see the ruins in the distance and to be honest, they look like a mini Angkor Wat. “Excuse me Miss, can I have photo with you?” Hah! Well, this is actually becoming a ‘normal’ occurrence! The Asian culture just seem to love having their photos with us ‘Westerners’ for some reason. I had this a further 4 x that afternoon!

So, we’re walking round and taking photos and generally enjoying out day out when suddenly we walked right onto the set of a music video, opps! haha! Of course, I had no idea who the singer was but apparently she’s quite well known over here…you show her picture to anyone here and they will know her. We stopped and watched for a while and the team even let me have my photo with the dancers from the video which was pretty cool! After all the excitement, we left in search of food, gobble gobble.

Summary of week 3

So it’s a new week and there’s a lot to be done. My first careers workshop is Tuesday evening so I’ve been busy adding the final touches to my introduction slides. Monday evening we had a huge thunderstorm and I gladly welcomed it…the storms always managed to cut through the blanket of hazy heat the day had smothered us in and even kept it away the following day. I was in the computer room tapping away at speed on the keyboard while the rain was hammering down on the roof. Cor, it’s like there’s some kind of musical production going on out there…the porch just outside the computer room is covered by a tin roof you see so it sounded like thousands of tin..no…iron buckets were hitting and bouncing off the roof and I could also hear toads croaking and singing to each other to come out and play, the odd chirping of crickets probably telling it’s ‘kind’ to run back inside the safety of their homes and then there are the beetles! Huge hard shelled beetles all come out and fly to any glimmer of light they can see so they’re flying under the porch and whacking themselves into the underside of the roof making a ‘clunk’ sound – but imagine a whole bunch of them all doing this…the industrial sized buckets made of iron splashing down and then the clunking of beetles banging into the tin roof haha! I had also stupidly left the door open to the computer room so of course, these huge beetles are all flying in for shelter and their lightbulb ‘fix’. I sat and watched them for a while and it did make me chuckle…I imagined these beetles were like little army soldiers wearing hard hats but their navigation systems are all out of sorts because they just clumsily (and repeatedly!) smash themselves into objects…even ME! I even found one in my hair when I got back to the house…how the hell did I NOT notice that, so gross! And they cling on for dear life! Once they’ve got a hold of whatever they’re sitting on, you have quite the job getting them off, determined lil buggers hah!

– The teacher becomes the taught! 

So we’re all sitting in the canteen having our lunch to which (as usual), I can’t really eat. Dam I’m missing all kinds of food right now. What I would give for a crispy bacon sarnie drowning in ketchup with of course, a good old English cup of tea mmmm!!! There is a selection of food in amoungst the fly infested chow to chose from..rice (as always), some kind of fermented fish soup and a plate piled high of dried out crispy fish! Oh my goodness did it smell, I actually felt rather nauseous..um, rice for me then! Laughter and chatter filled the air in the canteen with the odd interruption from a chinking fork or glass. Suddenly a man walked into the canteen carrying a big box in his arms. Everyone seemed to know straight away what was inside! Chairs screeched and scraped on the floor beneath them and teachers were practically skipping over to him! Before the man could get the box open, teachers were already extending 1 or 2 fingers at him as if to give a ‘pre’ order! I watched in curiosity as the first teacher exchanged a few baht for what was inside the goody box. A clear plastic bag full of a ‘black mass’ was handed over in exchange. Pinto came back with 2 of these bags…oh noooo! It’s black crickets! Gross! I should have recognised them. “Mmmm, delicious!” Pinto was already opening her bag and popping one straight in her mouth! My curiosity had to be satisfied…with one eyebrow raised I asked “Is there anything that us Brits eat which you Thai’s find gross?” “Um..yes, there is actually..cheese! Especially that mouldy one. Thai people can’t bear the smell, texture or taste!” Pinto then popped another 2 crickets straight in her gob. “Have you not noticed how we don’t even sell butter or milk?” Pinto was practically spitting crickets at me..I was worried I might get a cricket leg in my rice if she carried on talking with her mouth full hah! “Ah yeh, of course, that’s true. So you just don’t like dairy products full stop?” “I guess it’s just how we differ from you, we are more into our fish and rice”. “So what do these crickets actually taste of then…chicken haha?” I asked, shoving a spoonful of bland steamed rice in my mouth. “Prawns!” Pinto replied. “Oh haha…I was expecting you to say chicken! In England, we say everything tastes like that you see!” “Haha…everything here tastes like prawns!” (well, that’s kinda true actually..it’s either that or spicy to me!) June then walked into the canteen. She looked rather disappointed that she missed the ‘cricket man’ but Pinto offered her a handful with her lunch..yummy, fermented fish with a side order of crickets haha!

“Helen, I’ve been speaking with our music teacher. I realise how much you like music so I’ve arranged for you to take part in the lessons each week if you’d like?” June was already munching on her crickets before her main course (that tasty see!). “Wow, thanks June! I’d love to!” How exciting, I get to be a Thai music student. “When can I start?” I excitedly asked. “You can start after lunch today if you’d like?” “Yes, that’ll be FAB, thank you!” So that’s just what I did…

The school bell soon called me to my first music lesson and I couldn’t wait. The music department comprises of a small building stood on it’s own, it’s actually suspended on stilts hovering over a little lake, it’s rather sweet actually! Inside, the teacher welcomed me and enthusiastically ushered me to an instrument. Looking around the room before the class began, I could see an array of dusty music books, music stands, drums of all kinds – some on stands and some set on the floor. I could also see other instruments about the place, wooden panpipes, stringed instruments which were almost like horizontal violins that you pluck and ‘twang’ to change the pitch and tone..and then there were the wooden xylophones, that’s what I was learning today. Ok, doesn’t sound very exciting but it does actually produce a far from boring sound…it’s almost like a timbale but a wooden one of course hah! The instrument curved upwards at both ends so it was almost like a big ‘C’ shape. When I first hit the notes with my muffled beating sticks I thought the thing was out of tune – well, either that or I was hitting the wrong keys but no..that’s how they are meant to sound. Incredibly, when all the instruments are played together at the same time, they all come together and produce this very unique sound…the sound of traditional and rather beautiful’Thai’ music. No language was needed either, I found it rather easy to understand the teacher. The notes were written on the keys of the xylophone and the teacher would write what notes we were to play on the board. Again, I found it easy to realise when to play another bar or repeat certain lines etc..that’s the beauty of music, you just go with your gut and ‘read’ the teacher and ‘feel’ when to come in or drop out etc..I may have inherited my Dad’s appalling sense of direction but hey, with the ‘Readdys’ music in my blood, this is one trait that certainly makes up for it! 😉

At the end of the lesson I caught up with June to let her know how I got on. Apparently the music teacher had said I have a ‘good music sense about me’ 😀 “Helen, I also wanted to let you know, that we are getting the piano upstairs fixed” June sounded as though she couldn’t wait to tell me! Not sure if I mentioned but I spotted a piano here and the only one but the plug was missing..it’s an electric upright. “Ah wow! That’s great! So I can have a play in my free time!” I was rather excited..I had been itching to play again and see what I could remember etc..”I’d like to hear you play and also to the children. I want them to see you as an idol so it will give them encouragement to learn too” Um…what!! Ok, so I used to be able to play and to an ok standard (in my opinion). I used to practice everyday aspiring to play like the great gods of the music world including Bach and Beethoven but I haven’t tinkled on the ivory’s properly for some years now. It’s a great shame too. I could never read music, I really struggled with it so instead I would ‘listen and learn’ but by the time I reached grade 4, it became apparent that listening wasn’t going to cut it anymore and I had to be able to read to pass the exams, hey ho. I really hope I can learn to play again in my own time before I have a small audience hah!

I have also joined a pottery class too with the kids! Again, it was something June arranged for me..now it’s not like I’m a budding ‘potterist’ hah but it was fun all the same. When I got to the class room, it looked like the typical ‘arty’ room just like it did when I myself was back at primary school. There were ‘readdy made’ pots and vases and deformed looking animals and mugs etc..all sorts that had already been blasted in the kiln. It was quite funny, the teacher didn’t speak much english so he took me by the hand, guided me to a work bench and handed me a huge lump of clay! What was I supposed to make with that haha?! Then in Blue Peter style, he showed me a pen pot he’d made earlier! Ahh I see, so you want me to make a pen pot..ok, let’s do this! My lovely cleaned and pruned nails were soon clogged up with thick charcoal grey clay but that didn’t matter..we were all getting stuck in with our pots. Mine actually ended up looking more like a vase than a pen pot..or a pen pot for a giant and his giant stationary haha! Either way it was fun and the kids loved it and it was a great way to interact with them.

– Readdy to Recruit!

My first careers workshop is upon us and actually, even though I am a little nervous, I’m really looking forward to getting started!

Ready with my slides, speaker notes and handouts, the time has come for me to walk over to the allocated room. Along the way, I meet Beau who is my translator for the evening. I hadn’t actually seen the room so wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought maybe it was going to be just like any of the regular classrooms with a blackboard and few wooden desks? Well oh no…Beau unlocked the door and I was quite surprised at what I saw….

The room in my opinion was ‘President ready’! Everything looked so shiny and new! There was a raised platform ‘stage’ area with a huge pull down screen, a projector, a laptop, a speakers stand AND microphone! Omg! This was a full on professional conference room! When we first walked in, there was actually a movie playing from the laptop which was being projected onto the big screen. The Dolby surround speakers echoed and bounced the action scenes all around the room as though we were in a mini cinema! Well, they’ve certainly kept this little room a hidden gem! I suddenly felt super nervous and slightly under prepared. I wish I knew about the projector, I could have loaded a USB stick with my presentation rather than printing them but nevermind..it’s the quality of the pitch that really counts tonight hey.

So I’m busy getting ready and switching on the microphone and making sure all of my notes were in order. The microphone was awesome! My voice boomed from behind the speakers stand and it seemed as though my dulcet tones shot right to the back end of the room and straight back into my face hah! (I could imagine my hair blowing backwards at this point looking just as it would if you were riding up front in a convertible car haha. There goes my imagination again!) I actually really wanted to belch down the mic for a laugh! But of course, not very professional of me hehe. I think I was then punished for that thought as I then got a small shock as I twiddled the mic towards me. “YEOUCH!” Beau told me to put my shoes on (in Thailand, you must leave your shoes at the door you see but the electric shock let me off). Outside I could hear a storm brewing so I wondered what the turn out was going to be like. Maybe the kids will want to stay tucked up in their dorms rather than listen to me rant on about how to get a J.O.B? But then suddenly the door swung open and a few of the grads waltzed in, then a few more, and a few more until 30 odd filled the now not so vacant seats in front of me. Gulp..I’d better not freeze up here..mini pep talk going on in my head as usual ‘C’mon Hels, you can stand up and welcome 700 kids, you can do this too!’ Phew..a couple of rather large gulps from my pint of water (yes, yes, was totally wishing it was a pint of another kind!) Beau then looked at me and gave me the ‘nod’ to make a start!

“Hello! Good evening everyone. Thank you for joining me tonight for the first stage of ‘Route to Recruit'” I then started clapping, I don’t know why but it felt right..plus, it was almost biding me more time to think of where to take it next hah! Clapping is so infectious isn’t it..just like laughing I guess, it’s one of those things that people just instinctively copy. Before the clapping died down, I quickly scanned my notes to get the evening started. I was a bit nervous and you could probably hear it in my crackly voice over the super sonic boom mic but actually once I’d got past the first introduction and course outline, it was fine, well, it went great infact if I may say so myself haha! To finish, I asked the student to apply for one of the graduate jobs from my ‘fake job ad’ that I had created! The students at the end said they really enjoyed it and could I present stage 2 that same very week! So just like the weather outside, I guess you could say Route to Recruit went down a storm haha! So with the next evening / time agreed, I shot straight to the computer rooms after to make sure I had enough material for stage 2. I ended up working on stage 3 too so I could stay ahead.

The second stage again went well with the students. I loved it too because once the initial oh my god I have to talk to them about work fear was over…It became more about the ‘I really want to help them and I hope they find this useful (and take it in hah)’ Stage 2 was their interview invitations (from the fake job ad they applied for a few days earlier) and the ‘how to’ prepare for an interview / research etc. The 3rd stage will be ‘how to’ prepare themselves (i.e. what to wear), greeting the interviewer, body language and attitude and the general do’s and don’ts. The final stage will be all about the interview, the typical questions, how to answer them and then of course…the mock interviews woo hoo! I’m sure they’ll be looking forward to that one, not!

– Back to the Big Smoke!

With the end of the week approaching, I decided to escape for the weekend for a much needed break! As I mentioned, being on your best behaviour for 3 wks 24/7 is very tiring haha! So I arranged to meet some Thai friends and go party in stinky Bangkok woo hoo!

It was very sweet actually but June dropped me off at the bus station late Friday afternoon and she even chatted to the ticketers for me to make sure I got on the right bus, bless her. I didn’t have to wait long, within minutes my bus pulled in and immediately I felt like a kid when I spotted it was a double decker woo hoo…well guess where I’m going to sit..yup, up top of course haha! So minus the invisible man, I clamber on with a small kitchen sink haha… yes, even with my mini rucksack I still manage to bring everything I DON’T actually need but want and end up paying the price! So kitchen sink and Sammy slung over one shoulder (my Samsung camera!), it’s up top I go. Ah dammit, the front seats have all been nabbed…oh well, as long as I get a window seat I’m happy! June waved me off right up to the point I couldn’t see her anymore haha, she was like my stand in Thai Mum that day aww. On go the headphones, out comes the book and I’m sorted.

Half way there, I’m staring out the window deep in thought as usual when…oh great…just seen a dead dog slap bang in the middle of the road! It’s eyes were open and still twinkled in the sun so it must have just happened! I couldn’t get the image out of my head 😦 I’m surprised it’s still there actually..In Vietnam that would have been made into a hot pot already! You think I’m joking, dog is quite the dish over there!

Finally I arrive at Bangkok bus station and immediately before I’ve even stepped one foot onto Bangkok territory you get the chants of “Excuse me Miss…where you go…taxi Miss!?” Grrrr…I’ve learnt to never get the first ones you are greeted with..take a bit of a walk and you’ll soon find a whole bunch of registered (and metered) taxi’s. Again, just be careful to watch the meter thing – as you’ve probably realised in amongst my bloggings somewhere that some taxi dudes will try to rip you off by either setting a price to ride or just won’t bother turning on the meters at all. Metered taxi’s will always be cheaper. I love telling them no nowadays haha! They don’t get offended, just be firm with them and don’t get angry as they call this ‘losing face’. I’ve also learnt that if you upset one Thai, you upset a whole bunch of em! I witnessed a fight brewing in Koh Sarn Road between a German guy and a Thai tuk tuk driver. Things were getting a bit heated when a local joined the tuk tuk driver making it 2 against 1. I asked my Thai friend what was going on etc and he said the other Thai guy who spoke to the Tuk Tuk driver was basically saying ‘If you want me to hit him, let me know!’ It died down in the end but just goes to show hey! Anyways, sorry, going off on one as usual. So I get to my hotel, unload and unwind! Ahh a nice hot shower, beats the cold one at the school haha! Oh nooo, I realise I’ve lost the tablet to my charger! Well, either that or it’s rolled out my kitchen sink and under one of the chairs on the double decker! But I wasn’t going to let that ruin my mini break hah!

I had a great time! I managed to pack quite a few things in such as the cinema, bowling, karaoke, clubbing, a visit to the Saxophone Bar, a Thai massage, watched a break dancing contest oh and a little bit of shopping. Hey I even very randomly spotted a guinea pig in a bush by the MBK Mall!! Yes, a guinea pig in a bush! I walked over to it to see if it was alright?! Very strange, was this where it’s owner let it live or had it escaped? I grabbed the attention of a nearby security looking official and pointed at this ginger guinea pig…”Look, look!” I said waggling my index finger at it. He didn’t even batter an eyelid! There was in fact a rather large stick of cucumber tucked under the bush next to him so um…I guess he lived in there? But before I could do anything about it, the security guy ushered me away from it so I didn’t really know what to do !?

Another very random thing happened in the Mall…I walked past this lil cute kid and as I walked on, I heard his Mum say “Go on….” the next thing I know, this lil fella was standing very wobbly next to my ankles and he just stared up at me! haha…His Mum came over and said hello to me. “He wants you to pick him up. It’s strange because he never lets anyone pick him up or even touch him but he pointed at you as you walked past and wanted a cuddle!” Um…I was thinking…’Ok’ so I picked him up and made a bit of a fuss of him haha. I think I was blushing a bit because so many Thai people  were glancing over and even taking photos! My friend Ken was with me at the time and he offered to take a photo of me and this lil dude. Hey, maybe the kids can sense I work in a school now haha!??

Anyway, I managed to get a new charger for my tablet! Later in the evening, I plugged my new charger in to power up the tablet overnight and what a disaster! I was in the middle of watching a film, The Hunger Games (great film btw!) when suddenly….. ‘POP!’ What the hell!? Everything then blacked out! I was in total darkness for the lights, the fridge the TV…everything had completely shut down! Oh crap! The power had gone…all that was left was a stinky, burning plasticy smell. Um…must be the charger?! I opened the door and saw everyone still had power..yep, def something to do with in here. Carefully I unplugged the charger and it was burning hot..the plug was singed to a dark smokey grey…oh no…haha, I’m going to have to report this at Reception! Well it was all fine in the end. It was something to do with a power ‘reverse’ but they sorted in a matter of minutes…good o’, I wanted to catch up with my film haha..

– Back to School 

After a weekend of much partying, chilling and socialising it’s time for me to head back to the school and there is a lot I need to do right…for the careers workshop needs finishing and I must get on and get prepared for Oz and Indonesia! Then there are the visa’s to sort, oh boy! Cambodia run and Oz application! I’m sure it will all come together, it always does.

My bus is 30 mins late but again, I grab the Nakhorn Chai Air from Bangkok to Buriram. They are good these buses because you get given a bottle of water, a small dinner (usually chicken and rice) and then a carton of soya milk before you get off. They are nice and roomy too oh plus, the seats are massage seats haha! You just press a few buttons and away it goes…feels bit creepy to me though lol! Just be sure to take your headphones because they usually play a film but it’s all dubbed in Thai 😦

My bus arrived at Nang Rong Hospital where a lift was waiting for me (well, a motorbike). It was really nice actually because the school had left me 2 bags of shopping outside my house for my arrival..there were bottles of water, 4 packets of biscuits, a tub of butter and also a loaf of bread. Yesss butter! Now I can have a butter and jammy sarnie hah!

So I am now in my 4th week at the school! Wow. Well, it has certainly been easier than staying in the monastery and it’s gone a lot quicker too hah!

While my brain is still whizzing away like it always does, I will give your eyes a rest because for me now it’s plot, plot, plot! My next installment of the Readders adventures may be the last one from the school and more about my future plans? Lets see how it goes for sometimes things don’t always go the way you planned them BUT sometimes, the best things really are the unplanned ;)………….

oh and p.s…update on the gecko family living in my house..they ate 2 or 3 eggs, 2 still haven’t hatched and they’ve laid another 3! Watch this space, I’m determined to catch a glance (and photo) of a baby gecko so here’s hoping! 😀

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Learning Curve – The Beginning

Remember that advert…”Those who can…teach!” (but in my case, Those who think they can….try! haha) And, here I am! ‘Teacher Miss Readdy, reporting for duty!’

My first week has just been IN-credible! I have been lost for words this week (well, not during lessons of course hah) but I will do my best to describe just how utterly amazing and inspiring this School really is!

On my way to School!

So I arrive at the bus station to book my ticket to Buriram. A lift had already been arranged for me at the other end so I really only had to worry about the getting there, fab!

The crazy taxi man dropped me off around 10am at Nonchon Air Bus Station. When I say crazy, he was actually really nice! He kept saying ‘You clever girl, I like you!’ With the taxi mans broken English and my badly pronounced Thai, we managed to somehow keep a conversation going. Of course, my Thai is limited to Hello, yes, no, thank you, delicious (random word to know!) and the first line of the Chang song (Elephant song). After much giggling and singing the taxi man a very bad rendition of the chang song, he drops me at the bus station AND gives me a discount just for trying to sing the song ha, bless him! Ken always did tell me if you sing this song it will get you discounts…tried and tested, it does so go learn it before you come to Thailand!

So I’ve bought some snackage thinking I’m getting on the 11am bus however, at the ticket counter, I’m informed the next bus is full so I have to wait 5hrs for the next one!! Oh great! Not much point me going back to Bangkok and they do have free wifi at the station so…tick tock, tick tock…I’m waiting, waiting and waiting! Finally, I get a nudge from one of the staff..turns out I was actually waiting at the wrong gate too but luckily as I’d been hanging about for half the day, I wasn’t exactly unnoticed lol. I bet the staff in the departure lounge were thinking ‘My god, she’s rather early!’ haha, oh well.

The 3pm bus was packed plus, I was the only foreigner headed to Buriram…ok, this could be a good thing though..Remember Sisaket? I felt like a local celeb over there haha. Everyone on the coach seemed really nice though..after the initial stares and acknowledgement that there was a Westerner on the bus, we exchanged a smile and a wai. Getting comfortable, the lady next to me whipped her shoes off and ‘whoosh’, my nostrils were overwhelmed with an awful musky and moist feety smell! It was as though her poor feet had been crammed in her shoes all day long and it was almost 35 degrees out so you can imagine how bad it was! ‘Oh great’ I was thinking, I’m going to have to put up with this for 5 straight hours! On a hot, sticky and packed bus, the aircon was very much welcomed however, the coldness of the air seemed to amplify the stench and the vents would waft the offensive feety odour all around the bus! I know everyone could smell it haha, I was just selfishly hoping they didn’t think it was me!

Ok, with my nose adjusted, I managed to doze off listening to the drones of my ipod but then I got woken up to a prodding elbow! The smelly footed lady diverted my eyes to the hostess (not sure of the proper word but she was the air hostess of the road!) “Excuse me miss..would you like some food?”. “Yes please, thanks!” Reaching out for the white carton, I remember thinking I wasn’t all that hungry but thought it best to take whatever was inside as I wasn’t sure if I’d be having dinner upon arrival at the school. Inside was a portion of sticky rice with a side serving of chicken. We were also given a small packet of snacks (like crisps) and a bottle of water. The snack was some kind of crispy prawn crackers. I saved mine for later but the lady next to me tucked right in. Urgh! The snacks smell just as bad as her feet..great, so now there’s a fishy addition to the already floating cheesy aroma in the air!

Moving on, I remember staring out the window and taking note of all the emotions whizzing round…scared, nervous, anxious, home-sick, liberated, free, independent, happy, tearful. I’m so proud of myself but yet I was worrying about what was expected of me etc..what was this school going to be like? How were we going to get over the language barrier? I distract myself with a book and then once again, fall asleep.

“Miss…Miss…” Another prodding elbow was this time disturbing my unconscious body…”Huh…what?!” Rubbing my eyes and slowly coming to, I see the hostess leaning over to let me know we’re at Nang Rong Hospital. (my pre-arranged pick up point). “Here is your stop Miss.” “Ah thank you for waking me and letting me know!” Still not quite with it, I gather my things and hop off the bus to be greeted by a short and skinny girl with long black hair. “You must be Helen?” She asked. (I was thinking, who’s asking hah!) “Yes that’s me! You must be Beau?” I replied. “Nice to meet you. Let me help you with your bags, my car’s just here” Beau was lovely and seemed happy to see me. “Have you had dinner? I haven’t eatern so we can drive into town for some food if you like?” I was feeling peckish so agreed we should go and get some dinner. So with the invisible man loaded into the back of her car, off to town we went!

Some like it HOT!!

A short drive brought us to the town centre. Even though the town was covered in a blanket of darkness, I could tell it was similar to Sisaket, bonus! Small, dusty (and bumpy) roads, people buzzing about on knackered looking motorbikes, shacks and stalls selling various fruits, meats, sauces and bottles of water. Oh and I see a 7 Eleven! They are like the local handy stores (a newsagent back home!). We park up and walk over to what looked like the town square. In the centre were various food stalls selling, chicken, pork, beef, noodles…. We both fancied noodles so walked over and put our orders in. Beau ordered mine for me…”Oh, not too spicey please!” I pleaded! Hmm..well, I found out the North East of Thailand love their spicy food! The spicier the better. I had a dish called ‘Tom Yum?’ and my word, even with the spice ‘dulled’ down it was still too hot for me! Hah! I scooped up as many noodles as I could in my chopsticks and ‘BAM’ My tastebuds were on fire! I was coughing and spluttering all over the place and then came the hiccups lol! My eyes were watering and all I could do was take big gulps of water to try ease the burning sensation. Beau was laughing her head off and even a few of the locals joined in haha! “My god…that’s too hot for you?!”  It was quite funny looking back. After our meal, Beau suggested we went to 7 Eleven for some icecream 🙂

Welcome to my Crib!

Within minutes we were driving through the gates of the school, it looked huge! Beau stopped to sign me in and then drove me to the guest house. We pull up to a nice looking house that almost looked ‘american’ to me! The house was set back from the school but still within the school grounds. It looked like such a big house. Outside there was a stone bench and to the left side I could see a set of tables and chairs. Attached to the right side of the house was a huge white fence but through the gaps, the cars headlights lit up another set of tables and chairs…so lets call that the ‘garden’. And at the top of the house, I could see a small balcony which overlooked the schools playing field opposite. “Here is your house!” Beau said, excitedly jingling the keys in front of my face! “You have this all to yourself so you can pick which bedroom you’d like!” Beau unlocked the door and showed me around. We entered via the side door not the front door. The first room was like an inside porch or utility room if you like. There was a sink to the right along with cupboards and cutlery and a hot water boiler thingie in which you can make hot tea / coffee with and there was also a pile of ‘odds and sods’ such as chairs and gym mats all piled up in one corner. I noticed there was some kind of animal or insect poo on the floor and lots of it hah…I found out later in the week what that belonged to…There was another door inside this porch which was the actual main front door to the house. In the house I can see a nice big lounge with a TV (YESSsss) and 2 other doors. One door led to a bathroom and the other was a bedroom with 2 mattresses on the floor. Upstairs there are another 2 rooms. One room was padlocked and the other one unlocked. Slowly pushing the unlocked door ajar, I immediately know I want this room..there is a static aircon unit, wardrobe and mirror haha! It’s a pretty big room too, there are 3 single mattresses on the floor so you can imagine the space 🙂 Sorted, that’s my room picked out! “I will send my students along in the morning to deliver some breakfast for you but I will tell them not to disturb you. June will meet you when you’re up to discuss the week ahead.” Beau then left me alone for the rest of the night to get settled in. Wow, so I get brekkie delivered to the door in the morning! Woo hoo!

So I’m unloading my stuff and already filling up the bathroom with my shampoo’s and face washes etc..just when I thought I was the only resident I looked up and WOAH!!! There is a huge brown, hairy spider clinging to the wall right in front of me! How did I not notice that before!? He was staring at me as though he was trying to let me know that was ‘his’ very own spot! Marvelling at my hairy and unwanted resident, I reached for my camera and took a few shots of him.

Ahh it feels so big here and it’s lonely. The silence reminds me this is all very real and I am here all by myself..Ok, so lets watch a bit of telly! Switching it on, I’m flicking through all the channels to discover each and every channel is in Thai…great! Ah, how about a movie channel…nope! Hmm..lets find a music channel..Yep, all the same, oh but hang on, there was the odd chart tune that I recognised. Hey, it’s not so bad, it’s breaking the silence and giving me some sense of comfort at least. One observation though, some of the Asian music videos are rather depressing! The love songs seem to be about boy meets girl, girl runs off with another man and the man kills himself! Happy, happy! With Thai music blaring out, I decide to update my journal but that was soon interrupted with a call from Ken checking up to see that I was ok and settling in alright.

Later on and a few more pages of the journal jotted, tired heavy eyes force me to put the pen down for one night so I head up the stairs for bed. I actually slept with the light on in my bedroom that night haha…what a wuss! Night light going on the shopping list me thinks! 😉

Sunday 9th June – Meeting June!

Wow, so this morning were x 2 canisters of food out on the front table just as Beau promised. Each container offered something different to try. There was a mixture of rice, omlette, green veg, mushrooms and something else that I wasn’t too sure of…it was somekind of pungent soup so I left that one hah! June then called me to arrange a time for her to pop over so we could finally meet and chat about the week ahead.

Showered and presentable, June came to the house at 11am. I could hear the buzz of a motorbike approaching and I knew it was her. Peering out the window, I could see 2 ladies parking up and walking over to the front door! A small shot of adrenalin whooshed round as June reached out her clenched fist to knock on the door….

“Hi June. I’m Helen, nice to finally meet you!” Extending my hand to June, I greet her with a big smile and usher them both inside. June introduces herself as the Head of the English Department and the other lady is another one of the English teachers –  her name (which I still can’t say) sounds like ‘Tomb’! After a few minutes, the nerves disappear and we were already discussing Monday morning! Both June and Tomb are lovely! Such chilled out people. They seemed very excited I was there to help and they explain how they (and the children) are looking forward to working with me!

“First things first, I’d like to introduce you in the morning Helen. You will meet the other teachers and of course, the English department where you will be based” June’s already got the week mapped out. Studying my face, June then asks “How long are you going to stay with us?” “Well, I’d like to stay for a month and then who knows…” I didn’t know if I was even going to last a month at this point right?! “Ok great. We’d like you to stay as long as possible. The longer the better it will be for the children you see” She replied. “Of course, I understand”. June then went on to explain, “The childrens English here is really poor so we’re just so excited that we have an English person here to try help. We can teach them english of course, but it’s your mother tongue”. I was talking to myself in my head now…’they’re English is really poor?!….So what have these teachers been doing haha? They’re certainly not going about getting any schooling awards talking like this lol’. I realise now that June meant because of the childrens backgrounds, they’ve either not had the chance for any schooling so some of them are basically starting from scratch or they are having to really push and encourage the older ones to want to continue expanding their existing english vocab. Now I’m typing this having been here a week, I realise how god dam hard these teachers work!

June explains the school has been set up by sponsors and is run by the Thai Government. The school is specifically for orphaned children and / or children from extremely poor families who just simply can’t afford to send their little ones to school. This place offers orphans a home and poor children the opportunity to learn, grow and better their futures. I just love it! The place sounds absolutely amazing and I’m feeling excited to be a part of it.

June and Tomb then walk me around the school to get me used to my new surroundings. Wow, this place is huge! All the children live in their separate dorms naturally girls with girls and boys with boys! They have everything they need here. A big school playing field, a music room, many classrooms and departments, a huge school hall / games room, a basketball court, canteen, an on-site school tuck shop and the use of the computers in the teachers offices. Oh and they even have their own animals (well, we’re not talking pets though!) They keep boars and chickens for tasty school dinners! Plus, all of the food that is left over from the meals is collected and all dumped into one huge bin and then fed to the pigs! One way of recycling I guess…feed the pigs up then eat them! Circle of life hey!

I’d already started to meet some of the children on the way round. There was lots of pointing, whispering and giggling but they were all so shy! Once the ‘walk round’ was over with I then had the opportunity to check my emails etc and then head back to the house. The day seemed to whizz by! “Good night Helen. See you at 8am for the Introductions in the morning” June and Tomb then left me to my own devices for the night. Introductions hey? I hope they don’t mean I have to do some kind of speech? So back at the house, before my tired eyes urged me to hay hit, I jotted something down incase……and oh boy was I glad I did!

Let me introduce myself!!

My alarm rudely interrupts my sweet slumber at 6.30am! Unzipping the sleeping bag and flopping out of bed in my usual sleep drunken state, I head downstairs to get ready for my first day at school! At 7am a new canister is delivered ‘Ooo brekkie!’ Fried eggs, sticky rice and spicy minced pork!

I see my hairy resident is still in the bathroom but avoiding him, I shower and get ready. I keep imagining this massive spider’s going to jump on me whilst I’m in the shower (I think there’s a scene just like this in arachnophobia haha!)  Right, ready to head to school for 8am, I lock up and leave my house. It’s only a 2 minute walk and already I can see children everywhere. They are either walking into school like me, some are skipping or playing ‘clapping’ games, some of the little boys are kicking a football around and others are running to line up for the morning outdoor assembly. “Hello!” shout some of the children. I can tell others want to speak to me but as soon as I say ‘Hi’ they’ve hidden behind their friends haha! So cute.

As I get closer to the front of the school, I can see the teachers all sitting at the benches in the shade. “Helen, come join us” shouted June. I was briefly introduced to some of the teachers but most of all, I was ushered to meet the Principal of the school. An attractive older lady with short bobbed hair. “Hello Helen. It’s great to have you here at our school, we are so very lucky!” Wow! I’m thinking, I’m the one who’s actually lucky to be here! The Principal explained they have an assembly every morning but today, the children have prepared a welcome speech for me! But then came the bit I feared the night before….”We would then like you to introduce yourself to the children”  WHAT!! My eyes felt like they’d suddenly doubled in size and I’m sure my face had ‘fear factor’ written all over it !! All I could do was let out a slight stuttered croak which was fast interrupted by the Thai anthem. Sitting back at the benches with the other teachers, I just froze! I could feel the adrenalin already mixing up a nasty potion in my belly ready to intravenously deliver an unwanted shot of pure fear into my system…oh and the trigger word of course being ‘Helen’! Just like in the movies, everything felt like it had slowed down…the sounds around be began to disappear…I’m sure the teachers were still talking to me but all I could hear were my own thoughts..’Oh good god. What am I going to say?’ ‘What if I get stage fright and just freeze up there?’ Ok, snapping out of it, I reached a sweaty palm into my trouser pocket for my sort of prepared emergency speech. The children started clapping and a girl who can’t have been much older than 14 walked up to the front…”We would like to welcome you Helen to our school. Thank you for coming here to see us. We hope you enjoy your stay here” After a pause and a giggle, the girl then passed the microphone back to the Principal and ran back to her line…it was so cute! Uh oh…I think the shot of super potent adrenalin has just been loaded…just as though an injection had been drawn up and ready to administer the unwanted chemicals. “Now everyone, I would like you to meet Helen, our English volunteer…” Oh noooo…the trigger word has been unleashed and now the super potent adrenalin shot has been released into my system…’WHOOSH’ round it goes! My trembling hand takes the microphone and I’m walking up to the front of the huge crowd of children…700 little brown faces are all staring up at me waiting for me to say something! The awful feedback noise delays the first ‘Hello’ but it soon clears…Clutching my crumpled emergency speech I glance down and then that’s it…the potent shot of adrenalin has kicked in and taken over and it’s helping me to deliver my intro! “Hello everyone!” I hear a few muffled hello’s back and then I said it again…”I can’t hear you, we can do better than that….HELLO!” What was I doing? Was I some kind of wannabee kids entertainer now too haha? Well, whatever was happening, it was working and I was loving this out of body experience haha! “My name is Helen and I’m here to help you all learn English” I then rambled on about how much I wanted to help everyone and that the kids (and teachers) were very welcome to ask me anything they wanted. They were to see me as their ‘english friend’! After my speech, everyone clapped and I then rejoined the teachers at the benches. “Thank you Helen. Now we’d like you to introduce yourself to the teachers” The Principal was prompting me and pointing towards the other teachers..Um..wasn’t that enough for everyone haha? Now this one I did stumble with. I just blurted out something similar and kept it short and sweet hah! Well, it seemed to be ok for them anyways. They then kept saying how beautiful I was haha…blushing, I just said thank you..but actually, I think it was just my skin and my nose they loved lol. I may have already mentioned but they love white skin here, it is a sign of wealth. So finally, my white casper legs can come out and be proudly shown to the world haha!

Lesson #1

The bell goes and it’s 8.30am…”Helen, are you ready?” Beau asked me to follow her to the first english lesson! Oh my goodness! This is it. I had prepared a few pictures and words about the UK and some info about myself so I was as ready as I could be I guess. My mind (and heart) was racing though..’how many are there in the class?’ ‘How much English do they know?’ ‘Will they understand me?’ Beau looked at me and said “Just speak slowly and you will be fine” Umm ok…she definitely does know I haven’t taught before right??!

It was like the walk of doom (as I call it) on the way to the lesson. I was greeted by children along the way all saying “Hello” and then finally, we reach the classroom. The class was full of boys around 14yrs old..25 of them! Gulp! Ok, c’mon you can do this! How hard can it be?

The classroom looks ‘old school’ haha! wooden tables, chairs and desks and a blackboard. I get my folder out along with all the pictures I’d printed off in preparation. While I’m doing this, Beau is introducing me to the class and explaining that I will be teaching them about England today! The whole class then gets up and chants “Good morning Teacher. How are you?” So of course I chanted back, “I’m fine thank you how are you?” “I am good thank you Miss” Beau then looks at me and tells me to order them to sit down! “Great, you may now be seated!”  A silence then fell across the room and Beau’s looking at me as if to say ‘take it away Helen!’ Omg! Here goes….

“Good morning everyone. My name is Helen and I come from England” I could hear a few whispers in the back row “Oh, En ga Land” I then showed them pictures such as Big Ben, the red telephone boxes and the red London buses…a typical English house (as they are so different to here of course), a picture of our Queen, Buckingham Palace…oh and then I showed them the families pets! Toto, Piper, Biggles and my old Ratties! They loved it! To finish the lesson, I got them all singing a song taught to me by my friend Lucy from the Hill Tribes tour…’Wherever I go..People always ask me…Where are you from?’ etc.. I had them all on their feet in no time and shouting the song back to me as loud as they could! It was so much fun haha…I loved it! I actually got goosebumps thinking…’how on earth did I get here?’ 🙂 Phew, at the end of the lesson the children all thanked me and then scooted off to their next lessons. Wow, what a rush! I really enjoyed that. Then it was back to the office for a quick break before the next lesson.

I went on to teach another 2 lessons. One was a similar sized group with boys of the same ages but the last lesson was a group of girls again, they must have been around 13-14yrs old. Both lessons went as smoothly as the first. I had them laughing and singing along with me. One girl at the end of the lesson gave me a note that said I love you! Aww! I felt so touched, it was so cute! I felt like blubbing a little actually…these kids are adorable, how could anyone have hurt them in the past?!

Enter my new friend…Pinto!

At lunch time, I was taken to the staff room and shown the food and what was in each container. I also then met the Thai volunteer lady who again has a name I can’t pronounce so I will call her Pinto. Pinto has perfect english so we spend most of the lunch time chatting away. She is a teacher by profession and used to teach in Bangkok. Pinto got fed up with the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and heard about this school, she thought it would be a great opportunity to come and do some good whilst getting away from the big smoke. Pinto is undecided but she may volunteer for a whole year, she feels a month isn’t long enough for these students as she has come to realise how bad their english (or lack of) is! It is then agreed that I can assist Pinto this week with her classes and I can’t wait as she’s going to show me how she teaches!

With my new schedule agreed with Pinto, she asked me to prepare the subjects; ‘The London Underground’ and ‘Careers and the associated Adjectives’. So I did lots more printing off and decided to talk about how to catch a train, the types of tickets (whether it was a pay and go or an Oyster card) and I printed off photos of the inside of the London Underground, Waterloo station, the different tube lines etc.. And for the careers I printed off the various jobs we can train in e.g. Dentist, Policeman, Teacher, Reporter etc and then of course, I made notes on the qualities which you need to be a Teacher etc…Great stuff…I’m now prepared for tomorrow’s day of teaching with Pinto and I’m really looking forward to it.

It’s a ‘lock out’ !!

Early evening, a lovely teacher called ‘Anne’ took me to the night market incase I needed any supplies. I jumped at the chance as it was an opportunity to get to know another teacher and make my ‘bonds’ if you see what I mean. The night market was a small place displaying a handful of stalls selling all kinds of foods from meat to fruit and veg, and clothing to hats and flip flops. I bought a few things for the bathroom oh and a slice of pizza! Yes, I actually found a stall selling pizza’s woo hoo! Anne was so nice, she said if I needed anything at all, I was to take her number and just give her a call no matter how small the ask! I have been made to feel so very welcomed by everyone, I love it!

Anne dropped me back at the house and then drove off. I walk over to the house, undo the padlock and oh….hang on…the door still won’t open!? Oh nooo! I’ve only gone and blimmin pushed the button in on the inside of the door haven’t I!! So I have double locked the door and I don’t have the key, I only have a key to the padlock. Great, so I’m locked out. I didn’t want to call Anne back or anyone else for that matter…I didn’t want to look like an incapable idiot on my first day now did I!

Right, security is only a walk away. So, I walked on over to the security hut on the gates. I see 3 men all sitting inside, drinking and watching a small TV. “Hello. Excuse me…but I’ve done something really silly..I’ve locked myself out!” I was greeting by a few blank faces so I could tell I needed to do some kind of sign language to explain it hah! Eventually they understood and all 3 followed me to the house. I was of course really nervous! It was dark and I had 3 men following me back to the house…I was hoping that they understood for sure that I was locked out and only needed someone to let me in!!

The guys were twiddling with the door handle, wiggling it about, trying to prod and poke things in the lock but nothing was working. Eventually, one of the security guards decided to climb up to the balcony and forced the upstairs door open!! It opened with the first shoulder barge! The security guard then walked downstairs and opened the door from the inside. Phew! Whilst I was relieved to be inside, I was now rather shocked at how easy it was for someone to break in!!

Locking each and every bolt and padlock I could find on every door and window, I finally settled down! Oh nooo!! I see the tea / coffee boiler thingie has leaked all over the floor…but that’s not the only drama…the water’s stopped running so I can’t even have a shower before going to bed. So with nothing more to do, I sulked off to bed.

Tuesday 11th  – Teaching me, teaching them!

As before, I’m up early and see a new canister of food waiting for me on the front porch. Hmm still no running water so I’m filling the sink with bottled water and washing with that. I hope it’s running later, I’m starting to smell like a baboon already in this heat hah! Almost ready, I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth to find the ants clearly needed to brush theirs more than me…my toothbrush was absolutely covered with them! There’s no way I’m putting that in my mouth so it’s a blob of toothpaste on the finger jobbie!

Today I taught the younger kiddies (10-12yrs old) about the London Underground. It’s not that easy teaching them about the many different lines, even with Pinto’s translating…but it’s just nice to see their faces staring at the pictures in awe! Many of them haven’t even been to Bangkok Station so you can imagine the curiosity in their little faces bless em! I finished the lesson with a song – ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ and they loved it! Pinto was a star today! I am loving being a ‘team’ with her as she is so passionate and enthusiastic towards the children plus, she is teaching me how to teach them, it’s fab!

Lunchtime whizzed round and I was pretty hungry so I was looking forward to seeing what would be on the palette for today. Ooo looks like Tuna in some kind of red sauce? Big scoops of that then please along with some other veg..on the plate it all goes. Sitting down for lunch, I start tucking in. I’ve taken a big spoonful of this tuna concoction when suddenly I realise the red sauce is actually some kind of chilli sauce!! Woah…I feel like a fire breathing dragon! With the amount of heat kicking out of this dish, I probably could hiccup a few fireballs out! Yup, I was hiccuping for England hah! A few glasses of water later and my mouth started to cool down. Good job too as I had another class to head off to with Pinto..

I did the same as the day before which was my introduction to the class, where I’m from and a bit about England, who our Queen is etc…At the end of the class, I got a note from 2 little girls which read ‘We love you Helen’ !! Aww…It was so very touching! They even gave me a big squeeze and kiss on the cheek hah! Cute or what.

In my free time, I started preparing for the next classes (for the rest of the week) one being grade 8 (13-16yrs old). The topic was ‘Greetings and Introductions’ so I wanted them to know the difference between formal and informal greetings – how we meet existing friends, new friends and how we meet and greet people such as Managers, Directors (our peers in other words). I also started to get prep for the younger class, grade 4 (9-10yrs old). Their topic was ‘My Body’. Well, I had an idea to print off the silhouette of the human body along with words such as fingers, head, arms, legs etc…I wanted them to stick the appropriate words onto the body. Then perhaps if there was time, I would show them how to make a paper doll chain. And of course, the song as the end would have to be ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes…’ I was looking forward to that hah!

Later on after school had finished for the day, I went and sat in the computer room for my usual internettings! One of the lady boys came and sat with me and we ended up watching You Tube together. I named him Lekmans (following suit to my nickname of Hellmans you see!), a very sweet 17yr old boy who was orphaned at a young age. Well, I say orphaned.. his older sister took him in but has now shipped him off here. He is just lacking ‘love’ just like most if not all of the children are here. I found out he likes magic and fantasy programmes including the British hit ‘Merlin’.  Lekmans even asked me ‘Are unicorns real?’ Oh my goodness! Of course I had to tell him they don’t but with the look on his face, I felt as though I’d just told a 5yr old that Santa didn’t exist haha! Anyways, we watched a few clips from Merlin and then I introduced him to ‘Dynamo’ an english magician. He was amazed by the tricks he could do, he loved it!

Wednesday the school was to prepare for ‘Teachers Day’ which was an event happening on Thursday so there may not actually be any lessons on at all Wednesday. Teachers Day is a day in which the children can show their appreciation for the teachers. They will prepare flowers and drawings to present to their teachers as gifts. The flowers have to be picked and arranged very carefully as each flower will have a different meaning. I forget now all of the meanings however, I know that the grass meant something like..’sticking with the children through thick and thin no matter what’ – which is true of grass..it’s always there no matter the weather right? So you get the idea! I could see so many beautiful arrangements being passed about already so was looking forward to Thursday!

So all in all, a good day! Later in my house, I’m getting ready for bed and notice so many red bumps appearing…yep, mozzie bites! Oh great! Even with the sprays and creams on, they still manage to get to the parts you’ve missed! Darn things! So I slunk off up to bed trying my hardest not to itch and scratch!

Wednesday 12th  – The day before

Yep, you guessed it…today was a quiet day! I did manage to teach english in the morning though to a class of 18yr olds. I was so nervous to teach a bunch of 18yr olds…I was thinking they wouldn’t be that interested but also that my material might be too ‘babyish’ or something but actually, it went pretty well! They were particularly interesting in hearing about english weather! Well, of course, I’d already printed off photos of snow and frozen lakes oh and of course, snowmen! One boy said he wanted to go to England just to throw snowballs at his friends haha awww! It’s funny just how much we can take for granted isn’t it? They were a great group and in fact, very inquisitive too! They were keen to know all about England and where I lived so it felt more like an ‘off the cuff’ kind of lesson and I really enjoyed that.

After the lesson, it was back to the office. I could see (and smell!) the most beautiful flower arrangements being passed back and forth, adjusted, added to… wow, some of them had even been shaped to look like beautiful birds it was incredible. The children were darted about the school preparing their presentations too. Some were under trees reading to their fellow students practicing to be ‘word perfect’. I found out there were to be marked on their arrangements as well as their speeches so it was no wonder that some of them looked a bit fraught haha!

My ‘shift’ was over with by 2.30pm and actually I didn’t feel to well so I sloped off to my house and rested up for a few hours. I then popped back to the computer rooms about 5pm where I saw Lekmans watching more You Tube videos of ‘Dynamo’ hah, it was very sweet! We then watched a few magna cartoons together before Lekmans went off to his dorm for bed…for Lekmans had big day ahead of him tomorrow!

Thursday 13th – Teachers Day has arrived!

I was almost late today! I had to rush to leave the house but just made it on time for 8am. I find out there are no lessons for the first half of the day for Teachers Day is upon us! After the mornings assembly we all move into the hall for ‘the show’. The teachers are all seated at the front on the stage and the children are all sat on the floor of the hall. It was amazing…of course it made no difference to me that it was all in Thai but it was rather beautiful! The children sang songs and then a selected group of students would slowly walk up to the front and onto the stage to hand the teachers their arranged flowers. After this, 2 groups of students put on 2 traditional Thai dances, it was amazing! Then new students of the school were given yellow bracelets as gifts and were ‘blessed’ by the teachers as a welcome. I felt so touched to be able to witness this occasion…it seems it’s only a once a year event so to be able to see this on my first week was really lucky!

Once the show was over, everyone moved outside. In the scorching heat, the children were to then present to their teachers how much they meant to them and to explain the meanings of their flower arrangements and why they picked them. Aww they all looked so nervous and were probably more nervous with me taking a ton of photos of them too haha! I had a great chance to mingle with the students too. They kept pointing at my skin and then to their own as if to say ‘why are you different?’ haha and the little girls would play with my hair and ask me if my hair colour is real (hehe) and the boys would be catching dragon flies or lizards to come and show me which of course being a bug lover, was so cool! 🙂 Such adorable little people! I really am beside myself as to how anyone could not want them and want to just inflict nothing but pain upon them…so so sad. But then I have to snap myself out of all this ‘bad’ as they are now in such a wonderful place with so much more opportunity at their feet. They are surrounded by such amazingly passionate people now who only want the best for them. Some of the children even gave me some cuttings of these gorgeous flowers – it felt like a kind of welcome gift of my own if you like!

Lunch time was interesting.. in the canteen today, we had options of rice and veg and these funny ‘glass noodles’ that actually tasted like tobacco!! Well, I just couldn’t eat them so they ordered the kitchen to make me an omlette haha! I felt like I was being a diva or something which of course I wasn’t, they offered to which was so kind of them! 🙂

After lunch, Pinto and I were off to teach 13-16yr olds, again, the subject is the London Underground and careers and the qualities you need. Before we started the lesson, 3 of the girls said they had a gift for us. They started to walk slowly to the front of the class singing us a song (in Thai of course). I had no idea what they were singing but Pinto started crying! “What are they saying?” I whispered. “They are saying that we are the sandpaper and we are rubbing them smooth so they are better” Omg, that is so sweet! They then gave us a rose each awww…I proudly had this on show in my house along with my other cuttings from the morning! In the afternoon, Pinto briefed me on Friday’s lesson plan…again it was ‘Introductions and greetings.’

Later on in the evening, I popped back to the computer rooms where as usual, I found Lekmans! He was looking up some of his favourite songs on You Tube with english lyrics! Clever kid hey! So I helped him to read and understand them.

Another lock out!!!

It’s getting late so I decide to call it a night and head back to the house. I get to the door, unlock the padlock, turn the handle and the doors stuck fast! Oh nooo!! ‘Helen, you idiot!’ I thought to myself…you’ve only gone and locked yourself out AGAIN! The worst part was that I didn’t even remember doing it! I was devastated that I could do it twice haha! I was totally embarrassed but I knew I had to go back to security for their help again. At the security hut, I could sense they were thinking ‘You stupid girl! Didn’t you learn from last time?!’ hah..and with a few rolled eyes, 2 of them walked me back to the house. The one that climbed my balcony last time really stank of booze! I was thinking, oh great! While I really wanted him to climb my balcony like before to let me in…I didn’t want to be responsible should anything happen to him either! But after much umming and urring, the drunk security man decided that was the only way in and with a very wobbly (and baited breath on my part!) climb, he made it back up and back in!! Phew! I hope they keep this to themselves, I don’t want to be a laughing stock haha! So, 5 minutes later, I’m getting ready for bed and suddenly I hear “Helen…Hello, are you in there? Helen, are you ok?” Well, I was um, on the ‘throne’ so I couldn’t exactly jump up and let them in…eventually I went to the door..it was Pinto! “Helen, one of the security guards came to let me know you couldn’t get in? I see you’re ok now though!” Omg, great, so secrets out haha!! Oh, the guard that stayed behind must have gone off to get Pinto to let her know?

Red faced, I was finally left alone to hay hit (and hopefully forget about tonights shenanigans!) 🙂

Friday 14th – Bugging me! 

Wow this week has gone quick! I get up and go downstairs to see a new canister of food waiting for me..I also see some left over food from the day before! I can see the reason they didn’t take want to take it though…it was absolutely covered in ants, thousands of them hah! The ants are strong little buggers though I tell ya! They were carrying a huge piece of chilli up the wall haha, it was so funny. I have actually seen them carrying a small cockroach up the wall too, that was pretty impressive! It’s like a mass operation…I can imagine them saying to each other..’to me, to you, to me…It’s ok, I’ll take a leg, you take the antenna’ ! hah! I have such a strange imagination I know haha. Keeps me sane believe it or not. Anyways…where was I? Oh yes…so I’m making a cup of coffee (Oh and if I hadn’t mentioned, this was now my 3rd new hot water boiler thingie but thankfully this one was working and not leaking hah!) At the sink, something bolted..what was that!? I grabbed my torch and peered behind the unit…oh my word! There were 5 huge geckos, a whole family of them AND I can see 4 eggs wow! I hope I get to see them fresh out haha..I should record my very own David Attenborough programme hey, right from my very porch 🙂

After all the excitement, I spray on my usual cologne of Deet, smooth on a bit of lip balm, grab my bag and I’m readdy to rock! That’s about as glamorous as it gets right now! My first lesson was not until 10.10am so I spent the morning preparing. Todays topic was ‘Intro’s and greetings’.

It was so cute to see the lil kids writing in their books what I had put on the board! I used cartoons to help them put the words to the pictures which I’m guessing would help keep it in their memories. At the end, we sung another song but this time I taught them ‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands’. For some reason, the last lesson was cancelled so I decided to head for the computer room to catch up on my usual internettings! 🙂

I caught up with June who wanted to talk about Lekmans with me. “I’ve seen you talking with Lek. He’s only been here 2mths. I wanted to ask you how you find his english?” Inquisitively, June poised her head and narrowed her eyes at me waiting to hear what I’d say. “Oh I find his english is pretty good, he’s a bright kid from what I know of him already. He listens well and picks up words quickly” I replied enthusiastically because I wanted him to have the recognition he deserved. “He’s an orphan you know. When he first arrived, he was bullied by the other boys so as well as having a rough start in life, he’s had a tough start here too. He’s so keen to learn english. I asked him what we could do at the school to help him learn and Lek’s reply was to have an english teacher that had time for him” Well, I don’t think he was a complete orphan as I knew he had a sister…without knowing all the details though I didn’t ask any further questions. Anyway, overall, I can already spot the super keen kids and the one’s who are just to ‘shy to try’ at the moment!

Skipping on a bit…I visit the schools shop for a few supplies. They don’t have what I want but the kind lady in the shop said she’d take me to the supermarket on her motorbike after school as she too needed a ‘few things’. So at 6pm, she pulls up outside my house and picks me up as promised. I only needed a few bits so thinking this won’t take long…well, I felt as though I was shopping in Tesco’s with my Mum!! I grabbed what I needed (literally, shampoo, toothpaste, all the small things)..This lady fills a trolley load! I was thinking ‘Has she forgotten how we got here haha?’ How the heck are we going to get this all on the bike?’ My curiosity had to be answered so I just asked her outright…”Um…how are we going to get all of this back to the school?!” Giggling behind a cupped hand, I pointed with the other one to the mountainous trolley load! “Oh it’s ok…I very strong!” She replies. Well, that just made me burst out laughing, oh god! This is going to be an interesting ride back lol. But then I remembered something, back in Nam or Cambodia, you see people with their whole families on these things…heck I’ve even seen crates of pigs, chickens…oh and even a dog in the foot well of a bike!

We come out the supermarket and it’s dark already..it also looks like it’s rained a little too. I’m dreading it as we push the trolley over to the bike. I think my mind was logically trying to play ‘tetris’ with all the bags as the bike appeared in view. Well…I don’t know how she did it but she did! I wish I’d photographed it…there were bags balanced on both handle bars, there were bags crammed down by her feet, on her lap, on my lap, just everywhere.

The ride back was hilarious! As it had just rained, there were these huge flying bugs all over the place. I got a serious bout of the giggles too. If only my friends and fam could see me now..a bike loaded to the brim with bags PLUS, huge flying bugs hitting us in the face! Great, my forehead probably looks like the front of a car bonnet right now, gross! I must have swallowed a few insect parts too from all the laughing…yup, straight in the gob they go YUK! It was just like that scene from ‘Dumb and dumber’ (if you know the one I’m talking about hahaha!) Uh oh, rain brings the frogs and toads out right….”Look out!!” I screamed….too late….SQUISH! Poor toad! “There’s another one!!” Trying to point at the toad but being stacked up with shopping bags I didn’t dare to move…SQUELCH! Oops…again, too late!

I was relieved to finally be back at the house. I had purposely left the porch light on as I knew it would be dark by the time I got back. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, it also attracted hundreds of those flying bugs and in turn, there were hundreds of ants all marching in their army lines – they were munching on the dead (now not so flying) bugs on the floor! It must have looked quite funny to any on-lookers for I was swatting at the air and waving my arms about vigorously at these giant winged flies and stomping my feet to stop the ants crawling up my legs (which they frequently do once you’re stood still!). Finally, I had some dinner and put my shopping away and quickly made a stop at the computer rooms to check my emails etc and as usual, Lek was in there so again we caught up on some video and music clips.

Sing us a song! 

The weekend was finally upon us. Right, lye in is the first thing on my list haha! I also caught up with my Mum, Dad and Nana’s on Skype which was fab! I’d been missing them all so much so it was lovely to ‘see’ them and have a catch up. We had quite the audience too…so many of the children came over to see what I was doing..I think they were amazed that they could see themselves (and someone else) waving back haha awww.

Sunday was fun! The ladyboy (Joe) and 2 other teachers (Duan and Wan) took me to a karaoke bar and club, ‘Lucky’. It was such a good night. I sung a few songs and then we all danced the night away downstairs in the club. I was the only foreigner in there so yes, it was just like being back in Sisaket hah! The barman came over and gave us 2 large free bottles of Leo beer “I just want you to have good time!” Awesome, we’re coming here again if that’s going to be a regular occurrence 😀

On Monday evening I was invited to watch the schools Singing Content in Buriram town. All the schools in the area had entered so we were going to compete. It seemed like an hours drive to reach town but when we were there, the buzz of the atmosphere hit us as soon as we’d opened the car doors! I could almost feel our 2 little singing stars trembling as we walked over to the main stage. It was an outdoor event and boy was there a good turnout! I could see children everywhere, along with their friends, families, teachers etc.. Once settled and ‘signed in’ we sat in wait for the ‘call’.  The students were all given a number which was pinned to their chests so when your number was called, it was show time as they say! Sitting in wait, the teachers pulled out 2 huge bags full of crickets..dead ones of course but they were sitting there chomping on them as though they were tucking into a bag of sweet popcorn!! Gross! Of course I point blank refused when I was offered to ‘try’ some..no thanks. It was quite funny actually, their hands were covered with ‘cricket bits’ Mmm, finger licking good hey!

The children were amazing, they all sounded like angels, just so talented. Finally our students were called…we made as much fuss of them as we could because we were technically their friends and family. I was wolf whistling as loud as I could haha! They both did us proud and we even walked away with 6th place which out of the 20 odd kiddies that entered, was not bad going hey!

It must have been around 10pm by the time the event finished. We were all pretty tired and hungry so first stop..noodle bar then homeward bound. Sitting in the back with our stars, I soon felt a heavy press against my shoulder….aww bless, the little boy was falling into a sleepy slumber, so I let him be. With both of them now asleep in the back with me, all the excitement, all the nerves had clearly taken it’s toll. Staring out of the window and bobbing along to the rhythm of the road, I soon became lost in my thoughts…yes, I may be a stranger to these 2 but with the little boy sleeping on my shoulder, it just goes to show that all of us crave affection, we all need that loving feeling hey! And then I thought of my family and how lucky I really am for I couldn’t imagine a life without a family like some of these poor kiddies. When I finally got back to my empty house at 11.30pm, it was then me that wanted a cuddle hah!

New lessons to be learnt….

So it’s the been the end of a week and the dawning of a new one and what will this week bring I wonder? I’m sure I will find out. Not only am I trying to teach these young adults a thing or 2, I think actually I am learning just as much from them!

This weeks lesson agendas will be ‘The Body’ and ‘English Food’ so fun topics to cover. Food wise, I will show them the good old English fry up, fish and chippies wrapped up in newspaper oh and even the silly named food such as Bangers and Mash and Bubble and Squeak hah! And for the body, I have a paper dolls chain to make with them and also another activity which will mean having one of them volunteer at the front of the class for me…I will then ask their classmates to stick the appropriate word to their fellow students body 🙂 That should help ‘stick’ in their minds…maybe? Then of course, the ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes song’

So it’s been a jam packed week of singing, teaching and bug dodging (and eating!)….here’s to another fun and jam packed week ahead and one which I am very much looking forward to so until then…go do your homework haha 😉 xx

 

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Readdy to teach….(um, I think so!?)

Well, well. This week’s been a mixed bag of chilling and getting organised…for the Readders has only gone and blimming landed herself a teaching job!! So from the top, here is a summary of what’s been going on!

Back at the Big Smoke!

Sisaket was now long gone. A tin of Leo beer glugged, a few pages of my journal written, I soon fell asleep to the repetitive music of the trains wheels churning over the tracks and sleepers below.

I knew I was getting close to Bangkok station as I could smell it approaching, no joke! With the help of the train guard, the invisible man was lifted from the baggage holder and placed on my back (which no, that doesn’t usually happen..it’s normally a case of struggle with it yourself, rip a Tshirt in the process and finish red faced like a heavy weight champ haha!). Walking through the underpass and getting the usual bag check from security, I’m up the escalators and soon greeted by the hustle and bustle of Bangkok once more!

Crikey it’s early, it’s only just hit 6am! I head to my favourite hostel, Hua Lamphong Hotel with my fingers crossed that they are even open at this hour! Awesome…approaching, I can see lights on and people sitting in the reception. First things first…FOOD! “Sa wa de ca (hello). Are you serving food yet?” I eagerly asked the receptionist. “Sa wa de ca miss. Breakfast is not until 7.30am.” No problem I thought, I’ll just book in and then spend a few hours online to pass some time woo hoo! With my internetting’s all caught up on and my belly now satisfied with a full english brekkie washed down with a good old cup of english Twinnings tea (yup, one of the reasons I love this place…*sighs* oh the little things!!), I then get a call from my friend Ken. “Are you in Bangkok yet? I have an update for you. Can we meet later for a catch up?” Ken sounded like he had some good news for me yippee! I told myself….’Ok, calm down Helen, don’t get too excited just yet’ but typicially being one of my traits, I just couldn’t help but get excited! With a time arranged for later on, I headed up to my room for a kip. I hadn’t slept all the way through on the night train but then again, I never do – It’s a mix of worrying ‘will my belongings be ok?’ to constantly being woken up during the night by the freezing cold aircon that is persistently wafting over you! So a little tip for any of you stepping onto a night train..wear a jumper haha!!

Batteries recharged, I’m off to meet Ken..

“So, I’ve been speaking to a friend of mine who has a sister that teaches english in Buriram. She is going to speak to her Sister (June) about you volunteering” Ken said, stirring the ice cubes around his iced chocolate drink. “Yippee!! That’s fantastic, thank you!” Oh but hang on, in all the excitement I missed the location..pretty sure it wasn’t Sisaket! Of course, I didn’t want to sound ungrateful but naturally I was really looking forward to going back to Sisaket. “Oh um, where did you say the school was?” I asked sheepishly. “Buriram. A small town but you will love it. It’s in the forest” I was laughing in my head..’me in another forest, oh boy!’ “So um, is it near Sisaket?” Again, I asked in a sheepish but questionable manner. “Yes, they are close. Buriram is the next town”. Bonus..I can always go to Sisaket on my days off then! According to Google, they are about 2hrs apart. Ken then went on to give me a little more information..”The school has been set up by sponsors. They provide free education to orphaned children or children from poor families. I think I will be able to get you free accommodation and meals in exchange for the english teaching.” Wow! This all sounds a bit too good to be true! I just love the very idea of helping disadvantaged children and doing my bit. I thought back to the children I’d met in the various villages I’d passed through during my tours. I just loved playing and interacting with them. They had to be some of the most happiest children I’d ever met even though they had so little. It certainly makes you realise how much of an amazing up bringing that us folk back home have / had and of course how much we have open to us to be able to develop to the highest of standards and now here was my chance to give some kind of input! *Insert record scratch noise* ‘Stop day dreaming Helen, it’s not even been confirmed yet and already you’re glaring out the window picturing yourself there!’ I told myself to snap out of it and just wait until Ken had any news!

The Call

Ok, so it’s only been a day but already Ken has an update for me! “Helen, can we meet again. My friend would like to speak to you to find out some more information about you before she speaks to June”. Ken’s muffled voice on the phone was breaking up but we managed to sort a time and a place to meet.

Within minutes of meeting Ken, he got straight on the phone to his friend. From time to time, I could pick out my name being mentioned in amoungst the Thai words that were being exchanged when suddenly..”My friend would like to speak with you.” “Ok sure” taking the phone from Ken, I immediately felt like I was on some kind of interview “Sa wa de ca, my name is Helen” (I thought I’d kick off haha). “Hello Helen my name is Benijawin. June is my sister in the school. I wanted to say hello to you first and ask you a few questions.” “Of course, no problem.” Benijawin and I didn’t chat for long but she basically wanted to know if I had taught before, did I have a Visa, how long would I like to assist them and what compensation would I be after for teaching etc.. All I asked for was a room and some meals (as Ken had already implied). Benijawin finished the call by asking for my Thai mobile number so she could pass it onto June who would give me a call shortly!

Well, it didn’t take long for June to call me! The phone rang and I instinctively knew it would be her. Back in interview mode… “Sa wa de ca” I answered. “Sa wa de ca Helen, this is June. Benijawin has been telling me about you and that you are keen to help us at the school?” Immediately I can tell June’s english is far better than her sisters. “Yes that’s right.” “Ok great. So lets start with you telling me a bit about yourself?” Oh no, that kick off question…I never did like this question as an opener because I never know how to start..it’s open for a ‘Helen’s topic of waffle’ haha! So I just went on to explain that I was from the South of England, what my hobbies were and how long I’d been travelling for and where I’d been! “Excellent. Ok, so how long is your Visa? And do you know that Buriram is quite far from Bangkok?” I could sense a concern in Junes voice! “I have until the middle of July on my 2nd entry but I can do a visa run to the nearby border of Cambodia to renew it for another 60 days. Yes, I realise how far Buriram is. I was staying in Sisaket last week and realise they are nearby” June sounded impressed, phew! Just when I thought I had this in the bag, June then expressed the concern that I picked up on in her voice…”Ok, the only thing I am worried about is that you might want to leave after a few days. Buriram is nothing like Bangkok” “Well I prefer to be away from the Capital anyway. Through some of the places I’ve already visited, I much prefer places such as Laos and Chiang Mai to the City.” I thought to myself, nice one Hels, a confident response haha..but I was almost worrying as to what I was letting myself in for? If June is concerned I’d leave, did that mean others too had jumped out as soon as they’d dived in?! June then wanted to speak to Ken.

It felt like they were talking for ages. Ken was confirming that I’d have accommodation plus meals thrown in…and also, what about the internet? He admitted to June that I’m a total internet and facebook addict (A comment I’d stupidly confessed to him in a previous conversation!) Hmm…thanks for that Ken (but secretly I was thinking nice one, I want to keep in touch with my Mum and Dad at least via Skype you know!) Finally Ken hangs up….”Ok sunshine….you start on the 8th June!” “OMG!!! Seriously!?!” I couldn’t believe it, I was so excited! Wow, I was being given a chance to help these children! “Yeee haaawww!! Thanks for your help Ken! So…details, details?” I asked excitedly clapping my hands together as though I was impersonating a seal! I’m sure everyone was staring at me at that moment in the cafe and not in the usual ‘oh look, there’s a foreigner’ type of stare haha! “Ok, they are expecting you to do a month but you can stay longer if you’d like. You will get your own room plus meals and you can use the schools internet. June will meet you on Saturday at the bus station when you arrive and she will show you around and give you your schedule.” “Yay!! This is A-mazing!!” I had such a big smile on my face 😀 I was so grateful to my friend Ken. If you remember..he was our tour leader from my first tour (Northern Hill Tribes Discovery). Once I’d told him that I was going to stay in the monastery, we clicked! He’d stayed in that very monastery as a monk himself so he was giving me tips etc..so we just kept in touch since. It’s great making Thai friends over here! Handy to have around!

Later on, Ken and I hung out at the cinema and had a drink to celebrate! I was wondering what the cinema would be like..’how is this going to be possible? Will the Hangover 3 be in Thai with English subs?’ Well no! In fact, it turns out that the film was in fact the other way around…English with Thai subs! BONUS!! Recommend that film by the way 😉 Just before the film started, Ken rang off to the toilet…then suddenly something very odd happened…there was a pause and some classical music began. Everyone in the audience stood up with one hand placed over their heart..’What the? What’s going on?’ I thought…I froze and just watched everyone for a few moments as if something was going to happen. Then a short film began playing…it was their King! It only seemed to run for maybe 3 minutes or so but it was like a short montage of clips summarizing the life of Thailand’s King. Well, I felt most awkward I tell thee! Was I meant to stand up too and show some kind of respect? No I told myself…he’s not the King of my country so it doesn’t concern me right?! Well those 3 minutes felt like the longest! And where was Ken to ask ‘what is this about, should I stand and salute too?’ Ken sneaks back in as the film starts and I told him what just happened. “Oh yes, that happens every time before a movie. You’re not Thai so you don’t need to stand so don’t worry.” All in all, the film was brill! I seemed to understand the jokes better than the Thai’s..And I’m pretty sure they were getting annoying with hearing my deafening cackle of a laugh in Dolby surround but nevermind, I enjoyed it anyways hahaha!

Getting Readdy…

“Ok, so you need to get some new clothes for the school” I think Ken was trying to be polite..in other words, more ‘conservative’ clothes haha! Well, it’s not like I dress provocatively of course but he just meant Tshirts that covered my shoulders rather than a vest top. I always wear trousers too so that wasn’t an issue.

Ken told me he lived near Thailand Cultural Center so I could catch a train over there and he’d take me shopping so he could help me get prepared! Awesome! I guess as he’s helped me to set this up, he’s probably felt some kind of responsibility for me but also to keep his reputation intact with his friends! “There is a Supermarket at Thailand Cultural Center called the Big C so I’m sure you will be able to get all you need in there”. So next morning I get up and take myself to the train station. Awesome, this is what I love, testing my independence and my ‘savvy’ side..trying to figure out the ‘how to’ without actually knowing the ‘where to’!  Knowing that I had no time constraints and that Hua Lumphong was my base, it’ was not like I could go wrong or get lost either.

So I find a ticket booth and ask for Thailand Cultural Station. “Metro line, platform 1. Every 5 minutes”. Awesome, that’s sorted then! Just like in Malaysia, you are given a token to hover over the ticket machines to get in.

I find that Thailand has such a fantastically organised transportation system. There are so many methods of choice too…Sky Train, Underground, over ground, boats, tuk tuks, taxi’s, motorbike taxi’s, buses….but the trains are just fab! Dare I say it but I find the underground SO much better than the London underground! It’s very easy to follow plus, they are very clean and modern looking trains, love it! On the underground trains, there are also flat screen TV’s showing the typical toothpaste / insurance adverts etc but also just as you are approaching the next station, an announcement will boom over the tannoy as well as appear as a message on the TV as to where you are so you really can’t go wrong! I also love the fact that at the platform…there are arrows telling you where to stand! haha…a ‘how to get on the train’ it’s great! If you can imagine you are looking at the open doors of a train – there are 2 arrows pointing diagonally into the train from both sides as if to say ‘enter the carriage at these side points’. Then there are 2 arrows exiting the middle as if to say to the people getting off ‘Exit the carriage and walk straight ahead’ haha! Bless them..it’s all in black and white here. But it’s a system that works, it’s so civilized! Why don’t we do this in London!?

Anyways, I meet Ken at the Big C and he’s showing me around. After being distracted and getting over the fact they have a Boots store over here, I then find a suitable clothes shop and get shopping. It was a huge store that reminded me of Tesco’s actually. ‘Right, so….conservative clothes’!  In the changing room, I’m pulling on a bright pink Tshirt that had ‘BOOM’ written across the front, you know, in pop art style! I was thinking to myself  ‘I will not be a frumpy teacher…I want to be a cool teacher’ haha. Hmm, even though it looked pretty cool, I put it back along with the Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Elmo and other cartooney tops that I had picked out haha! In the end, I opted for plain looking polo shirts in pastel shades of yellow, blue, green and pink! 🙂 Brill! With a new stock of Tshirts, Mozzie repellents, shampoo, shower gels, biro’s…I’m materialistically ‘Readdy’!

“Hey, lets go to the cinema again? It’s Wednesday…films are shown for 80 baht today, it’s a special promotion!” So we did! We watched ‘Now you see me’ and ‘After Earth’. And again, I had to endure the same strange standing, saluting ritual when the Kings montage was being shown. ‘Oh no! Do I stand or what?’ I thought to myself, I always felt so rude not standing but I also kept purposely looking around the cinema so the Thai’s could see my face and realise that I wasn’t a Thai (just  incase they were wondering ‘Why is that rudey chops not standing up and honouring our King?!’) Awkward moments surpassed and both films were definitely worth a watch! 😀

Will I, won’t I…?

Ok, so I’m pretty much there and Readdy to go! Clothes sorted, transport all figured out and here I am now…sitting typing up my blog the day before I go off to become an ‘English Teacher’!

With nerves starting to take over and doubts filling my mind, I’m wondering exactly how ready I am! So Ken calls me earlier in the day to see if I am ok and to find out what bus I’m getting on…”Are you ok sunshine? Let me know what bus you will be getting on so I can let June know what time to expect you. Oh and by the way…June and the Director have announced to the whole school that you are coming”. WHAT!! OMG! This is feeling so real now. There’s no way I can run off and hide either, I mean, it’s not that I want to run off of course but when my inner voice is trying to doubt me as usual, it’s very tempting haha! I just don’t want to let anyone down and I want to be good, well, great in fact! ‘What will the children think of me? What if I forget how to spell something? Will they be naughty and give me the run around? What if I suddenly get my blushes right in front of the class?’ Thoughts are now whizzing around my head and I can feel that adrenalin starting to rise up from my belly!

Right, pep talk to myself in the internet cafe…’C’mon Helen….you know you can do this..I mean, you have to look back and realise just how much you’ve achieved so far! If you can get the ‘balls’ to finally chase a dream, you can do anything!’

So….it’s an early night for me tonight and an early bus ride in the morning. For a 5hr trip will bring me to my next adventure, the next chapter if that doesn’t sound too sentimental haha!

My next blog will be typed up from the school and published by ‘Teacher Miss Readdy’ haha! I can’t wait to tell you all about it so do wish me luck! So, Buriram here I come! If my travels haven’t changed me so far, then I have a feeling this will (for the better of course lol!)  😉 xxx

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So…Enlighten me!?

Hey! Ok great, so I  can write, or at least I think I’m allowed to as no ones taken anything off me so from the top…

My train pulls into Ubon Ratachathani around 8am. Dammit, I’ve missed brekkie with the monks, the one and only meal they have PER day! So I get off the train and find the nearest tourist information. “Wat Pa Na Na Chat!! Oooo!” The lady gave me a mixed expression of ‘I can’t believe you’re staying there’ to a’wow, that’s really impressive!’ She’s clearly telling everyone around her and everyone else too is looking amazed. It was a bit like kids telling each other ‘Santa’s coming to town’ or something along those lines! Everyone was being super nice, it was as though this monastery now gave me some kind of privilege pass!?

Anyways, Jan as she liked to be called, arranged a taxi for me which apparently a 10 minute drive. “Ok, hold on, is there a wifi spot nearby? A cafe maybe? I’ve missed the morning brekkie with the monks you see” I explained. “Oh, you can log in on my True Wifi for a short while. And also, there is a lady across the street who sells the most delicious crispy chicken…here..” Jan typed her password into my tablet for me! True wifi is a service around here where you pay and connect anywhere, like a pay and go service..so I thought that was very kind of her! Jan then beckons the lady over who sells the chicken. All the while, the taxi man is waiting patiently for my business.

The chicken lady turns out to be a lady boy wearing more make up than me! He / she comes over with a basket full of chicken wings. “30 baht” He said, almost shoving the basket under my nose! “Um, ok, I’ll take one”. The thought of eating chicken at 8am really didn’t appeal but also the thought of not eating anything at all was worse!

The Monestary

So munching on a chicken wing in the taxi, I’m on my way to Wat Pa Nanachat. We pull into a long and windey path and into the forest. I can see a few buildings all spaced out and a few visitors darted about here and there. Self motivational plaques are displayed in the trees as if to remind you of your purpose and time there..e.g. ‘If you have time to breathe, you have time to meditate’

I had a good walk about trying to find some kind of office / entrance when I came across an Italian guy all dressed in white. “Hello! May I help you?” He said chirpily. “Hi! Yes, that will be great thanks..I’m staying here but I’m not too sure where I need to sign in. “Oh, no problem, I’ll take you to the office.” I can’t remember his name so for my own benefit, I called him ‘Roma’ ! So I’m taken to the office and a tall, brown robed man comes out..Roma explains I am staying with them, then the brown robed man turned to me and asked “Did you write us?” “Yes, yes about 3mths ago” I replied. “My name is Helen”. “Ahh, Helen Readdy. Welome, we’ve been expecting you.” This guy was the guest monk, the one who wrote to me. It was all very weird though, he didn’t even look at my letter but he remembered my surname..more to the point, he got it right! “Please can you wait to the side with your luggage. Do you have sandals?” “Yes, no problem.” Minutes later, monks were appearing from all over, more men in brown robes but also white and orange. I found out that white means novice (so not yet a monk), brown is a forest monk and orange is a city monk…so they obviously had monks from other monasteries staying. Clearly it was a morning meeting. Then 2 women  joined and sat at the back..they beckoned me over to sit with them. “We must sit to the left of the men” A french accented lady whispers.

The meeting didn’t feel very long, 10 minutes if that. The guest monk explained we had a lot of work to do that day and we were to do our jobs well but not become absorbed into them. He also let everyone know there were a few new faces and that everyone was to help make us feel welcome. After the meeting, the guest monk asked ‘Daniella’ (the lady who I first thought was french actually turned out to be Brazilian!) to hang around for a few minutes whilst I filled out some paperwork. Next of kin details, estimated duration of stay and a passport photocopy and I’m in! Daniella then walked me round to the womens quarters. “This is where we stay. I will show you the available rooms so you can pick one”  Well, OMG, the first thing I notice about this place (and not just the womens quarters) is the amount of ants about the place! They are everywhere..and I don’t just mean the odd ant here and there, I mean literally whole marching lines of ants, thousands of them! Great, no beds either so I’d be sleeping with them! There was no way I could sleep in the first hut Daniella showed me. The next one was better so I promptly piped up “‘l’ll take it!”

Kuti’s are the actual name of the huts..they are TINY! Small and perfectly square rooms with nothing in them apart from a picture of the Lord Buddha, a fan and a few candles in one corner. ‘Right..first things first..mozzie net!’ Eyeing up the Kuti, it’s another blue peter job. I was determined to get this thing up even if it took all day, there was no way I was risking things crawling on and over me during the night! 20 mins later and I’ve done it! I found hooks and hinges to wrap the string around and although it wasn’t perfect, it was better than nothing…

Ok, so I’m then shown where the clothes are kept. I’m given a pastel purple shirt Tshirt and a long black wrap around sarong type thing. Oh and a rope belt to keep the skirt up! Hmm..I feel like a Mormon or something haha! Once settled in, I was then taken to the office so I could leave any valuables in the safe e.g. ipod, cameras, tablet etc..except, I left my mobile and camera in my kuti and cleverly decided to use the padlock from my back pack to secure the door with haha. I then went back to the womens area with Daniella which is where I was formerly introduced to Noricco, the other lady staying at the monestary. Noricco is lovely! She is a Japanese lady who like Daniella, has been staying at the monastery for around 2 wks. Both the women can’t be much older than 35. I can tell they are both very dedicated and know a lot more about Buddhism than I do but hey, I was there to learn right…”We are kept to ourselves here. The men can’t speak to us and we’re only allowed to speak to the Abbott or Guest Monk if he is with another monk!” Noricco explained. Apparently responding with “Oh, is that incase they could be seduced?” was not the answer the ladies were expecting haha. Of course, that was an indication that my sense of humour would be lost here.

I am given their schedule to study and told it’s very strict and must be followed  unless I have special permission from the Abbott or guest monk to be excused from any chores etc. Our schedule was as follows:

3.15am – Morning Puja (chanting) starting a 3.30am

5.45am to 6.45am – Laywomen clean the Bot (square marble temple)

6.45am to 7.45am – Laywomen separate the alms food

7.45am to 8am – All congregate in the Sala temple for blessing chants (and thanking the locals for their kind offerings of food)

8am – The meal. Afterwards, the laywomen clean up the kitchen area etc…

9am – Brief meeting at the office to be given our duties

11.30 / 12 – Back to our kuti’s for meditation and / or reading

4.30pm to 5.30pm – Laywomen’s afternoon tea (drinking not eating!)

6.15pm – Evening chanting starting at 6.30pm until 8pm.

Then back to Kuti’s for bedtime!!

Noricco then showed me how to maintain my kuti. “You must keep it clean inside and out to stop the bugs from coming in. Also, there is a moat surrounding your kuti. You must keep this filled with water to help stop the ants from marching in however, you will need to change this every 3 days to stop mosquito’s from breeding in it”. So I filled up my moat to help keep the bugs at bay which actually, I don’t think it made a blind bit of difference! Moat filled, I’m then asked to sweep the womans quarters.”All the leaves must be removed from the path. This is so we can see it’s safe to walk, but also, sweeping is a good form of meditation” Noricco explained the rules and benefits of sweeping but forgot to mention that all this peace it was supposed to bring me would also leave me with lead arms and hands full of blisters hmm..Phew! It’s taken ages and I’m sweltering. Finally a break.

Oh one thing I forgot to mention is upon arrival, the guest monk asked if I’d eaten. I said I’d eaten some chicken on the way over so I was ok at the time. “Good. Try to wait until tomorrow to eat again, an empty tummy is better for meditation” What!! Oh great.So you can imagine after all this sweeping that I was beginning to feel hungry! Noricco asked if I’d eaten too so I said the same thing to her and she gasped..”Uhhh, you must have more!” She whisked me off to the kitchen and found a monk. “Excuse me, I’m worried Helen might not last the day, is there any food left over?” She asked, bowing to the brown robed monk. It took me by surprise when he replied with a Manchester accent but I remembered it was an international monastery after all! “Of course, let me see”. He came back with some biscuits, crackers and 2 apples. I scoffed the lot knowing it would be the last munch I’d get until the next morning.

Back at the kuti, we were allowed to rest until 4.30pm when it was tea time. And remember, this isn’t tea as in food, it’s literally ‘tea / coffee’ time. You drink whatever has been donated by the locals so you don’t know what you are going to get until you open the kitty. Today inside, there were bottles of green tea, 1 x bottle of coke, 1 x bottle of orange juice and a carton of soya milk. In another box, there were T-bags (green and herbal teas), Nescafe and coffee mate sachets. So we drink as much as we can. We can also take bottles of water during the day, this is of course as often as we’d like.

Back at the kuti (5.30pm), we sweep a little more and then chill until 6.15pm. “Helen, are you ready to come to evening chant? Bring your torch.” I hear Noricco beckoning me from outside my kuti. We all walk to the Sala temple, place a mat and cushion down and grab 2 chanting booklets..not sure of the difference but one is white and one is orange. Everyone sits in rows on their mats and once seated, you bow 3 x to the Buddha statue and, well, wait. Then all the brown robed monks come in, sit at the front, bow 3 x and pick up one of the books. “Orange book, page 34”. The chanting begins. Omg, it’s so hard to follow to begin with! It’s mostly in ‘Pali’ the language of the buddha but sometimes it will have the english translation after it.

“Hagam malam, paralandimagam, suddosammabudda” (something like that!) Everything is chanted in monotone but sometimes the words will go up and down. You can tell when it will as it’s almost like a musical score e.g..the words will have a small arrow indicating up or down above or below it. You do get used to it though, even if it is a little hard to follow at times. After the chanting, everyone meditates for an hour..the lights are dimmed and everyone gets started! Some of the monks get up and walk around (walking meditation) while most of us stay in the cross legged position. Afterwards, it’s back to the kuti’s. Wow, it feels so early!

I’m too scared to turn the light out in my hut so I sparked up a few of the candles which threw off a nice subtle orange glow. Woah, bugs and forest talk surround my hut and it’s so loud! I can hear things clambering on the roof, things whacking the side of the hut, the usual clicking and grunting of geckos and the odd ‘splosh’ sound coming from the moat. ‘Splosh??!’ What the heck is that?! Ok, ignore it..it can’t get me from under my mozzie net right hah..? Ok, so the alarms set for 2.50am!! With the candles getting dimmer and dimmer, I’m wishing someone would knock me out before they go out but no chance. It was like something out of a horror film, you know, the bit where someone’s in a cave or something..candle or lighter going…fuel running out and the heroin still desperately needing the light before the monsters come! It was like I was waiting for it to happen…the light was fading fast until, going…going…’poof’! Now in total darkness and just left with that after burn smell from the candle, it’s as though the forest talk had suddenly gotten louder as if to say ‘play time’! Eventually, once I’d stopped tapping my mobile for a bit of extra light, I fell asleep, well, that is until the alarm rudely woke me up at ten to three AM!!!

Morning Glory…hmm!!

2.50AM!! OMG! I get up and get dressed into my purple and black gear in a sleep drunken state, grab my torch and head for the toilet. Jeez! Ants have taken over the place! A quick bucket of water soon washes them away..  “Helen, we are going to Sala now” Noricco’s voice comes from behind the toilet door. “Ok, wait for me!” Daniella and Noricco both wait for me and then in the dark (and in silence), we walk to the Sala building.

Again, we grab ourselves a mat, cushion and the orange and white chanting books ready. Half asleep, I’m in awe of everyone’s commitment! But also I’m wondering why they feel the need to show their commitment at this time in the morning? During the meditation time, I peep through slitted eyes and just watch for a moment – haha, glad it’s not just me who’s tired! I can even see the brown robed monks wobbling, well, either they are super tired or super into their meditation that they’re literally swaying in their own little worlds hehe!

After the chanting and meditations, the ladies have to clean the bot building so that’s where the 3 of us all headed. We had to sweep the leaves from the path and then mop the floor of the temple. After an hour of cleaning, we then head back to our Kuti’s. I actually cried! I was thinking to myself, what have I done, what am I doing here? I hated it! How is this going to help me find peace with myself? 30 mins laters, we all had to go to the kitchen to help separate the alms food.

The Meal

Now this is the food I’ve stopped to give the monks while we were in Laos. Well, now I know what happens to it being on the other side. There is so much food! Fresh fruit, fish, veg, salad, full on dinners to cartons of drink! Oh yes and soo much sticky rice haha! One word of advice, don’t give the monks sticky rice, give them something yummy plus, no one really eats much of the rice, there’s always so much of it left.

So, food separated, you then go and wait in the Sala building. The monks then ring a bell at 8am and walk over to the kitchen / food hall. We follow behind the monks but we have to wait in a separate room in the food hall..so basically, the monks get the prime pickings. Next, the laymen go in with their food bowls, then finally, it’s the womens turn! The table is full of food! As I mentioned, it’s full on dinners etc..the men are filling their bowls to the brims! While I’m hungry, the thought of eating rice noodles, chicken and pork at 8am doesn’t appeal but at the same time, this being the only meal, you just have to tuck in!

My bowl doesn’t look that full. Rice, veg, some donuts, a carton of milo and some bananas..hmm, not sure that’s going to sustain me all day is it? Back in our little eating / prayer room, my bellies grumbling away like a frog and as I was abouts to eat a spoonful of rice, I realised no one else was eating yet?! Huh? We waited for a few minutes, then a bell chimed. We then had to chant a blessing before we ate…”I eat this food not for fun, not for pleasure, not for beautification but to provide this body with the nourishment it needs so I can live the holy life. I will allay hunger so I can live blamelessly and at ease”..well, something along those lines. Finally we can now eat..gobble gobble! Afterwards, everyone has to clean their bowls and cups and then go and gather around the Abbott’s office (where I was told to wait when I arrived). “Ok. Today we have a lot of work to do. Ladies, please can you clean the kitchen area and do it well”  The men were given jobs / tasks too. The monks final words again were “Do your jobs well and do them thoroughly but do not become absorbed into what you are doing”. Umm ok, not too sure I understand that lol. Everything seems to be a riddle here.

So we go off to clean the kitchen! Sweeping, washing up, floor mopping! Breaking into a sweat, I thought we were nearly done but then Noricco asks me to clean 4 of the ladies toilets!! What! So I’m a janitor now too. Of course, I couldn’t argue it and followed orders. Chores done, then back to our kuti’s. Right 12 until 4.30pm free time..how will I spend mine..? Sleeping, oooh yeehhh! I get into my kuti, clamber under my mozzie net and fall asleep to the sound of Noricco sweeping her kuti.

Knowing you, knowing me! 

Daniella actually woke me up around 4.15pm to ask if I was coming to tea which of course I was. During tea, I got to to know the ladies a little better…

Noricco used to be a highly paid IT Computer Programmer living in New York! Wow, she must have been pretty hard-core to have survived there. She said she was getting fed up with the constant 9 to 5 daily routine and the stress that came with it. “I hated the getting up for work, coming home, then bed, then back to the same routine again the next day. The only time I was happy was when I went on holiday. So I joined a few meditation classes in India but all I could think about was my flat in New York! So I decided to make a break, quit my job and flat and go on a quest to see what I really wanted to do with my life…” Wow….sounds familiar haha! “So then I started to study Buddhism and Reiki. I felt Buddhism was more my thing and I stayed at my first monastery learning all I could. Having studied Ajahn Chah (the guy who set Wat Pah Nanachat up) I then wanted to come here.” “So do you want to become a nun now for sure?” I asked. “Yes, I do. It brings me peace. It’s a simple life and you have nothing to worry about”

I then turned to Daniella and asked “And what about you Daniella? What’s your story?”. “Well, I used to be an actress. I worked in London as a Shakespearean actress and was quite good at it but then suddenly I felt as though I couldn’t express myself properly anymore and needed ‘something else’. I guess you could call it actors block, you know, like writers block. So I started to learn contemporary dance to see if that would help. It did for a bit but I still needed something else. I felt some time out to reflect would help so I did some travelling and here I am now at the monastery”. She explained. “Wow, sounds like everyone’s here in this place has a story” I said. “And what about you?” Asked Daniella. I was thinking…where do I start haha! “Me? Well, I guess I’m also on a quest to find myself and some peace along the way! I’m a mixed bag of potatoes though, I have many reasons! I’d always wanted to travel and adventure for one but situations and / or timings were never right. Then sadly I lost my Brother and that showed me how short life really is. I turned to Reiki to help me on a more spiritual level and then I too decided to follow my intuition and jack everything in and up and go! I felt Buddhism and the Reiki were somehow linked and that this monastery would perhaps help me to develop my meditation too?” They both seemed to understand and actually, it was nice to talk about it, it felt like the right place to do it too.

After tea, it was the usual back to the Kuti to chill before evening chanting. Again, it was another noisy night of  ‘forest talk’ chattering away whilst I was trying to write my journal. With the candle fading, I braced myself for the darkness and tried to shut out my imagination trying to kidd me that Freddy Kruger was going to hack down my door and get me haha….

Flash…ARR   GGHHH!! 

It must have been around 1am when I was woken up by the sounds of heavy rain hitting my tin roof along with a rendition of the frogs chorus outside! It sounded like the frogs were all around my hut! Uh oh, what was that? A bright white, bluey flash lit up the whole of my Kuti! Oh no…..thunder! The crash and rumble was quite subtle to begin with but it soon crept up until it was right above my hut! It was so scary! I was in a hut, in the middle of a forest surrounded by creepy crawlies amist a huge storm! Again, my imagination never fails to frighten me! I was thinking of the horror films once more…I imagined I’d see a horrible scary face or a man with an axe just as the room was lit up by the thunder! With each crash and bang, I’d dive under my sleeping bag. ‘Right, that’s it, I’m sleeping with the light on!’ I said to myself. I couldn’t stand listening to my imagination chattering away anymore haha! I didn’t get much sleep to be honest…with the frogs croaking and the thunder banging away, I ended up clock watching…waiting for the dreaded alarm to get me up for morning chanting!

Fed up and washed out! 

Yep, there goes the alarm, bright and early 2.50 AM Thursday morning! Oh and it’s STILL heavily raining. ‘Oh great!’ I muttered as I clambered out my sleeping bag and out from under the mozzie net. So I had to get up, run to the toilet (avoiding all the green frogs that were lapping up their free outdoor lido!) and get completely soaked. I wasn’t happy at all. Checking myself in the mirror I noticed that my right eye looked a little puffy and it was rather itchy too! I put it down to being tired to brushed it off..

So we all walked over in the rain for the chanting and then continued on to clean the Bot building. There were these huge flying bugs all over the place! I didn’t say much to Daniella or Noricco that morning because I was so tired (not to mention soaked and hungry too!). Finally, walking back to the Kuti’s, I was thinking I seriously wanted to walk but something told me to keep trying!

After the meal at 8am, the Abbott gave us our chores. “Ladies, can you clean all around the kitchen quarters and the visitors toilets” Great! So today I got lumbered with cleaning 9 toilets, plus I got bitten by blasted mozzies! Mozzies seem to hang around toilets, I’m not sure why but they do! I was so shattered. I must have already burnt off the brekkie too! Finally at 12, we went back to our kuti’s. Another quick check on my eye and I noticed the swelling had gotten worse. Hmm, something must have bitten me in the night so I’d better ‘keep an eye on it’ boom boom! As before, I slept until around 3pm.

Thursday evening after chanting, I see there were still a surprising amount of frogs around. It was funny actually because I was watching them through the netting on the door of my kuti. I found it amusing guiding these huge winged bugs down and down with my torch to the little green frog sitting at the doors entrance and ‘gobble gobble!’ haha…Gourmet dinner for these little frogs…not very Buddhist of me!

So another night to get through. I actually slept with the light on as I’d run out of candles! I could see small geckos hiding up by the light eating small flies ‘goodo, eat up my friends’ haha. Still, small ants and beetles were getting through my net! I hated it. So even with my mozzie net up, my plug in bug killer and an extra dowsing of bug spray, I STILL got bitten! Arrgghh, how much more of this could I stand?! I wasn’t learning anything Buddhery either…the women are literally left on their own so you have to read books and teach yourself.

Forget snakes on a plane….try snakes in a Kuti!!

I get woken up at the usual out of this world time of 2.50am so I can get ready to go to morning chanting. My eye felt worse today, better check it in the mirror. I”m horrified at the reflection in my little compact mirror! The swelling is worser still and now the eye is looking red and inflamed. ‘Great, now it looks like I’ve been punched in the eye!’ Worried, I knew I had to tell someone about it. Breaking my thoughts I hear Daniella outside my kuti. “Helen…are you up?” Daniella called me so we could walk to morning chanting together. “Did you sleep with the light on all night?” She asked. “Oh yeh, I did haha!” I replied. “Did you sleep ok though?” “No, not really. My eye for one is giving me grief..look at this..” I then shone my torch on my eye to show Daniella. “Oh no, looks like you’ve had a nasty bite from something. I have some cream you can put it on don’t worry” Phew! Walking to the Sala building I then said “I’m so tired! Do you think the monks will notice if I draw eyes on my eyelids?” I laughed at my own joke but again, my sense of humour was useless here and we walked to chanting in silence haha!

Again, the usual day of chores, sweeping and scrubbing is over with and I’m still thinking my time here is also over with! I think I really need a meditation centre to help me develop this side rather than a monastery..this wasn’t helping me to achieve anything.

When we got back to our quarters in the afternoon, I checked on my eye again in the toilet kuti and it was still puffed up and nasty looking…it was proper itchy too! Hopefully the cream that Daniella had would soothe it. Walking back over to my kuti, I could see my usual gecko friends on the outside walls of my hut and out the corner of my eye, I saw something green going into my hut…’was…was…that a s s s s snake?’ I thought to myself! ‘Nah!’ But then anything’s possible in the forest I guess plus, I did stupidly leave the door open oops! I could then hear all this commotion going on from inside my hut!! Approaching cautiously and OMG….there it was!! A huge, long green snake in my hut trying to eat one of my gecko friends! Well, the gecko looked too big for it’s mouth but he put up quite a fight! I screamed to the others who came running over which interrupted the snakes munching time and the gecko broke free! We all watched for a while (at at distance of course!) until the green unwanted visitor slid off. By the time I got my camera out, I’d only caught photo’s of the snakes head! After this episode and with my puffy eye situation, I knew it was definitely time to move on!! “Ladies, I’m outta here!” I blurted! “Ok, then you must tell the Abbott today.” Noricco said. “We can go to the office together and tell him” So we did just that…

I’m not a Nun…get me out of here!! 

At the office, the Guest Monk comes out to greet us. “Can I help you?” Feeling rather intimidated (and also like I was abouts to be told off by the Head Master!) I responded with “Yes. I have come to tell you I’m leaving tomorrow”. My voice sounded as though it was a pitch higher than it normally was but I know this is because of nerves I guess! “Oh right. I thought you were going to stay for 3wks and you only made it 3 days?!” The guest monk sounded surprised. “3 wks!!” I blurted out an even more surprised response! “No I didn’t. I wanted to try this for as long as I could but it’s not quite what I was expecting and also, tomorrow will be 5 days!” I felt I needed to correct him here haha! “Well, perhaps Wat Pah Nanachat isn’t right for you at this moment in time. I think you must be at the stage where you perhaps need to be spoon fed with information” Hmm, I didn’t like what he was saying, but actually, he was right and as I said, I wasn’t learning anything here! So it was agreed I could leave on Saturday after the meal and oh my Buddha, I couldn’t wait!!

So Friday I just carried on with my normal duties and followed the schedule as usual. “Oh I’m not going to come to early Saturday morning chanting if you don’t mind, there’s no point with me going now” I said to the girls. I made it clear I didn’t want to be woken up at silly o’clock the day I was leaving hah!

At tea time, Daniella confided in me a little. “You know, I’m thinking of going too now. All this…everyday, it’s the same. I’m thinking I need to travel some more, perhaps Cambodia as you were talking about it and we are close to the border here.” Oh no, what have I done haha! It’s like when you hand your notice in at work – you usually get a short wave of others also wanting to leave too! But she has to follow her intuition.. I’d been telling Daniella about Cambodia a few days earlier and what it was like etc but also because I was thinking of volunteering for New Hope in Cambodia. It also makes for a prime location for a visa run too…hmm… So I responded with “Oh really! Well, you have to follow your intuition. I can recommend some places to go if you’d like.” “Ah well, I was thinking..If you could hang on a few days, we could go together?” This sounded almost like a plea but as I’d now got into the mindset of leaving, I really didn’t want to hang about! I felt bad but that’s how I felt, I couldn’t bear the thought of another night in a snake and bug ridden hut in the forest not to mention another day of sweeping or scrubbing toilets! ” So I had to be honest with the girl…”Oh cool. That will be great to go together but now I know I’m going…plus, I really don’t want to stay another few nights in my kuti..” “Ok, I understand” I got the impression Daniella knew I was going to say that anyway! But we exchanged emails so we could keep in touch, for I said if I went to Cambodia, I’d take Daniella with me. But actually, I was bricking it inside for I didn’t have a plan AT ALL, plus not having access to the internet, I couldn’t book things or research anything so I had to ‘go with the flow’ as soon as I was back in reality! I’d only had a few ideas…maybe I could help teach english at New Hope and perhaps also help in the health centre. I had emailed them before I went into the monastery suggesting I set up a reiki practice as an add on to their medical treatments – a complimentary service for the Cambodian community. Or if this wasn’t possible, I’d go back to Bangkok, my ‘base’ so I could stay in my favourite hostel ‘Hualampong Hotel’ and then plot to go to the islands down South. Then really, that for me would be Thailand done..the beaches are a must and with that ticked off, there really isn’t anything more I wanted to do. Ok great, so not too much to be fearful of.

So my last night in the monastery came…I think I slept with one eye open (the non puffy one!) just incase that snake managed to get in! Oh and of course, light on again too hehe! What a big wuss! I actually heard Daniella and Noricco leaving their huts to go to the morning chants…I must have been getting into the routine by then haha! I did get up in time to help separate the food for brekkie though, I wanted to work for my breakfast to feel worthy of it. After the meal, I went back to my hut to wash my monastery clothes and pack up. I checked on my eye again and it still looked ‘big and squishy’ but the swelling was starting to go down..phew!

So packed up and ready to go, woo hoo! Both Daniella and Noricco helped me to the gates with bags. Daniella had already directed me to an internet cafe so I thought, fab, I can check what to do and also see if New Hope had replied to my email about volunteering. We said our goodbyes and vowed to keep in touch. Just before we got to the gates, a car was slowly driving out past us..2 Thai ladies stopped to say hello (and goodbye), Noricco asked them if they knew for sure where the internet cafe was and also the train station and they kindly offered to take me there as they were going to pass that route anyway!

Fab, so in the car, I’m getting to know ‘Sow’ and ‘Way’. Now, Mum and Dad…don’t worry, I had a good feeling about these 2 enough to get in their car! Sow and Way are both really into their Buddhism and visit temples all over when they can. I asked them where the train station was as I thought I’d better check train times and grab a timetable before getting too wrapped up in the net. “Ok, we can take you to the train station instead it’s no problem” So, we are now on the way to the train station and it turns out, they live in a small place called Sisaket which funnily enough, is 80km from the Cambodian border!! I then told Sow and Way that I was thinking of working in Cambodia but as I’ve not heard from the company yet, I didn’t just want to go straight there if they didn’t have any places for me..Sow and Way suggested I go with them back to their home town for the night. “Our town is very safe and very friendly. What you could do, is stay in a hotel that has wifi and then make plans as to where you want to go after. We know people that can get you to the Cambodian border if that’s what you want?” Awesome! My inner typical Taurean that likes stability and routine was twitching but I thought, yeh, actually, that’s a good idea. I could always just hop on a train to Bangkok in the morning couldn’t I?! So we’re driving to Sisaket!! Previous research told me the people in the East are super friendly and I had a good feeling about these 2 girlies otherwise I wouldn’t have got in the car with them in the first place!

2 hours later, we’re arrived. Sow and Way even took me to a food hall so I could grab some supplies plus, they dropped me off at a hotel and even checked me in!! Great little hotel at 350 baht for the night. I had the biggest double bed, TV, a HOT shower oh and wifi IN THE ROOM = Helen heaven haha! We all exchanged numbers and said we’d keep in touch…particularly if I needed their help to get to the border. Such wonderful people…I offered them money for the drive over but they point blank refused! “No, no Helen. All we want is your friendship plus, we believe if you do something good, good karma will be returned to you.” Which is true, that is just what the Buddha’s believe. Wow, such kindness and gratitude…you just wouldn’t get that in somewhere like London would you!!

Plan for the unplanned…..

Straight away I’m on the net from the comfort of my hotel room and checking emails etc trying to plot my next move. Hmm, nothing from New Hope, so that must mean there’s no hope of a place hah! Later in the evening, my friend Ken called me..”What are you doing in Sisaket?!” He sounded surprised but I explained what happen etc and coincidentally said he knew people here and that he could possibly get me a teachers job! Whey hey! “But it won’t be paid but I could see about getting you free accommodation and free meals in exchange for the english teaching. It will take me a few days to hear back from my contacts and you will need to meet the main manager in Bangkok.” Great stuff! Sounded like this english teaching is meant to be in my ‘plan’ somewhere hey! Excitedly, I checked the trains back to Bangkok for the next day..well, I thought, even if it didn’t come off, I’d go back to my plan of travelling to the islands down South (always good to have a back up!)

In the morning I checked out and asked the receptionist where the train station was and also an internet cafe but unfortunately she didn’t understand me! So I thought I’d just go for a walk and explore Sisaket for a bit…that’s when I met ‘May’….

“Excuse me Miss…you go wrong way…main road is that way..!” She cried as I was walking up a dead end doh! “Oh thanks!” I replied. “Where you go?” “Oh, I’m looking for the train station and an internet cafe”. I responded. May and her husband were loading up their 4 x 4 whilst chattering away to me. “Ohh…train station is too far to walk. We can take you there?” Ok, so here goes again..I’m now getting a lift with new strangers hah! My Mum and Dad won’t like this one bit! But they were both very very sweet. I told them I may be teaching english in their town and suddenly their faces lit up…”Oh, you must keep in touch, we have a daughter and you could teach her!” May said excitedly! Oh I see…so saying you’re a teacher here could get you places…literally! So we swopped facebooks and emails once they dropped me at the train station. I thought if I’m at the train station, I could book my ticket to Bangkok and then see if there was an internet place nearby.

So, overnight train ticket booked…now where’s the cafe!! Walking around, I notice there’s not one single foreigner! I had done some research on Sisaket in my hotel room the night before and it seems to be a little off the radar..it’s not touristy even though there are temples, ruins and waterfalls but not many people pass through here (unless they’re on a visa run to Cambodia I guess?!) I did come across an american guys blog and he explained he spent a month in this lovely little town. He said the people are so friendly and helpful and love foreigners! We are considered ‘lucky’ to them and bring them good fortune apparently! So I was being stared at out of every passing car, shop window, market stall hah! But I was used to this by now. I lingered for a bit outside a small DIY store and just watched for a moment looking up the streets and which one to pick to walk up.. “Hello Miss..are you lost?” A guy about my age asked if I needed any help. “Ah yes, do you know where there is an internet cafe?” I asked. “Let me check” Then he went back inside to ask the others for me…moments later I had my directions and hey presto, there I was…internet, food and drink! The menu was all in Thai though! ‘Oh great’. Then a very kind Thai family helped me out…”What do you feel like eating?” They asked me…well, I wasn’t sure to be honest, I kind of wanted to see what was available so I could make up my mind hah! “Um, chicken and rice” No, I didn’t but that’s all I could think of hah! They were such a nice family. Again, I bragged about the possibility of teaching english there and they seemed really impressed hehe!

Catching up once again on my internetting’s….a huge shadow suddenly past the window. I looked, then looked again…hang on…it’s a huge elephant! What the..! I turned and looked at the family and they said ‘Yep, that’s normal here!’ Wow, I LOVE this place…

Hours passed and it was time for me to head off for my train to Bangkok. The train station was suddenly alive with a night market! There were stalls everywhere and there was also a small stage show going on. So I stood and watched some of the show and there was another elephant…huh!! Staring with my mouth wide open at this wonderful sight a guy came over and asked if I wanted to feed it! “Sure I do!” So for 50 baht I bought some feed and fed this cute elephant for a little while. Hah…so I’m abouts to get on a train, casually watch a Thai singing and dancing show and feed an elephant! I love this place…I will be sure to come back too, teaching or no teaching job! The people and the vibe here is just indescribable. The people here just seem to really want to go out of there way to help you but I also think being the only tourist there helped that massively. So I reluctantly got on the train and watched Sisaket disappear until I couldn’t see it anymore…but I have a feeling (and here’s hoping), it won’t be for the last time….

 

 

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Island get….away!

5 am and the alarms calling us to get up and out of bed! A groan and a stretch and I’m up. We’re already packed up so we’re pretty much ready to leave by 6.20am. Outside, we debated over a bus or taxi and as the roads were pretty clear, we decide to grab a cab to save us lugging over extra heavy invisible men around.

So in the cab, a few disgruntled words from us and he finally agrees to put the meter on and we’re off.

At the bus staion, we book our tickets and hop on the 7am bus! The journey takes 3.5hrs to reach Banphe. At Banphe, we find the tour company who then arranged our speed boat to the island..Ao Wai.

45 minutes later and we’re reached our paradise island getaway! Wow, this place is gorgeous! We’re staying slap bang right in the middle of a secluded white sandy beach! Checked in, we then follow the receptionist up to our room and wondering which of these beautiful temporary homes will be ours for the next few days. We pass cottages, apartments, small but beautiful shacks…hmm..it’s taking ages, it’s quite a walk.

Suddenly, a windey path or 2 later and our tiny shack appears! Umm..for starters, shack is the right word! It’s small, wooden and rustic features scream ‘renovation’. Ok, maybe it’s better looking inside? We enter into a hot and dank looking square room…oh and there’s a double bed staring at us haha! We did order a twin of course!  No aircon either, just a fan, oh and no mozzie net either..hmm this can’t be right! So we go back to reception to switch rooms. “No sorry, nothing available as it’s holiday season”. I think she means it’s the weekend coming up, they are fully booked by the Thai’s. Ok, we can handle it for a few nights right?

Ok, so lets get some washing done..”I put together to make 5 kilos” Um, ok! Hasn’t been a problem anywhere else but if that’s what we have to do, we put it together. “Will you keep the whites separate?” Asked Judith pulling out her white Tshirt. “It might be ok, no guarantee!” “Well, we don’t want our whites to come out coloured!” replied Judith. So I quickly pull out my red Tshirt as this one hasn’t been washed yet and we decide it’s worth a risk.

Later, we head out for dinner which was pretty bland, washed it down with a cocktail and then went to bed by 10pm!

Friday 24th May – A white shade of blue!

So we’re up by 9am and down for brekkie by 9.30am. Scrambled eggs (apparantly) and toast which tasted of sugar, urgh, none of it was nice! We then went over to reception to pick up our washing…

“Oh my god!!” Screeched Judith… she pulls out her white TShirt and trousers which are now looking a dull shade of grey / blue!! “They were my clothes for my stay at the meditation centre!” Oh great, and my smalls have all gone blue too! I think my blue aladdin pants are the culprits! Oops, sorry Judith! Strange though as they have been washed before. Judith complained at the receptionists who basically replied with a ‘told you so’ comment but they did agree to try and get it fixed. I wasn’t too worried about my smalls so left them in all their new bluey glory haha!

Peeved, we went back to our room. As they were no nets, all our bites are now coming up. Judith is absolutely covered poor thing! We then see holes all around the doors and windows so it’s more than enough space for bugs and creepies to sneak in! Again, a long walk back to the reception and we’ve asked them to sort it out. 20 mins later, they’ve sent 2 guys to come along and try render the doors and windows ‘bug free’ ! Phew, lets go and chill on the beach.

Woah, the sun is pretty strong here so on goes my factor 50. I couldn’t stand it for long so had to go back into the shade. A while later, our bellies are telling us it’s lunch time but we’re dreading it! What horrors will they serve up this time? Ok, they can’t go too wrong with a sandwich right…wrong!! Something tasted a bit funky so I couldn’t eat it all! Sunburnt, hungry and to be honest a little hacked off, we headed back to our room. We agreed to leave a day early (Saturday and not the Sunday as originally planned). We thought we’d head back to Bangkok to party it up Saturday night.

It was such a shame! How could we be so unhappy in a seemingly perfect paradise? Well, it was a mix of things I guess..believe it or not, there was a real lack of anything to do. Yes, the beach was absolutely a-mazing but it was more of a couples / honeymooners scene! Being the single one of the pair, I found this a little bit hard but no doubt Judith did too and was secretly wishing she could trade me in for her boyfriend Matt hehe! But also, there weren’t any people we could befriend and mingle with. The couples were all being ‘coupley’ and lovey dovey and other people tended to be families having a short getaway. Oh and the majority of people there were of Asian ethnicity so they didn’t want to be mingling with us anyways hah!

So on our last night, we had a Magnum icecream for dinner followed by a beer and a cocktail oh and then a walk on the moonlit beach…all together now…awww!!

Saturday 25th May – Skybar?? More like Skyfall!!

So the journey back to the big smoke felt like it took up most of the day. As soon as we’re back and checked into our hostel for the night, we get ready to hit the town and party to make up for our island disaster!

“Lets go to this Skybar you went to before!” An excited Judith putting the final touches of her make up on agreed it was something we had to tick off the Bangkok bucket list. “Ah yeh, sure. It’s nice in there, you can see the whole of Bangkok from the top!” I agreed it would make for a wicked night out.

In the taxi along the way, it hits me there are 2 skybars! “Hang on, I went to the bar at the top of Baiyoke Tower. Albert said there are 2 skybars…the one I went to and the one where the Hangover 2 was filmed and that one is uber expensive. Also, the matter of attire is important, apparantly they don’t let you in unless you are suited and ‘shoed’ up..no flip flops allowed type of dress! So a quick call to Albert and he tells us we’re going to the wrong one….the extortionately priced one! Oh crap! “Lets turn this cab around then!” I quickly blurted! “They won’t let us in with our Aladdin pants and sandals now will they!”….but it’s too late and the cabs now pulled up right out the front!

We can see very smartly dressed (and rich looking) people coming and going about the place. A bell boy comes straight over and opens the taxi door for us. “Welcome to Skybar!” He did seem quite welcoming but immediately his eyes fell straight to our shoes! ‘Oh no, he’s checking us out to see if we’re suitable…if we’re worthy’ lol! He was too as well..both Judith and I got the up and down..not just from him but everyone! It was so embarrassing. As soon as we walked in, men and women in their fancy frocks and suits were looking us up and down as if to say ‘what are YOU doing in here and how did you get it?!’  I notice everything looks just perfect! Shiny marble floors which looked as though they’ve been polished up to perfection, a huge grand piano (again, polished to pristine condition) and the tallest ceiling that you’d have to crook your neck to see the top of! Judith said to ignore the snobbery and now that we’re here (and in!), we may as well just have one drink and then leave…

64 floors up, we’re now right at the top..”Skybar? Follow me ladies” Another bell boy in a top hat and white Michael Jackson looking gloves beckoned us to the roof top bar. Wow, it is amazing! A whole birds eye view of Bangkok! “Would you like to see the drinks menu?” Asked the tiny and perfect looking waitress. “Sure”. We proceeded to flick through (prices first!) and woah…the cocktails started at 550 Baht on average! Right, one drink then we’re out of here haha! I chose a very berry vodka and Judith goes for a Martini. All the while we’re looking around and seeing the ‘eyes’ on us…as if from disapproving Asians wondering what and how on earth we are there. Everyone’s so dapper and sharp looking and there we were…both in Aladdin trousers and vest tops and sandals lol! “Ladies there is a seat free now right next to the view. Would you like to sit there?” The bell boy showed us over to a nice comfy looking sofa right by the view so of course we went to sit a while. Moments later, I somehow lost the grip on my glass…..

‘SPLOSHHHHH’ I paused for what felt like a few minutes just staring down at my sky blue aladdin pants that were now completely splashed with my very berry cocktail!!!! O…M…G…!!! “Judith, can we um….go…NOW??” I was absolutely mortified!! Had I just done this right in front of all these people? There is absolutely NO way no one could miss this! “Oh no miss….shall I show you the bathroom?” The tiny and perfect waitress promptly showed me the way to go and get myself ‘cleaned up’ ! I really didn’t want to move! The very berry cocktail was SO red that it looked like I had blood all down myself! Gingerly, I followed the perfect waitress to the ladies, feeling the eyes burning into the back of me, the bathroom felt like the longest walk ever!!

Right, so I’m in the bathroom…’what’s the damage? Yup, it’s pretty bad and unrecoverable’ I thought to myself..there’s no way I can clean this off, if I wipe it, it will smudge..where’s your Mum when you need her hah! Where was Judith? Maybe if I stay in here long enough, she will come to my rescue and get me out of here?!! But no, I had to ‘man up’ ! Ok, think, think, think….I’ve got it! I’ll just roll up my aladdin pants and turn them into shorts so the stains are covered! Brill! Seems to be working..not a stain in sight. Ok, right, now I have to face the snobbery and walk back out there! Oh boy, here goes…..head held high, I waltz back into the roof top bar and greet Judith. It felt like I walked into the room in slow motion hah and I could see an accepting nod from Judith before she’s even opened her mouth. ‘This is great’ I’m thinking! ‘Yeh, I’m really working it here’ haha!  Ok, daydream over, we’re leaving!! We then hop into a cab, rush back to the hotel for a soak and a change and then hit our favourite place..Koh Sarn Road! It turned out to be a fab night! We found a club called….’The Club’ ! And partied until the morning!

Sunday 26th May – Hey Jude…or should I say ‘Bye Jude’ 

Today Judith and I spent some time shopping in MBK’s mall for odd’s and sods and grabbed some lunch and chill time for today we were a teenie bit jaded! Later on, Judith left me to head for her meditation course…5pm, that was it. I watched Judith hail a cab and then that was it! I did um…blub a little in the hostel reception but then pulled myself together as I know I can do this! I have BEEN doing it!

I check myself back in for another night but of course, this time, on my todd. Ok, so I’m in a 6 bed dorm. ‘I hope no one checks in with me and I’m all alone’…A few hours later and yup, no one seems to be checking in…woo hoo!! I got my wish! Eventually my tired eyes tell me to switch facebook off and hit the hay in my large, empty 6 bed dormitory.

Monday 27th – De Ja Vue…Sleeper train! 

Ok so this now brings me to today! I checked out nice and early and left my back pack down with reception so I could go back into town for more shopping. I needed a new ruck sack as my other one had ripped with all the cramming I’d been doing plus, I needed a white Tshirt to wear at the monastery. A bus ride into the big city and I’m there. It’s just like London really..lots of people, lots of hustle and bustle and way too much traffic and pollution! Brill, I’ve got everything I need and I’m now headed back to the hostel to chill in the seating area (which is now!)

My overnight sleeper train leaves for the monastery at 8.30pm so I will head off at 8pm to be at the platform nice and early. I will arrive in Ubon Rattachani at 7.25am and I will then catch a cab straight to the monastery. I am actually really nervous! I will be living with monks! I’ll be taking part in their daily routines of meditation, chanting and learning about Buddhism. It’s not because I wish to become a nun though you know..I’m doing this purely because I want to see what monks do, what do they teach in Buddhism, how do they teach it but also because of the meditation. Being a Reiki Master, I need to be able to meditate properly so I felt this will be a huge help and it will teach me how to train the mind to be ‘silent’.

It will be my biggest challenge yet but it’s one my instinct is telling me I must go through. So you may not hear from me for a while as I will not be allowed any contact with the outside world!

Do wish me luck!! I can’t wait to tell you all about it when I resurface! I feel this is going to be one hell of an experience…see you soon!! xxxx

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Do the hippy hippy Laos!!

Hey, so here we are in beautiful Laos! I think I left you online on Friday 10th May when we met our newbies, Abbi, Hollie and Karen. They are all really nice and it’s great to have a new set of dynamics in the group. Abbi and Hollie are both 19 and Karen is 33 yrs old.

So…..are you sitting comfortably? I know I was at the time of writing this! I was sitting on a slow boat back to Thailand, 10 hours slow to be precise hah so as the boat ride got rather boring, I had a lot of time to kill….so, here goes….

Saturday 11th May – Vientiane

Today, it’s pack up, and on-board a flight to the final part of our tour…Laos. The que for the checking in was a knightmare, it took us so long to get through. Hmm…18.5 kilo’s! My invisible man’s weight is creeping up, I’m thinking that’s the same for my little rice belly too but hey ho! Anyways, an hour later and we’ve touched down at Laos airport. Visa’s don’t seem to take as long and 35 dollars lighter, we’re in!

Laos itself – wow, everything is so lush and green! It’s peaceful, beautiful and surrounded by mountains – limestone mountains in fact, there are more here on land than in Thailand…in Thailand, the limestone mountains are situated more in the oceans than on the land. So all in all, Laos is very hot and humid and also very jungle looking….immediately I love it!  Such a change from Hanoi, it’s just wonderful to be away from the hustle and bustle and back in the countryside. Infact until earlier this year, Laos was labelled a ‘Hippy town’! This is because it used to be legal to smoke weed, take opium oh and munch on magic mushrooms! If you try anything like that now, the police will come down extra hard on you!

Anyways, a short ride on the bus brings us to our hotel. We then had an explore of our surroundings and met for dinner. We experienced a traditional Laos dinner of Lap chicken – Lap is a special mix of herbs and spices that they mix with a meat of your choice. It was really nice actually, although we did all have a case of travellers trots the next day haha! We then had a walk around the night market and split up. Judith and I met an Australian guy who was travelling alone, Mike I believe was his name, a lone traveller who looked as though he hadn’t spoken to any english speaking folk for weeks hah, so he invited us for a beer. “You’ve got to try the happy shakes when you get to Vang Vieng! They are the best place to do them!” Mike excitedly blurted out…It didn’t take a genius to realise he was going on about the mushroom shakes that we’d heard about. “Um, no I don’t think so…the thought of being banged up abroad doesn’t really appeal!” I responded. Mike was explaining what it felt like and that was enough for us! We told our tour leader Albert about it afterwards and he said “Stay away from them. Not only do the local drug dealers try to set you up (apparently, they call the cops and say you bought a substance off them so you’re arrested and the drug dealers are rewarded…huh!), but also, Albert said the happy shakes will make you feel drunk for at least 2 days straight! Anyways, we had no intentions of taking anything, nor being set up and banged up abroad!

Sunday 12th

So in the morning, 9am, we’re booked onto a ‘Tuk Tuk’ tour which killed the 2hrs we had until departing for Vang Vieng. The tour was quite good actually, it was a good way (and the quickest way) to rush through some sites before moving on again. (so this was more of the same, temples and monuments etc). After the tuk tuk tour, it was another bus ride (4hrs!) to reach the hippy sleepy town of Vang Vieng.

4 hours later….Vang Vieng.

Wow this place is BEAUTIFUL! It’s like we’ve landed slap bang in the middle of the jungle – literally it’s as though someone has made a clearing right at the bottom of the of the mountains, put in a couple of straw and wooden houses, a few bars and shops and hey presto, you have a small village going on! The view from our hotel is amazing! We are surrounded by these lush limestone mountains – oh and there’s also a giant beehive in the tree right across the way! I’m tempted to through a stone in it just to see what happens but refrain haha! But seriously, I don’t want to leave this place ever! Life here seems so relaxed, the people are lovely and there is a vibe of ‘no fear, no worries, just chill!’. I’m sure Bob Marley could have happily retired here (well, even happier before they banned the consumption of weed I guess!).

So Sunday was a mix of exploration and eating really! Food included eating local rice (which was very nice!), dinner on the Mekong River followed by watching one of the street food stalls knock up sweet pancakes for us…Oh Pha Chow (Omg), YUMMY! Banana and chocolate for me! Albert said it was worth a good few thousand calories so it would take a while to burn off haha! Then we took a walk to the local tour operators office and booked an activity for the Monday. Everyone opted for the Kayaking and Tubing down the river but Judith and I wanted to do something different as we went Kayaking on my birthday. We opted for a 9 to 5 mountain and jungle trek, woo hoo! I remembered how much I loved trekking through the jungle in Chaing Mai so I thought, how hard can this one be? Oh how wrong was I…….!!!

Monday 13th – Mountain and Jungle trek day!

Ok, so it’s up and breakfasted and then meeting our trekking guide in the hotel lobby. I remember pulling on my hiking boots thinking ‘Fab, I’m perfectly equipped for this!’…..again, oh how wrong was I haha!

So it’s 9am and our trekking guide and truck are waiting for us…on we get and off we go! The bus stopped in a small tribes village and Judith and I were then formerly introduced to our guide and what we were to expect for the day. Alan, our guide, was a 30 something, happy (but cheeky!) kind of fella. He seemed to be very knowledgeable and had done this trek many times before which made us feel at ease. “So, we will be trekking up, over and down 2 mountains today. The first one is the longest trek but the 2nd mountain is the steepest. We will then trek through the jungle reaching a tribes village at the other end.”  2 mountains! Oh Pah Chow…”We can do this Judith, it’ll be fine!” As we walked through the village, Judith and I were eyeing up (and sizing up) which mountains we were meant to be climbing up…so we had to ask didn’t we…first one in sight! Ok, so it doesn’t look so bad haha…we walked past fish farms, rice fields and crops of sweet potatoes. Ok, so here we are at the base of the first mountain….We can do this!!

WOAH – we’ve under estimated how hard this is going to be…I’m not sure about Judith but I’m already starting to feel it after the first few steps up but my god it’s steep! But we keep going. Alan is ahead leading the way and using his machete to clear a way through the overhanging leaves and branches..he then stops and cuts Judith and I a walking stick…hey don’t laugh, it actually really helped!

Wow the rocks are so hard to climb! I felt like I was clambering rather than climbing and walking. Phew, we stop for a quick breather. It had felt like we were walking for ages but nope, Alan said we were only a quarter of the way….WHAT!! Oh jeez, how were we going to last until 5pm!!? Sweat was already dripping from all over but we marched on! By now the view were incredible, just breath-taking! We knew it was going to be worth it up top. Each break we had, I was thinking we must be half way by now, then finally a clearing brought us to the check point…..WOOOOWWW!! It felt like we could see for miles already! Again, we soldiered on keeping each other going. We trekked over flat rocks, big rocks, steep and sharp rocks, small and straight clearings, thick and dense ant (GIANT) infested jungle and were determined to keep going. Alan said people have given up about half way but we knew we were tougher than that, it’s more about the endurance and I knew I had a lot of that! But this was by far tougher than the Chaing Mai jungle trek for sure, it was because it was denser, steeper and a hell of a lot rockier but hey, that’s cos we were climbing up a limestone mountain!! Ouch…I kept whacking my legs on the rocks by mistake so I’d lost count of the amount of bruises that would appear later on that day! Sweat was rolling down my back and even my face which I never get…it stung as it dripped off my brow and into my eyes and causing my vision to cloud up for a few moments…but that wasn’t going to stop me in my tracks! Along the way, we were getting to know Alan and saying how lucky he is to live in such beautiful surroundings! He pointed out a few funny shaped rocks which actually looked like um…parts of the male anatomy so of course, we had to stop for a few photographic opportunities!

Ahh wow, we can hear a waterfall coming up!  The ground under our feet is becoming softer, wetter and now near on muddy! My boots are now so clogged up that they are no longer gripping so I’m finding it harder to maneouvre up and over..Judith was amazing at this, while my boots were becoming more of a hindrance, her long legs in her trainers were effortlessly gliding her over the uneven terrain and landing her gently back on both feet ready to climb again whereas me, a booted Bridget Jones was slipping and sliding and yep, I did misplace my left boot and took a little tumble and slid on the soft yellow, orangey mud and whacked my butt cheek on a sharp rock!! Yeouch!! Well, that I can tell you that became a lovely shade of purple and blue haha!

We follow the sound of the waterfall and finally, we’re there! What a sight! Alan lets us rest while he cooks us up a BBQ lunch…chicken skewers with rice and bread served up in a banana leaf, yummy!

Full bellied, we journeyed on to now descend the mountain…Getting out of the waterfall was a bit scary…now clean and shiny boots meant wet and slippery boots! I do not recommend wearing walking boots over rocky terrain! It’s harder I think because my size 8’s (don’t worry, I’m not actually a size 8, hiking boots come up larger, I’m a 6 by day ok!) were getting stuck in the smallest of cracks so each time I tried to pull my foot out, I was stuck haha! I needed to use extra force or I would fall and face plant the nearest rock or bush but of course that didn’t happen! Walking through the jungled areas felt like we’d just landed in Jurassic Park! Judith and I were whistling the sound track and teaching it to Alan haha! There were giant ants everywhere, yellow ones, red ones, black ones and even red AND black ones! The red and black ones were the ones to avoid as these were bullet ants! I remember seeing these on a David Attenborough programme – think they get their names because of the powerful bite they deliver so naturally we wanted to avoid them. Alan said he’d been bitten by them before on the arm…his whole arm and hand swelled up and he claimed he couldn’t stretch his arm out properly for almost 2 weeks! OMG! Anyways, these ants were everywhere and you couldn’t avoid them easily, especially when you are crouching and walking through a ‘jungle’ alleyway – critters cling on to you from when you brush against the leaves etc…Well, just when I thought I had avoided the critters, OUCH, something bit me on the shoulder! I felt the pincers of the giant ant pierce my skin hah! Great, a nice red bump comes up, later of course, I have more over my legs!!

Hang on a minute, something doesn’t feel right with my leg…I can feel something sharp digging into my leg….”Hang on a second” I shout ahead to Alan and Judith to hold on for a second..so I’ve rolled up my right trouser leg and to my utter horror – there is a huge leech latched on just below my knee!! Ok, where did that come from, how did it get all the way up my leg without me feeling it, will I get some kind of jungle disease?! “AARRGGHH!!” I just stared at it screaming like a little girl (of course!), Alan came straight over and pulled it off! It took a few attempts as it was stuck on there good and proper but then blood was trickling down my leg and it kept coming! It was pretty gross! Alan wiped some funny looking leaf over the wound and then Judith gave me a plaster which got soaked pretty quickly and later fell off in the jungle somewhere haha! It was such a weird feeling..like a sharp but small scratch and then a stingy feeling. Well after that I was so paranoid..’what if there are more that I don’t know about? What if I take my shoes off later and I find 1 or 2 full fat bellied, blood bulging leeches?!’ So I checked myself thoroughly and yep, spotted another alien like leech crawling in a caterpillar motion up my other trouser leg! “Argh, get it off, get it off!” I screeched! Again, Alan to the rescue and no more leeches in sight! Even though the other one had been removed and then battered to death by Alan, I remember thinking, I wished I had taken a photo of it to show Mum and Dad just to freak them out haha! Nevermind.

Hours later and much of the terrain conquered (oh and a 2nd mountain down)..we then reached a tribal village. We trekked through finally reaching our air-conned minibus to flop into. Wow, 9 to 5! What a fantastic day, more to the point, what a feat! We were so proud of ourselves for surviving the limestone mountains and the Jurassic Park bug infested jungle but DAM, it was worth it!!

As soon as we got back to the hotel, we promptly put our dirty washing into the hotels laundrette and then collapsed on our beds until 7pm when we met the others for dinner.

Tuesday 14th May – Journey to Luang Prabang

Oh Pah Chow! Judith and I have woken up today super achey! A massage would be so nice right now but then again, we were so achey it might actually hurt so we leave it! Besides, today we had a 7hr bus journey for our next destination ‘Luang Prabang’.

Wow, the bus drivers a maniac, not only is he driving superfast up, down and round all the twists and turns in the road, there are huge crater sized pot holes! Today Judith is really sick so she’s braving it and keeping it down hah! I hold off taking my malaria tablet until later as they make me feel sick and I just knew a windey and very bumpy bus ride would be a sure guarantee for an up chuck!

Finally we arrive in Luang Prabang and again it’s just beautiful! Another sleepy town with a chilled atmosphere. Albert shows us around and we watched the night marketers setting up their stalls ready to open for business. Karen and I decided to take a walk up to the view point (over 200 hundred steps up) which over looked Luang Prabang. My poor legs were cursing me but again, it sure was worth it! We then took a walk around the market. A set of wooden chopsticks and a few T-shirts later, we headed back to the hotel for it was an early start in the morning…5am to be precise. We were going to feed the monks! (well, the correct way of saying it is..giving alms).

Wednesday 15th May – Chasing monks and waterfalls

Oooh, seriously early start today, ouch! We’ve all left the hotel to take a walk into town. Already we can see monks from the various temples walking along with their pots ready to receive their offerings.

We rushed to one of the nearest streets, paid 10,000 kip for a small bowl of sticky rice and all lined up and kneeled on the payment in wait. Before the monks arrive, you hold the bowl up to your forehead and make a wish which of course I cannot tell you for it won’t come true right!? Here they come! A line of monks wearing orange robes clasping golden pots slowly walk towards us and one by one we reach into our bowls of hot sticky rice and scoop as much as we can to offer the monks. Yeouch!! The rice is SO hot that we are burning our fingers! I felt like I was being really stingey but of course I wasn’t, I just couldn’t scoop enough before I felt that hot painful burn for me to sharply withdraw my hand from my bowl again hah! Afterwards, the monks all stand before you and chant a blessing so that you have a lucky day. Phew, with singed fingers, tired eyes and hungry bellies, it’s off to find brekkie.

Later on, we meet at 12 for our bus to take us to our next afternoon outing, Sii Waterfalls. 45 minutes later, we’re there…WOW! Again, another BEAUTIFUL sight. This is just like something out of a movie, or the Discovery Channel should I say! I have goosebumps just typing this now it was that incredible.

As soon as we get in, you come across a Bear Sanctuary. The sanctuary was SO cute! We could see around 6 bears who all looked really happy! they’d all been rescued from horrible fates and are now being looked after. Such cuties, it looked like you could go in and hug them but of course, we didn’t want to try it haha! After many snaps later, we then ventured on to see the waterfalls…OMG! Just gorgeous. The water had to be the clearest water I’ve ever seen! It didn’t have a colour! You could see right to the bottom. There were loads of people from all over…locals and tourists all swimming, jumping, dive bombing or rope swinging into the crystal clear waters!

A while later, we had lunch, explored some more and then a few of us (including myself), bought ‘Free the bears’ T-shirts. But…hang on…before we go, a Helen bug hunt is in order! I bet there are some interesting creepy critters to be found here! Hunting around, I wasn’t disappointed! Just moments into my solo hunting frenzy….JEEZ…I spotted above me, THE biggest web! Proudly sat in the centre was a huge dinner plate sized spider!! Awesome! It had long spindly legs and a long yellow and black body! As I got closer, it would lift up a leg as if to say ‘You come any closer and I’ll jump you!’ I backed off when it got to 3 but I stole some great snaps of him! Then I turned to go and I’m thinking ‘I must keep looking up then’ and WOAH, there’s another one again, with another huge spider sat waiting for it’s prey to just ‘fly on in’ ! Blimey, I’d better keep looking up then, I’d hate to be casually walking along and accidentally stumble into that web and then get stuck in it or worse still, wrapped up and dragged into the trees and cocooned into some kind of white webby prison just like they do in that film, Arachnophobia! So I’m snapping away and then hear my name being called..bug hunting is over for one day as I was beckoned back to the bus to head back! What a great bug hunt! Later on in the evening, we all went for a BBQ dinner and an early night for it was another early start…6.30am this time. Thursday morning we were destined to head for our next location, Pak Beng on our slow boat (yes, very very slow…10 hrs in fact!). Pak Beng was our night in a very basic homestay village. We were prepped on how very basic it would be and that we’d pretty much be sleeping on the floor..!

Friday 17th May

What a night! Back on board the boat for at least 12hrs, we’re headed for the Thai border today to embark on our route back down to Bangkok. I’m half looking forward to going back to Bangkok because I’ll be on my own time again and I can carry on with my own personal journey however, I am also beginning to fret. For one, we will all be departing ways and I will be on my todd once more after enjoying the company of others and getting to know them. I find that with the travelling you do make fast and intense friendships because you are all travelling together and you are literally in the same boat hah! You pull each other through the homesick days and keep everyone going but when you’re on your own again, you have to deal with it yourself in your own way. I know for sure that I am a people person and I guess I almost need people around me to be myself…to be the entertainer and make people laugh! I guess the thing I’m scared of most is the fact I don’t seem to have any direction after this tour. Apart from staying in the monastery, I have no plans, no rooms booked etc…where am I going, what am I doing?! I can’t stay in Thailand, I must carry on..I came out to explore and so that is what I must do. Ahh I know, yes, I do want to see the island where the ‘Beach’ was filmed, of course that is something you have to do when you come to Thailand right! Great, I’ll see the islands then who knows! One thing I am learning here is ‘Don’t worry, things always seem to work out’ which more often than not, they do!

Sorry, so anyways, mind wandering off as usual…back to last nights home stay. Right, we pull up at our village home stay around 5.30pm and we are immediately shown around. Wow, this village seems to differ from the tribes villages I visited in Chaing Mai. Life seems even more basic. We’re told it’s been around 5mths since the villagers have seen any foreigners or even white people so we’re to expect them to be really shy – they probably won’t even approach us.

So, as I mentioned above, our boats pulls up on the shore and we’re relieved to feel the warm sand under our feet instead of the hard, creaky wooden boards of the boat. Our guides, Albert and excuse me for saying this, um ‘bum-hole’ (that is exactly what it sounds like!) lead us up and into the village to meet the residents. A walk through takes us past the usual looking wooden bungalow / straw like huts and houses and gives us a glimpse into the villagers daily lives. All seemingly self efficient. Pigs, chickens, crops, they don’t need anything else. A strong and seemingly very happy community. We walk past children playing what looks like volley ball and also a make do bowls lane which looks really popular amoungst the young kids which is great to see. Half naked and dusty looking children running around laughing and playing, dogs tending their almost freshly looking born puppies, piglets snuffling their snouts under muddy puddles and women tending chickens. It’s so wonderful to see people living and surviving this way. We then get shown the local school, wow, it’s incredibly basic! Dark and dingy rooms with wooden tables and chairs that look like they need a seriously good refurb oh and a blackboard! I haven’t seen one of those for years! Suddenly I feel compelled to teach english so I soon make this known to bumhole…they do have a lack of english teachers in these villages..hmmm..Maybe I should really consider it, even if not here but somewhere like this??

I then caught the eye of a rather cute little girl..’Now there’s a Kodak moment’ I thought promptly getting the zoom lens out and attached! We were told we had to ask permission before we took a photo and better still, it’s polite to show the villagers the photo afterwards. So I asked bumhole if it was ok for me to snap this cute little girl. “Yes of course”. Great, so ready with the camera…oh hang on…where has she gone? Oh there she is, behind the tree. So I’m focused, zoomed in and ready to click but she smiles and runs away! Oh dammit! I find her again, focus, aim….Readdy and…She then lets out a cheeky little laugh and runs away again haha! This time she is joined by a friend, another little girl who also finds this game of ‘Pap and mouse’ all rather exciting! They were so incredibly cute and I felt we were sharing a ‘moment’ (a Kodak moment boom boom!) but a moment without language, an interaction of back to basics primal human emotion! Well, this went on for a while but I managed to get some cute shots of them both peering from around a wooden door. I was waiting with my camera poised and then suddenly, a small hand stretched out holding a small yellow banana as if they were saying ‘here you go’ haha! It was all part of the game.

Moving on, we then walked past a few more villagers homes. One of the windows of a nearby hut was open and you could see 3 children peering out at us all no doubt wondering who we were and what we were doing there. The window was propped open by a wooden stick which was balanced horizontally from the hut keeping the ‘thatched’ latch open. I took a couple of photos (of course getting their ok) and I then showed them the results – they looked fascinated! It reminded me of New Hope back in Cambodia when the childrens bewildered faces looked into my camera almost trying to work out ‘how’ their mugshots were captured inside this small black box! But then suddenly, the wooden stick that was holding the window latch up fell from it’s post…WHACKKKK, right into their little faces! Slamming shut, the window sharply ended our brief non linguistic encounter! The first thing I selfishly shouted was “It wasn’t me!” haha! So we got the stick back and the window latch propped open again for them. The children all came out their home to meet me and look at their photo again. I wish I could have spent more time mingling with the villagers. They seemed so ‘untainted’ by the modernistic’s of life that we could possibly even be burdened with..They were used to the simple life..they were literally at the bottom of the ‘pyramid of needs’ and that’s all they needed and wanted. I quickly taught them the thumbs up and also the ‘Ok’ hand gestures and then rushed back to rejoin the group.

We then all met the Chief of the village. His house of course was the biggest and the most centralised. We all sat round his outside table and shared a can of Sprite together and were then divided into pairs. Men and women aren’t allowed to sleep in the same room / houses even if they’re married! The villagers believe it brings them bad luck so sexes are always separated. So it was x 2 girls and x 2 boys per house. The Chief showed us around the available accommodations of which families agreed it would be ok to put 2 of us up for the night. The first one we came to, Judith and I snapped it up! We were to sleep on basic (and thin) mattresses on the floor protected by a pink mozzie net, yep, def a girls room hah! The toilet is in the out-house so Judith and I agree to wake each other up during the night if we wanted to use it so we could brave it together haha! The out-house looked horrendous! It was dark, dirty looking and seriously un-hygienic but hey, that’s what they’re used to right. So with our room picked, we were then shown where the others would be. Hey, hang on…the next house looked more lush!! This house had a better layout, it looked cleaner and well, just had more of a ‘wow factor’ than our one which looked like it could fall apart at any moment! Karen and Ingrid had definitely checked into the Hilton hut of the village and we’d landed the Travelodge but hey ho! So, accommodation all picked, it was back to the boat for dinner. By now, the light had faded, the bugs were out in force and each of us were preparing for a night in the village. But oh dear, it was only 8pm by the time we’d gobbled our dinners haha! Judith and I downed a beer to help encourage heavy eyes to want to sleep.

Ok, so we trek back into the village, find our volunteered families and climb up the steps to our room and into bed. Under our pink mozzie nets, we quickly get into our jammies and complain how hot and sweaty we are and also how so NOT tired we are! Wow, this is the earliest I’ve been to bed in a long time, it’s 9 PM!!!! Of course, we’re not in bed at this time by choice. The village run on limited electricity adn they encourage all power (and noise) to be stopped and shut off by 9pm. We don’t even have a fan so the air’s not moving, the heat is just engulfing us. I can feel things landing on me, tiny bugs…how did they get in here!? So on goes the torch and out comes the bug spray again! Great, so I’m now hot, sticky, sweaty and irritated! Eyes shut and I’m starting to drift off..I can hear dogs scrapping, pigs squealing and the odd village noises (oh and bug noises!) fade away as I fall into the land of nod.
…..4.30AM, I stretch and roll over and shut my eyes again. “Helen, are you awake?” whispers Judith. “Sort of!” haha…”I really need to pee and have done since 11.30pm!” “Ok, lets go”. So dressed, we head downstairs and outside. Torches in hand we reach the out-house but hold up…it’s locked!! What! Oh great! Right, we’re gonna have to pee with the cows..so we did! They were just staring at us the whole time, I was wondering if they’d charge us haha! Phew, that over with, we went and packed up and re-joined everyone to get back on our slow boat outta here!

Friday 17th May

So it’s 5am and we’re all back on our boat. Yep, 12 hours time and we’ll be crossing the Thai border! Wow, we can’t believe we’ll be back in Thailand. It’s quite sad that we’ve done most of the tour now. I am looking forward to heading back to Chaing Mai though, I love it there. And we’ll be going back to the ‘Zoe Bar’, well, it’s a first for these lot but I’m the one who’s recommended it to them! Woo hoo! But first things first, once we’ve crossed the border, we’ll be going to our hotel in Chaing Khong for Chaing Mai is Saturday.

Ok, so we made it to the Thai border and phew! We literally only just made it. We rushed to the check out office and then had to grab a tuk tuk to ‘check in’ to Thailand again – the office closed at 6pm and we rolled in AT 6pm! Almost had to stay another night in um…Thailand but officially as ‘illegals’ and off the radar I guess?! Anyways, stamped in, we then go onto our hotel. At the hotel, I’m reminded of my time at Poseidon Bungalows, from the inside anyways. It’s quite basic and there are huge giant ants crawling about the place, great! A quick dip in the pool then freshen up, it’s out for dinner. Everything’s back in Baht so we’re all trying to get used to the currency once again. Yummy, Massamam curry..get in my belly! Back to the hotel for another early night for it’s yet another early start!

Saturday 18th May

So we’ve checked out super early and are on the road by 6.30am. We have a 5hrs drive to Chaing Mai. Our own private mini van, fab, I can switch off and listen to my ipod, oh well, with one ear piece anyways and the other ones packed up!!
We stopped half way to admire the White Temple which is a very interesting sight to see. It’s more like a piece of art than a temple and certainly worth seeing. It has some rather interesting and political opinions inside. As you walk into the temple, you are ‘walking into Heaven’. They believe as you reach the gates, you will see 2 demons one on either side. The demons will basically see if you are worthy of entering and then ‘eat’ your sins. Model hands were reaching up from out under the bridge as if to coax you in or ask for your help to get them out! It all felt rather ‘fantasy’. Inside there is a huge painting depicting the life (and fall) of a person and their cycle of reaching Heaven. At the bottom of the painting were famous icons and well known people including Michael Jackson, Bin Laden, Freddie Kruger…so strange! Albert explained it meant to have a pure life, you can’t have distractions or be glued to material things etc…the top of the painting had pictures of a Buddha, a person (who looked like they’d reached enlightenment) and a skull. The skull meant death of course. After much ‘temple-ing’ it was back on the bus to carry on our way to Chaing Mai. Albert put on a dvd for the rest of the way! Fab, so a pimped up mini van with a drop down TV and dvd player woo hoo!

Hooray, we arrive at Chaing Mai. After checking in and freshening up, we re-convened in the lobby to see what everyone wanted to do. Everyone (apart from Judith and I) went off to visit Tiger Kingdom and go for Elephant rides so we decided to stick around and visit some temples.
Later on when everyone’s back, it’s out for dinner and then P.A.R.T.Y time!! Yep Zoe bar! Everyone wants to go too after I’ve bigged it up so much! But oh dear, I was rather intoxicated last time and everything’s great when you’ve had too many haha! But hey, once we were there, everyone loved it and enjoyed themselves! We all bought ‘Oh my Buddha’ bracelets and then danced the night away…Judith and I made it to the end, well, it was closing time in fact haha!

Sunday 19th May

Hungover and tired, we all head out for brekkie. Ingrid, George, Karen and I go to the nearest cafe but oh boy, I can only stomach a banana! After brekkie, Karen and I went for a massage, my first ever one! And well…some of it was nice but some of it not so good! There’s no way you can fall asleep during a Thai massage either that’s for sure! You get pulled around all over the place! A leg in the back, arms (and legs) a kimbo..Crikey, I heard things pop and snap and even my back crunched! Phew, kinda feel a bit better afterwards though. Then it’s back to the hotel to chill and pack for we were headed for the night train back to stinky Bangkok!

Monday 20th May

Slept surprisingly well for the night train. We’re all woken around 5.30am by a Thai guy repeating the same line over and over…maybe he’s saying we’re here? Pulling back the curtain, it’s a train attendant selling orange juice! Ah well, may as well just get up and ready to go now. Then the ‘Bed Master’ lady comes around and orders us up so she can turn the bed back into a seating area. I called her the ‘Evil dorm lady’ haha. She obviously had no idea what I was saying which is the funniest thing! Finally, 7am odd and we reach Bangkok. Hmm, not so sure we’re happy to be back. We get off the train and it’s the usual “Excuse me Miss, you want tuk tuk?” The same old stinky stenches filling our noses and stray dogs wandering about. Reaching our hotel, we’ve checked in and chill out! We then did the usual..Albert met us later on and took us all for a walk around China town and showed us some sights. Then we had dinner together in the evening. As we couldn’t celebrate Ingrids Birthday on the night train, we did tonight instead..Albert whipped out a huge and scrummy-licious cake after dinner and we then enjoyed a cocktail on Koh Sarn Road!

Tuesday 21st May

Our last day together! Today we all took a trip to the Grand Palace as I had missed the opportunity to see this fine temple previously. Wow! You HAVE to see this place if you’re ever in Bangkok. Later on in the evening, once more we had dinner together but this time for the last time! We then hit the Saxophone Bar! A FAB place for jazz, the artists in there are just so talented! My Dad would definitely love this place! He’d be in his element if they had an open mic night!

Wednesday 22nd May

Today nothing much happened to be honest! Judith and I checked into a hostel 2 doors down and everyone departed ways! It was so sad! But life goes on hey and you take the memories with you. It has been so wonderful meeting all these people and being part of their adventures too just like they have in mine 😉

Judith and I both have a few days to kill before we too go our separate ways so we decide to book a mini relaxing break away together on the island of Ko Samet. Ko Samet is a small but not so far off tiny island where the Thai’s mostly head for a weekend retreat so we thought perfect, this will do us nicely.

But I still can’t help notice that ever rising feeling of ‘fear’ creeping it’s way back up inside. One minute you’re ok and then ‘BOOM’ that panicky, hyperventilating feeling tries to remind you that you’ll soon be alone in the world once more…

Later in the evening, Judith and I rented a movie from the front desk, grabbed a couple of bottles of beer and chilled in the ‘play room’ of our hostel.
And hey, things can’t all be that bad…yes the tour is over and some great friends once again have now all moved on but tomorrow was the start of a new adventure…for tomorrow, we were off to the island of Ko Samet remember! A few days of paradise and stunning beaches, what a way to reward ourselves for all our early starts and always being on the go! It will be a nice way to unwind before we move on.

Well, we were soon to be proved very wrong….!!

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Welcome to Nam!

Jean Claude Van NAM baby!! What an amazing place so far! Absolutely love it here. Again, it’s fascinating to see the difference between the different countries..even though they seem so closely linked (and obviously next door to each other), they are all very different in so many ways. Someone actually asked me the other day ‘how does Cambodia differ to Thailand..’ I actually couldn’t answer. Yes they are different but it’s quite difficult to define why unless you are here. I guess it’s also all about the atmosphere and the ‘vibe’ of the places you are visiting. I sure have noticed a different vibe in each and every place we go and so far, Nha Trang and Hoi An are my favourite places, they are so beautiful and I think it would be rude NOT to go here if you’re passing hah!

So I may as well start from the top:

Tuesday 30th April

Really not much to enter here for Tuesday! Today was more about exploring Ho Chi Minh City and getting to know our surroundings. At 6pm we had a team meeting to welcome our newbie..In comes Morgan = my new roomie as of 1st May. Morgan is lovely, a Glaswegian girl of the same age and we click straight away as do the others in the group. I’m really pleased to have her in the group and welcome her as my new roomie!

Wednesday 1st May

Cu Chi Tunnels! This place is fascinating! Of course it’s all about the Vietnam War and how the Viet Kong hid in these tunnels under the ground. Our guide, Mr Hiy (pronounced High!) was fantastic! He was actually in the war so it was a great insight to have him tell us exactly how it was from his personal point of view! Mr Hiy was a translator for the Americans! The full details of the war is a little over my head to be honest but I get that the North and South went to war over communism – the south opposed and the Americans stepped in to help try and put a stop to it as they felt communism would spread throughout the world etc..The Russians stepped in to help the North so I think it became more of a ‘power’ battle over America and Russia but anyways..before I have any historians on my case haha…I shall continue on to the experience and try cover up my poor lack of historical knowledge on the matter haha! But as I said, Mr Hiy was amazing! We all loved hearing his side of the story and his experiences and listening to some of the sites he’d witnessed. I loved retracing Mr Hiy’s steps of where he and the other troops would search for the Viet Kong..we even ventured inside one of the tunnels! That was pretty scary though because for a short time, the tunnel began to narrow slightly and for a minute we all thought the tunnel would continue to get smaller to the point we’d all be crawling and pulling ourselves along with our elbows…no thank you! Apart from a few bangs to the head it was fine! Mr Hiy then showed us a load of booby traps put down by the Americans! Very simple but highy effective and altogether leathal looking traps! On the spiked variety of booby trap, the troops would lace the arrow tips with ‘poison’…..the poison being human poop hah! The poop would get into cuts and grazes and infect them giving the wounded very limited chance of survival…nasty!

So anyways, after tunnel exploration and staring at booby traps, we then reached the shooting range!! OMG or should I say ‘Hoy Choy Oi!’ (OMG in Vietnamese hah!) We got the chance to shot a gun of our choice (of course depending on your budget and even your sex actually)..It cost around 2 dollars per bullet, ouch! Really wanted to fire the AK47 but with the speed the bullets shot out, that would have been very costly hah. There was another gun I wanted to fire but I can’t remember the name of it…when I asked for it, the guy looked at me and said ‘You can’t, you woman..you will be blown backwards!’ So funny! In the end Jocelyn, Joey and I opted to share a round on a Carbine Rifle! So on we go to the shooting range..the firing of guns is getting louder and we’re all looking rather nervous but excited! The other 2 were ahead of me so they were already putting on their ear muffs. Jocelyn shouted “Put these on quick!!”…but before I could pull them over my bonce a shot went off ‘BAANNNG’ WOAH! My ears were buzzing for ages! Anyways, soldering on (see what I did there!), we moved over to our Carbine..there she was..pointing forwards to the target range in the distance! We were SO excited by this point. Well, I say excited..I really shouldn’t promote the use of guns of course but it’s a different excited feeling…almost a sort of ‘what the hell am I doing….but I kind of want to nervously and pointlessly fire this gun at the target’ Jocelyn and Joey went first (thought I’d observe and get pointers from them!)…Joey was cool as a cucumber as though he’d done this a hundred times over and Jocelyn with her cute and innocent demeanor looked ever so funny with a gun in her arms! Ok, so my turn! Chin down, finger on the trigger, one eye scrunched and the other peering down the aim…omg, my imagination was talking to me as usual…what if the gun bolts me back or bashes me in the head somehow leaving me with a black eye? What if the shell rebounds and pierces my leg or something…hmm, going home with a shrapnel war wound hah! Oh stop it Helen, it will be fine.. ok, so staring at the bulls eye, I go for it. It felt like my finger was on the trigger for ages before it finally went off…it was almost like finding the bite point on a car (same same but entirely different hah!)… ‘BOOM’  WOW! What a rush! I fired another 2 shots and wished I had another round! I was actually shaking when we were reunited with the group hah! Phew, I think a pint is in order!

Thursday 2nd May

Ok, so after a long and boring night train journey, we wake up in a beautiful town called Nha Trang. I highly recommend this place, the beach is just gorgeous! After the initial exploration, we then all decided to take a motorbike tour of Nha Trang! I’d never been on a motorbike before so naturally, I was bricking it haha!

Mrs Phoung pulls up outside our hotel with her crew of bikers and fits us all with helmets. Oh dear god, what the hell if I fall off…am I covered by my insurance…do I hold on to the back or literally cuddle the driver!? Finally snapping myself out from the ‘inner voice’ I nervously clamber onto the back of Mrs Phoungs bike (the guide was also my driver!). I told her to be gentle with me haha and then I asked her if I could hold on to her waist! With the rumble of motorbike engines, Mrs Phoung asks me if I’m ready so of course, I had no choice but to give her the thumbs up! Oh my Buddha, immediately I want to get off! With sweating palms, I clung tightly to the sides of Mrs Phoungs T-shirt for I couldn’t wait until we got to our first point! I clung on so tight that I popped one of her buttons haha oops!

Phew, finally reaching our first stop off, I quickly jump off and follow the crew! Dam, I know it’s hot but I feel extra sweaty from the adrenalin now pumping round my veins! We visited a place where they make terracotta pots. We watched them press out the clay and mould them all from scratch and then headed back to the bikes! Oh no…I’ve got to endure it all over again arggh! Clambering on (again, holding on for dear life), off we go! Stop 2 was pretty cool..we watched some of the locals making rugs and mats from scratch and they even let us each have a go. Stop 3 we visited a Buddhist temple and stop 4 we parked up and rested at a snake restaurant! This place was pretty odd! You could buy a live Cobra and have it killed in front of you! (which of course, we didn’t want!) The guide told us men are supposed to swallow the still beating heart as it promotes a healthy labido!! They actually showed us the cobra all coiled up in a plastic bag which all seemed a bit cruel to be honest..out the back they even had rabbits, chickens and a huge hairy pig lol! All probably going on the menu at some point 😦

Well well, halfway through I did in fact get used to the bike and began to love it…I was now holding onto the back of the bike and even encouraging her to race the others along the way! It was great fun and so nice to feel the breeze rushing through my heat damaged straw like hair haha! Back at the hotel again, we all tipped our drivers and then showered up and chilled for a while.

In the evening we all had dinner and then drank in a couple of bars on the beach. One bar actually provided bean bags so you could literally sip (or down!) a cocktail or 3 ON the beach! Of course we all had a fair bit to drink and found a place that offered good music and a very inviting dance floor to party on until the wee hours!

Saturday 4th May

Ok, so like before I’ve skipped a day. Friday was mostly spent recovering haha! We had a long and messy night but it was soo much fun! In the early eve of Friday, we caught another night train to reach our next point. Saturday morning we woke up in an even more beautiful town…the town of Hoi An!! This by far has been my (and our) ultimate favourite place. The vibe, atmos, scenery the people…it’s just magical and I strongly recommend you visit here should you ever swing by Nam! We spent 2 jam packed days here…and we didn’t want to leave!

The first day, we had a walk around exploring our surroundings and taking it all in! In the afternoon we went to one of the local famous tailor shops! Well, all I can say is..for someone who is incredibly indecisive, this place was a mind field for me hah! Everyone else knew what they wanted and decided in minutes what they were going to have created for them. I needed to decide on something fast as the tailors needed to get cracking with the design and build etc…hmm…all the girls had seen pictures of the dresses they wanted and even Joey knew what kind of jacket he wanted tailored. With their fabrics, shapes and styles all picked it was lunch time and yep…I still hadn’t decided hah! But on the way to the restaurant at lunch, I spotted a lovely looking dress on a mannequin! So, I cheekily took a photo and then popped back to the tailors after lunch which in hindsight, probably isn’t the best time to visit a tailors with a small food baby on the go haha! So back in the tailors…’This is the dress I’d like please’ Now came the hard bit..you chose the colour, the fabric the length and even the lining! Well, with the help of Morgan, my creation was down on paper and ready to be built for the morning! Unusually, I went for a sky blue over my normal shade of baby pinks! Well, I thought the blue brought out my slight tan! Later in the evening, we all did the usual bar hunting and hopping and danced the night away!

Sunday 5th May

It’s an early start on Sunday morning and we’ve hired bikes for half a day (of the push bike variety). Bodies glistening with bug sprays and suncreams, we meet our guide, Mr Tree outside the hotel. How cute, we’ve all got sit up and beg bikes…the kind of bike my Brother had always wanted! Measured up, it’s off we go! Wow, I hadn’t ridden a bike for a long time but that saying is definitely true, you never forget! This was one of our favourite tours. We rode through the countryside of Nam. It was lovely to see the natural  non touristic side of Nam…seeing farmers working in the paddy fields, children playing in their backyards and just the general hustle and bustle of locals doing local things! We made a few stop offs and the points of interest..including a place where they make incense sticks (and yep, we all got to have a go making one)…and another interesting stop…we got to ride the back of a Buffalo! Well, that was funny! You hop on it’s back and then farmer guided the buffalo around a small pond. Well, my buffalo started climbing up the bank but the farmer guided him back into the pond – I literally thought I was going to fall off! But I didn’t, phew! Back on the bikes and onwards on our cycle tour..Joey started singing the ‘Bicycle race’ tune by Queen and well, that was it, well and truly stuck in our heads! We then made another stop to have a go on a ‘water taxi’. We left the bikes by the side of the river and each hopped into a water taxi with our ‘drivers’. Joey and I had an older lady escorting us whereas everyone else had a younger more enthusiastic looking captain! It was fun though. The sun was belting down causing us all to become hot and sticky under our extra large life jackets!! We stopped during our ‘boat rides’ halfway seemingly in the middle of nowhere..we’d all spread out and latched onto the nearest tree overhanging the rivers for we were to have a go at crab fishing! Haha…how funny! You stick a bit of fish or chicken onto the end of the rods and dip it in and wait…and wait and wait…finally, a purple pincing crab would latch on for a munch so you have to gently pull it up and out of the water and into the bucket before it realised and released! Well, we only caught 2 and everyone else seemed to have literally caught a bucket load. apparently the locals were to eat our catch later that night, poor buggers hah!  Phew, then it was a bike ride back to the hotel.

Later on in the afternoon, and a few more trips back to the tailors..our dresses were ready! Wow! My dress fits like a glove (except, more like a dress haha) and I feel amazing in it! Will have to keep this one for special occasions…well, with my Birthday coming up on the 8th…..lol!

Monday 6th May

Today we’re up early to embark on a 4hr bus ride to Hue (pronounced Hway).

Arriving at lunch time, we booked straight onto another motorbike tour, afterall, I was now used to it right! So our team of drivers arrive to pick us all up and show us the city of Hue..Omg…they all look like old age pensioners hah! I was thinking, it’s probably safer for us all to ride them ourselves?! So, I hop on and hold on (to the back of the bike of course, not onto this old dude haha!) Our drivers fit us all with our helmets and then kick start the bikes…with the buzz of the engines, I give my OAP the thumbs up and we’re off! It’s a wobbly start but it’s ok until we get to the busy roads! We’re crossing over the middle and playing what feels like a game of chicken! At that moment I think I had my eyes shut but I remember thinking “hang on, the older you get, the less acute your senses are right!” Oh no, there goes ‘the voice of my imagination’ again! ‘What if he doesn’t hear that truck coming towards us?’ ‘What if he can’t see that other biker chopping us up’ haha! But it was fine. We made a few stops that day including; Imperial Citadel and seeing the Forbidden City so it was all good, bloody hot but good!

In the evening, we found a bar (of course!) with a happy hour on and cheap beers. The bar tenders got us to play Jenja, which I was surprisingly good at haha! Then at 9pm, the tables and chairs were folded up to make way for the dance floor and that was it….there was no getting me off! Jocelyn had to come over and take me by the hand and drag me out boooo!

Wednesday 8th May

Hmm today was a special day….oh yeh…my BIRTHDAY!! Haha.

Tuesday was pretty much a free day by the way. We had the day to do as we pleased because in the early evening we were to catch an overnight train (a 14hours overnight train journey to be precise arrgghh!) So Tuesday afternoon, we had a stroll around the shops and uh oh…another dress shop! The girls and I went in and explored but this time, we spotted dresses already made but you get tailored into them. Well, I spotted a beautiful red traditional Vietnamese silk dress that I liked so I tried it on. I was measured up and fell in love with it…I agreed a price of 10 english pounds and confirmed I’d pick it up later on before leaving for the train outta there! It was all a bit of a rush…we had to buy dinner and snacks for the train, pack up our things and rush back for our dresses! Well, just in the nick of time, we made it back to our hotel and hopped on the bus headed for the dreaded train journey!

Wednesday morning we wake up as the train is rolling into Hanoi..we weren’t stopping here just yet though, that was Thursday and Friday’s adventure but for today, we were headed to Halong Bay! A bus was waiting for us to drive us to our final stop..a further 4hrs of travelling and we’re finally there…Halong Bay and WOW…this place is a postcard beaut!

This place is stunning! Even our hotel is gorgeous! Morgan and I are lucky to have a balcony view overlooking the beach! So, we freshen up, have something to eat and then hop on another bus to head for the port to board our private junk boat! As soon as we got to the port, we’re shown the boat to board. Wow, this really is exclusive…just for us Gap Adventurers hah! The sun is shining and it’s the perfect day for a boat trip, oh and my birthday too 🙂 Well, I say that..I actually woke up a little grumpy but I guess this was for a number of reasons 1. I was tired from all the travelling and 2. My birthday just wasn’t the same this year. I felt really homesick when I woke up, I missed my friends, my Mum and Dad and of course my Brother and for those of you who don’t know, my Brother is very sadly no longer with us so of course, he was naturally on my mind all day long (which without question, he is everyday but today I wanted to see and speak to him more than ever). But moving on, I think my fellow travellers knew this would be hard being my birthday and being away from home so it was such a wonderful surprise when everyone presented me with a yummy birthday cake and then sung the happy birthday tune to me lol! I even had candles to blow out too..I loved it! We also had the most delicious seafood lunch! Fresh crabs and prawns…it was as though they’d just come out the ocean!

We pulled up to Halong Bay and were ‘set free’ to explore. We had a peep inside the caves and admired the funny shapes of the stalactites and mites and pointed out ‘oh this one looks like an elephant’ or ‘this one looks like an old lady’ etc…and then it was back on the boat. Before we re-boarded, Morgan got caught by a local radio crew and interviewed for VCN5 (I think)..it was so funny, we were all trying to distract her in the background but she was too professional and composed haha! Guessing that’ll be all over Youtube now!

So back on the boat, we noticed the clouds were beginning to turn an angry grey and the wind was starting to pick up too. It reminded me of the Similans storm and how much I DIDN’T want a repeat of that hah! We were hoping it would hold out as we were  now off to kayak! All seemed to be ok until the minute we climbed inside our kayaks and that was it….the heavens well and truly opened! Nevermind, we were still going to kayak! Jocelyn and I rowed as fast as we could to shelter under the nearest cave. Jocelyn made us all laugh though as she wanted to jump in! So huddling our Kayak’s together, she clambered out and plopped into the water! She was like a water baby splashing about..well, I say splashing about, she was more elegant than that of course, more dolphin like but she was loving it! Then she got back on (successfully I might add…I was worried I’d be taking a plunge with her at one point but nope, all was good!) and we kayaked back to the boat for our journey home to the hotel!

The evening was great fun too! We all went out for dinner and then onto a bar for a quick cocktail! We needed some dutch courage as we were hitting a Karaoke bar after!  That was SO much fun, we must have been singing away in there for well over 2hours! Good or bad singing, we didn’t care haha, we sung our hearts out and then had a beer at the hotel before hitting the hay.

Thursday 9th May

Thursday was an early start as we were back on the bus for another 4 hours but this time it was to head back to Hanoi. Our schedule brought us here for our last 2 nights in Vietnam before we were to depart for Laos.

First impressions…didn’t like it. For me, Hanoi was very busy (although not dissimilar to Ho Chi Minh City), it was smaller and more compact so it felt even busier. Roads were hell to cross and if you weren’t looking out for bikes to avoid it was people! A mix of locals and travellers, this place seemed to have something for everyone, well, apart from me as I didn’t like the place hah! I just couldn’t get my bearings at all, I felt so easily lost and was afraid to go out alone incase I couldn’t find my way back to the hotel card. I was prepared though and always carried a hotel card incase but still!

After we cheked into our hotels, we chilled for a bit and then joined our tour leader to explore and, well, try to gain our bearings. The others seemed to be able to remember their way around which I was very impressed by..it’s like my fellow travellers are fitted with automatic compasses or something hah!

We booked on to watch a water puppet show in the evening, something that was recommended to us and a more traditional attraction to see whilst in the city. But before this, we all took a walk round Ho Chi Minh’s Palace.

After the water show, it was dinner and then beers…hmm, the beer is incredibly cheap here..500ml bottles were 48p to be precise! But at 11pm, everyone started to pack up. “You go now, you go” A concerned bar manager was keen for us to drink up and go..well, I hadn’t even got half way down so I didn’t really just want to get up and go hah! The bar lady managed to explain in broken english…”The police want close now..” And there they were, the police were walking around shutting the bars down. We found out it’s because the police don’t allow drinking on the streets and if you are caught, they will tell you to go home and then shut everything around the place down to stop encouraging it. I think it was because there were some rowdy backpackers which drew attention! Anyways, I managed to down my drink and then Morgan, Joey, Jocelyn and I went in search for a late opener!

So, we end up in a bar called ‘Hair of the Dog’…we walk in and it’s all eyes on us! We were the only Westerners in there. Ok, so one cocktail later, the hunt is on for the next bar. We were approached by an English bar owner trying to entice us in to the Flow Bar but I had a bad feeling about him so I encouraged everyone to ‘loose’ him..successfully hiding from the over-keen barman, we then found we were at a loss ourselves..no other bars were open due to the police shutting everything down! But….we then spotted a huge group of backpackers who began walking in the same direction…where were they all going? “Lets follow them! They must know of somewhere!?” Morgan excitedly persuades us and before long, we’ve tagged onto the back of the line! We’re all marching along damp and dark lanes and alleys and all the while I’m wondering ‘where the hell are we going?’…”Has anyone seen the film Hostel…or Taken?!!” I cried, getting a nervous laugh from them all! But we carried on. We made conversation with the people nearest trying to find out if they knew where this mob was headed…”Nah, we’re just following you!” explained the half Italian / French guy.. Oh great! Finally, we can see a curly haired man at the front waving his long arm beckoning us all in….as we get nearer we can hear “Welcome, welcome my friends, come in”….he’s ushering us into what looked like a dark underground building..hmm..so we enter and the boom, the music starts and the bar is open! It was like a scene from the film Blade…Wesley Snipes enters the vampire club and the music starts (Operation Blade) and the doors are on lock down (for those of you who know this reference!)…but it was great fun! Travellers everywhere! It was actually a hostel!! There were rooms upstairs and this club was underneath. Outside you could see people hanging out of the windows smoking weed! Not one of the nicest places we ended up of course but it was what we made of it…great for dancing until the wee small hours once again! We called it the sweaty crack den with no name!

Friday 10th May

Ok so today, nursing hangovers, it’s more exploration as it’s our last day. We head for the Ho Chi Minh museum which to be honest, wasn’t all that great! I was so hungry when we got there (even though I had a brekkie) and the junk food cravings began…so we’re looking around but all I could think about was food! Uh Oh….there was a huge poster of Ho Chi Minh’s face on a red background…and it started morphing into Colonel Sanders face (the guy from KFC!)..thankfully we weren’t in there for long, yippee off for some icecream now….hmm, Fanny’s ice-cream! I won’t insert any jokes here haha…they’ve been done to death in our group but I’ll leave it with this…their strapline is ‘Taste the difference’ hehe! Then it’s back to the hotel to collect washing etc and chill.

Later in the evening, we all went for dinner at Gecko’s and met our new groupies for Joey, Jocelyn and Morgan were leaving us before we embarked on the Laos part of the tour. Enter Hollie, Abbey and Karin our new backpackers. Again, they’re all lovely and we welcome them with open arms. After dins we stayed up at the hotel chatting and playing cards.

Saturday 11th May

Today it’s check out day! Goodbye Nam and ‘Hello’ Laos! We caught an hours flight into Laos to start the next tour. As soon as the plane touches down…woah, the heat hits us for here it’s nearer 40 degrees, way hotter and way sunnier than Nam. This place is absolutely stunning and we are already in love with this place! Have a feeling we’ve saved the best til last so until the next time….Oh Pah Chow (omg in Laos!) I think this is going to be A-MAZING!!!!

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Cambodia

Wow! I made it to Cambodia and what an experience! It’s now a week on and I’m in a new destination so I shall recall the events from the past week or so..

Where was I? Oh yes, I was on my way to see Flick and Frankie and the crew in Bangkok for more shenanigans and I couldn’t wait! My flight was delayed by almost 2hrs but finally touching down, I rushed to the nearest taxi and made it to the Bangkok Centre Hotel. I asked reception to call Flick so they all knew I had arrived…the receptionist past me the phone so I gave Flick one of my booming laughs down the receiver and she instantly knew it was me haha! Aww it was soo good to see the them..Flick, Frankie and Howie came down to meet me in the lobby and help me with my invisible man (my back pack haha!) After catching up in the room, we were ready to meet the rest of the crew for dinner and drinks in the city..Koh San Road to be precise, that’s where all the back packers and tourists go! We had so much fun that night, it was like a hill tribes reunion! In the morning, everyone parted ways but I stayed in the hotel that day for I was meeting my new group for my tour of Indochina!

So I’ve checked into my ‘official’ room (the night before was a sneak in and crash with the girls job lol!) and I’m waiting for my new roomie..wondering what she’ll be like and again, if she’ll like me. Danielle eventually arrived late afternoon. She seems really nice..I wasn’t too sure about her to start with but having roomed and warmed to her for a week, I know she’s cool..I also realise now that I’ve met Danielle for a reason, she’s shown me it’s ok to be yourself. So, we’re doing the ‘get to know’ within minutes of meeting each other..Danielle is slightly younger than me and is from Canada and is training to be a boxer! After about 10 minutes, Danielle asks if I’d like to go with her to the National Stadium as she’s looking to buy some new boxing gloves for some pals back home. The stadium is about a 40 minute walk from the hotel, so I thought, sure why not, I mean we had about 3hrs to kill before our welcome meeting anyways. So we’re adventuring Bangkok in search of the stadium..it’s 40 odd degrees and we cannot find this place. Hours passed like minutes and then eventually we had to resign to the fact we weren’t going to find the place no matter how close we were!

Back at the hotel, it’s 6pm and we’ve just met Albert, our new tour leader. First impressions, he seems a lot more reserved than Ken but I’m sure he’ll be fine once everyone’s been introduced etc.. The new group are all lovely..all 9 of us, a much smaller group than the Hill Tribes lot. Albert gives us a run through of our itinerary along with a ‘tough’ talk with regards to safety..the places we are going will be a lot poorer than Thailand so we were made aware of bag snatchers, muggers, the tricks they may use etc.. I’m actually sitting there selfishly thinking ‘Oh my god..I hope non of this happens to me!’ and I can tell everyone else is thinking the same as we’re all exchanging the odd nervous glance and bite of the bottom lip! But I’m sure we’ll all be fine if we each look after each other and stay together when venturing out.

Tuesday 23rd April

Tuesday morning and we’ve set off early to head for the Cambodian border. It takes us 4hrs to reach the point where we must hop off the bus and walk into border control to be stamped out of Thailand and officially into Cambodia! With formalities over, that’s it, we’re in Cambodian territory. We can’t believe the difference between Thailand and Cambodia..for one, the soil is red! But already we can see a comparison in their lifestyle along with the poverty that seemed evident in the most parts we drove through. This stunned me to begin with..staring through the finger smudged window of the bus, I could see wooden houses, some on stilts, that literally looked like they needed to be knocked down and rebuilt..and inside these stick houses, it looked like they had very little in the way of creature comforts. The bus would only allow me to see so much before it sped past almost leaving my rubber neck behind but from what I could see, all seemed so bare within.

A further 2hrs road trip brought us to our final stop, The Mekong B&B in Siem Reap. We get time to freshen up before we’re taken to our first point of call..New Hope Foundation.

We hired 3 tuk tuks and travelled over a pot-holled dirt road and slum to reach New Hope. To say I was overwhelmed just doesn’t cut it..the people in the slums all cheerfully shouted hello when we passed them and children would come running out waving and grinning as soon as they heard the tuk tuks coming..some would even chase us laughing and giggling as though it was a game to try and keep up! As soon as we got off we were showered with cuddles from the kids, they seemed so happy to see us and they were even eager to have their photos taken..the best bit was showing them the photo after, it was such a joy to see their little bewildered faces confused perhaps trying to work out how the camera worked haha!

We were then taken into New Hope. New Hope are amazing..in brief, they provide free healthcare and education to the locals who simply can’t afford these primal necessities. It was so touching to see all their hard work and how much they put into providing these services. We were lucky enough to catch 3 english classes going on upstairs in the school..so we were split into groups of 3 and allowed to ‘mingle’ with the students and help them with their english for around 20 minutes! I loved it! The students in our class were 15yrs old and my word, they were so good..some were fluent and a few rustier than others but I was so impressed!

New Hope then put on a yummy dinner for us all and answered any questions we had about their work.

I was emotionally drained when we got back to our hotel..how lucky I’ve been, how lucky I am..for the kids I saw today had next to nothing but they were / are so happy.

Wednesday 24th

Today was a seriously early start for we were off to Angkor Wat for the famous sunrise photoshoot! So we’re all up and out by 5am and its pitch black. Wow, this is early haha. The coach reeked of bug repellent (as the mozzies are also getting up at this time too) and no ones saying a word apart from our eager and frightfully chipper guide for the day!

We arrive at our first temple and armed with torches, we head down to the front of Angkor Wat temples to secure our photo standing point! Well, we must have waited for almost 45 minutes for the sun to appear. Tourists numbers were increasing and crowds were pushing everyone nearer to the lakes edge when the sun started to paint the sky a crimson shade! But what a disappointment..clouds denied us of a beautiful sunrise that morning but hey, I was just grateful to have been there to see it! We ventured on that day and visited a further 3 temples nearby.

Later that evening, some of the girls and I decided to visit a night market and have a nose round. I’m getting better at the bartering, in fact, they expect it and its fun seeing what you can get them down to hah! Then we tried some of the local beer which of course was called Angkor!

Friday 26th

Yes yes, I know I’ve skipped Thursday but I didn’t think a 6hr bus ride was worth mentioning but then, I guess I kinda just did haha..Thursday we all moved to our next location of Phnom Penh. It was here we went to visit the Killing Fields.

What a day! What an unbelievable moment of history! It is truly awful to think that such a horrid event could have ever taken place. All those thousands of people tricked by their own leader Pol Pot who then had them killed in the most horrendous ways..plus having them dig their own graves!! Beheadings, torture, children beaten against trees and babies thrown in the air and stabbed on bayonets..omg! It was naturally a very solumn day. Walking around the killing fields you could actually see the odd bone peeking out from under the earth which made it seem all the more real. Just lost for words! I wrapped one of my bracelets around one of the trees snd just hoped that the many thousands of innocent people were now at rest.

We also met one of the few survivors, Mr Chum Mey. That was very interesting..hearing his inside story of what it was like to be detained at the prison camp and what they did to him. Mr Chum Mey also explained how he escaped them and it was by the skin of his teeth..basically, as one of the soldiers of the Khymer Rouge was reloading a cartridge into the shotgun and he made a run for it and what an escape! I felt so sad for him for what he had endured but at the same time, I’m sure he’s now a very rich man and living a happy and altogether free life.

Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th

On a happier note and 4 bus riding hours later, Saturday and Sunday we moved to Sihanoukville..the Miami of Cambodia. My god its so hot but the beach is on the cards today so a nice swim and chill is much needed.

It really is gorgeous here but….we get to the beach and pick our loungers and are immediately bombarded by children selling bracelets! “You want bracelet? I make you..what your favourite colour?” Despite how many times you say no, they just don’t give up and it actually becomes rather annoying when you’re sat there trying to write your travel journal!! One of my favourite lines was this one..”You got boyfriend?” Me; “No” …kid bracelet seller; “That’s because you don’t have bracelet” haha, cheeky lil…The kids here arent as nice as the kids we met in Siem Reap, here they seem more..sorry to say..but tainted in some way. I reckon they’re not as innocent as they look but it’s because their parents have taught them to exploit as many tourists as poss?

Anyways, the beach was hectic as so you really couldn’t hang around for long or ‘chill’. Later in the evening, we all had a BBQ on the beach and then partied in a bar called Utopia which was so much fun..it certainly helped to shake off the emotional side of the week we’d had too. In fact, one strange but funny thing happened..it seemed to be all the rage to breathe in balloons of laughing gas in the bars here! Having mingled with some other travellers in Utopia that night, we were encouraged to give these balloons a try! Well, that felt so weird! You breathe in this awful tasting gas, give it about 10 seconds and that’s it..everything is then super hilarious for about 30 seconds! So, we did a couple of balloons..chin chinning them as though we were raising a pint and laughing and rolling around like school kids! Haha!

Monday 29th

Well well..today its Vietnam day..most of it will be spent on a bus..9hrs in fact..groan! We’re up at 6.30am and hit the road headed towards the Camb/Viet border.

Once we get there (5hrs later), it feels ‘illegal’ haha..you’re being stared at by everyone which is very un-nerving and each border control point looks ‘shoddy’ and basic and im thinking to myself ‘That could be anyone sat in that shack, nice little scam going on there’..but I snap myself out of my day dream and hey ho, onwards we go! Oh one word of advice, don’t go to the toilet here unless you really have to! One of the girls stepping in human poop is more than I need to say hah!

So we’ve made it with no hiccups..we’re officially in Nam!! But we’ve still got quite a way to go to reach our final point at Can Tho homestay.

Finally..4hrs later and we’re here. Tonight we’re staying in a small village homestay where the lives and living conditions of the people are simple but seemingly very happy. It’s like I’ve been transported back to one of the hill tribes villages! I love it..the food they fed us was amazing..rice pancakes, vegatables, spring rolls, chicken and pumpkin curry..yummy. They literally have all they need to survive, animals, food and accommodation.

Again, the kids here came out to greet us which was too cute, they were so happy to see us! My Dad will love this..I taught them the sliding ‘snapped off forefinger’ trick..actually, they looked a bit horrified to start with haha but I soon showed them how it was done..so Papz, the cute kids in Cambodia are now doing it haha!

Once our beds and mozzie nets were all set up, we sat around playing cards and other games including the new ones I’d learnt from Flick..’I went to market’ and ‘I took a plane to…’ so thanks Flick, both served me well 🙂

Tuesday 30th

In the morning we drove another 3hrs to our stop which brings me to today..Ho Chi Minh City!

My first impressions..a little bit like Bangkok but more Chinese hah..well, there is a huge amount of Chinese influence here, buildings are also a mix of french architectural influence so it’s all very interesting. Whats also got me are the amount of motorbikes! Apparantly the population in Ho Chi Minh is 8 million and there are 6 million bikes..well, can you imagine trying to cross the road!! Scared is not the word. It reminded me of when Frankie and I tried to get across the road in Bangkok but 100 times worse! The trick is..look the bikers in the eyes while you cross, keep going oh and DON’T run..they will go around you trust me! It’s still terrifying though hah..we even saw a motorbike crash right in front of us today when we tried to cross, thankfully no one looked hurt.

So after some exploration of the city, it’s out for dins and then back to our hotel. Wednesday we’re off to the Cu-Chi Tunnels which will be interesting..plus, I hear you can fire a live round on an AK47!!

Oh one last interesting (or not so interesting fact!)..I exchanged some of my dollars today into Vietnamese currency = Dong..not only does the currency sound funny but check this, I changed 100 dollars and got 2 million Dong, so yep, it’s official, I’m a millionaire haha.

So I will leave the adventures for another week or two and catch up once I’ve finished my tour of Nam! Until then…xxx

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