Posts Tagged With: Thailand

The Thai of my life!

Yesss, I finally got a window seat for my flight to Bangkok! Although saying that, I felt kinda blue peering out of the window and watching Penang shrink into nothing more than a ‘toy town’ below! I was sad because I knew that Bangkok was to be the last destination. Now, each time I board a plane, it feels as though it’s bringing me closer to ‘that day’ when I finally have to step onto the last airport shuttle headed for Heathrow 😦

Phew! Ok, so I’ve touched down in Bangkok…again haha! But this time of course, it’s for the last time on this leg of my journey *sighs. But anyways, I was really looking forward to seeing my Thai pals and hanging out in the city once more. I know my way around and well, just where to hang out and let my hair down so I will be making the most of my final week or so.

I got through immigration and customs all ok and had another stamp bashed into my passport allowing me up to 30 days stay. Hey, hang on a minute, I tell you what…I managed to get through Penang security AND Bangkoks with a 2ltr bottle of water in my hand! How that happened I don’t know but hey, that could have been ‘bomb’ liquid for all they knew muwahahah! That’s never happened before…I normally get my water taken off me but not that time haha! Just a random observation…

My fab friend Ken (or Kendoll as I call him) offered to come and meet me at the airport which was sweet of him. He even assisted me with my luggage and getting me to my hotel which was great actually and it avoided hearing all the ‘Excuse me Miss, you want taxi’ etc. Once I’d checked in, we went straight to the movies! Well, I had some movies to catch up on hey lol! So we had some food and watched Gravity (which is FAB for anyone who loves their space movies!)

30 degrees of Rain!

Oh noooo! The rain’s followed me all the way from Penang! And it’s determined to scrub off all proof of the slight jaundice looking tan I’ve achieved right before I hit Heathrow haha! Nevermind. I wasn’t going to let the rain put me off having a good time either on my final week of being a free spirit!

I tell you what though…I love the rain abroad, it’s so warm! Who needs wellies when you can wade through the puddles in yer flip flops! * Sighs, if only the rain was like this in the UK…wet and warm haha! The only bummer is that yes, you still get really dirty feet haha. Sometimes I’d look down and think, ‘Huh, since when did I get black grubby toes!’ hah! So yup, I will miss the ‘hot rain’ 🙂

The Flower Market

My friend Kendoll told me about a Flower Market near Koh Sarn Road and asked me if I’d been there before. “No, I haven’t. I’d love to see it though before I leave Thailand” I excitedly replied. “Yes, it will be good for your pictures”. So Kendoll agreed to take me there and show me around. It was amazing, I loved it! Plus it was a brucey bonus having a local to hang out with and speak ‘Thai’ to everyone for me haha!

It was just gorgeous! I could see the market folk all setting up their stalls ready before the customers flocked…although saying that, it didn’t actually get all that busy but again, another bonus for me! I could see trucks delivering bags FULL of flowers! Some Thai words were exchanged from the drivers to the stall owners and they’d then drive off. I watched as the marketers then opened each bag and literally picked out flowers one by one and ‘arrange’ them either in glorious bouquets or just singly in their rows.

It was just fascinating to take a slow walk around and see stall upon stall, row upon row and bouquet upon bunch of flowers in every shape, size and variety! Oh and the smells….WOW! For once it disguised that Bangkok ‘stench’ that I had become all too familiar with haha! It wasn’t just a flower market….it was like walking through a perfume factory! Oh and the colours, you would not believe it but the sellers even decorated their stands with the flowers by colour! So red with red, pinks with pinks etc…now that must have taken forever but it was quite an impressive display.
I found a Rose stall and stood and watched for a few moments as the market lady picked out what looked like a dozen roses and bundled them up with speed. Can you believe, that a dozen red, pink or yellow roses were the equivalent to 1 English pound….yes 1 POUND! Everyone would be buying their Mums or lovers a huge lorry load of them if they were that price in the UK right? Although it would probably cause our roses to become extinct at the same time too!

Once the flower stalls diminished, new stalls were revealed with a different variety of produce to entice… Wow, fruit and vegetables! Most of the fruit and veg still seemed so foreign to me (of course) well, I mean, a lot of it I had now tried but to name them….ppfftt, forget it! Un-hygienically, the stall owners even let their pets crawl all over their produce! Hmm…2 cats and a puppy – if that happened in the UK, they’d probably get shut down! It was cute all the same though because I wasn’t IN the market for buying that evening haha!

Bo in the Big City

Yay, my friend Bo from the School in Nang Rong came all the way over to Bangkok just to see me and party one last time woo hoo. So Ken, Bo and I all went out for dinner as soon as she arrived. It was sooo good to see Bo and I immediately threw my arms around her when I spotted her getting off the train at Thailand Cultural Centre. “BO…..how are you! So good to seeya again!” I screeched! “HELEN! I missed you!” Awww….

After a huge (and of course, rather cheap) plate of salmon and veg, we had a walk around town before hitting the city centre. It was rather funny actually because we found some 3D paintings on the walls….you know, the kind that you stand in and it looks like you’re abouts to fall into a black hole or something when really it’s all an illusion! That was fun. After much mucking about of pretending we had angel wings or were surfing the ocean, we then caught a tuk tuk into the Big C itself…

One last hit…

We all hopped out the tuk tuk (and probably all looking rather windswept too!) and took a slow stroll around Koh Sarn Road.

“I can’t believe you’ve never been to Koh Sarn Road before Bo?!” I said, giving Bo a wide eyed look. It made me chuckle though…’Hah, an English gal showing a Thai national around her own city!’ hehe.

It was so amusing to see Bo’s face as we walked past the usual stands selling all the tat I’d seen many a time….the wooden ‘croaking’ frogs, the brightly sewn bracelets with every obscene word you can think of, the ‘slinky’ penises! And then there were the stalls selling the edible bugs – scorpians and tarantulas on sticks, the giant locusts, bowls of hot fried meal worms YUK! Oh and don’t forget the clothing stalls displaying T-shirts in vivid colours with slogans of ‘I love BKK’ or ‘Chang Beer’. And then there are the club promoters bombarding you as you walk past their bars….”Hello Miss, you come inside. Buy one get on free bucket” Oh my goodness…and how could I forget this…”Hello Miss, you want to see Ping pong show? Or how about a happy ending?” You have to laugh at it all really. But I’m also glad I saw and heard all of that and glad Bo experienced it too even if she did look kinda shocked (same as me the first time hah!) And again, you have to avoid the limbless beggers sitting in the middle of your path which of course, is horrific to see but I have been told they are professional beggers who have made a trip specially from Cambodia because Koh Sarn is where all the tourists go! You know, when we were walking around, I was thinking to myself; It’s kinda like….you have to experience the darker side to see it and believe it – believe that it all goes on so you can appreciate all of the good, the beautiful and the wonderful things of this world if that makes any sense!?

We were pacing in slow motion for a while and in silence for most of it because I wanted Bo to take it all in. After hearing the many chants of “Excuse me Miss” this and that and the constant flow of hard and heavy bass music mixing into softer tones of live acoustic Bob Marley to Green Day variations, we decided to hit a club….yup, the one and only ‘The Club Koh Sarn’. I laughed to myself again thinking ‘The amount of times I’ve stumbled out of this club hehe’ Well, it just had to be done one last time……

Heights, Flights and….Hangovers!

Yup! You guessed it! Bo, Ken and I all had a wicked night in ‘The Club’ on Koh Sarn that night. Bo and I were also loving mucking about with the free glowsticks you get given when you walk in which immediately makes you feel 12 again haha, funny that! It was also fun chatting to the many different nationalities and hearing about where people had been or where they were off to next… One guy from Dublin came and sat with us and immediately plonked down 3 shots on our table “Drink with me!” He slurred and then promptly hiccuped! “No no, you go ahead” I replied….I really didn’t fancy doing shots that night as I knew that would kill me! The Irish fella was harmless though, just way more drunk than we were haha. He downed all the shots, chatted to us for a bit and then……threw up right at our feet! GROSS! Shame really haha. What a conversation killer that was so yup, we moved away sharpish and left him for his mates to clean up hahaha!

Ok, so falling out the club at 4am we grabbed a cab back to our destinations. We weren’t that drunk (well, not as bad as the Irish dude that’s for sure) but we were at that ‘happy state’ lets say! “Oh my Buddha! I have to be up around 8-8.30am to get ready for my flight!!” Stumbling with my words was a sure sign I needed to hit the hay….well, the TIME was a sure sign I needed to hit the hay hahah! Saying our goodbyes, we all headed our separate ways.

As soon as my head hit the pillow….well, actually, I can’t remember that bit but I do remember the horrid video game alarm of mine going off at a most unholy time! “Oh nooooo!” I groaned but miraculously was up, out and in a cab to the airport to catch my final flight to KL. I was feeling dehydrated, a little nauseous and ached from all the dancing we did the night before. But above all of that, I felt sad and had to fight my watery eyes from actually turning into waterfalls haha!

Finally boarding the plane to KL, I sat and watched the air crews usual safety routine of ‘what to do if’ and then sat staring out the window (yay, another window seat!) whilst listening to the tones of my ipod playing ‘One day I’ll fly away’. The rain outside was hitting the window (another symbolic moment hah!) as I stared blankly out into the distance. I then watched the run way lines gradually speed up and up until they became one continuous line….then the ‘G-force’ facelift feeling hit and we were up! Once more, I watched the airport, the buildings, the roads and cars all turn into nothing more than a ‘toy town’ below. It was almost as though the higher the plane went, the more ‘fake’ the toy town below became hah! Nausea crept over me once more and reminded me how much of a blast I’d had with my friends just hours before! Heavy eyelids encouraged me to make use of the 3hrs ‘free time’ to sleep the hangover off so I gave in resisting and soon drifted off into a sweet slumber…

“Hello Miss….MISS? Can you please open the window shutter” That must have been the 2nd or 3rd time the air hostess had muttered those words to me but the nudge from the person in the middle seat abruptly brought me back to ‘reality’ when they interrupted my slumber with their pointy elbow! “Sorry! Are we landing now?” I stuttered. “Yes, we are now arriving at Kuala Lumpur” Came the reply. “Great stuff!” I tried to sound enthusiastic but I was kinda blue knowing that actually, this was to be my final 3 days before heading home!!

I found the shuttle bus to my hotel straight away and was soon on my way to ‘hibernation’! No, I won’t really be locking myself away for 3 days but I am looking forward to taking it easy and catching up with some telly etc…oh and MTV, who’s at number 1 right now, I have no idea haha? I will also be looking forward to catching a few of my Malaysian pals too and seeing what they are up to.

I will also have to think about what I’m going to do with my blog right? 😦 I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this but I guess I won’t have a lot to write about until the next time I explore the world and believe me, this is just the beginning (until I save up again!) Now I know I can do it, I have well and truly been bitten by this beautiful bug and I don’t intend to stop now! 😀

But this post isn’t the last one, don’t worry! I still have another one in me yet but that one may be coming to your screens from the good old UK!

So thanks again Thailand and for giving me the Thai of my life! 😉

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Ozzy ozzy ozzy….

If someone had said to me a year ago, “You will be visiting Australia” I would have laughed it off…..but right now, here I sit typing up new tales from Oz land as we speak! Still can’t believe I am here in Sydney Australia…just unbelievable!

Back to the Future!

Leaving Thailand was super hard and yes, as soon as I was on that plane, I did watch it disappear (well, from the aisle seat anyways!) into a nothingness black sky below (it was a night flight!)

Going back a little….the whole flying experience was a breeze. I flew with Air Asia who all in all aren’t bad, they sure are better than Orient Thai who I certainly wouldn’t recommend! Oh if you’re going to hire the in-flight entertainment, there are only about 5 Hollywood movies pre-loaded plus the battery on the 10.1 inch tablet started dropping quite rapidly so just watch that if you’re on a long haul flight so I now have to become accustomed to a new time…Australia is 9hrs ahead of the UK and 3hrs ahead of Thailand so I guess it’s like going ‘back to the future’ haha! It’s a bit of a nightmare skyping home though!

I didn’t sleep at all on the plane…I just watched a few movies and listened to a bit of Justin Timberlake and then it was pretty much time to get off! As soon as the wheels touched down, I just couldn’t believe I was in the land of Oz!!

Anything to Declare?

Before you get off the plane, you are asked to fill out an arrivals card and my word…the questions are quite funny actually for example..’Are you coming into our country with any meat, poultry or fish? Are you entering with any medicines? Are you arriving with any soil on your shoes?’ Hmm..well I ticked no for everything and then realised that my hiking boots may still have some dried mud on them? I was then thinking…do I declare or don’t I? But don’t worry..there was actually hardly anything on my boots and definitely nothing worth mentioning anyways but at the time I was fretting hah!

Then an announcement came over the speakers about illnesses…’If you are sick or have been ill abroad, you need to report it. Our Airline crew are also expected to report any sick passengers that they may have encountered’ What!! Ok, so my strange random case of scarlet fever had gone but I had a terrible cold and chesty cough…so there I was again, worrying about if I had been ‘reported’ hah! Then there was the mention of sniffer dogs being used (if they were uber suspicious I guess), blimey!

So you get off the plane and obviously have to clear immigration…no problem but then you have to get through quarantine! Oh great! My imagination was running wild again…’what if they notice I’m not 100% and pull me up on it?’ ‘What if they want a blood sample and it turns out I’m actually harboring some kind of jungle fever?’ Gulp! But it was dead easy…the chap checked my arrivals card and told me to exit via ‘Lane 8’ and that was it…I’d by-passed the quarantine and ended up in the arrivals lounge woo hoo! Then it was time for me to grab a cab straight to Mikes. All I remember thinking was 2 things 1. Goddammit it’s freezing (15 degrees – half the temperature of Thailand) and 2. So far, Sydney looked a bit like England. I got in the cab and gave the driver Mikes address and then sleepy heavy eyes got the better of me and forced me to drift off….

Possibly the Perfect City….

It was so good to finally arrive at Mikes! I hadn’t seen him in over a year and neither of us could believe I was there in Oz so it was great catching up! Sitting on the sofa I did start drifting off again so after a few hours kip, I was right as rain.

On Friday, Mike took me for a walk so I could get used to my new surroundings. It was amazing! Everything just looked perfect and even though it was cold, the sun was still shining. I could see wide roads decorated with beautiful tall palm trees, huge houses with pristine and perfect front lawns, committed joggers whooshing past leaving a scent of heavy deodrant as if to cover up their ‘sweatiness’ oh and I could also hear new bird calls which made it sound like I was in paradise! That was another thing I couldn’t wait to see / hear, Australia’s wildlife…it’s exciting (yet scary at the same time) sharing the same land as some of the most poisonous creatures on earth right?!

We walked through the nearest park again avoiding more committed joggers (and believe me, I’ve noticed there are a lot in Sydney!) and it was then just across the harbour I could see the Opera House and the Bridge. It was that moment that made me realised the Readders was definitely in Oz!!

At the beginning of the week, with everyone being at work, me, myself and I (and a Sydney guidebook) decided to catch a bus into the city itself. Wow! Sydney is amazing! Still kinda think it looks a bit like the UK but it’s bigger and cleaner (sorry UK but it is!). Sitting on the bus into the city was cool, it drove over the Bridge and just over to my left I could see the Opera House. And I tell you something else, it is such a joy to overhear peoples conversations and actually be able to understand them all haha! It really is the small things I guess!

My eyes were darting all over the place! I could see impressive buildings from modern looking sky scrapers so tall you had to crook your neck to see the top right through to older looking french architectural buildings so it’s like a ‘modern meets culture’ – a great compromise so you have a bit of both.

I ended up walking around the City centre and then Darling Harbour and then had a nose around ‘Wildlife Sydney Zoo’ oh and had my photo taken in the mouth of the worlds biggest croc haha! Catching the bus back to Mikes, I found out you can get a ‘My Multi’ travel pass…well worth doing if you’re going to be travelling around a fair bit. There are different zones 1, 2 and 3. 2 seems to suit me but for $52 I can use the trains, buses and / or ferries as much as I want for 7 days which is pretty good. A great site for transport timetables etc.. is http://www.131500.com.au

Getting around is pretty easy and within a few days, I was already beginning to know my way around too. Annoyingly I don’t have one of these iPhones with GPS or anything so I’m relying on traditional paper maps but actually, I’ve been well chuffed with my map reading skills haha! Ok, so there was one time I did get a little lost but that was the fun part…getting lost and then finding all these other places I wouldn’t have found otherwise for example, I stumbled across Paddy’s Markets! A friend did tell me (thanks Emrys) there was a huge market right in the centre and hey ho, I accidentally found it woo hoo! I also found China town too. That was funny, without realising it, I was thinking to myself…hang on a minute, there are a lot of Asian people walking about…awesome, I’m back in Thailand haha! There really is something for everyone in Sydney…bars, restaurants, markets, history, museums, parks etc…It is like a huge London I reckon! A lot of their roads are also named after places in London and they also have their own version of Hyde Park too.

Open Top Bus Tour(s)!

What a perfect way to get around Sydney! I decided to book on a sightseeing bus so I could see the highlights of Sydney but also to see if there was anything I wanted to go back to in the week…which yep, I’d spotted a Museum with a photography gallery on and also a Botanical Garden that I wanted to have a peep in. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who wishes to see the City in an afternoon. Sydney Explorer takes you around the City in 90 minutes and of course covers all the ‘must sees’ including the Opera House, the Bridge and the Rocks etc..

I actually booked onto 2 tours because they were doing a 2 for 1 deal and it was perfect because the other tour was headed out to Bondi Beach which was another place I really wanted to go. The tickets can be validated for either 24 or 48hrs and you can literally hop on or off whenever you like within your time limit. When the bus arrived at Bondi Beach I hopped off and spent a good hour just pottering about there. I’d promised my Step Bro Kyle that I’d find Bondi Skate Park and take a few shots for him too. While I was taking photos of the skaters, I suddenly heard this voice to my right. “Are you a photographer?” I looked down and saw a guy about my age sitting on a bench also watching the skaters. I also noticed he was cutting up a lemon which I thought was a bit odd but I poo pooed it. “Um, no, just taking some shots for my Step Bro” I didn’t want to get into how I was this aspiring photographer you see so turned my head and carried on taking photos.. “Thirsty?” Looking back at the man on the bench, he was now holding up a bottle and swishing it from side to side causing the brown liquid to lash around inside the bottle as if to try and tempt me with it? “Is that….Tequilla? Um, no thanks, I’m good” I point blank refused…it wasn’t even lunch time either…Oh and I mean, I wouldn’t have said yes if it was later in the day either haha! “Yep, Tequilla indeed. Ok, suit yourself!” Then this guy dabbed some salt along the line of his thumb on his right hand and yep…there he was doing tequilla slammers for his lunch! Well, I didn’t stick around so got the snaps I wanted and then headed back for my open top bus haha.

I tell you what, Bondi reminded me of Cornwall! I think it’s just the laid back atmosphere and seeing all the surfers, surf shops, wacky novelty shops, bars and restaurants etc…I could have spent all day there but I had to get back.

Bit of this and a bit of that! 

Well well! I’ve been mixing it all up and fitting in what I can here to make the most of the time I’ve got so I’ve been getting beached up, zoo’d up, cultured and agricultural hah!

Yep, Mike and I took a look around Sydneys Botanical Gardens and the Australian Museum displaying the photographers gallery. The gallery was amazing! It was a Wildlife Photography display and the runner ups (and the winners) photos were being shown…wow, some of the photographs were so inspiring! I found myself staring at one photo in particular for ages…it was a photograph (which was a runner up and really should have won in my opinion) of a monkey that some locals had caught (I’ve completely forgotten the country now but looked somewhere like Indonesia?) and the hunters children were holding the monkey up to the camera to show off their furry prisoner (who sadly was going to be killed and eaten). What grabbed my attention was the expression on the monkeys face, poor thing looked petrified and naturally you would be if you were abouts to be cooked up into a monkey brains soup right?! The photograph had so much depth to it…the scenario, the expressions on the kids faces who were excited and the expression on the monkeys face which was the complete opposite…it was as though he knew he was going to be eaten. I just couldn’t stop staring at it! The winner was actually a young kid from Bedford, a village not far from my Mum so that was kinda cool to see a winning pic so close to home even though it was 8,000 odd miles away hah!

After our imagination had gotten lost in the photographers gallery, we sneaked upstairs to the Dinosaurs display (I think our ticket only covered us for the photography bit you see haha!). That was awesome! My Dad would have loved it in there..of course you can imagine it was full of enormous dinosaur bones all pinned together to show you the sheer size of these monsters! You just can’t comprehend what it must have been like living in the dino’s era hey! How scary would that have been! I put my head inside the skull of a T Rex and omg, his jaws probably wouldn’t even need to chew…bet they gobbled their prey up whole hah!

August 16th i took myself off to Taronga Zoo. I knew I had to be busy that day as it would have been my Brothers 30th Birthday…so what better way to keep the mind busy by visiting another zoo!  I had been recommended Taronga Zoo which was only about a 12 minute ferry ride out of Sydney and a ‘must see’. I’d also heard you could get your photo holding a cuddly Koala so it was something I had to tick off the list! One of Mikes house mates actually had the day off too that day so we both went together. It was nice to have the company actually and wonder about with someone.

Wow, this place is amazing, you have to go, it is huge! You can easily spend a whole day here wondering about plus there is a cable car ride that you can take and see the whole of Sydney below! The only thing is, you can’t actually hold a Koala here, it’s some kind of rule they have over in New South Wales but I think any other state you can hold them. I didn’t have my pic with a Koala here as it was pretty expensive and you aren’t that close to the lil bears either lol!

Over the weekend, Mike and I took a ferry over to Manly Beach. I did laugh at the name hehe…I wonder how they came up with that! Similar to Bondi with again, a very similar atmosphere..cool, calm and chilled oh and saturated with beautiful people (well, of course, define beautiful!)…what I should say is, the place is full of buff, bronzed fella’s (sorry guys, can’t report back on the gals as my eyes were too busy soaking up buffed boys hahah!) But yup, awesome day looking around and taking in the rays of Manly Beach! I actually took myself back there a few times and found there’s a lot more there than you first think. I found an art gallery, scenic walkways, Shelly Beach oh and a super haunted place called Quarantine Station! Well, it’s meant to be the most haunted place in Australia!

Reminising

So after a good week with Mike, I decided to move on and stay with an old school friend who I found out also lived in Sydney! Gemma lives in Narwee which was only about 20-30 minutes up the road but it gave me the chance to catch up with her and also see a new area. Gemma’s place is awesome! They have such a gorgeous house (pool and granny annexe included) and a family of 3 beautiful girls. Of course, I’ve been staying in the granny annexe all to myself which has been a dream…makes a change from hostels and sofa surfing haha.

Gemma’s been showing me around the sights. We all went out for a trip to Botany Bay and had a look around the places where Captain Cook first docked his boat and discovered Australia which was pretty cool.

I tell you what, their wildlife is amazing here. So far, I’ve only seen about 2 lizards (and very small ones at that) but their birds are stunning! First of all, you won’t miss out on seeing the many white Cockatoos! They are everywhere! When I first saw one, I was thinking ‘Has someone’s parrot gone missing?’ haha. And they also have beautiful Rainbow Lorikeets…again, they are like small colourful parrots! Not seen any scary snakes or red back spiders yet but there’s still time 😉 Oh and the other birds I have seen are Mynahs! I then found myself wondering about Morris and if he was still surviving out there.

So anyways, all in all Narwee is the perfect location. Gemma is right on the train line so I’ve been able to get out and about and take myself off whenever and wherever!

I’ve made many a trip into the city…The other day I walked around for hours! I walked right the way across the harbour bridge and all  the way back again and up one of the turrets to get an overview of Sydney. I then walked all the way over to the Opera House for a peep inside. Actually, a french guy asked me to film him ‘free styling’ down the steps on his BMX bike, he was pretty good actually! I should have asked him if he was going to put that on You Tube!

Blue Mountains 

I decided to book myself on a day tour to the blue mountains via PJ Tours. Wow, I highly recommend this place! It gives you a taste of just how breathtaking the scenary in Australia really is…but this is just the tip of it! Australia is HUGE and I don’t think you realise just how big this place is until you get here…

After a few teething problems (missed the bus the 1st day and the 2nd day I was waiting in the wrong place….mistake of the tour company I’ll have you know haha!) I finally made it 3rd time lucky haha but my word was it worth it.

It was an early start..the bus picked me up from the City at 7.25am and then drove us all to the tour office. From 8am we were then on the road to our first stop, Echo Point. Brrrrr, it was freezing over at the mountains and I’m sure the wind was trying its dam hardest to blow all of us tourists right over and down the mountainous edge…hey that brings a whole new meaning to ‘She’ll be coming down the mountain’ hey hehe.  They had snow up there just 2 days ago so that gives you an idea of how cold it felt. Just be sure to take a jumper AND jacket and possibly your gloves too hah! I loved this place. We got to watch an Aborigine show oh and guess what…..I got pulled up to the front with 3 other girls haha! Was so embarrassing! Note to self, never sit at the front cos it’s bound to happen!! They taught us the female peacocks dance and played their didgeridoos at the same time. Then 2 men were pulled up to help perform the ‘male’ dance. That was fun! Afterwards we were driven to the main attraction of the Blue Mountains.

W.O.A.H! Words will not be able to express the sheer beauty of this place! The 3 Sisters rock formation was stunning, well, the whole scenic backdrop was a jaw dropping treat for the eyes. We all piled into a cable car with a glass bottom which yup, was pretty scary watching the safety of the loading platform suddenly disappear making way to the incredible drop below my trainers! I was thinking ‘Is this thing secure?’ ‘What if the glass falls out!?’ Gulp! A hoard of Japanese tourists were all hogging the view but I managed to get some shots between the mass of heads and bodies. You then all pile into another cable car which takes you down to the bottom of the mountains. Finally touching the ground, we were then left to have a wonder around the Rainforest walkway which was amazing. First thing you notice is how tall the trees are and how small you are. Old haunting looking trees eerily tower over you and peer down with their crooked branches as if to say ‘What are you doing in my neck of the woods?’ Haha. Walking around, I spotted a Lyre bird scratching at the forest floor. These birds are incredible, they mimic other bird calls as well as other (un-natural) sounds including, car alarms, chainsaws and cameras clicking! So clever! Check them out on You tube.

I also spotted a lot of rusty old mining equipment that the miners once used back in the day. I even came across an original entrance to one of the old mines which was pretty cool. Almost an hour had passed and it was time for me to make my way back up and find the coach. Now this was the best bit…to get back up to the top you had to take the old scenic railway – a 52 degree inclining train! Yup, it really was an omg moment haha!

Waiting for the train, I noticed a sign which explained you could adjust your seat to a whoppingly terrifying 64 degree angle…Now this I had to try lol! The railway line looked horrendously steep and it got me thinking how on earth does it work? Then without fail my trustee ol’ imagination started to kick in again…’So, what happens if the brakes fail, would the train suddenly whoosh straight back down leaving your stomach at the top…like a lift that’s suddenly lost all its power?’ Gulp. Then I could see it slowly descending the side of the mountain to come and claim its victims, oh I mean, pick us tourists up haha. The doors opened upwards all futuristic like…exactly in the same fashion as the car from back to the future (Delorean I think it’s called?) So I slid in and like a big kid I was already fiddling with the seats angles haha. Waiting for the train to start, you just can’t help but sit a moment and take the impressive views in. The train then started to make its sharp climb back up to the top and oh my word..I was trying to film the event but I kidd you not, the train felt as though it was getting steeper the further it went up the mountain lol…so much in fact that the invisible hands of gravity came right into my carriage and yanked me forward! Yep, ladies and gents, I slipped right off my seat haha. It was awesome though and the views just leave you speechless. At the top, I grabbed a hot choccy to warm my cold (now also blue) hands and then found the coach. Next stop was a quaint little sleepy town called Leura where we were to grab some lunch.

Leura is such a sweet little place! It seems pretty untouched and by that I mean there were no big chain stores or fast food restaurants. Apparently MacDonalds tried to open a store here but the people of Leura objected (and good for them standing up to these giants I say). But Maccy D’s got the huff about it and took them to court and the result…they lost! So there will never be a Maccers in Leura or in fact Katoomba haha.

The houses are so pretty here, they all seem to have an American countryside meets Aussie outback style… Pristine and quirky wooden houses complete with the white pickett fence 🙂

After some munch and a nose about, it was time for our next stop… Featherdale Wildlife Park! This is another place I recommend you take a trip here if you can. This place is ideal for kids too as it’s very hands on (also perfect for me hah!). You get to feed the Kangaroos, have your photo with a Kookaburra sitting on your arm oh and not forgetting the cuddly Koala’s! That was so cute. You can’t hold the Koalas but here you are allowed to touch them and stand close to have your photos with them. Then it was back on the coach and time to take a drive over to our River Cruise. We actually passed the Stadium where the Sydney Olympics were held too (back in 2000) so that was another sight ticked off.

Arriving at Holmbush, we boarded our Captain Cook Cruise boat to take us all back to Circular Quay where the trip would finish. I went and sat on the top deck and got right up to the front (of course) and watched in wait for Sydneys harbour to appear in view. The sun was beginning to set and covered everything with beautiful gold, orange and pink shades, it was just stunning. The couples all rushed up to the top deck at this point to take in the romance of it all which then kinda made me feel like a billy no mates haha. Before long, the sun had disappeared now giving the moon it’s chance to shine. I then watched in a stunned silence as the bridge and harbour came into view…seeing it all at night time is a MUST. It’s funny isn’t it how night time can show you a completely different scene. Passing the bridge and the Opera House all lit up was just spectacular. I’m so glad I went on this day trip. Pulling in to our stop, I couldn’t help but feel a little homesick. I just wished my Mum, Dad and Bro could have seen these wonderful sights that I’d witnessed today.

Off to the Valley…

Remember I went to the  Similan Islands back in April (in Thailand) and got stranded on the live-a-board boat during a huge storm? Well, a lovely family who I met on the boat said I could come and stay with them if I ever came to Oz so…….that’s where I am right this very second, in their wonderful home!!  The Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley just have to be the most beautiful places I’ve been lucky enough to see in Oz so far. As soon as I arrived at Lynne and Robs home, I was just lost for words! Now I really am in the true Australia…right in the outback or infact…the bush!

Their house is just gorgeous! They are situated on a slight hill and literally surrounded by trees, hills more trees oh and a mountain in the distance! Straight away Lynne showed me around. I think I was just in some kind of stunned silence hah! Oh and guess what….there was a Wombat in the garden, I just couldn’t believe it! So of course, I was snapping away and getting piccies of him munching the lawn. There were also Kookaburra’s everywhere…it was almost like they all wanted to come and stare at me being the new person on the block, it was so surreal.

As soon as I’d been shown my room, Lynne and I went off for a walk to meet the neighbour Ross. And when I say walk, it’s literally through the bush! It was so cool. Lynne spotted a Wallaby just hopping off in the distance and again, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s just another world here having all this wonderful wildlife in their garden! Well walking on through the bush we got totally lost and Lynne was getting worried because it was dusk at this point and as soon as dusk hits, it really doesn’t take long for the darkness to fall. So picture that…it’s getting dark, neither of us have mobiles on us and we’ve no idea where we’re headed! I was secretly trying not to panic and hoped that Lynne would soon recognise a rock or tree that took us the right way again. We were clambering up and over thick branches, climbing huge rocks, getting our feet stuck in wet boggy patches but then thankfully we could see a clearing and went for it. Phew, we found a path which actually led back to Lynnes house. “I think we’ll go back to the house and then drive us to the neighbours haha”  I let out a nervous but very relieved laugh and looked forward to a very much needed glass of wine from one of the bottles we were taking with us!

Well, oh my word! The neighbours house came into view and it literally felt as though I’d stepped onto the set of a movie! It was like a huge wooden cabin! The car headlights shone onto the front of the house and revealed a man bent down on one knee and vigorously prodding a burning log fire…wow, I really have landed in the outback hey! After the initial meet and greet, we all sat round the fire and had a ‘sausage sizzler’ with a few glasses of vino, gobble gobble! Rob (Lynnes husband) then joined us and we all sat around chatting away about life in general lol. One thing I noticed is just how clear the sky at night is here, that’s because there is so much light pollution in Sydney so the stars are so much brighter here. Rob was pointing out what star was what and I’m hoping I can remember them all for when I go to Ayes Rock (I’ll be camping out under the stars you see…that’s for my next blog ;))

Ross then showed me around his home. It was truly amazing but what made it even more special was the fact he built it all by hand himself! The only way I can describe this place is like so…think huge log cabin (or a lumberjacks house) in the middle of nowhere…wooden floors, huge open kitchen, open fire (rug included!) a small cabin (or shed) to the side of the house….wow! I think this huge wooden house had everything apart from a Bear or Deers head proudly hanging on the wall from above the fire haha!

Ross is such a fascinating man! I would love to spend more time chatting to him. I thought he must have been a builder having built this fine structure himself but no! He is actually a bug scientist…yep you heard me right…a bug scientist (ok, I forget the correct term now) but I was in my element! So there I was, outside with wonderful people munching a sausage sizzler, enjoying a few glasses of hunter valley wine and talking to my version of David Attenborough!! We were chatting about spiders, snakes and anything bug related. I said to Ross how I wished I could have been like David Attenborough and he said why not….it’s never too late!

In the morning at Lynnes house, I was enjoying munching my brekkie sitting outside and still not quite believing that I was actually here! Suddenly, 2 brightly coloured parrots landed on the bird table! Wow! Cor that makes a change from sparrows or blue tits hey! It really is amazing how you can be in the city one minute and then in the middle of nowhere the next day. I absolutely love it here and I’m so glad I decided to come to Hunter Valley. I reckon I can safely say I am more of a country gal than a city gal ya know!

So….what’s next on the Readders adventures? I’m only here for a few days as I will soon be flying out to Alice Springs to meet  another tour group. Now this is something I can’t wait for…I will be camping out under the stars at Ayres Rock and hiking around the Kings Canyon woo hoo! It’s just for 2 nights but I reckon it’s one of those must see and do adventures. I also can’t wait to meet the other people on the tour because having done previous gap adventure tours, the people are always fun and like minded individuals.

So, I’ll give your eyes a break for now and I will tell you all about my Red Rock adventure for another time. I’d better do it before my Ozzie trip ends because the next chapter will be all about adventure number 3…..yep, Bali baby!!

xx

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Leaving the Land of Smiles – Insert sad face!

Ok, before I reflect upon ‘gushy’ sentimental goodbyes to Thailand, I must give you an up to date Readders Digest because hey, it’ll be the last one on Asia………or will it 😉

Flip-Flop saved my life….well, my foot!

Haha, ok, total exaggeration…..I will explain!

Do you know what? Ever since I have been back from BKK, my house has been ‘alive’ with creepy crawlies. It is ‘them’ now sharing their toys with me (or so it feels!). It might actually have a lot to do with it being the rainy season too. It has rained here in Thailand everyday which in turn brings all the beasties out! Huge spiders that jump, (yep, jump) enough to make even the sportiest of jumping athletes envious, giant army ants through to the teeniest of tiny ants, ginormous flying termites, geckos, lizards oh and a crab – a singular side walking crab haha! That was so odd! I stepped out my house one wet evening, torch in hand and there it was – a grey palm-sized crab staring up at me through it’s funny boggerly eyes! Of course, I had to fully inspect him with my torch all the while he was ‘eyeballing’ me right back. The crab then clasped his little claws together, repeatedly opening and closing them (at this point, I imagined his claws sounded like a chef sharpening his knives on his sharpening block!) as if to say ‘You come any closer…..I’m not afraid to use these!’ hah, so I tapped him gently with the tip of the torch and off he scuttled in a sideways motion.

Another evening back in the house, I was standing over the sink brushing my teeth….of course, still sharing the sink with the giant army ants who set up residence in the overflow holes remember hah! They didn’t bother me anymore. If you cleaned the holes out, they’d just be back the next day anyway but the ants had become a regular common ‘fixture’ just like a soap dish or flannel – they’re always there!

Sitting back down, I noticed something on the side of my rubbery flip flop. ‘What is that?’ I noticed it was one of the giant ants. Thinking I’d accidentally squished one, I tried to flick it off…..it didn’t budge. A few more flicks and the giant ant was still firmly stuck to the side of the flip flop! I took a closer inspection…OMG! This giant ant wasn’t squished at all, this was obviously one of the soldiers and it was biting the side of my flip flop with it’s out of proportionately sized head! His huge jaw like pincers were ferociously  attacking that flip flop as though his life, his Queen and country depended on it! Well, I’m so glad that wasn’t my foot! I’m not kidding but he was near on slicing into the rubber as though it was a lump of butter – yeouch haha! Finally, I gave up and just stared at him in amazement gnawing away.  I was imagining him muttering away angrily to himself (with a mouthful of rubber of course) ‘Take that, and that!’ He finally got bored and scuttled off taking his funny looking ‘big head’ with him hah!

I think I’d better think it out again! 

So I’ve finally got my butt into gear and yes, I am leaving Thailand…the land of smiles as they call it. I just can’t believe it!

I’ve had to change my plans quite a few times actually and it’s taken much thought and careful consideration. I drafted ideas to take myself off to New Zealand after my Australian adventure….then off to West Papua, Indonesia to hang out with the loin clothed and bare breasted Dani Tribes (stop sniggering at the back haha!)….then another short flight up to the North Sumatra Province (still Indonesia) to trek through the dense jungles of Bukit Lawang in search of their resident ginger monkey (Orangutans) BUT I’ve sadly had to cancel those thoughts and fantasies because the FCO (coincidentally) believe both these areas of Indonesia to be unsafe for tourists right now. And as my parents are reading this I won’t go into the details but all I’ll say is…..as the good old saying goes ‘better to be safe than sorry’ I’ve come up with plan b!

I’ve decided to continue with my plans to Oz (Thursday 8th August to be precise woo hoo!) and then jet set off to Ubud, Bali for a month and CAN’T WAIT. I have read Ubud is fairly similar to Pai in Thailand and that is one place I wanted to visit but didn’t. Pai is said to be a relaxed and almost hippy like town 🙂 In short, Ubud looks to be bustling with culture, (markets :D), scrummy food oh and yoga, massage and healing practices! Being trained in Reiki, I would really like to experience ‘Indonesian’ reiki and in fact, pick up some new techniques if I am able to have extra lessons out there! 🙂

After spending a ‘spiritual’ time hippy-ing it up in Bali, I will then fly off to Penang in Malaysia (near Georgetown) where I aim to trek the jungles of Penang State Park and also take myself off to visit monkey and turtle beach.

Then it’ll be more jungle trekking down at Taman Negara National Park before hitting Kuala Lumpur once more.

Let me clear my throat! 

Oh my goodness! What a wonderful send off I had on Friday morning! I was sooo nervous the night before because June asked me to do a ‘goodbye’ speech in Friday mornings assembly! ‘Speech!!’ I thought…..’Oh no!! “Is that Ok?” June asked, peering over the top of her familiar thick rimmed glasses. Perhaps she could sense my hesitancy by the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ expression on my face hah!

Well, I had to reply with; “Of course, I would love to!” Suddenly that injection of adrenalin was drawn up and injected straight into the pit of my stomach. I could already feel the adrenalin travelling through my system and I imagined the chemicals taking a ride on my red blood cells as though it was on some kind of ‘tubing’ adventure rushing through my veins! It brought back memories of when I did my welcome speech! ‘Oh, stop it Helen! It should be easier this time because you know them all now….right!?’ Well, easier or not, it still made me break out into that cold sweat like before haha!

So Thursday evening after I’d booked a few flights and accommodation for Bali 😀 I then went straight back to the house to write up a short speech. I thought it would be great to finish by saying something in Thai followed by all of us singing one of their favourite songs that I’d taught them…’Wherever I go!’ Ken text me some Thai words and with that my speech done it was time for bed!

Beetle Bum!

As usual I did my daily routine of shaking out my inner silk liner and then my sleeping bag because one thing I’ve learnt out here…is anything can be lurking in your shoes, under towels OR maybe sleeping bags! With everything shaken out (and nothing falling out), I got tucked up, rested my head on my brick of a pillow and soon started to slip into the land of nod…..

I woke up suddenly around 4.30am and couldnt get back to sleep. I felt itchy, hot and bothered. Trying to ignore these annoying sleep interrupters, I forced my eyes shut and tried desperately to get back to my lovely little dream of working the red carpet at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival hah! (been on my mind a lot this week you see!).

Suddenly, it felt as though something crawled over one of my legs! ‘What the hell?’ Surely I’d imagined it and it was just my silk liner brushing against my irritated skin? Nothing can get in here, I’m wrapped up snug as a bug in this and not with a bug right!? Nope, there it was again. Scratching the back of my leg from under the sleeping bag, I tried to ignore it for a second time! This time, I felt something crawling over my butt and when I went to scratch, I felt something!! ‘AARRRRGGHHH’ I screamed haha! If only this was on tape…it must have looked so funny! Well, I was trying to scramble out of that sleeping bag as fast as I could but I was encased and trapped in the silk liner and the sleeping bag so picture this: my legs were frantically kicking about so much that I could have sworn I looked like I was pedaling one of Fred Flintstones leg powered cars hahah!!

Finally escaping the prison of my sleeping bag, I jumped up and brushed myself down….nothing on me! Ok, lets shake out both the bags….and there it was….a small black beetle GROSS! God knows how it got into the inner liner but I wasn’t happy. I spritzed the place with bug spray and then felt comforted enough by that to soon rejoin the land of slumber. But then it only felt like a few moments later when the awful electric sounding alarm went off!! :/

Graduation Day?!

Right, it’s speech time! It actually felt as though it was my very own graduation day or something. I was nervous but at the same time, felt quite sad too. I know I banged on about becoming ‘bored’ nearer the end of my time at the school but actually, I’d come to realise just how much the school had become a part of me.

So, it’s 8am and the whole school have begun congregating outside for their Friday mornings assembly. The children all walked over neatly in their lines and sat down together row upon row. All the teachers then sat at the sides so they could keep an eye on them all! Waiting for the assembly to begin, I looked around and saw all 700 little faces sitting down and staring straight towards the front. As usual, they all looked so well behaved and so ‘regimented’. Following the usual morning ritual, the first kid walked up to the front and began speaking in Thai and then the Thai’s National Anthem would be sung whilst one kid would raise Thailands’ flag up the pole. Flag now flying, June stepped up to make an announcement….I was suddenly transported back to my first day, my first speech. The injection of adrenalin was once again ready to shoot it’s dreaded concoction of poison into my system! I was waiting for my ‘turn’ and in turn, waiting for the reaction of pure fear to take over for I knew June was building up to my ‘leaving’ speech!

Moments later (which felt like a lifetime of waiting!)……

“Helen, would you be kind enough to come up to the front please?” June was now looking at me and pointing the microphone in my direction. Now over 700 faces were also looking at me! Oops, there it goes…adrenalin is now tubing on my river red so it should help me through ha!

Taking the microphone, I nervously began my farewell speech to everyone. Even though I had written a few selected words, I couldn’t help but think…’do they actually know what I am going on about?’  haha! Towards the end of my chatter, I then said something in Thai to them all….now that (I think!) they did all understand! To end, I asked all the children to join me in singing one of their favourite songs which went down well.

Oh this is what I said in Thai;

Khobkhun mak kha

Tea hai oh kas di chan

Ma yooh tee nee

Mee kwam sook

Mahk mahk kha

This basically means thank you for having me, I’ve really enjoyed staying at the school and teaching English to you all..

Afterwards, the Sub Director came up to the front and began talking to me. He’d also put together a few words together for me! It was so touching! Although I didn’t understand the first part (which was all in Thai), he ended by speaking to me in English 🙂 He expressed the schools gratitude for my help, kindness and for also sacrificing my time for them. He then also went on to say that I will always be in their memories and their hearts and I’m always welcome……*sobs! I was just lost for words after that….not knowing what to say, I just kept repeating ‘Thank you, thank you’ and glared back at him with watery eyes and a bright red chevvy chase! haha!

After the Sub Directors words, the school presented me with a beautiful handmade silk scarf that I will treasure forever. It was then that the kids thought it would be funny to bundle me hahaha little buggers 😉

Sing us one final song

Once everything had become settled and all the kids were off in their classes, I was then booked up for my final lessons too. It was so sad…the children didn’t want the lessons to end and in fact, they ran over time which of course, I didn’t mind at all.

Back in the office, I was thinking, I really should get packing once schools finished but the school had other plans….

After ‘work’, the teachers all took me out for dinner and karaoke! It was my surprise leaving party 😀 I had no idea! We all enjoyed a banquet of food along with more ‘speeches’ and more beautiful pressies! The food was delish. Star was shoving all sorts under my nose, bowls of green soup like liquids, funny looking meat balls that came in different colours (white and brown), fishy things (steamed and grilled and yup, eyeballs intact)….. ‘Helen, you must try this and also this one!’ Star wanted me to try as much Thai food as I could before going on my way but I also think she was trying to fatten me up just like all mothers do (I saw Star and June as my surrogate Mums you see aww). Oh one embarrassing thing happened…when I tried one of the spicy meat balls, I tried to cut one in half with my spoon but as soon as I pressed into it…the thing grew wings and just flew right off the plate and onto the floor! I thought no one had seen but once I’d bent down and picked the meatball up…my eyes caught everyone elses staring at me! They all then broke into laughter and yep, once again, I had rosy Readders cheeks hahaha!

The final final speeches were getting quite emotional but the last one from June ended with “If you come back next year, we would like you to join us!” Wow, sounds like I have a ‘job’ in the bag there if I really wanted one hey! 😀

Joe and M, the ladyboys of the school asked if they could play barbie with me in the morning….they wanted to dress me up in traditional Thai gear, full make up, the works! Well, hell yeh! What girl would refuse a pampering right! Only downside was that I had to meet them by the office at 8.30am. I knew it would be worth it though.

At the end of the evening, June and Star dropped me back at the house and I was dreading it for now, I had a monster job of repacking my old friend the invisible man! :/

Well, I was up until gone 2 in the morning busy making sure I’d got everything. I checked, double checked and triple checked the house. Phew, I think I’ve finally got the ‘knack of the pack’. Roll, squeeze, cram. Heavy at the bottom, light at the top and just make sure as much air is squeezed out of the bags too. I’ve actually heard some travellers will get their bags of clothes vacuum packed before they go…yeh, I can see how that will help….will give you more space too.

Finally, wrapping myself up in my silk liner and sleeping bag, I said my last goodnight to the house before drifting off……

Helen of Thai

Again, it only felt like I’d been asleep an hour or so before the dreaded mario brothers alarm shrieked at me to get up! I literally through on some trews and a Tshirt and got myself over to the staff room where I met Joe and M.

And wow! What an experience! Straight away, Joe started slapping on my make up and I had the works!! Dark black eyeshadow blending into lighter browns and 2 full sets of fake eyelashes! To finish, Joe slicked on the brightest pink lipstick I’ve ever worn haha! I was then fitted with a long black wig! Wow, the Readders with long black hair….I couldn’t wait to see how different that was going to make me look! I imagined it wouldn’t look too good against my pale skin though, I would probably look more like a vampire than a dainty Thai!

Now for the clothes. Joe wrapped the top half around me (under my Tshirt) and measured me up. It was like a beautiful silk bodice. You basically get ‘stitched’ into all the gear while you’re still fully clothed! Again it was the same for the bottom half…you get wrapped into the skirt part (over your trews) and then you have to wriggle out your trousers and Joe then popped in the final stitches so it was literally made to measure. Well, I couldn’t breathe haha! I imagined I was wearing a corset or something and that Joe had just put one foot on my back whilst pulling the strings so tight that every molecule of carbon dioxide was forced out of both my lungs hah! Once I was measured in and secured and stitched up, Joe then wrapped a delicate see through pink shawl around my shoulders to complete the clothing part. Joe and M then both ‘decorated’ me with all the traditional Thai jewellery including a crown, belt, bracelets etc…

Done! Excitedly clapping theirs hands (in a feminine ladyboy fashion), Joe and M stood me up and seemed so pleased with their ‘work’ and couldn’t wait to show me off outside to the school! I tell you what, all that gear was so heavy, I felt weighted down with accessories and I was also starting to feel rather hot in my new thick wraps but I couldn’t wait to see the finished look. Handing me the mirror, I just couldn’t believe what / who I saw! Wow, that just isn’t me! I looked completely different and couldn’t stop staring at the strangers reflection!

Walking out the office, the first person I saw was June “Wow….you look like an Angel, so beautiful!” Well, that was it, I started getting my usual and all to familiar rosy glow haha. Of course, who doesn’t like a compliment but I guess I was so overwhelmed with the whole look and with everyone’s kind comments.

The teachers all wanted their pictures taken with me, the children, standing by the schools Buddha statue etc…and Joe and M kept asking me to stand or sit in what felt to me like silly poses haha. But great fun all the same and an experience I feel very lucky to have been privileged with.  Thank you Joe and thank you M for transforming me into a full blown Thai!

Party in BKK

Finally, it came to say the last LAST goodbye to the school. Joe and M took all the gear back but I still had a face full of thick make up and I was fretting about the thought of sitting on the bus looking like a ladyboy myself haha….I pulled off the fake tarantula looking eyelashes which helped a bit and then heard June toot her car horn from outside the house.

Driving to the bus station must have taken at least 2hrs! June wanted to take me as far as she could you see which was very sweet of her. We chatted non stop all the way and it was actually this car journey that made me feel more ‘bonded’ with June than I had before…strange that and bad timing with the fact I was on my way outta there!

At the bus station, June helped me to get my ticket and gave me a big hug that felt like it seemed to go on and on. Both our eyes were welling up and June promptly said, “I have to go now, I can’t watch the bus pull away” and with that we both went our separate ways 😦 The double decker bus looked pretty empty so I zoomed straight up to the top to bag the front seat! Pulling out of the bus station, it was then I sobbed a little as I watched North Thailand disappear.

My bus was so late arriving at Morchit Station in Bangkok, it must have been 10.30pm. Once at Morchit Station, I then had to grab a short cab ride to the train station so I could catch the Skytrain to On Nut to meet my Japanese pal Tomo. Finally reaching On Nut station, the usual ‘thick’ smell of pollution and other stinky smells soon hit (and blocked up) my nostrils.  I met my friend Tomo nearby and we then both had to quickly get ready to go out and meet the others and party!

4 of us all partied hard in the touristy area of Koh Sarn Road! Walking the streets together, I looked around thinking ‘In a funny kinda way, I’m actually going to miss all of this’ The hustle and bustle, the buy one bucket get one free, the being approached every minute to come and see the next ping pong show or the ‘you want laughing gas?’ or the ‘you want to eat scorpian?’ haha! I’d gotten used to the same old lines and right at that moment, I suddenly didn’t feel like the ‘tourist’ anymore and found I kept repeating ‘Mai ao Kha’ (which means no thank you).

We all partied until the early wee hours at ‘The Club’ and had such a fun night! And one thing that did make me laugh…I actually made friends with someone who lives 2 miles from my Mums house in Bedford!! How incredible! Such a little big world!!

Ooooh you give me fever! 

Ok, so I thought it was more than likely my fault but I ended up falling rather sick 2 days after our party night. Being hungover on the Sunday, I didn’t feel anything more than ‘hungover’ but Sunday evening I was engulfed by an awful fever which ended up lasting for days. My throat was so painful, it was on fire and my temperature was fluctuating from hot to cold quicker than I could put a jumper on to then whipping it off again. When I’d actually lost my voice, I got in touch with my friend Ken for help….squeaking away like sooty and sweep, Ken and I met up and he rushed me straight to the pharmacy. I was becoming panicky you see with nasty bugs flying around such as Dengue fever and malaria I thought I could have picked something up ‘Oh great, what if I have one of these diseases?’ ‘Did I pick something up from the school on my last day?’ ‘Crap, I’d better be 100% by Thursday for my flight to Oz!!’

Well, Ken and the pharmacist were chatting away about my symptoms and I was then issued with anti bacterials, some more pills to sooth the pain of sore throats and some throat lozengers. I’m so grateful Ken was around to help! Phew! I couldn’t get over the fact that the chemist could just hand out Anti-B’s like that too….it was as though she was prescribing me skittles haha! Well, do you know what, I didn’t care if they were going to even be the right ones because at the time, I felt so ill, weak and shivery that I was willing to take anything.

Even though I’d just started taking all these pills (and probably sounding like a rattling pharmacy myself!), I developed a burning red itchy rash which started on my throat and soon spread downwards until my whole body was scarlet..then my stomach decided it wanted in on the ill action and began cramping up (felt like indigestion or something). Yep, I knew exactly what this was….Scarlet Fever! I’d had this once before when I was at college…you’d think you can’t get this kind of illness anymore, and god knows where I caught this, strange hey!

Well, a few sweaty days later…I had beaten the fever and my voice was slowly coming back! The rash has died down too and is nothing more than a few itchy patches now. I’m not yet 100% but not far off so do forgive me if my blog’s not quite up to my usual Readdy standards 😉

Goodbye Thailand

As much as I am looking forward to kicking up the pace on the running machine of adventure, I am actually going to miss the school as I said earlier and well, Thailand overall! I was starting to pick up their ‘ways’, their language (ok, so I only learnt a few words!) but I mean the way they speak, the way they talk to you e.g. the ‘Where are you going Miss?’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘Are you married?’ – which of course, in the beginning, I took all of this as being a bit rude or nosy however, Thai people have to be the least rudest people you could ever meet. They are so kind, generous and sincere and always seem willing to help you no matter how trivial the need.

My Thai friends even said I was beginning to dress and act like a Thai hahah! Although my dietry requirements could never adapt to all the spicy food…my poor tastebuds, my tummy, boy will I be glad to be leaving ‘phet’ (hot) food behind haha!

This might sound very sentimental because right now, the theme tune to Jurassic Park has just started playing on my ipod and is reminding me of when Judith and I went jungle trekking in Laos haha! Hey, maybe you should put it on while you’re reading this, music really does help the imagination 😉

So, here goes…..one door closes and another one opens (in the form of a plane haha)

Here we are! And what an incredible adventure Thailand (and Indochina) has given me but now, the time is right to go. I will soon be following the yellow brick road with my little wooden stick (white bag hanging off the end of it!) and waving goodbye with the other 😥

So when I am on that plane Thursday evening, feeling the planes wheels turning to straighten up for it’s powerful boost along the runway waiting for the plane to gradually speed up and up until the ‘super jet booster’ button is hit projecting all passengers ‘G forced’ faces back into their seats and up into the air……my mind will be rushing with beautiful memories. The elephants, the temples, the Buddha’s, the culture, the markets, the crickets (and eating of them!), my gecko family (who I wish all the best with their new batch when they finally come to hatch!), the giant ants and termites (well, maybe!), the parties, the friends, the jungle treks, their simple yet beautiful way of life, Helen’s bug hunts, the weather, the school, the food, their laid back ways (Thai time), their ‘don’t worry’ attitude and their traditions! The list could just go on and on!

I’m so so proud of myself! I can’t believe I’ve completed and survived the first leg of my journey. I know my Brother would be so proud too and I know he’s been looking after me along the way and I reckon he’d also be thinking, ‘You did it!’

I will be looking down from out the planes window, watching with watery eyes as Thailand shrinks in size until it looks nothing more than a miniature toy town…and perhaps like something that I imagined ‘happened’

Always in my heart, always in my memory, forever…..

Love you Thailand ❤

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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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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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Barking mad!

Well well, what a week! Tears, sweat and adrenalin fuelled, I could do with a rest…well, my nerves could anyway! All will become clear…

The Real Littlist Hobo

First leg of the journey was really hard, that’s when it hit me that I’m on my own. I was fortunate enough to be seated with the old gummy man but it made me wonder if I’d be as fortunate on my next train journey.

So, here it is, train 36 headed for Surat Thani, Thailand..this is it, my dream of reaching Thailand is now just a mere 8hrs away! This train is actually a lot nicer than the previous one..the seats are facing each other and there is so much more leg room. Being a sleeper train, the seats will be turned into beds just before the light falls.

Hmm..so who am I’m going to be sitting with? Lots of people are getting on and secretly (and don’t say you don’t do this too) you’re hoping they bypass your cabin..so far everyone had avoided my seating area up until the last minute..an american guy got on and placed himself (and his fold up bike) in the seat opposite me. Immediately he strikes up a conversation and to be honest, I just wanted to switch off and stare out the window! He’s sitting there in a bright yellow t-shirt, dark shorts and a straw hat plus hes hardly got any teeth (not sure what it is with the teeth situation round here)..”So, you headed for Bangkok?” “No no. Just one of the stops in Thailand.” I said, hoping he doesn’t ask me anything else! I was being very offish with Jeff hoping that’ll put him off a conversation but then he’d ask me something else! I didn’t like him to start with, I thought he was rude and too direct but actually, with the 8hrs I spent with him, I actually grew to like him a little and in fact, he became a beneficial influence!

Jeff has been travelling for 8 years straight! He was actually on a visa run which is something I too will need to do at some point (basically when you need to exit the country but you can re-enter from another point and get a top up on your passport). Jeff’s seen it, done it and even bought the straw hat he was wearing sat there in front of me haha! I think it became obvious to him that I was a novice at the travelling game but he spent a while giving me tips and advice. First of all, Jeff told me what to expect in Thailand;

1. Forget Western culture and the ways we live, that goes out the window when you reach Thailand

2. Men don’t really respect the women

3. There is no shame or guilt

4. Sex trade is huge

This is all Jeff’s opinion so please, nobody sue me ok hah! I started to get worried thinking, somebody please remind me why I’m going to Thailand again!? Well, I wanted to make it how I found it but of course, I listened good and hard to what Jeff was telling me that day.

We reached the Thai border about 7pm. It’s strange..the train warden shouts ‘border, border’and then you all have to get off the train, passports at the ready. Jeff explained we were obviously at the border of Thailand..you literally get stamped out of Malaysia and into Thailand, easy! Then back on the train and its plain sailing (or training).

It was really interesting chatting to Jeff and hearing his stories, he was a highly intellectual fella and it was exciting hearing about all the places he’d been to.

Monkey Boot Camp

So the Readders made it to the monkey school! The owner (whom I shall rename for privacy reasons), ‘Roberto’ came to pick me up from the Queen Hotel in Surat Thani at 10am. I was really glad to be leaving that hotel, it was just awful..coachroaches running about all over the place, cracked tiles, grubby walls etc but hey, it was good for a stop over and it served its purpose.

Roberto drove me to the monkey school which seemed around a 45 minute drive and we’re doing the ‘get to know’ along the way. He seems nice, originally from Holland but he moved to Thailand around 12yrs ago when he married his wife.

So, we get to the monkey school and Roberto shows me around. Wow, it’s pretty remote! The bungalow home stay is a relatively new feature. There are 2 huts and I’m the only person staying this week so I pretty much have free range!

It’s so peaceful here, I sat and wrote my journal everyday on the balcony..all you could hear were birds singing, the gentle tunes of the wind chime on my balcony and Robertos wife chopping up coconuts in the background! Now and then I would hear visitors clapping in the distance showing their appreciation for the monkey demonstrations.

Roberto was going to give me the smaller bungalow hut but bees had decided to make a nest under the bed but not only that, a family of rats had also moved in..right behind the headboard! Naturally, I didn’t fancy that one haha so was glad to be offered the bigger hut!

Roberto then shows me around..I’m shown where I can boil up some hot water should I want anything and also where extra provisions are etc..I’m then shown the fruit and veggie patch..well, more than a patch, Roberto is growing over 700 pineapple plants as well as tomatoes, bananas and of course coconuts! There are 2 types of coconuts, the lower ones are the drinking ones and the higher ones are the brown and hairy coconuts that we see in the shops – these are the ones the monkeys are taught to fetch.

So..then I meet the dogs! They have 6 dogs, all cute apart from 1 who’s name I will change to Bullet!

Bite the Bullet

Ok, so I meet Bullet and shes looking at me in a ‘back off’ kinda way and I know straight away she doesn’t like me! Roberto then tells me she actually bit one of their guests the day before I came and that was only because she could sense fear on this woman…well, that was it, a rush of adrenalin came over me and my blood instantly went cold! Roberto and his wife are then talking and Bullet is standing next to him (and watching me all the while)! We then started to walk towards the monkey pen and Bullet was walking behind us when suddenly, I could sense she was behind me..next thing..all I could hear was the snap of her jaws right behind my butt!! Woah! Adrenalin pumping, I wanted to scarper but I knew if I ran off that would invite a ‘catch em kill em’ kind of senario!

So Roberto tries to spend some time teaching her that I’m ok and we thought that would be the end of it. Later on, the same day, we were walking round the monkey pen again and there was Bullet, waiting! Again, she walked round us, then behind us and snap..but this time she went for my hand, woah! Ok, that was too close for comfort, I felt teeth this time. I was then afraid of her and there was nothing that was going to change my mind on that dog after that..I was too scared to come out my bungalow all week!!

One evening, I did surface for dinner but only because Roberto promised the dog was locked up. After we ate, I promptly snuck off back to the safety of my bungalow. So, torch in one hand and keys to the padlock of my bungalow in the other. I can hear the dogs barking in the background behind me..I’m bricking it and my imagination starts going wild. Right, I’ll get the key ready and the right way up to get that lock opened so I can get straight inside hah..ok, picture this, have you ever seen that horror film ‘Evil Dead’? The one which is based on that old wooden cabin in the middle of the woods? Well that is what this place looks like! So anyways, its just like a scene from a horror movie..I’m thinking over exaggerated thoughts as usual ‘what if the dogs don’t recognise me and attack’ or worse still, ‘what if Bullet is out?’ Ok, bungalows nearing and the dogs barking is getting louder so my speed picks up and my breath quickens. I get to the porch and suddenly my hands feel fat and clumsey and I can hear the imaginery audience shouting ‘Quick, quick’.’ Imagining the dogs are bounding towards me now (which they weren’t) keys jingling and fingers fumbling I get in, phew!

That was when I knew I couldnt see that dog up close again haha!

Bitter taste

So one afternoon, I’m sitting chilling on the balcony when Roberto comes over and offers me a beer. We’re happily chatting when the subject of countries come up. I don’t know why I said this (maybe through nerves or through something to say) but I pipe up with “I’ve never been to Holland before, my friends have for the smoking side though” Well, I’ve immediately offended Roberto! He said it was very rude and that he hates foreigners that associate Holland with the cannibis culture, which of course I can understand there’s more to the Netherlands than that but I was only stating what my friends had been there for so it was an unbiased opinion. I have to put up with other nationalities associating Britain for having a pub culture but hey.

Sadly we had another disagreement the following night too which made me want to check out there and then. Roberto had sunk a few beers and he was complaining that even though he promised Bullet was kept locked up, I still hardly ventured out the bungalow! So I put my opinion across but it was falling on deaf ears! “My poor dog is kept locked because you are scared of her” Well, that is because she is a dangerous dog Roberto and if this was the UK, she would have been put down.

Checking out

Finally, it’s the last day and it couldnt have come sooner!

Roberto actually filled up a paddling pool for me probably out of guilt knowing I had been bored all week! It was certainly the best way to cool off from the 40 degrees heat!

All in all, I did get to spend time with monkeys and I also saw some pretty cool wildlife too..including geckos, and even bigger gecko (forget the name but it was huge) and also spotted a monitor lizard too. It was an experience and one that made me think..its not just about the places I’m discovering but I guess it’s also about the people I’ll meet along the way. At least I know I can be tolerant of people like Roberto but I hope I have shown him that he needs to become a more considerate and patient person!

Next stop Bangkok

So Roberto drives me back to the station and he’s actually giving me hints and tips about the types of people I may meet. He explained being a woman on my own, the taxi drivers may try to cheat me, apparantly they don’t like to turn the meters on hmm…and other people may approach me to try and coax me into a ‘free cab’ ride which reaches an expensive store which of course they’ll try to push you into buying something!

When we reach the station, my train headed for Bangkok is only slightly delayed but I can’t help wonder (and be slightly) apprehensive as to what might await me at the end of the line.

When my train pulls up, I find my cabin and start to get comfy for my 12hr ride. I have a private cabin..well..I’m sharing with a Thai lady. At first, I thought she seemed rather sweet but then I twigged she was only after my money! “I take you to Wot Po. I do massage, I teach you” well, it was all rather strange. She even gave me a bundle of packets of cakes, very odd. Of course I didn’t eat them! She soon got the message and went to sleep in her top bunk whereas I on the other hand, snoozed with one eye open! I even hugged my backpack close for the whole 12hrs..nothing and no one was getting into that! I did fell bit scared at that point again wondering what ‘sharks’ might be waiting to gobble me up but I passed that test no probs!

Tuk tuk…more like Tut Tut

Wow…the Readders made it to Bangkok! I can’t believe I’m here. Its manic with cars and people and just like at Butterworth station, you get the calls from money hungry taxi drivers “Excuse me miss, where you go?”

But its not just taxi drivers, you now have a choice of tuk tuks, mini buses and songtails (longer version of tuk tuks). So knowing my hotel is nearby, I try to walk it, again, lugging the invisible man hah!

Its no good, I know I’m not far but the heat and weight is killing me. A tuk tuk stops and the temptation is too great! I bartered him down from 40 to 30 baht but then once I was in the tuk tuk, he wanted to take me to some fashion store. I can only think it was because he knew the owners perhaps or that he got some kind of sponsor for taking tourists there but I wasn’t having any of it the cheeky swine! So he pulls up outside and is pushing hard for me to go in. I played dumb that I didn’t understand and I wasn’t going to budge but then I sharply said I wasn’t going in and I wasnt going to leave my bags on board his tuk tuk!

Anyways, I won and then the now very irritated tuk tuk driver finally takes me to my hotel!

So first 2 tests passed…I think the Readders will be ok!

Next stop, Chaing Mai to meet elephants and Hill Tribes and I cannot wait! I will update again once I can source the internet but for now…..x

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