Well, it appears I’ve done it again and left my blog in the dust. This time I’m not even going to apologize because:
- This whole Thai time thing (a laissez-faire concept that believes time and deadlines are more of a suggestion than a set standard to which we should all adhere) has apparently rubbed off on me, so I won’t apologize for embracing Thai culture.
- I know you’re not actually worried that I’m MIA because I’ve been plenty active on social media. I will concede that seeing a posed photo of me rejoicing on the beach is not the same as reading about real ~Rachel stories~ with my [insert desired adjective here] narration.
So, let’s cut to the chase. Unfortunately, due to my hiatus, there’s quite a bit that has happened in the land of smiles since my last post that simply cannot be fully addressed. To spare us both the tedium of reliving every last detail, I will stick to the highlights. Let me start by giving you a quick rundown of places I’ve traveled since December:
- Koh Samui, Thailand
- Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
- Bangkok, Thailand (as in I’m there every weekend I’m not traveling and even on some weeknights — I’m wild I know!!)
- Vientiane, Laos (though this doesn’t really count because it was for a visa run and literally all I did during this unavoidable trip was wait in lines, complete paperwork, and sleep)
- Ayutthaya, Thailand
- Kanchanaburi, Thailand
- Koh Samet, Thailand
As mentioned, there’s no way I can go into full detail in Rachel fashion about each of these places without writing a novel. Just know that I had an absolute jol with amazing people on all of these mini vacations. If you’re planning on coming to Thailand and are curious about any of these places or you just want to hear my stories from any of these lil trips, feel free to reach out to me personally via Facebook or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Always happy to be your sage travel guru. That being said, obviously some details about the last couple of months must be discussed. Because I’ve spammed my social media with glamorous photos in picturesque places, the theme of this post will be sharing with you the real life, behind the scenes, day-to-day events that aren’t captured in the insta posts. Below is a list of noteworthy (everyday, mundane..but not so mundane because it’s me and I’m dramatic) things that have happened since you last read:
I moved out of my apartment and into a co-worker’s house. Shortly after my last post, I celebrated Christmas at a co-worker’s house and had a very enjoyable if not unique holiday season. This co-worker drove us each home early Monday morning to get ready for school. When she dropped me off at my apartment, everyone in the car seemed to be horrified. To paraphrase, it went something like: “Who the hell showed you this place?? This is so isolated, I would have been depressed within a week of living here. We need to move you somewhere that’s not in the middle of nowhere.”
To be fair, the apartment itself was nice, but admittedly the location was not ideal. This candid reaction snapped me to reality. If you remember my post from when I first arrived in Rangist, I was struggling a bit through a rough patch, but I had pretty much blamed it all on the culture shock. My coworker’s bluntness made me realize a big part of this rough patch was stemming from the fact that I was modern day Rapunzel (luscious hair and all, obvi) trapped in her tower out in the sticks with little accessibility to pretty much anything. Two days later, I moved out of the isolated apartment and into an empty room in another co-worker’s house. Remember that guardian angel Brett from a couple posts ago? Well he came in clutch again by literally putting a roof over my head. I’m happy to report that this upgrade in location has significantly increased my quality of life and happiness these last couple of months. I mean come on, I’m a mere 30 second walk from a 7-11 now, how could I not be happy?!
I traveled on a third-class, 12 hour sleeper train. WOOOOOOFFFF!!! That dramatic “woof” was fully warranted, I assure you. There were a lot of red flags thrown at us before we embarked on that train ride from hell, but I guess we chose to ignore them. Transportation in Thailand is always a mission, but this experience definitely takes the cake for the most stressful and uncomfortable travel experience I’ve had in Thailand — and ever. To begin, Koh Samui in itself is quite a struggle to get to unless you pay an arm and a leg to fly directly to the island. To get there, we took an overnight bus to Surat Thani, but because we waited until last minute to buy a return ticket, there were very few options left. When we told the man at the ticket booth our return date, he responded “All that’s left is third-class train” in a tone that suggested there may as well be no way of getting back that day. Red flag number one. We ignored the concern plastered across his face and bought our tickets for 150 baht each. Red flag number two: the fact that we only had to pay $4 to travel 400 miles.
After a relaxing New Year’s trip in paradise that involved laying out on the beach and daily oceanside massages (truly, the amount of massages I’ve gotten in my mere 4 months here is shocking), it was time to return to the working world. The following description of our return trip will in no way do the actual ordeal we lived through justice, but I’ll try my best to transport you (to a less desirable place) through my narrative skills. Our departure day arrived, and it was a rainy and gloomy day, likely a foreshadow of our looming journey. We found a songtaew to drive us an hour from our hotel to the pier where the ferry departs. When we arrived at the Koh Samui pier, we learned we had to go to the bus station first to pick up our ferry ticket (because that makes sense?), so we proceeded to take a motorbike taxi to the bus station to retrieve our tickets and immediately boarded a bus that took us right back to the pier. Needless to say, efficiency took a huge blow on this journey. We boarded the crowded ferry where we stood as sardines for 2 hours until we arrived at the Surat Thani pier. We boarded another bus at this pier that took us on a 2 hour ride to the Surat Thani railway station. We waited at the po dunk station while our train kept being delayed. 2 hours later, at 9 pm, we boarded the infamous third class train.
As soon as we stepped foot on that train, the red flags suddenly clicked in our heads. The car can best be described by comparing it to a bleak hospital waiting room flooded with fluorescent lights and patients anxiously awaiting their results with the expectation that the results will be grim. So clearly, a pretty luxurious place. My friend Ciara and I also encountered another new red flag by noticing we were the only farangs in the entire car. Suddenly, it was as if a big flashing red sign appeared saying: “WARNING: this transportation is not suitable for foreigners”. Because I feel as if my narrative skills have not done the description of the train justice, my pictures will have to suffice. I’m not trying to relive the experience, so let’s fast forward to 12 hours later when the sleepless ride on the “sleeper” train finally ended. We arrived back in Bangkok, where I embarked on my usual journey from the city to my little village (which includes a metro ride, a van ride, another van ride, and a motorbike taxi ride). Over 24 hours of travel later, I had never been so happy to be reunited with my room in Rangsit.
I sang a song in Thai in front of my entire school. Back in January my school had this huge “annual show”, which was basically a big fair. There were mini rides, booths where you could get food and knick knack paddy wacks, and singing and dancing performances all day long. For about a month leading up to the big event, all of the English teachers had been meeting 30 minutes a day to rehearse the Thai New Year song (despite the fact that we wouldn’t be performing the song until a month after the New Year). I don’t really ask questions here though, I just do what I’m told and it seems to work for me. The big day finally arrived, and the foreign teachers were the grand finale. All day I watched adorable students dance on stage in cute little outfits until it was my turn! I was front and center with a microphone dangling much too close to my face for comfort, but the experience ended up being relatively painless and actually quite fun! And now I can sing (some of) the Thai New Year song on command if you ever have a desire to hear that, because why wouldn’t you.
I experienced my first visa run. I applaud the foreigners who have lived in Thailand long term and embark on these “visa runs” every three months. Let’s just say I was spoiled with my visa situation in Spain. I didn’t even have to think twice about living or traveling in Europe. I got my visa before I left the states, and that was the last I ever thought about it. I traveled to about 12 countries with no difficulty and just assumed this would be the norm anywhere I went. No. I got to Thailand on a visa that would last me 3 months, so once my 3 months were up, I needed to take two and a half days off work and leave the country to extend my visa 60 more days. This visa run to Laos involved a 9-hour overnight van, about 4 different lines that lasted 30 minutes each, and just overall pandemonium. Passports were floating about left and right through strangers’ hands and sleepless foreigners were shuffling like sardines through customs and immigration and departures. When I finally got to my hotel, I took a long nap, woke up for dinner and a movie, and the next day we were headed back to Bangkok. A moment of respect for the people that do this on a regular basis — you are all the true unsung heroes. I will say though, it was kind of humbling getting some perspective on immigration/tourist/work permit etc. restrictions after having been fortunate enough to not worry about that kind of thing for most of my life.
I got food poisoning. I feel like I brought this on myself, too. Unfortunately, Thailand is a country where it is not uncommon to experience at least one bout of food poisoning during your time here. So, after I had made it nearly four months escaping a stomach bug, and having less than a month left, I smugly thought to myself “wow, I made it this whole time without falling victim to the horrors of salmonella or e. coli or who even knows.” One week later, I was bed ridden with food poisoning. So, I don’t fully understand when people can pinpoint exactly what gave them food poisoning unless they ate with a big group that all got sick. But when there’s only one victim and the person can say, “Oh it was that rogue mushroom in that slice of pizza I ate at 7:37 pm on Friday night”, I must say I commend their true detective work there. For me, it could have been any of my meals within the span of about two days, but my theory is that it was bad chicken.
It started with a splitting headache on Sunday afternoon and progressed to stomach cramps. Next, it was all the pleasantries you can imagine go along with stomach cramps, including but not limited to dehydration. I took Monday and Tuesday off work, and after feeling slightly better on Wednesday, I decided to brave my classes. My oh my that was a rough day of work. I went to the doctor that night, got an unspecified injection in my gluteus maximus and prescriptions for five different kinds of medicines and hoped that this would put me on the mend. No. The next day was the worst, so I took Thursday off work. Feeling slightly stronger after some sleep, I forced myself to go in again Friday, and by Saturday I was finally somewhat back to normal. This happened about a week ago and, over a week later, I think I’m finally about 97% back to normal. Moral of the story: don’t be smug because karma will be sure to get you.
This brings my list of “noteworthy behind the scenes occurrences”to a close even though you’ve gotta know I only scratched the surface. Let’s just say random intense police searches, weirdly intimate massages, and moments of seasickness on ferries did not make the cut. This was not meant to be a list of negative things at all, but rather a real time depiction of every day life behind the glamour shots I’ve been boasting over Facebook. I have had such an amazing time in Thailand traveling to such unique and beautiful places. It has also been so deeply rewarding forming bonds with both my wonderful students, my helpful Thai teachers, and strangers I’ve met through my travels. I have learned so so so much during my time here, and I hope to write another more introspective post about my overall experience in Thailand once I return to America (which will be March 19. Time flies people, mark your calendars!!) For now, let me just count my lucky stars that the food poisoning came and went before my brother arrives tomorrow morning (!!) to gallivant around the country with me during my last two weeks in the land of smiles. Thanks for being patient during my hiatus!
Rachel on Thai time