Welcome to Thailand: songtaews, waterfalls, wats galore

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again? Sorry, that was totally unnecessary, but I started this sentence with “do you ever feel like” and couldn’t help myself from there. What I was trying to ask is if you’ve ever had one of those days where it felt like one week has been stuffed into a single day. Well, every day this week has felt like that for me. So, according to that logic, basically I’ve already been in Thailand for about seven weeks even though technically it’s really only been a week. Before I delve into the details of my action-packed week, let me give a little context as to why and how I’m in Thailand in the first place, which I realized I never touched on in my last post.

The nutshell version to explain why I decided to flee to Thailand for 5 months is that I wanted to postpone adult life. However, this week during orientation, we were urged to dig a little deeper. If I’m being honest, since coming back from Spain I had been in a bit of a funk. It was hard for me to get back into a routine where it felt like something was missing. And I guess that “something” would be a sense of adventure and discovery. How could I be content knowing there is so much more beauty and culture and people existing outside of my own little bubble? So here I am in Thailand with a program led by Greenheart Travel. I’ll be teaching Thai students English, but I won’t be finding out what age group or what town I’ll be teaching in for another two weeks or so. Currently, I’m in Chiang Mai completing my orientation and TESOL certification course. This week has been the awesome orientation week during which we got a crash course in Thai culture and language and did a handful of fun excursions. This coming Monday, my TESOL course begins. Unfortunately, I haven’t escaped homework like I thought I had. This is karma for boasting to friends who are still in school about being homework-free. Now that the silly nitty gritty explanation is out of the way, let’s get to the fun part: MY THAI ADVENTURES!!! Because I basically have to fit seven weeks into one post, I’ll try to stick to highlights.

img_1457Sunday: After arriving to my hotel where I will be staying for the next month with my awesome roommate, Tavish (shout out to my program for pairing me with that gem), it was midnight and the exhaustion was REAL. I could not wait to “sleep in” despite the fact that my bed is comparable to a stretcher with a blanket. Thanks to the jet lag, I was up by 8:30 and ready to face the day. Tavish and I ventured to Huay Kaew Waterfall, which we had learned about after creeping on a former Greenheart traveler’s instagram. I broke in my chacos, hiked up a hill, and sat on a rock nestled in the water (and naturally had a slippery little wipeout on said rock. Frankly I wouldn’t blame you for being surprised if I didn’t fall.) Later that night, we found a little restaurant with a few other people from our program and the experience can best be described as edible warfare. Our waitress dumped two huge buckets of spicy seafood onto a paper-lined table as we slipped on some plastic gloves and bibs. What followed was primal savagery and fiery deliciousness.

Monday: This was the first official day of orientation, and the day started with three bright red songtaews rolling up to our digs at 8 am. Thai lesson number one of this post: songtaews give me life. The bright red trucks are something akin to Uber Pool or Lyft Line, but significantly cheaper and more culturally diverse in that you sit in the Thai version of a non-enclosed pick up truck type dealio. Pictures below because as per usual my descriptive skills are slacking. You tell the driver where you want to go, and for about a 15 minute drive, you may pay as little as 20 baht (literally 60 cents..wow have I mentioned how much I love the cost of living here?!?!?) After our exhilarating songtaew ride to Chiang Mai University, we had a day chock full of Thai language class, a field trip to probably the fanciest mall I’ve ever been to, a pad thai and thai iced tea lunch for $2.85 (amazing I know, it’ll never stop being novel), and lessons on Thai politics and culture. Thai lesson number two of this post: sabai sabai and mai bpen rai are my new fav concepts in Thailand. Both roughly translate to no pasa nada or hakuna matata or no worries kind of thing. The phrases are reminders for me to accept and adopt a new problem-free philosophy, and I love it.

Tuesday: This has probably been the most eventful and culturally immersive day. After some time in the classroom, we hit the songtaews (about 10 people per one red beauty) and headed to a rice paddy to plant some precious rice. Srsly, rice is a staple of Thai life, so we were doing some unsung hero ish by wading through mud laced with what had to have been poop to help expand the (already vast) stockpiles of Thailand’s rice reserves. Next, we headed to a muay thai gym and spent an hour doing an intensive crash course of the martial art. Oh my goodness, it was such an awesome adrenaline rush and an amazing workout! Needless to say, we were all smelling pretty ripe from a pleasant mix of poopy mud and muay thai sweat on that songtaew ride home. After getting back to the hotel (and a nice long shower of course), Tavish and I decided it would be a good idea to get a Thai massage to help soothe the muscles that muay thai had wreaked havoc on. What is to follow deserves its own separate bullet point.

  • An in-depth description of my first Thai massage: The woman brought us up to a room that had tiny little padded gym mats, handed me what I can only describe as scrubs, and closed the curtain. I awkwardly fumbled as I changed into my nursing outfit, laid face up on my flimsily padded mat, and silently stared at the ceiling wondering if the lady would ever return. Once she finally came back, she spread my legs real wide. After the tiny Thai woman crawled between my legs, I had an internal struggle trying to decide if I was supposed to keep my eyes open or closed, and after an awkward eye-contact exchange, I finally decided closing them would reduce any more awkwardness. I know this internal struggle is probably only something I would go through as most sane people would know to close their eyes from the get go, but hey it was a new experience and I was already confused, so give me a break plz. Next, the woman proceeded to give me an intense Thai full body massage. Now let’s dig a little deeper here. By intense, I mean this tiny little woman was absolutely obliterating the knots in my muscles, and when I say full body I mean she definitely did not shy away from the gluteus maximus muscles, and at two separate points was doing downward dog with her hands planted dangerously, dangerously high on my inner thighs. This massage was like nothing I had ever experienced. At some points she was pounding my body like I was some hunk of dough that needed to be kneaded (LOL I’m so Punny) or some whack a mole game (choose your analogy..like choose your adventure, but more fun), and at one point she was literally karate chopping my forehead. There was a moment where I felt like the grudge because she was massaging my head with no regard to where my hair fell, and there was a period during which I learned my limits of flexibility could really be tested after she pushed my hands to my toes and then proceeded to sit on my back. I lost all track of time, but I want to say it lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, and it cost 300 baht which is equivalent to about $8.50. I walked away probably even more confused than I had been at the beginning, but also with what seemed like a bit less tension, which I guess is the whole point. Let’s just say I’m not totally sure how effective the experience was because the next day I was moving like I was just learning to walk due to some serious soreness. Obviously I’m going to have to have more Thai massages to compare because I hear every place does it differently, so stay tuned on that front. (Scroll down to Saturday for an update.)

Nifty little doodads

Wednesday: On this day we went to Wat Umong, which is a temple where a Buddhist monk taught us how to meditate. After more Thai language class, another girl from my program and I went on a little adventure to Chiang Mai Ram, the local hospital, to get our typhoid shots. Would it have been easier to bite the bullet and have gotten the vaccine in America before I left? For sure. But getting the shot for $80 less in Thailand certainly made my wallet happy. Also, what a weird and awesome way to further discover Thai culture. The hospital can best be described as a fancy-looking DMV. It was not only comparable to the DMV in appearance, but in wait time as well. First we registered, then a nurse checked our vitals, then we had a consultation with the doctor, then we paid for the shot, then we finally got the shot. There was a lot of waiting between each step and the whole process took about an hour and a half, but yay for avoiding that nasty little bugger known as typhoid!!!

Thursday: In Europe, the mantra was “another day, another cathedral”. In Thailand, it’s been modified to “another day, another temple”. We took the songtaews up a long, winding road to Doi Suthep, where a mountain-top temple stands. The experience was amazing, and I received another blessed bracelet from a monk, upping my collection to two. I also shook some sticks to get my fortune, which basically said I’ll be successful, holla. Don’t worry, I’m including a supplemental picture for those of you experiencing some confusion after that sentence. Thursday was also the day I did my first batch of laundry. I use the term “I” very loosely here, though. I brought a big bag of dirty clothes to a little old Thai woman across the street at 8 am and came back at 5 pm to a clean batch of clothes perfectly ironed and folded. This whole laundry system is super clutch for me as I not only hate doing my laundry, but I’ve actually been known to ruin some clothes during my laundry attempts. She charged me only 100 baht for a week’s worth of clothes and also told Tavish and me that we have pretty faces and look like movie stars, so obvi I will be going back.

Friday: As a way to say thank you for getting through the week (even though this week was the easy part), our program directors took us out to dinner at an awesome little restaurant with a very pleasing atmosphere. Afterwards, a bunch of us went out to a bar for some drinks and were looking forward to our first day off.

Saturday: Almost everyone in our program decided to do a little day trip together to Bua Tong, which is known as “sticky waterfalls”. Basically, there’s something funky about the rocks that keep them from getting slippery, allowing you to actually climb up the waterfalls. It was pretty nifty if I do say so myself. After getting back from the waterfall, Tavish and I decided to try our luck with another Thai massage. Wow, just wow. This one was not only amazing, but also half the price!! I experienced one of the best massages of my life for about $3..cannot complain. Basically the type of massaging maneuvers were the same, but the technique was totally different than the other woman’s attempt at muscle warfare. Saturday night, we all ventured into Old City to take on a few more bars, and naturally I found some people to converse with in Spanish, so that was cool. It was a long night full of great fun and great friends, and led to a noon wake up the next day. No judgment please — after the week I had it was wholly deserved.


Sunday night market

Sunday: I’m finally going to finish up the week and the post, as I’m getting tired of typing and I’m sure you’re getting tired of reading. The highlight of the day today was popping over to the Sunday night market, which is the most hoppin’ market Chiang Mai has to offer. It was so crowded, but I absolutely loved it. You could find anything your little heart desired, from elephant pants to foot massages to edible crickets (yes, I definitely tried the salty little critter and it actually wasn’t awful—it’s all about getting out of that comfort zone, people). We also got to experience a candle-lit processional during which every single person in attendance at the market stood still and went completely silent for about a minute as we held candles and paid respect to the recently passed king. It was truly chill-inducing getting to be part of that.

WOWOWOW what a week! I’m finally done, but I would like to remind you that even though you probably feel like you just read a novel (and I feel as if I just typed one), I only scratched the surface of my first week here. To sum up, I am loving it so far and cannot wait to go live new experiences that I’ll get to share with you, yeee! Now go take a nap or watch some TV or have a snack as a reward for making it through this post.

Sawad dee ka,

Your favorite insect-eating blogger


2 thoughts on “Welcome to Thailand: songtaews, waterfalls, wats galore

  1. Diane Albrecht says:

    I made it through this whole post! I am finding it very interesting! Question: Are there any people in the group that are older? You are a great writer!!!


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