31 March 2008

Beauty of Blogging

"I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.
I travel for travels sake.
The great affair is to move."

~ Robert Louis Stevenson ~

Greetings from South Korea! I guess this really is the beauty of blogging - you can be absolutely anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, and bam! make a blog post! Now, I am just one more flight home from landing in the ol' U. S. of A.! Honestly, I never really thought this day would come. Some days I was wishing with every fiber in me it would hurry and get here, while other days I was hoping it would delay itself, pushing off the inevitable. Now that it is here, I am not sure what to think!

What I do know is that an 8-hour layover anywhere in the world is never fun. Luckily, I found myself a nice lil' Internet lounge and 3,000 Korean won later (about 3$), have about an hour's worth fun on the World Wide Web! Now, just 6 more hours until I fly to San Fran.

The rest of the trip went well - I had a wonderful time in low-key Naiyang Beach, and on Monday morning, headed on a short 1-hour flight back to Bangkok. I spent the day running around Saimai - going to the bank, grabbing food, shuffling suitcases, getting everything together and saying see you later to a few special people before I flew out of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport last night.

Alright, going to use up my Internet time then off to browse South Korea's Incheon Airport - see you all stateside soon!

30 March 2008

Postcards from Phi Phi & Phuket

Oh how the days fly right by you when you beach yourself on the pristine waters of the Andaman Sea. I can't believe it is already Sunday, which means I fly back to Bangkok tomorrow morning then off to San Francisco later tomorrow night! Sad, but true - my 2007-2008 SE Asian Experience is coming to a close. A very fast close. However, I realize I have nothing to complain about as my time in both Koh Phi Phi and now in Phuket (at the low-key Naiyang Beach) has been tip-top fabulous!

After lounging on the beach Wednesday, I grabbed dinner with my new mates. That would be (from left to right): Ross from Edinburgh, Scotland; Mandy from Adelaide, Australia; and Kay, also Ross's girlfriend, from Scotland. They are a lovely bunch, and I had lots of fun hanging out with them for the week in Phi Phi!

Thursday consisted of more beach lounging...shocking, I know. However, after a yummy lunch at Pee Pee Bakery (whole wheat banana pancake and fresh fruit plate), I summoned the will to get my butt off the beach and instead, hiked up Phi Phi for a wonderful view of the whole island. A 20-minute hike up some harrowing steps later, I was handsomely rewarded with this view. Like I said, I can't complain!

Friday was my last day in Koh Phi Phi sadly, and I spent it the best way possible - doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Headed to the beach, then browsed around the town center for some shopping, grabbed more yummy food at a cute sidewalk cafe (delish banana yogurt smoothie!) and soaked up the last minute sun. I even ran into Kay and Ross on the street, along with our other new friends Tanya and Joe from London, and had a nice evening out chatting our little mouths off.

On Saturday, I boarded the ferry back to Phuket. The trip is about 1 1/2 hours of cruising along the sea with the wind in your hair. It was absolutely the most perfect way to leave Phi Phi - if one must leave that is. Upon arriving in Phuket, I was going to head to Patong Beach, which is probably the most touristy, busy area of Phuket. Instead, I heard about Naiyang Beach, which is on the northern coast of the island, close to the airport and is supposed to be more low-key. I am so glad I made that decision! The beach is still beautiful, there is a cute little strip of restaurants and shops and best of all, not a lot of people.

Now, I am anxiously awaiting heading back to Bangkok, spending my last day reading at the beach and watching Al Jazeera English (it's seriously brilliant) on TV. Even though it's sad to leave such wondrous beaches and amazing water, it will be nice to get back to Bangkok, get all my stuff together (Lord knows, there is a lot of packing and re-shuffling to do!) and stop living out of a suitcase. Unfortunately, I will have to say see you later to some friends, but it is exactly that - see you later.

In about 21 hours, yours truly will be on a plane bound for the United States of America! I might make a quick blog post before I head out, but if not, keep on reading for some fun blogging from good ol' San Fran!

27 March 2008

Perfect Lil' Phi Phi

What better way to end a 7-month Southeast Asian adventure than with a week of laying on pristine beaches adjacent to clear, turquiose waters all situated in the beauty of the Andaman Sea?

Welcome to Koh Phi Phi everyone...the jewel of the Thai isles! After my jaunt into Cambodia, I hopped on the next plane right on down to the islands and landed in Phi Phi (pronounced pee-pee, haha!) on Tuesday morning. Since then, my days have consisted of living out of my bungalow just 50 yards from the beach (look below), lounging on the gorgeous waters and perusing the cute little town center.

Unfortunately, on day 1, I laid myself a little too quickly on the beach because within one hour, I was already red! Definitely not a good way to start an island holiday. After lathering myself up with aloe and after sun lotion, I decided it might be best on day 2 to stay out of the sun and let my poor lil' skin rest.

Sooo...I found the most amazing day trip opportunity and on day 2, spent the morning rock climbing the gigantic mountain cliffs of Phi Phi and then in the afternoon, snorkeled the coves and lagoons around the area! Not a bad replacement for a day at the beach. Mandy (an Australian girl I met) and I signed up for the trip and ended up meeting so many wonderful people...especially my new friends Kay and Ross from Scotland. We climbed for a couple hours in the morning - I have sore muscles and blisters to prove it - then jumped on a long-tail boat where our snorkel instructor brought us to explore beautiful turquiose waters.

After a full day of climbing and snorkeling, we ended our day at Maya Beach - the beach where the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. The beach was like bath water - absolutely gloriously warm. We goofed around a bit then headed back on the boat where we caught a gorgeous sunset between Koh Phi Phi Don (the main island where you stay) and Koh Phi Phi Leh (a national park area). It was so wonderful and relaxing...here I am on Maya Beach enjoying the peacefulness of the secluded beach. Perfection!

Now, on day 3 already (the time flies), I spent the day relaxing at the beach but not before slathering on multiple layers of SPF mind you! In the morning, I parked it on the main beach for a couple hours, headed off for a lovely solo lunch (love, love the fruit shakes here!) and then in the afternoon, I went back to a small beach near the pier, which the Europeans love to sunbathe naked on. Hey, I thought it might be a cultural experience! Off to shower then meet Kay and Ross for dinner and probably call it a night - all this laying on beaches is really tiring!

23 March 2008

Absolutely Amazing Angkor

What a learning experience the past two days have been! Quite honestly, before coming to Thailand, I knew very little about Cambodia and these famous temples people kept referring to as 'Angkor Wat.' Apparently, they were absolutely spectacular remnants of the Khmer empire, which dominated Southeast Asia from approximately the 9th century to the 15th century. After spending the past two days hopping from one temple to the next, I can say for myself that these are one of the most interesting, awe-inspiring sights I have ever seen!

Angkor (derived from the Sanskrit word 'nagara', meaning 'city') refers to the region of Cambodia which served as the central seat for the Khmer empire. During this time, millions of workers built over 1,000 temples, which are all so different from one another. Angkor Wat (above at sunrise) is the main temple and is regarded as the world's largest single religious monument. Khmer architecture is intricate, exquisite and leaves you completely dumb-founded. I mean, can you tell me how exactly they built these temples without anything more than stones and manpower?

Here is an overlook of every temple I saw - we made it to about 10 I think! I would give you a history of each one - again, all are so different - but to spare you the time and me the hours and hours it would take to blog it, here are some marvelous pictures instead (with a short description of what the temple is famous for in English).

Angkor Wat (Temple of the Stretching Stone)

Bayon (Temple with all the Faces)

Banteay Srei (Red Temple)

Ta Prohm (Temple with Trees Growing Out of It)

Suor Prat Towers

Preah Khan (Temple of a Former Buddhist City & University)

Neak Pean (Island Temple)

Pre Rup (A Really Big Temple)

Banteay Kdei

Angkor Wat (where I started and ended my temple-hopping)
It's been an exhausting two days of early mornings and intense heat (I'm talking 100 degrees here people!), but I couldn't think of anything more worth it. There is a beautiful elegance in the crumbling structures and facades I can't quite explain. Many temples are literally falling apart before everyone's eyes - I really hope the restoration projects here get the funding they need to keep these temples structurally sound for the future. Angkor is simply amazing!

My favorite parts were cruising from temple to temple with our tuk-tuk drivers Dee and Chon, stretching upon the elusive stretching stone (one day I will tell this hilarious story!), eating delicious food like baguettes and making the kids here laugh (all one needs to do is make some silly, hideous faces, and they crack up in laughter!). The poverty was sad - having to say no time after time to kids trying to sell you anything was tough, but it made me again so appreciative for what I have. It's been a wonderful here in Cambodia.

Tomorrow morning I am heading out of Cambodia and off to the islands of southern Thailand. I am parking my butt on a beach for the next week and soaking in the sun, then flying back to the States and visiting a certain Miss Ashley Keeler before heading back to the Midwest. I hope you are all well back at home, and don't think for a minute I forgot - Happy Easter Sunday to all!

22 March 2008

Capitivating Cambodia

Oh, where to start? Just a mere couple days ago I was in Bangkok finishing my last week at Sarasas, and now I am temple-hopping around Cambodia! Crazy world. The past couple days have absolutely flown by, which makes me realize I need to start blogging this trip across the border from the beginning. Let's begin at Poi Pet, a nice little Cambodian border town!

Like I said before, as soon as I crossed the border, one of the things that struck me the most was the poverty. Although Bangkok can be relatively affluent, I still saw a lot of poverty in Thailand - homeless mothers with their children on the street, disfigured men and women asking for money and many other images which I will not soon forget. In Cambodia however, poverty permeates society. It is everywhere and so widespread, I wasn't sure how to react to it at first. Here are loads of carts (who have been waiting hours) lined up to cross the border into Thailand and bring back much-needed supplies into Cambodia.

Once we passed through immigration, which was pretty painless, we found a nice little guesthouse where we dropped our bags. Then we walked around the town, which was rather small, and grabbed dinner at a nice sidewalk joint. Honestly, the three of us were pretty tired so we headed back after dinner for a good night's sleep.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the Happy Palace Casino (yes, I just said Happy Palace Casino) where there were tons of Chinese tourists gambling their yuan away. If it hadn't been for strict no photography rules, I definitely would have gotten a picture of that! Then, we hopped on some motorbikes through the dirt-filled, dusty roads (everywhere is super dusty in Cambodia) and enjoyed a nice ride with Richard through Poi Pet!

One day was definitely enough in Poi Pet, so on Friday morning we braved the treacherous road from Poi Pet to Siem Reap in order to see the great Angkor temples. The 3-hour car ride was not the greatest - the road between these two cities is still being paved so some stretches are nice and relaxing, while others is like riding the Excalibur at Valleyfair. Seriously bumpy! Since much of the road is still dirt, here is what you see out of the driver's seat for large portions of the ride.

During the trip, the landscape of Cambodia remained relatively unchanged. It was vast expanses of dry, arid land populated by sparse trees, plants and the occasional village every 45 minutes or so. However, it is the dry season right now (summer is really starting to heat up in this region!), and I am told the landscape is lush green during the rainy season, when this country is soaked with tons of rain. Regardless of the season, I could have spent all day staring out the window and taking in all the sights, especially the local villagers.

Upon arriving in Siem Reap - the gateway to the Angkor temples - we enjoyed a tuk-tuk ride into town (here is Shaun and I enjoying the ride), dropped our bags off once again and set about exploring this cute little place. Full of yummy restaurants serving Khmer food, massage parlors and much more, it is a great place to start off your journey to Angkor. So stay tuned to the blog tomorrow for the good stuff - more temples than you can possibly imagine!

21 March 2008

Farewell Sarasas!

After fast days and dragging days, days filled with grading worksheet after worksheet, hours spent trying to prevent the pelvic thrusting of 1st graders, loads of rides to work on the songthaew and handfuls of Friday staff meetings, this girl is officially d-o-n-e! Wednesday marked my official last day as an English teacher at Sarasas Witaed Saimai Bilingual School. In the words of George Michael, can you say freedom? Here is my G1C predescessor Miss Anna and I celebrating on the last day.

Even though I definitely had my days (not all good!), I was a bit sad to say bon voyage to Sarasas this week. Throughout my time there, I met so many wonderful people from all around the world. Not only do I have like 10 new countries I absolutely have to visit now that I have friends there, but I would not have made it where I am today without a special handful of them (I am pretty sure they know who they are :)

Saimai was quite the living experience. I mean songthaew rides, bed bug infestations, countless foot massages, trips to Wongsakorn Market, morning/daytime/nighttime 7-11 runs, water leaks...the list could really go on. Through it all, I've realized (a) I have an unending supply of hilarious stories, (b) things will not go the way you planned regardless of how much you plan, but for some reason, end up working out the way they should and (c) laughter cures most problems, especially when it involves a one-piece, floral jumpsuit. Am I right Miss Lauren?

Here is a shot of the Saimai skyline from Wongsakorn Market with Sarasas's brand new dome as it's highest pinnacle. Pretty, huh?

Like I said before, I've had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world - Phillippines, Australia, England, Algeria, India, Thailand, China, Canada...the list could continue. Let's just say my travels won't be stopping any time soon! In 7 months here, I've learned about different cultures, learned how to deal with cultural differences and feel as though I now have a greater appreciation for what I have been blessed with in my life. After living and traveling around Asia, I have come to realize I am one lucky little lady. Seriously. Here is Mr. Shaun (from Australia), Ms. Apsari (from India) and myself on the last day.

On Wednesday night, Miss Suzi hosted a little shindig at her house for all the teachers to celebrate the end of another school year. It was good to relax, eat some good food and see everyone outside school gear, which doesn't happen as much as one might think. At the request of a certain sibling of mine, I will spare you boring details and information and just provide you with photos instead.

Of course, one of the reasons I was MOST excited to get done with school is because I still have a bit of traveling left to do! Unfortunately, my roomie Lauren headed back to Canada earlier than expected due to illness so my itinerary changed a bit, but Cambodia here I come! Right away Thursday morning, yours truly headed right on out of Saimai with Mr. Shaun and his friend Richard for a jaunt into Cambodia!

We hopped on a luxurious double-decker bus where for the next 3 1/2 hours, we took over the lower level lounge (yes, it was actually a lounge downstairs!) until arriving at Aranyaprathet, a bustling market/border town between Thailand and Cambodia. Immigration across the border was rather quick and within about 30 minutes, we got our visas and stepped across into Poi Pet. A poor border town, we stayed the night here and enjoyed a bit of local cuisine and a solid night's rest before first, stopping by the casino (come on, now I can say I've been in a Cambodian casino) then heading back out on the road!

Although Cambodia does resemble Thailand in many ways, the first thing that was so much more apparent was the poverty. Even now, two days later, it's still hard to pass someone trying to sell you something for money when you know they have next to nothing themselves. Now, after another 3 hour car ride, I've landed in Siem Reap - home of the famous Khmer temples at Angkor!

Clearly, if you hadn't noticed, I was a bit behind on the blog updates! Unfortunately, that's it for now, but I promise good things to come as I've already spent part of the day exploring these absolutely amazing temples. Be back soon!

15 March 2008

A Day of Decadence

When a classy yet free-spirited girl like myself needs a little decadence in her life, where else to go but Bangkok's most famous hotel...the Oriental! Founded in 1876, the Oriental is not only a fabulous five-star hotel located right on the banks of the Chao Praya River but it is regularly recognized as one of the best hotels in the world, according to one of my favorites...Travel & Leisure magazine!

After a little Saturday morning jaunt to Chatuchak Market (a definite favorite weekend hotspot) for some last minute gifts, I escaped the 100 degree heat and sought refuge at the posh Oriental Bangkok for a lovely English afternoon tea. Now, I know the Oriental does not look like much from the outside (refer to picture above) but inside it is nothing but absolute fabulousness for the rich and famous, like myself of course.

One of the reasons why the Oriental Bangkok has earned its grand reputation is because over the years, famous authors have sought refuge here. The likes of Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness people!), Somerset Maugham (Of Human Bondage anyone?) and James Michener (Tales of the South Pacific of course!) have all shacked up at the hotel at one time or another. Now, the Oriental has a special Author's Lounge which is located in the historic part of the hotel where these intelligent minds stayed. Here, you can enjoy one mean English afternoon tea!

Entering the Author's Lounge, you are literally transported to the early 1900's when these famous works of literature were written. Awash in white and beige, the Author's Lounge is filled with overhanging foliage, stark white wicker furniture and the sweet scent of afternoon tea. Needless to say, I was in absolute heaven. There are several wings to the lounge, and I was graciously escorted to the right wing where all single people have tea by their lonesome.

All around the Author's Lounge, there are books galore! Here is the reading room (adjacent to the right wing), where you can make yourself quite comfortable on the over-sized brown leather sofas and lazily read famous works of literature by all the brilliant minds who once stayed at the Oriental. The whole place is peaceful and the staff waits upon your every need. Time for tea please!

Okay, let's be real, are there any words needed for a spread like this? First and foremost, I just want to say that I studied abroad in London, England - home of the delicious scone (one of my favorite foods, hands down). However, these scones from the Oriental were hands down the best scones I have hand in my entire life. Served with strawberry jam, rose petal jam and some other not-as-tasty jam, I could have easily enjoyed three plates of them. Simply divine.

Along with the killer scones, I ate fruit cake and pound cake. Moving down, there were fresh berries with clotted cream (another favorite of the day), a chocolate & macadamia nut cookie, fruit tart, coffee layered chocolate cake, biscotti and a chewy, fudgy brownie. On the bottom were a nice array of English sammies - salmon & cream cheese, egg salad, cucumber, another one that I had no idea what it was and a yummy English mince meat pie. All this topped off with a pot of Oriental tea - a black tea with hints of jasmine. Like I said, pure decadence.

Seriously, I ate almost all of this spread (at least a good 3/4 of it!) while reading (or rather indulging in) People and Shape magazines which I bought at the Oriental bookstore. You know how they say everyone has a divine experience with God at sometime in their life? Well, I think mine was the 2 hours I spent lounging at the Oriental Bangkok hotel yesterday. Talk about dying and going to heaven!

10 March 2008

Lazy Weekend Lounging

After lazing around school all week, what's a girl to do but laze around the rest of the weekend? With more than half my social circle out of commission (Lauren & Thomas decided to head up to Chiang Mai for the weekend), I had my laziest weekend since coming to Thailand, no joke! Friday night, Suziporn and I browsed Wongsakorn Market for some good eats, brought the goodies home (yummy sticky rice with black beans, the best sausage you will ever taste, dumplings and of course, rice!) and then kicked back and watched some movies. Not so exciting, huh?

Saturday I spiced things up a bit - headed to the gym, then the Internet Cafe, watched over 3 hours of "The Office," got a glorious foot massage and headed out for a night on the town Thai style. Suziporn, her boyfriend Por, Boy (the gym teacher at Sarasas) and I headed out for a little fun to RCA. We rocked the night away dancing to some Thai rock music - definitely an entertaining night to say the least. We even got portable ashtrays as a partying gift - score!

On Sunday, I was really craving some real coffee so I carted Thomas's laptop to Starbucks at Central Ram Intra (a nearby mall) and lazed away Sunday watching more episodes of "The Office" while sipping on a decent cuppa joe. Then, I visited the dentist where a teeth cleaning and one cavity filling only cost me 750 baht (about 25$) and headed back to the gym. It was a subdued weekend to say the least.

I just realized this is probably the lamest blog post I have made since being in Thailand, FYI.

07 March 2008

Mindful Meditation

What perfect timing for a nice little afternoon of meditation! After barreling through the last two weeks of school (surviving several bloody noses, more than 10 exam sessions, trying to entertain 34 1st graders between exams and grading more than 100 math exams), it was due time for a little Vipassana meditation. Sunday afternoon, Lauren, Thomas and I decided to take the meditation plunge and headed into Bangkok to Wat Mahathat - home of the International Buddhist Meditation Center!

Ever since I arrived in Thailand, I've been looking forward to learning about and practicing meditation because the more and more I read in health magazines and books, I've learned daily meditation sessions can seriously do wonders for the body and add years to your life. No lie! Vipassana is one of two schools of meditation study (the other being Samatha meditation) - it focuses on attaining mental clarity by strengthening and sharpening mindfulness. They claim it is the key to developing the wisdom to see things as they really are. Having realized this truth, one is then achieves liberation and attains nirvana. Lord knows I could use a little help on that one!

Greeted by a witty monk dressed in gorgeous burnt orange (the traditional color of monk robes), we started our journey towards nirvana! First, we were instructed to read through a small, detailed book all about Vipassana meditation before our meditation practice began. Then, we were lead to our meditation instructor who I thought totally looked like a ladyboy (others weren't as convinced). Our first meditation practice we worked on was sitting meditation. Unfortunately, when I was left to meditate in the sitting position for 20 minutes, I promptly fell asleep and elicited laughter from the meditation staff. Oops!

Then we worked on standing meditation, which is more of a meditative walk where you keep yourself very conscience of all the moves you make. Anytime you pick up your foot or make any sort of movement, you need to address it by saying "moving-moving" in your mind. This helps us practice mindfulness, which we all now know is the first step to attaining nirvana. Bring it on! It was definitely a good thing I started my new meditation practice with a 1-hour class because I am pretty sure if I went on that 10-day retreat I was thinking about, I would have gone insane!

Since Sunday's afternoon of mindfulness, I have been busy (or rather, not so busy) at school all week. Although there are no more kiddies, we are finishing up end of the year details and working on putting together the packets for summer school. Pretty much we work on the summer school packet for an hour, take our morning break, chat until lunch, work a bit more on the packet and finish the day off with a movie. Hey, it's hard work, but someone's gotta do it! Here's a shot of Lauren and I's local 7-11 - I figured after talking this place up, it was only fair I show you all the fun we have on our daily 7-11 runs!

02 March 2008

Teacher No More

After six months of teaching, hundreds of pelvic thrusts, countless "Good morning Mizz Hullees," four quizzes, four exams and 34 1st graders later, my tenure as a teacher at Sarasas Witaed Saimai School is officially o-v-e-r, over! Friday was my official last day (ever, may I add!) as a 1st grade teacher as the 2007-2008 school year came to an end in Thailand.

Last week was spent preparing and testing the kiddies on their four main subjects: English, Math, Social Studies and Science. I am sooo very proud to say that Grade 1C (aka my class) ALL aced both their English, Science and Social Studies (except for Katsu - the dumb kid who doesn't speak English, because well, he doesn't speak English)! Although, I give myself none of the credit - my students are exceptionally bright and would do great things for Thailand, if their futures weren't already planned out for them by their parents. Seriously. Especially Aan, who got a 100 out of 100 on all her exams. No wonder she's my fave - the girl is cute, well-behaved and smart!

(Back Row (l-r): Pimchada, Nattaporn, Aan (the smart one), Kochaporn, Ratima (the stealer), Boonyakorn, Nattida, Thanakorn & Ariya. Front Row (l-r): Rathatip & Hathaiphat (nickname: Meeme - so cute!).

In other words, the grade ones were needless to say, a bit out of control on Friday after they finished four rounds of English exams and 7 rounds of Thai exams! Here is a better example of how my students normally behave - girls can be found chatting non-stop with each other while the boys thrash, kick, fight, talk and whatnot on the ground of the classroom. Just another day in Grade 1C...

I am definitely going to miss my little ones - even the ones I don't especially care for, like Ratima, the girl who actually looks like a rat (hence 'Rat-ima') and who I caught digging through my purse one day, or Chayakorn, who is definitely the booger kid, always sporting crusty boogers for everyone to see. My faves, like Aan, Pornpawee (aka Pam), Chotiros (who actually reminds me personality-wise of a younger version of me), Pavin, Chakriya and Attakan (the pelvic thruster). What a group! Here is Attakan, with his devilish smile and addicting laugh on the right, along with Korapat on the left (his mom is a famous Thai actress) doing what they do best - talking!

After our last school day on Friday (which was also payday, hallelujah!), I met up with my Austrian/Wisconsin compatriot Ted that night and headed to Central Lad Prao, one of Bangkok's million malls, where we grabbed dinner and saw the Thai movie 'Chocolate.' A kung fu movie about a mentally handicapped girl who turns out to seriously kick ass, it was really good! Then, Lauren and I preceded to do what we do best - shop! Saturday, we once again gave into our shopping craving and hit up Central Lad Prao again for some serious shopping. I have to say we definitely came away with some serious goodies. Seriously!

Today, we headed to a meditation class in Bangkok so check the blog tomorrow or the next day for a full run-down of that! Hope all is well back home and see you in one month. Ahhhh...one month!

24 February 2008

Here, There and (almost) Everywhere

Trivia time! Can anybody name the classic 1957 Oscar-nominated film featuring this infamous (albeit a big ugly) bridge?

If you just happened to say "The Bridge on the River Kwai" - you would be right! On Saturday, Lauren and I skedaddled a couple hours west of Bangkok to the lovely town of Kanchanaburi! (FYI: Our taxi driver on the way to the bus station repeatedly informed us was "Kahn-chahn-ah-bour-eeee!" after Lauren and I apparently butchered the pronounciation in our good ol' Midwestern accents.) We arrived in Kanchanaburi around lunchtime, promptly found the first street food stand and met some new friends - Nut and her 14 year-old daughter Aan. After some delicious cow pad sai pak (aka stir-fried rice with egg and vegetables), we headed on our way with our tuk-tuk driver for the day straight to the bridge!

Actually known in Kanchanaburi as the bridge over the River Kwae (note the spelling difference from the movie), the bridge holds a lot of history from World War II. During the 1940s, Thailand was occupied by the Japanese, who built a railway between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) to make it easier to transport supplies to help them fight the Allies. To set about building this railway, the Japanese forced Allied prisoners of war (mostly from Australia, Britain, Holland and the United States) to build this railway, which became known as the "Death Railway" because over 12,000 POWs died constructing it.

The actual bridge was especially harrowing to build and was the focus of "The Bridge on the River Kwai," which won 7 Oscars. Sooooo...now you have received your history lesson for the day, time to continue on through Kanchanaburi. After Lauren and I walked over the bridge (and just so happen to "walk through" a jewelry market nearby), we headed to the Kanchanburi War Cemetary, which is dedicated to all those involved with the Death Railway. A beautiful, well-kept cemetary, it was very humbling to see all the graves of those soldiers who so bravely gave their lives during WWII.

After the cemetary, we took a quick trip to the Jeath War Museum, which chronicles Thailand's involvement in WWII in some fascinating old photographs. It is an adorable museum located in a U-shaped bamboo hut to commemorate the U-shaped huts the POWs lived in at the Japanese prisoner of war camps in Thailand. Why "Jeath War Museum" you may ask? Well, according to the pamphlet, "death" is too horrific of a word, so they decided to use jeath instead!

Today, after arriving back from Kanchanaburi tonight, it was time to cross more things off of our Thailand to-do list, this time with the help of an old friend! Lauren and I met up with Ted - a fellow traveler I met while in Austria back in August (who just so happens to be from Wisconsin and to have graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the exact same day as myself!) - to head out and cross two very important things off of our list...the floating markets and the Grand Palace! Here is Teddy and I on the long-tail boat, cruising through the canals of the Chao Priya River on our way to the "floating market"!

Unfortunately I say "floating market" because the floating market we were brought to was a bit of a disappointment. Supposedly the floating market is a bustling tour through boats selling a variety of Thai food specialties, souvenirs and trinkets of all sorts. However, this floating market was an ugly green barge in the middle of the canal with about four boats selling food. Soooo, either we got scammed into going to the wrong market or the floating markets are a mysterious Thai tourist attraction that doesn't exist. I am going to go with option #1.

It's a good thing the gang and I can have a good time anywhere, because after the floating market let-down, we took a tuk-tuk to the Grand Palace (Ted's first Bangkok tuk-tuk ride, may I remind you) and on the way, it broke down in the middle of the road! After a good laugh, we hailed another tuk-tuk over to the Grand Palace, perhaps Bangkok's #1 tourist attraction. Here is a pretty flower shot from the inside of the palace - this one's for you Mom, I know you love the flower photos!

The official residence of the king of Thailand from the 18th century to the mid-20th century, the Grand Palace is just that - grand! It is an elegant complex of several buildings which is protected by ornate white walls on all four sides. When the current King Bhumibol began his official reign over 60 years ago, he moved the official residence to Chitlada Palace. Now the Grand Palace serves as a major tourist mecca and provided a nice afternoon stroll for Lauren, Ted and I. Here is Chakri Mahaprasad Hall - the largest of the Grand Palace buildings (and I think the prettiest)!

Starting tomorrow - Exam Week! That's right, just one more week of school before I will re-sign my title as Grade 1 teacher at Sarasas Witaed Saimai. The days are quickly passing, and still, I have so much left to do! Hope you are all staying warm as I fight off the humidity and along with it, some really out-of-control, afro hair!

16 February 2008

To-Do List Time

With less than six weeks to go, there is no time to waste getting all the last minute excursions checked off the Thailand To-Do List. Yesterday, we enjoyed a long, delicious morning of sleeping in, which was much-needed, let me tell you! My grade 1C students open their mouths to talk more and more each day...I never knew such chatter could come from such a cute lil' group of kiddies. Then, Lauren, Thomas and I ventured into Bangkok for a lovely Saturday afternoon tour of Dusit Palace Park alongside our new Dutch friend Derek.

Nestled in northern Bangkok near the King's current residence, Chitlada Palace, Dusit Palace Park is a lovely area filled with beautiful mansions, throne halls, photography exhibitions (featuring photos taken by Big K himself!), elephant museums and much more. First stop of the day - Vimanmek Mansion!

Built in 1900 by H.M. King Rama V, Vimanmek Mansion is the world's largest golden teakwood mansion. Yep, you heard that right! We took a guided tour in "English" - which I put in quotation marks because within the first five minutes, I understood about 10 words of what our guide said then in true Holly style, tuned out and wandered my own way through the beautiful, airy mansion. The mansion was spectacular! Awash in beachy tones of seafoam green, petal pink and sunflower yellow, the mansion had an unexpected European flair, which I loved. Unfortunately no cameras were allowed inside, but here is a lovely exterior shot of a traditional Thai house (built behind the mansion for servants) for your viewing pleasure!

Unfortunately with our late arrival time at Dusit, by the time our tour ended at the Vimanmek Mansion, the park was closing, which meant we couldn't get into Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall - the imposing yet absolutely stunning dome-shaped structure on the grounds. Well...add that one back onto our to-do list. We were able to lollygag about the Dusit grounds though, where we ran into one fierce guard, maybe more imposing than the throne hall.

After Dusit, we headed further into central Bangkok to do what else but....shop! Personal confession: I am the worst budgeter ever. I told myself at the beginning of February, "No shopping!" - I should have known better because I came out with a pair of shoes. Oops!

Later Saturday night, Lauren and I weaved our way through Chinatown to Chalermkrung Royal Theatre - the home of Thai masked dance! Khon is the classic Thai art of masked dance, in which actors/dancers perform the story while narrators are used to project voices for those characters. Tonight's performance was the Ramakien - which is the Thai version of the classic Indian epic, Ramayana. It tells the story of Phra Narai, who was reborn as a human in order to save humans and angels from Tosakanth, the demon king of Longkha city.

Here are some shots I snuck of the performance - they are not the best but if anything else, you can see just how absolutely exquisite the costuming is. This is the scene in which Rama and Tosakanth battle for Longhka at the end of the myth...enjoy!

The performance was ornate, interesting and a good Saturday night excursion! Now it is Sunday once more and just two weeks left of school. Can you believe it? This girl hasn't had a massage in far too long, so the only thing I know I am doing for sure today is treating my feet (and potentially my face or back) to a good ol' Thai massage. Take care everyone and enjoy your Sunday!

14 February 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Sending you all lots of love, hugs and kisses from Thailand! Happy Valentine's Day from Nathitiek, Chotiros, Pornpawee (aka Pam), Supicha and yours truly! Hope everyone has a love-ly February 14th!