Phuket – Driving a Motorbike :)

Before I brief the challenges and inconveniences of traveling by “motorbike,” I want to say that I really am enjoying this new commuting experience. I just wish that I could capture some of the things that I see while riding my bike but hey, some things just have to be experienced, right?

Every morning on my way to school, there are loads of Thai/Burmese people crammed into dump trucks and pick-up trucks headed to the day’s work. Many of them with clay-like sun protection rubbed all over their faces in a way that resembles tribal paint. Also, I can’t figure out if there is a minimum age for driving here. I see little kids driving 3 or 4 deep all the time. I pass by some beautiful grazing cows and water buffalo on many occasions. Specifically by school, there is a field of tall palm trees with cows that graze throughout them and that is a stunning landscape  :) . There are so many different beautiful trees and flowers here too. Driving by Big Buddha is a comforting pleasure (a giant Buddha statue on the side of the mountain). Having the wind in your face is nice about 65% of the time. And then there are those sleepy mornings and evenings when the thought of driving a motorbike is exhausting. Also, within that 35% of dissatisfaction are the frequent bugs and occasional rain that are inevitable. Rainy season is May through November, so having a poncho onboard is key (Thank you, Melissa :) ). Sneezing is a bit awkward with a helmet on and no hands to “cover your mouth” as we are taught in the U.S.

Styling my hair is fruitless since the helmet changes everything. And while riding, there are usually times when seemingly hundreds of little sand pieces or small bugs smack me everywhere that I am not covered with clothing. And that feels like hundreds of simultaneous mosquito bites. Other times, a giant bug runs into you. One friend of mine got hit by what felt like a “flying giant spider,” hahaha. The bugs here are crazy big. The flies are the size of bumble bees; sometimes they even seem larger. The rain doesn’t feel wonderful, mostly when you are driving against the wind though. And you can feel it through your poncho.

I must look so silly on my bike. Often my helmet is falling sideways; I am picking at my ear (because the chin strap is flapping and smacking my ear); or I am rubbing my chest and arms where the bugs and sand have hit me. :)  Oh and one tip- don’t blow a bubble with your gum while driving (I didn’t try this, just saying).

Given the lawless nature here, sidewalks are not off limits; nor are running red lights and driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid inconvenient u-turns. These aspects make driving a motorbike really fun :) . The signs here are funny too. They look completely wrong as far as what the road actually does. The police often set up road blocks to pull over foreigners and middle aged Thai people (they target those that have money) to request a license or write you a no-helmet ticket. Anything that they pull you over for is 500 Baht. I was able to get out of a ticket for not having my license on me somehow. Although the policeman told me in a way so that his peers would not see that he was releasing me without taking payment. I think that because I spoke just a small amount of Thai to him, he let me go. To say “I don’t have money” is “Mai me tong.”

The stray dogs….. they chased me for a few weeks. It was pretty terrifying but for some reason, this has slowed down for now. There was a point when I knew which dogs by which shops were the ones that chased me and I became anxious before driving past these shops. They have never bitten me but they are close enough during their barking chase that they could have. I think avoiding eye contact with them (similar to the police) helps.. haha. Imagine the grungiest looking pup and that is what the wild dogs look like here. :)

Above all, motorbikes are fun and convenient :) . But I kind of miss walking everywhere (like in Bangkok and Singapore) and I will enjoy having a car again at some point :) . The only thing that makes me really miss driving a car is the 3 accidents that I got in over the last week. Nothing too bad but a sprained ankle and toe that are stopping me from enjoying many of the outdoor activities here. And going to the hospital everyday or so to have them scrape/clean your wounds because apparently the humidity delays the healing process and often results in gangrene is also a bit of a challenge. But hey, free tattoos from Thailand.

Pattaya, Thailand

So the second half of the teaching certification program that I did took place in Pattaya. On our way into the city, we skimmed through the Lonely Planet to find an unsympathetic description of this town as seedy and “synonymous with prostitution.” Well, I can say that where there are bars there are marketed women and this is in both local and tourist bar areas. But after visiting the tourist bars of Bangkok and Chiang Mai and throughout Cambodia, you get past this facet of the culture and are more capable of noticing more of the cities’ substance. In Pattaya, there are friendly people eager to learn about you and to help you and to share their culture with you.

The first night there, we were lucky to arrive for the last night of a music festival that was FREE. En route to this festival, which featured K-Pop, Reggae and more, we were greeted by so many strips of markets with delicious street food and unique clothing, accessories and such. Then we arrived to the K-Pop stage, which was surrounded by more food stands. We made our way to the front, as typical persistent Americans in a foreign country would do. The performances were vivid, creative, and with so much energy. On our way out, some uuber friendly lady boys powdered our cheeks, letting us know that we were not white enough. I am not sure if you are aware of this, but white skin is a deeply embedded social pressure here, like that of being slim in many modeling industries. In Chiang Mai, one local told me that her doctor advised her to consume soy and other types of food while she was pregnant in order for her baby to have more pale skin. One Tuk tuk driver told me that if I stayed long, that I would be darker than him. Ha! Not in this lifetime. It doesn’t seem that people here understand genetics quite that much. Also in Pattaya, it seemed like food stalls were open any time of the day. And one of the more prevalent types of international food is gyros. I also stumbled across some very cheap sushi stands (5-10 baht each, where 29 baht is $1). Every night after school, we wandered into different neighborhoods and found neat shops and different food. There is also the beach, along which there are markets and food. You can set up your hammock in the palm trees here and people watch. This area is about 4 times as expensive as the rest of the city (except walking street is pricy also of course). Oh! And laundry is about a 5 hour process, wash in a machine (if you can find a shop with self-serve machines, I paid about 30 baht), climb to the roof, hang for 3-4 hours and then put away.

During the two weeks that I was in Pattaya, I taught English to 3, 4, and 5 year olds at a private Kindergarten school. At the school they had the cutest rituals, for instance every morning they did choreographed dances in the courtyard to music that was played over the loudspeaker. I missed it by a minute, but apparently they all did gangnam style the morning of the field trip that we went on… They also have a flag ceremony where two of the kids are able to assist in raising the flag while two other kids are singing/chanting on a microphone to the rest of the group. The first few days were spent building rapport as they were quite bashful and obviously we look different. Then they became quickly attached, literally. With the 3 year olds, you almost had to lift them and move them simultaneously with instructions. These kids are just learning how to speak Thai, so you can imagine their English level. But eventually they caught onto the idea of just mimicking our moves and some words. Although, they were extremely excited to present work or answers to me, whether they were in Thai (wrong) or in English (correct) J. For instance apple is appen in Thai and durian is turian in Thai. The 4 and 5 year olds learned really quickly and knew a lot more than I expected. Each day, they seemed to be more excited than the last for our lesson. Oh and culturally, a teacher is highly respected and is wai’ed (bowed) to. So every morning upon arrival and departure and even when giving a student any kind of materials, the students and teachers’ assistants would wai me. Wai is the thai name for the lotus flower, hence the position of the hands in the shape of a lotus. There are 4 different levels of wai’ing in Thailand. Your hands at your chest is for someone younger or of lower social status, with your hands at your chin is for someone of equal age or social status, with your hands at your nose is for someone of higher age or social status, and with your hands at the bridge of your eyes is for Buddha and monks. Social status supersedes the age criteria. Also, similar to how people sit lower than Buddha out of respect, the students and teachers’ assistants would duck down when they walked past me.

Walking Street:

This is where Lonely Planet is coming up with their introduction paragraphs to the city… great false start. There are restaurants and lounges if you want to stop to people watch. There are lemurs being offered for pictures and they are so adorable! I think you can get a picture for about 25 baht, away from this street. As you are walking down the street (towards the pier), of course there are women and there are promoters advertising ping-pong shows (not the sport). If you can get past this area, some of the clubs near the end are fun and have great music. I was too scared to stop anywhere in the main street area J. Past walking street, and down the pier, we took a ferryboat on a Saturday afternoon to Koh Larn. This island is really pretty, is surrounded by boats and you can eat on the beach or take a ride over the mountain to other coasts of the island. There are supposed to be some really beautiful views when you ride around the island but us low budget teachers opted out of this to save for a shared bite and beverage. I am sure that this won’t be my last trip to that island though.

Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Seam Reap, & Sihanoukville

I was in Cambodia for 2 weeks. I spent the weekdays in the capital, Phnom Penh. During the two weekends in Cambodia, I traveled to Seam Reap and Sihanoukville and explored the resplendent Angkor Wat and the Khmer coastline. There are beautiful people in this country whom are full are curiosity about more than just our wallets (if you can look past the traders). I am sure that I left out some great details, but here is a gist of my 2 weeks. This certainly won’t be my last trip to Cambodia, so later posts will catch the rest of the details.

If you are in a touristic area of any of these three cities, be prepared to be hounded by street vendors that appear to range in age from 4 through the end of their time. When I was in Sihanoukville, I asked the kid vendors what time they were to be home and the 5 year old said 1am and the 10 year old said 6am (these are guessed ages). Education doesn’t appear to be common here and in some circumstances, I think children are sent to an English language school and not to a regular school. One of the girls that I spoke with didn’t know her own birthday; she only knew her age. She told me that she was too poor to celebrate her birthday. But these vendors know their math and they know their lines. Here are some of the more memorable lines I heard:

“Open your heart, open your wallet”

“No money, no honey”

“If you don’t buy, I no have money for school”

“I know why you don’t have a boyfriend…” (says a vendor that offers salon services from a basket)

“No good for honey mood” (a vendor girl’s comment after looking at one girl’s leg hair)

“Rock paper scissors, you lose, you buy”

In this one village that we stopped at (in between Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat), some of the little girls literally cried and followed us around crying when we didn’t want to buy anything. Oh, and we asked one of the girls where she got the string that she used to make her bracelets that she was selling and she said that she stole it from the market. See next paragraph.

The average salary in Cambodia is $600. For that reason, theft is a concern. You shouldn’t commute around town with anything valuable and you shouldn’t commute around with anything in your hands or loose like a necklace. A motorbike sped in front of me when I was walking down the street with friends and I had a small black wallet in my hand, and one of the guys on the motorbike snatched it out of my hand. I wasn’t the only one that something like this happened to in a group of 15 people over a period of 2 weeks. So just be more cautious than normally.

Cambodia was under control of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, during which time 30% of the population was murdered. Today, every Khmer has lost at least someone to this war. There are also tons of Khmer citizens that are missing limbs. Almost every adult beggar is missing at least one limb. This is primarily a result of land mines that were set up during the war.

Many of the females in Cambodia wear long pajamas around town during the day and at night, despite the scorching and unforgiving heat. There do not seem to be any real rules in Cambodia. And, the police are off-duty at 5pm. The food in Cambodia is good but very bland. There are no electrolytes or any type of seasoning added to the food, so you will need to substitute after a few days of eating Khmer food by taking vitamin packets or something similar. Khmer people do not kiss for affection; instead, they sniff. So now you know why if someone sniffs you in Cambodia. Soccer is the popular sport here. Other street sports that I noticed include variations of street soccer, hacky sack, volleyball, aerobics, badminton, and wicker ball.

Angkor Wat:

During the drive to Seam Reap, it seemed like we were in the Middle East. The roads were often dirt roads and the small towns consisted of a few tiki-like houses with tons of animals roaming about. I can only imagine how I would be today if I grew up entertaining myself with nature alone. Oh and the cows here are really skinny and the pigs are the size of horses, as if from a fairytale. Angkor Wat was stunning. It is a remarkable “city of temples.” One of the temples is overrun by the forest and the roots are a part of the temple now. It is quite beautiful.

Sihanoukville:

I noticed that a lot of the locals here sleep and live where they work. In fact, when we were relaxing in some hammocks on the beach I had a suspicious feeling that we were laying in some of the locals’ bedrooms. Not a bad bedroom if you ask me (I mean the beach, not the work aspect). Sihanoukville is a beach town with little restaurants of an international variety, beach bars and of course markets. When you are on the beach, you have to remain cautious like I mentioned before. So no dozing off. And expect vendors to approach you on a regular basis. On the good side, if you want anything while you are there, it is at your fingertips. From my experience, if they don’t have it, they will go get it for you (this applies at facilities in many Thai cities as well).  At dinnertime on the beach, all of the restaurants have a BBQ on the beach. It is delicious, cheap and rich in ambiance.

 

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I spent 5 days in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai and below is a brief recap. Note that these recaps are insufficient and you must come to these cities to get the real experiences!

I stayed in old town, which is surrounded by a moat. I rented a bike for a couple of the days and road around the main street (which was along the moat). Maybe I missed them in Bangkok but I discovered food carts on wheels here. It seems like Thai people carry their work on their back every morning and every night. There is also an incredible amount of creativity and attention to detail that Thai people put into their work and lives. The hostel that I stayed in was right around the corner from one of the main temples, Wat Chedi Luang, which is a place of study for becoming a monk. Also, this is one of the temples that you can go to and actually chat with a monk. This is on my list for my next trip to Chiang Mai!

ELEPHANTS I did a lot of activities for the first few days and all of the activities/tours you buy in Thailand usually include transportation and meals (for single day excursions; the multi-day excursions probably include camp/village style accommodation). I went to an elephant farm and got to ride, feed, command, bathe, and cuddle with these giant friends. Sorry for the 75 pictures of elephants on here but I couldn’t help myself. To say elephant in Thai is chang. Chang is also the name of a Thai beer. If you are looking for a variety of beer flavors, I am not sure that I have found this yet in Southeast Asia. Back to elephants… the youngest elephant on the farm was 8 years old (they have a similar life span as humans) and was trained to talk back when you tell him “thank you” or “kob khun ka.”

COOKING There are many different places to learn how to cook in Chiang Mai as it hosts some of the best cooking schools or so it is known that way. I chose Sammy’s Organic Farm. His farm is 10-15 minutes outside of the inner city and it is amazing how beautiful the land is with just a short drive. We stopped at a market on the way to his farm and he taught us about buying rice and about coconuts. Thai people use coconuts for everything; with coconuts, you have delicious drinking water and milk, the coconut flakes for food, the oil for your skin (I think), the dried flakes for fishing bait and surely more. I believe it when they say that Thailand is the land of smiles. Like most other Thai people, Sammy was smiling and giggling in between every phrase of our conversations, happy to be sharing his passion for food, culture, farming and family. So we get to his gorgeous farm, which is surrounded by rice fields, completely relaxed and have tea and khanom krok (these amazing little treats made with coconut milk). We cooked right next to his garden, ate tons and then had a siesta time (he has 20 or so hammocks set up in his garden area), which I used to explore his serene landscape. Then we cooked more and ate more. I was sad to leave but plan on going back with visitors!

WAT DOI SUTHEP is a beautiful temple that is in the mountains, overlooking the city. I took a bus up, that stopped in the Hmong Hill tribe village. It was basically a market, with a great view of the city if you walk around. I also had some delicious spicy thai food while I was there.

Chiang Mai (spelled multiple different ways, even on signs in Thailand) is a wonderful city! So yummy and so many different things to do given the mountains, temples, animals and villages.

 

I couldn't get enough of this girl

BANGKOK :)

For the 3 days that I spent in and around Bangkok, here are my observations:

Towards the end of the 15 hour flight from JFK (NYC) to Shanghai, the Chinese passengers began smacking themselves and stretching. Perhaps I will investigate this practice in the near future.

In Bangkok, you can find cheap and delicious food and chicks, 24/7. Sweet. Walking around, be ready to share the road, sidewalks and medians with cars, motorbikes and tuk tuks (motorbikes with carriages attached to hold 4-6 people comfortably but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a completely packed tuk tuk with 15 Thai people and their furniture too). It wasn’t uncommon to see a motorbike with 5-6 people on it or a person using it to transport heavy electronics or large packages. Crossing the street may take a half of an hour on a busier street. And during rush hour, for some odd reason, there are human traffic directors instead of traffic lights. The humidity in Bangkok is detoxifying and I quickly decided to spare any time to primp and saved showers for night time.

FOOD! Currently I am in Cambodia and I can’t wait to return to the food in Thailand. There are food stalls on every street. You can find fresh fruit and freshly squeezed fruit juices, meats (a lot of pork on sticks) and every kind of rice, noodle and soup dish. Rice, noodles and soup are for breakfast as well, although I did manage to find some breakfast dishes with eggs in them. There are fresh DELICIOUS coconuts for drinking and also stands that sell coffee, often served with sweetened condensed milk. A lot of people drink out of a plastic bag or there is a plastic bag handle attached to their cups to allow for easy motorbiking with drinks. Watch out for the fish smell. There is a lot of seafood in Thai dishes, so this smell permeates the entire city as does exhaust and sewage but you have to give a little and take a little. Perfume is pointless at this stage. At night time, store spaces turned in to food stall restaurants. Literally a family would set up kiddie sized picnic tables and chairs and a makeshift kitchen with wok and all for serving amazing dinners. I didn’t make it to any formal restaurants because I was happy with the locally created street food menus that were half the price of the restaurant meals. And from what I hear, the street food is better anyway. I spent anywhere between $0.50 to $2.00 for meals.

MARKETS! It seems to be an Asian thing, but I have never seen so many markets. They make up daytime and nighttime activities and you can buy anything for astonishingly low prices (a few bucks for a nice outfit). Bangkok is a giant bazaar and when I get a job, I will take full advantage :)

TEMPLES :) I went to Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Saket. Wat Saket was up on a hill and had a nice view of the city, which isn’t that pretty but it was nice to overlook and indulge in a little bit of wind. When you are walking around these areas, beware of the locals that approach you. There is a good chance that they are a tuk tuk driver or are friends with a tuk tuk driver and they are trying to get you in that tuk tuk. I have a suspicion that everyone is financially interrelated here. You can get tied up in 15 minute convos with a nice person before realizing that they are walking you towards their fellow tuk tuk man. It is common that tuk tuk drivers will direct you in the wrong way if you ask them for guidance. I didn’t get to see many temples, so I will make sure that I see more during my next trip to Bangkok.

KHAO SAN ROAD I only went there for a few hours but honestly was not very impressed. It is very touristic and there were a lot of western style restaurants. The hostel I stayed in was in Sukumvit area, which is a cool area with more local culture and better food in my opinion.

LIMPHINI PARK One of the hostel workers directed me to Limphini Park which was a nice 20 minute walk from my hostel. At 5am every single morning, the Chinese residents of Bangkok go there to do Thai Chi, aerobics and shouting exercises. Each group of people had a little boom box for a count to be maintained for their exercise. Such a cool experience to go watch and join in on. I went for 3 mornings in a row and I felt like I was in the Karate Kid because there was this one 86 year old Chinese man that adopted me as a trainee in his shouting exercises. He didn’t speak any English at all but he communicated to me through laughter, visual praise and correcting grunts. After 2 hours of this, everyone has hot tea and breakfast. There is also a large “food court” at the park (with food cooked by locals) and a small market to buy bagged ingredients for your lunch.

TIGERS & THE FLOATING MARKET I got a tour package including a trip to the local floating market, a visit to the bridge over the river Kwai, and to see the Tiger Temple. The floating market was super cool. I held a giant ball python and had espresso and explored the line of narrow boats that were used to cook and sell thai food. Outside of the Tiger Temple, I fed a cub!! She nibbled on my fingers a bit, either out of confusion or excitement. She was so cute. Then onto the Tiger Temple. This was like a trip to Noah’s Ark. There were so many different animals in this one very large area of land. Being a temple, I had to purchase some long pants to cover my knees. This was a really cool experience.

Here are some pictures and I will add a video as soon as I put it together :)

<3

Living Nomadically

Hi friends :)

I started this blog in order to share videos and pictures of my travels.  This first year, I will be in Southeast Asia, primarily in Thailand. I will have a pseudo permanent home once I get a job on one of the islands in Thailand but I will be staying in hostels and guesthouses otherwise. I can’t wait to share these perspective-changing experiences! Keep in touch!!

 

xx,

Krystle