The Homestretch

homestretch

It is very hard to believe we have made it to the homestretch– the final stage of teaching in Chiang Kham. There are exactly 11 days left until the end of the semester, and 12 days until we depart from Chiang Kham on a bus heading for Chiang Mai. Where the last 4 months went, I will never really know but here we are! In one of my last blog posts of my teaching career (yes, I do not foresee myself teaching again in the future), I’ll just break down a few of the notable things from the last month.

Weekends

The past month or so since I have written has been relatively quiet. When we arrived here, I was full of energy, ready to go on an adventure every weekend. We went to Chiang Mai a few times, played with elephants, went on a few hikes, explored neighboring towns and more. But, we soon realized that that is just all there is to do here for a weekend. Taking the bus to Chiang Mai is fun, but it is a real push to only have just over 30 hours there. I became okay with staying close to Chiang Kham, riding our bikes around to new temples, trying new and local food and trying to enjoy our small town!

Quiet down time on the weekends isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy waking up to no alarm (even though I seem to be only sleeping in to 7:30 these days), taking my time to get up and eat cereal, write in my journal, stretch and relax. On weekends I go for my run in the morning, or head to our local gym which is often empty on the weekend!

  • Running: Speaking of runs, I have been running here way more than I imagined. I’ve also begun to enjoy it way more than I ever did before, it feels like a lot less of a chore here for me. On Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, I head home and unwind a little and then set out for a run on the side roads near our house. The heat has proved to be a challenge, but I feel that I’ve learned so much about my body, my limits and just really enjoyed allowing myself to clear my head. While there are a few local runners around, I do get quite a few stares although now I think people are a little more used to the sweaty, blonde, American girl running past their houses and shops. I’ve also perfected the art of determining whether or not the dog 20 feet ahead of me will be friendly, and figuring out how to best maneuver if they may not be.
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The view from an evening run
  • Khao Soi: One of my favorite parts of the weekend is this cafe/restaurant place that we go to for Khao Soi. I would say we go almost every weekend at this point. Khao Soi is a Northern Thai dish made of deep-fried crispy egg noodles, boiled egg noodles, greens,shallots,lime ground chilis, fried egg, and a curry-like sauce with coconut milk. I find it pretty neat that this dish is only really served in Northern Thailand and almost not at all in Thai restaurants elsewhere. The restaurant is only open until 4 pm, so we can’t have it during the week, but it kind of makes it into a special treat! The restaurant also has really yummy raspberry smoothies which we haven’t found anywhere else in our town. This is probably one of the few dishes I will really miss when we leave Chiang Kham.

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    Complete with a raspberry smoothie
  • Mo’s Cooking School: A popular tourist attraction in Thailand are the cooking schools that are located all over Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Bangkok, the Islands and more. A few months ago, our beloved Mo, the woman who has essentially become our host mother here, asked if we would like her to teach us how to cook some of our favorite meals before we leave. Mo and her husband own the small “restaurant” we eat at almost every night, and myself, Emma and our friend Chloe and Jacqui have tried almost every single thing on the menu between the 4 of us. Two of our go-tos are the green curry with tofu served with rice and pad-see-ew. We told Mo we would love to, and finally found a free day (last weekend). Mo told us to meet her at her place at 8 am so we could head to the market so at 8am we rolled up to Mos to be greeted by her and her daughter, Great. Great hopped on the back of Mo’s bike and the four of us biked together to the morning market in town. IMG_8129We walked around to the different vendors, and Mo helped us to wheel and deal for the best prices. We bought eggplant,egg tofu, basil (which had the most unbelievable smell), cauliflower, flat noodles, green curry paste and a few other miscellaneous supplies. We also got two coconuts to drink the water/juice/fresh coconut out of, and Mo’s husband chopped them open for us. We biked back to Mo’s and she told us to come back around 11 to start cooking for lunch. At 11 we headed back and Mo had a table outside for us all set up and ready to cook. First, she helped Emma to make the pad-see-ew. First, Emma cut up the fresh wide rice noodles we bought at the market and separated all the clumps. Then, she cut up the veggies according to Mo’s precise cutting instructions. We used kale and garlic I believe. Lastly, Mo turned on the wok, drizzled some oil, and cooked the noodles, kale, egg, egg tofu, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. The soy sauce turns the noodles and egg the browish color which is signature of the dish. It cooked for just under 5 minutes and voila! Beautiful pad-see-ew!

Next it was time for me to cook the green curry. First, I cut up our veggies: eggplant           (first time I’ve had it in months!!!), more kale/collard greens, basil and cauliflower.             Oh and egg tofu! If you’re wondering what egg tofu is, it’s this very soft, white                     ingredient that is sliced and served in most of our dishes. At first, I was very unsure           of it but have really grown to love it! Mo threw a little dash of magic into the                       crockpot-like wok and then we poured in the coconut milk and let it simmer a tad               in the bottom of the pan. Then I squeezed a bit of the curry paste in and stirred it to           create the base for the dish. Next, we added the veggies and tofu, stirred a bit and               put the lid on top to let it simmer. In the end, I added a tad more coconut milk to                 make the curry a little creamier and it was perfect.

Once we finished cooking, Emma and I sat down to split and enjoy our creations for          lunch. We were very pleased with how they turned out, and I think both of us are              very much looking forward to cooking some of our favorite Thai food for our loved            ones back home.

  • Chiang Kham Walks: After our fun filled cooking school morning, we laid our yoga mats outside to soak up some sun and enjoy our books. After a while, the pavement was feeling a little too hard so we decided to get up and go for a walk. We walkedIMG_8172 down the road we usually both run on, but decided to swing a left- a way I had never been before. We continued down the road and before we knew it, we came across a “Smart Farm”. Emma’s students had gone on a field trip there earlier in the week so we thought it would be worth it to wander in and check it out. It was beautiful, full of fountains and very green! There were even bunnies, sheep, goats,and a donkey! After checking out the farm, we continued on our walk and before we knew it we ended up at a temple we had visited before that is very far from our house. Surprised at where we were and how small this town seemed once again, we made a loop back towards our apartments. We ended up walking around 5 miles! Even though this town is way too tiny for my liking, we do always seem to find little surprises hidden in the nooks and crannies.

 

  • Movies: Speaking of small town, sometimes we just really have to get out of here. The easiest way for us to do this is to take the bus ride to Chiang Rai for the day on the weekend. It’s 2 hours each way (on a good day), but it’s honestly worth it to get out, see a new movie, eat some different food, and spend a little time in the city. I just looked up the population of Chiang Rai and its 69,888…so take that as you will! We’ve seen quite a few movies here between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. We’ve seen Murder on the Orient Express, The Commuter, MazeRunner 3, Fifty Shades Freed, and most recently Black Panther. I LOVED Black Panther. I’m not usually very interested in Marvel movies but I really enjoyed this one. The costumes, set design, plot, it was amazing. Thanks to our friend Chloe, we’ve also gone to this delicious cafe a few times that has delicious veggie burgers and even better-avocado!!! img_8291-2

School Updates

The past few weeks at school have been very busy! I’ve had to do a bit more than usual including some weekends, but it’s just making me feel like I have 300% earned all of the adventures and travels ahead. A few highlights from Sathitwittaya School the past month…

  • Family Day: Almost immediately after getting back from New Years breakall my students began to prepare dances for Family Day. It was fun to watch my homeroom class of 2nd graders go from watching this youtube video of a pretty complex dance, to absolutely nailing it in the days leading up to Family Day. This big event was new to my school, and in classic Thai fashion I had no idea to what to expect when I showed up to school at 5 pm on Saturday evening. I was told to wear the pink polo I was given and to “look beautiful”. IMG_7973Most of the time I don’t wear any makeup here, but the few times I have the Thai teachers all get way too excited and want to take a million photos. Each class went up one by one to perform their dance in front of hundreds of family members, teachers, and other people from the community. It was a pretty neat experience, and I was really proud of my students, especially my homeroom class. Despite not getting home until close to 11 pm that night, I was grateful I got the chance to see them perform and spend some time with them outside of the classroom.
  • English Camp: The week after Family Day, I was told that we would be having an English Camp for grades 4,5 and 6 the following weekend. As much as I do love (most of) my students, the thought of coming to school all day on Saturday and Sunday was somewhat unbearable to me. After much back and forth, I was called to the principal’s office with the other English teachers (Thai and Filipino), to try to figure out when this camp would be. I told them I was not sure if I would be free on the weekend and additionally that my contract said I was required to get 2 weeks notice when I would be working on the weekend. They were certainly frustrated IMG_8099with me and the language barrier, but it was really what I needed to do to stay sane, get enough sleep and take care of myself. Eventually, my principal decided we would have camp during school on Thursday and Friday of the same week which left us with two days to prepare. I ended up having to stay late after school to do some planning, but hey, at least it wasn’t the weekend! The camp was based on Asean Themes…I had no idea what ASEAN was. Turns out, ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. I ended up learning a lot too! We planned different games for the students to play over the two days including relay races, vocabulary games, quizzes and more. My camp experience definitely came in handy! While it was exhausting, the students had a really fun time and it was all worth it.
  • Going Away Party: Last Friday, I was told that later that evening there would be a going away party for Teacher Jo and I. It would be at 6pm that night, and the reason I hadn’t been told yet was that my co-teacher didn’t know if I would be free *cue confused giggle and nod*.  Teacher Ni was nice enough to pick up Teacher Jo, Teacher Sweet and I, and we got to ride with her and her two kids, Bolton (5th grade) and Wida (3 years old) to the party. Teacher Ni speaks pretty good English so it is always nice and somewhat refreshing to be with her and the other foreign teachers. I’ve also become very close with her daughter, Wida, who is in my very youngest class. At first, I felt totally overwhelmed when I was teaching them
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    My sweet Wida

    because they are so little, but now it is the highlight of every Monday for me. I will definitely miss my little ones. The party was at a restaurant where you go and put all raw food on your plate, and take it back to your table to cook it over a fondue-like pot system. There was no way for me to avoid meat, so I just went all in and let the other teachers put whatever they pleased on my plate. I had put a lot of tofu on my plate but after about three bites I realized it was not tofu but instead some type of cubed fish. Not for me! We had a fun evening, and I began thinking about how I will really miss some of the people here no matter how challenging it has been. One of my favorite parts of teaching has been connecting with the other teacher’s children. Three of the girls, AnAnn, Wida and Atom are all in my nursery class and they are definitely my favorites. Today Teacher Wi, my co-teacher, even told me her and AnAnn would miss me and that we would have to keep in touch on messenger.

          One of the hardest things for me here is this sense that I am not making a big                      difference. That I’ll just be another English teacher that comes through these kids              lives that they won’t remember in a year or two. Part of this frustration comes                   from the obsession with workbooks, finishing workbooks and always adhering to               the books, but it also comes from the way the schools are run which is so opposite             of  the experiences I had in schools back at home. But, the closer the time comes to             leave, the more I am coming to realize I do have some very special connections                   here in Chiang Kham, especially with my students. While I may not have been t                  the most productive or experienced English teacher in the history of Sathit, it feels            good to know I have made some tiny difference in the lives of some of  my 300+                  students. More on goodbyes and wrapping up life in Chiang Kham coming soon.

 

 

A Christmas Story (and New Years too)

Christmas Day

Not sure how Christmas was already a month ago, but here I am! Somewhat early on in teaching we found out we had to work on Christmas Day. This was a pretty big bummer to me as I had heard from other teachers on our program that they had the day or even the whole week off from work. I guess this is one of things that comes with being pretty far North away from any major city. A few weeks before Christmas our principal asked me and the two other foreign teachers at my school (they’re from the Philippines) if we could plan Christmas games, dances and activities for Christmas afternoon. When she first asked this I was kind of confused, what does that even mean? That isn’t how we celebrate Christmas at home! Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I already knew I would be pretty homesick, so to be honest I was not really into the idea of playing “Christmas games” all afternoon. While there can be a disconnect at home between the religious holiday of Christmas and the traditions we use to celebrate it, the disconnect is about ten-fold here. We’re in a largely Buddhist country, yet they want to celebrate this Christian holiday?? While it is weird and definitely confused me, I just decided to embrace it and roll along with it. The week before Christmas, Teacher Sweet, Teacher Jo and I sat down to try to plan out the afternoon. We decided we would do caroling of some sort, play freeze dance with Christmas songs, and play a “banana eating game” (run by Teacher Jo) that they play in the Philippines. We also had to choreograph a dance, so we chose to do it to Feliz Navidad. Easy, fun, upbeat.

Fast forward to Christmas Day…Teacher Jo could not make it to school because of visa issues in Chiang Mai, and half of our 6 dancers were home sick. No more banana game. Also, Teacher Jo was also meant to M.C the whole afternoon with one of the Thai teachers (Teacher Wi) translating for her. So naturally, that morning they told me I would be MCing the whole shindig, complete with a Christmas “blessing/story” and all. Feeling a tad overwhelmed, I just took a deep breath and tried to laugh it off knowing that it would be a huge relief once it was all over. Since our dancers were absent, Sweet and I also decided we would have to substitute in the dance for them. While I do love to get down on a dance floor, dancing in front of my 300+ students and all of the teachers in school is absolutely not my idea of fun. But for your viewing pleasure, here’s a quick clip…

After the dance, I finished up MCing, and to my surprise I had a bit more fun than I expected. It was still completely ridiculous but I did enjoy myself a bit. They also had one of the teachers dress up like Santa Claus and throw little toys and trinkets to the kids and they went absolutely bonkers. All in all, it was okay.

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Me and my homeroom cuties

Emma and I decided that in an effort to have a little bit more of a special dinner, after the gym (never thought I’d be working out on Christmas), we would get dinner at this restaurant/club-like place in our town called December 17. I would say this experience was akin to that of the family in A Christmas Story when they go to the Chinese restaurant for Christmas Dinner. When we walked in, the waitresses were all dressed in short, scandalous Santa costumes and we quickly learned that almost no one spoke English. In the beginning they were playing some slow Christmas music over the stereo but it quickly changed to straight up sad music which was killing me on the inside. They ended up forgetting my meal, and then when it finally came they forgot to bring rice with the curry. Oyyyyyy. When we finally went to pay, they had charged us for peanuts, ice for the beer, our meals, extra for the rice and some random other charges. I tried explaining that they had forgotten my meal but it was pretty pointless and then they just kept apologizing for the peanuts which was really the least of our problems. Looking back on it, it was pretty comical but at the time I was definitely just wanting to be home eating Grandma’s Christmas shrimp, yummy vegetables and baked brie. The blaring stereos, Christmas costumes and strobe lights were a little much for me.

The rest of the week went by pretty quickly, and on Friday we had a New Years celebration at school. Everyone in the school brought in a small gift that cost around 50 baht, and each gift got numbered and put into the auditorium. At the end of the day, each class went up and one by one picked a number. The oldest students would then retrieve the gifts and everyone would have a fun surprise to open up! I bought a small box of chocolate and some Pocky and my gift was a box of chocolate covered wafers (which I’m keeping in my desk for when my students are extra good). After school was over, we did the same with all of the teachers, but the budget was 250 Baht each. We did the same thing where we numbered the gifts and then picked a number. I was hoping to get one of these giant pillows since my bed is huge and pretty boring, and luckily I got a huge spiderman pillow!! It’s pretty intense but has been really sweet to have. I’ll be sad to part ways with it when I move out of my apartment. Also, just picture me riding home on my small bike with this huge pillow stuffed half in my basket and half falling out (lol).

On Saturday afternoon, we got the direct bus from our town to Chiang Mai to celebrate New Years!! Our bus ride was a little longer than usual due to lots of traffic in Chiang Mai but nevertheless we got there safe and sound. On the bus, I watched Everest and I rate it 10/10. Might’ve shed a few tears but a great story and beautiful film. Once we got there, we had the rest of the day to chill so we walked around and explored some temples that we hadn’t seen yet. One of the coolest parts about Chiang Mai is that within the old city, there are beautiful, old temples everywhere. Any direction you walk, you’ll come across a different temple. The old city is also totally walkable, which is super nice after a long bus ride. That night for dinner, we met up with Garrett and Katrina, a couple from our town, for dinner at “Miguels”. A restaurant recommended to us by some friends and from our  trusty pal, Trip Advisor. It was soooooo yummy. I honestly miss Mexican food more than any other food (I think). Will definitely be making the trip to Burlington for El Gato and seeking out some new Mexican spots in New York if anyone wants to join!

New Years Eve

The next day we wanted to do something outdoors and fun so we decided to try to head to Doi Inthanon, one of the national parks in Chiang Mai, and also the tallest spot in Thailand. We had to ask around a fair amount, and ended up paying a little bit of a steep price, but were able to get a songthaew to take us there and back for the day. It was pretty far outside the city, but worth it to get some fresh air and be able to hike something! When we got there, we had to hire a local guide to take us through the trail for 200 baht. Paying these guides helps them to support their families, local business and to protect the nature in the park. Our guides name was Yong Yeung and although he spoke no English, we exchanged smiles and I was able to ask him his name and tell him how beautiful the park was.

Quick lesson:

Khun chu arai kha? – What is your name?

Suay- Beautiful

The “hike” was pretty short but it was lovely to get outside and be able to feel away from a city and in nature for once. The trail we hiked was called the Mae Pan trail. It was super super foggy, but I found the fog to be amazing anyways. From the top, we could see the two temples at the top of the mountain, and afterwards we were able to grab a shuttle to see the temples themselves. The two chedis are on the main road to the summit of Doi Inthanon. One is called Naphamethinidon, meaning ‘by the strength of the land and air’, and the other is called Naphaphonphumisiri, meaning ‘being the strength of the air and the grace of the land’. These temples were built to honour the 60th birthday anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1987, and the 60th birthday anniversary of Queen Sirikit in 1992. They were really beautiful and it felt pretty special to be able to go here.

After we saw the chedis, we headed up to the tippy top to the famous sign that designates the highest point in Thailand. After a quick snapshot, we headed back to our songthaew to start the trip back to Chiang Mai. It’s always a treat getting to catch the sunset in a songthaew, and this was our last sunset of 2017.

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After we got back, we got ready to meet up with our friend Kirsten who was visiting for New Years and a few of her friends in her hostel. First we headed to our favorite restaurant in Chiang Mai, “The Cat House” (has absolutely nothing to do with cats thank goodness, sorry cat lovers). I had a delicious falafel plate and the best cocktails I’ve had in Thailand so far. Will definitely be going back here when I end in Chiang Mai. After, we met up with friends and had a few drinks and got ready to head out to see the lanterns close to midnight. Seeing the lanterns in Chiang Mai was probably one of the most magical things I have ever seen. It is straight off the cover of a Lonely Planet guidebook. It was truly stunning. We bought our own lantern from a lady on the side of the street and headed towards Tha Pae Gate. As we were walking, you could just see hundreds and hundreds of lanterns floating up into the sky. There were also lots of people struggling to light them, and quite a few crashed into trees, powerlines and the river. We were DETERMINED to succeed in lighting our lantern, but as we started, it proved to be more difficult than in looked. Out of nowhere came this somewhat aggressive American woman, as Emma calls her ‘lantern goddess’ and she got us all set and helped us get our lanterns going. She had us get all the way on the ground to allow the hot air to fill up the lantern and then as it filled up we stood up until it felt like the lantern was pulling and then we let it go. It was stressful, but so exciting, and we watched as our little lantern floated up into the sky at midnight full of our wishes for the upcoming year and surrounded by the millions of other wishes being sent into the air that night. It was really amazing and definitely falls into the top 3 moments I have had here in Thailand so far. So happy.

January 1st, 2018

We started the new year off on a beautiful note, by heading to a yoga class. We went to Freedom Yoga, a cute quiet yoga studio right outside the city but still walking distance from our guesthouse. Our class was filled with a lot of other foreigners, but our teacher was this amazing flexible and encouraging Thai woman. She was a beast!! Her body was bending in ways I did not know was possible, but most of our class seemed to be on the same page and giggled as she had us try some crazy poses. Her assists were amazing too. It was so nice to go to a real yoga class, another thing I am definitely missing here in Thailand. I left the studio feeling very content and happy with myself. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more self-aware and to be happy with myself and not let my brain wander a million different ways. I find myself worrying a lot and yoga really helps me to calm down and recenter myself (as well as do amazing things for my body). After yoga, we walked around a bit more, came across a few more temples, and found ourselves at “A Taste of Heaven”, a popular vegetarian spot. I had Khao Sow, a traditional northern Thai noodle dish that was delicious. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool, getting pedicures and having yummy fruit smoothies from Khun Kae’s juice bar, a must-go in Chiang Mai. My new year started on a healthy, happy, relaxing note, and I can only hope that my beautiful New Years Eve/ first day of 2018 is a glimpse of what the upcoming year will hold for me.

 

 

Chiang Rai: we ate, we struggled, we saw and we ate again

 

I know, I know, this next update is loooong overdue. Time seems to pass in the strangest way here, some days I feel like I’ve been here for months and months, and other days I feel like I just got here. This week seems to have flown by, but other weeks drag on and feel like forever. Well, here I am now! I know I have a few weeks to update on so I’m going to split the last few weeks into 2 different posts!

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The weekend after Thanksgiving, we headed to the closest “city” to us, Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai City is the capital of another province in Northern Thailand, Chiang Rai. For us, it is the closest place that offers different food, shopping, grocery stores besides Tesco Lotus, a movie theatre, waterfalls, temples and more. After school on Friday, we raced to the bus station as per usual, stored our bikes with the lady who keeps them for a few baht a day, and hopped on the bus to Chiang Rai. It’s a 2 hour bus ride from Chiang Kham, and we drive right through the sunset which is always stunning. The drive is definitely mountainous but nothing unbearable and before we know it we arrive at the bus station.

We Stayed:

We stayed at a guesthouse we found on Booking.com called Baan Bua Guest House. It was walking distance from the bus station and really in a perfect location for our weekend. When we arrived, the woman who owned it told us she almost cancelled our room, so she was glad we showed up (and we were glad she didn’t cancel it!). We had a private room with 2 twin beds and a small private bathroom with hot water. It was pretty cheap for a few nights, and we found it a bit more relaxing to be able to leave our stuff out rather than lock it up whenever we had to leave. The beds were…springy, but a touch more comfortable than our hard beds back in Chiang Kham.

We Ate:

One of the reasons we most like to get out of our town on the weekend is to have different types of food. While most people expect that we have wonderful different curries, pad thai, noodle dishes, and anything else you could get on the menu at a Thai restaurant at home, in our town, that is really not the case. In reality, we eat the same 3 or 4 meals every week, and there is very little variety to what we can have. We usually eat stir fried veggies and rice, fried rice, noodle soup or pad thai. Other than that, almost everything has meat in it, and while Emma is a vegetarian, I tend to stick to veggie dishes, especially in our town. The first night in Chiang Rai, we knew we absolutely wanted some type of Western food. Using our trusty friend, TripAdvisor, we opted to go to:

Hungry Wolf’s, #3/ 257 Restaurants in the city. On TripAdvisor, it says the restaurant is “Steakhouse, American,Bar” all of which sounded good to us. Upon arrival, we learned that a New Yorker and Australian opened the restaurant a few years ago. I was immediately overwhelmed by the menu because everything looked so good! We decided to get guac to start with, and share a large pizza. Oh, and we both got margaritas which if you know us is not a surprise whatsoever. This dinner was exactly what we needed. It is so easy to feel tired of the food, so having cheese for the first time since I’ve been here was amazing. After dinner that night we headed back to Baan Bua to get a good nights rest after a long week of teaching.

More like cheesy bread than pizza but man was it good!

The next morning we ate at:                                                                                 BaanChivitMai, a small Scandinavian /European style coffee shop within walking distance from the bus stop and our guest house. When we got there we learned that the bakery is actually owned by the BCM Foundation whose aim is to help children in need and that all proceeds from the bakery go towards the foundation. I thought that was pretty unique and cool!! I had a banana pancake and an iced mocha, both things I cannot get in our town and I truly enjoyed it. It was quick, easy, and a nice feeling to know our money was going towards a good cause.

That evening we ate at:

Surf n Turf Bistro, a small Australian/ European restaurant near the Night Bazaar. It was quick, clean and the owner was very nice. When we first saw the name, we couldn’t help but laugh as Surf n Turf made it sound beachy and Bistro sounds more like a French restaurant. After dinner that night we also got ice cream sundaes from an ice cream chain called Swensons, kind of like a Friendly’s. According to their menu, it was created in California and very famous in America but I had never heard of it….

For our last meal in Chiang Rai we ate at:

Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, the #1 rated restaurant in Chiang Rai!! While we seemed to wait for hours and hours, the meal was definitely worth it. I had salmon eggs benedict and a super deluxe caramel ice coffee of some sort and it was delicious. The restaurant was huge, and both buildings looked like huge mansions out of Europe. One was a coffee house and a bakery and the other was a bar and restaurant. They were both beautiful and it was also located right on the river. Definitely would go back here!!

We Saw:

We saw a lot on our short but sweet weekend trip to Chiang Rai. It’s so exciting to be able to explore a completely new place and have access to so many different things we don’t get to see every day! On Saturday morning, we were weighing our options and decided that we would do something exciting and rent a motorbike for the day. Renting a motorbike is so much cheaper than hiring a tuk tuk or a taxi, and how hard could it be, everyone else rides them!? Well, we were wrong. We were able to rent the motorbike no problem! 100 baht each, two helmets, and Emma filling out some paperwork and leaving her “insurance card id” (so she wouldn’t have to leave her passport) and we were off! Emma started off driving and I was so impressed as she scooted gracefully down the street to the main road. We were definitely too excited and not thinking because we managed to ride onto an extremely busy road with a traffic circle and both went into a slight panic. After going a little further, Emma pulled over and asked me to give it a shot. Feeling nervous, we switched spots and I gave driving a try. I cannot emphasize more, DRIVING A SCOOTER IS NOTHING LIKE DRIVING A CAR. I thought I would be fine since I have driven on the opposite side of the road before, but I was absolutely not fine. After a few too many way too  close calls with parked cars, I pulled over and we parked our scooter on the curb and sat down contemplating what the hell we should do now. We were only really half a mile from the rental shop where we started but it seemed impossible to get back. We sat there for way too long, knowing full well we looked like absolute dweebs before thinking maybe we could walk the scooter to a side street and try to practice there. We walked this heavy scooter around the block to park it and continued to think about our options there. Some actual thoughts that went through my head were:

” Come on, you can definitely ride a scooter. Teenagers do it all the time! It really can’t be that hard. Don’t psych yourself out.”

“You probably shouldn’t get back on that scooter if you’re hoping to enjoy the next few months.”

“Go practice in that sketchy bumpy long driveway with stray cats!”

“100 baht is nothing! Just return it.”

Needless to say, we decided the last option was the safest and the best. But now we were stuck, how would we possibly get the scooter back to the shop. We definitely couldn’t ride it, it was pretty heavy to roll back, and we didn’t want to make the poor man from the store walk to come find it so he could drive it back. While we were sitting there trying to figure out our next move, this nice Thai couple came over to ask us in broken English if our bike was broken. With the help of google translate, and a few cell phones, we explained that the bike was fine, but rather we rented one not knowing how to drive it, and were now scared to get back on. After a few minutes of back and forths, the wife took my helmet and hopped on our bike to drive it back to the shop, while the husband had us hop in his truck to give us a ride there. In our moment of need, this lovely Thai couple came to our rescue and I hate to think what would have happened without them. The man at the shop didn’t quite know what to think, but we let him keep our money for any inconvenience and confusion we caused him. After thanking the couple and returning the bike, we were on our way to find a new mode of transportation to take us on our adventure.

Just around the corner, we found a small older man sitting in his tuk tuk and proposed our plan for the day to him: The White Temple and Khun Korn Waterfall. He somewhat reluctantly agreed, we hopped in, and we were on our way. The sky was a bit overcast and our tuk tuk was definitely emitting some questionable fumes but about 20 minutes later we arrived at the White Temple.

The White Temple: While you would assume this beautiful structure is a Temple from it’s name, it is actually an art exhibit still being finished! Wat Rong Khun was installed in 1997 by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed and owns the property. The artist purchased the property and began to renovate the original Wat Rong Khun using his own money as an offering to Buddha and Buddhism. The exhibit is not expected to be finished until 2070! He intends for the site to be a center for meditation and for learning about Buddhist teachings. The whole site is one big extended metaphor, from the bridge to the temple which symbolizes the cycle of rebirth to the “gate of heaven” and so on. There is also a beautiful large golden building on the property that we could not quite figure out..turns out it was the bathroom!! All of the structures on the property were beautiful and very different from any other temple I have seen. Here’s a link if you would like to read more:

https://www.renown-travel.com/temples/wat-rong-khun.html

After exploring the temple and checking out the artists’ collection (work done with wide variety of mediums, it was very impressive), we headed back to our tuk tuk to send it up the mountain to the entrance to Khun Korn Waterfall.

Khun Korn Waterfall: We arrived at the entrance to the falls at about 4 PM. There was a short walk up to the path, and then an entrance to the hike that leads you to the falls. We had read the hike was just about a mile each way, give or take a little, so we weren’t too worried about the terrain. As we entered we noticed a sign that said we should be out by 4:30 PM but at that point we were going to do whatever it took to see that waterfall. The hike in was fine, definitely muddy and warm, but it was absolutely beautiful. It felt like we were trekking through the rainforest (which looking back on it, we really were). It always boggles my mind how quick you can go from feeling like you are in a city to feeling completely in the middle of nowhere here! We hiked on and soon could hear the sound of the magnificent falls and knew we were getting close. When we finally reached the falls, it was breathtaking. I’ve seen a few waterfalls here and there, but nothing compared to this powerful and ginormous force! We had read that you could swim under them to take a “shower” but honestly it seemed like it would quite literally take your breath away! We ventured closer and we did, we began to get soaked! Without even going into the water, we looked like we had fully submerged. It was absolutely stunning and worth every penny, frustration and stubbed toe of the day. We took some pictures and admired the falls and again we were off to head back to our tuk tuk and the guest house to end our day.

We got back to the guest house around 6:30 and as I was getting ready for dinner I heard Emma shriek. She ran out of the bathroom but could not quite iterate what had happened other than something had fallen out of her bathing suit. I was expected there to be a rat or a cockroach, but as I peeked around the side of the door, I spotted a fat, black, slimy leech, slithering around our tile bathroom. Absolutely disgusted by what I saw and worried that it was just attached to my friend, I quickly turned to google (what else) to figure out what this creature was. Turns out, during the wet season in the rainforest, these land leeches come out and wait for some prey to come by and then latch on. When they are full, they just fall off and go back to their lives. Unfortunately for Emma, this sucker had been on her since we left the waterfall and had caused some damage to her skin. A few changed bandaids later and she was okay, the leech was down the toilet, and the wound slowly, very slowly, began to heal. Still feeling shook weeks later and I will spare you the photo I took before I flushed it!

On Sunday, we had some time before we had to catch the bus back to Chiang Kham so we übered (is this a real verb?) to this mall called Central Plaza. We had heard from some people on our program that Central Plaza had a “Tops Market” which carries some Western foods and brands from home. The mall itself was completely and utterly overwhelming, talk about culture shock. It was full of bright lights, loud vendors, luxury stores and tons of Christmas decorations! Yes, Christmas decorations…this was totally overwhelming to us being that in a largely  Buddhist country they have tons of lights and decorations out. Slightly confusing to my emotions since Christmas will be celebrated very differently here (aka I do not have Christmas Day off) but anyways….I was able to get some chocolate and tortilla chips and salsa so that kept me happy for the next few weeks!

Our weekend away in Chiang Rai was nothing short of exhilarating and eventful. I really enjoyed getting to check out this city and am looking forward to exploring more in the future (other than just passing through on busses all the time). We had a lot of fun, learned a few lessons, and most definitely enjoyed eating different food for a few days. Up next: Phayao City and Phuket!