Alright! It is now safe to say that I am officially done with my first term teaching. I actually haven't really taught a class since the 4th. The high school students test earlier than the rest of the school, so my past two weeks of work have mostly involved proctoring/grading tests, grading projects, and getting my grades turned in. If that sounds like a lot of work, just remember that two weeks is WAY more than enough time to get all of that done, so I've been pretty bored here at school. It really hasn't been too bad...I've had a lot of time to draw, shoot some hoops, and I even finally figured out how to solve a Rubik's cube, but when there's a 2.5 week vacation coming up it's pretty easy to get a little antsy. We could have requested to leave earlier this week (like Jen, Kaila, Kristen, and Margaret all opted to do) but today was payday, and Michael, Catherine, and I all figured that having some extra dough for our travels was worth the sitting around the school doing nothing for a few extra days.
Depending on how early we're able to duck out of school tomorrow, we'll be leaving either tomorrow or Saturday...and I really couldn't be more excited. We're planning on two main stops. First, we'll be hitting up Hua Hin to enjoy the beach for a couple of days including Christmas day. Then, after Christmas, we're planning on catching a train up to Chiang Mai for the rest of the break. Chiang Mai has pretty much been #1 on my list of places to visit in Thailand. It's a huge area up in the north that's supposed to have some beautiful temples, some great national parks (with giant mountains for hiking!), and some delicious food. It is also apparently a great place to spend New Year's Eve. They do something that's basically the same as the lantern festival but includes fireworks as well...so it should be a pretty awesome time.
This brings me to the main point of this post. I'm going to be taking a brief hiatus from updating here so I can enjoy the vacation. I'll definitely be taking plenty of pictures to put up when I get back. I'll also probably be brainstorming some ideas for future posts. I want to come up with some things to write about that will add some variety to the journal style posts that, so far, comprise the majority (possibly entirety) of my postings. So Merry Christmas, Happy New Years, and I'll see ya in 2015!
As they said on The Simpsons (and possibly also a more 'legitimate' source); "A stranger's just a friend you haven't met". Although that might not always hold true, our trip this weekend made a strong case to support the validity of that statement.
The King's birthday (which is a huge national holiday in Thailand) was on Friday, so we got to enjoy a nice 3-day weekend. We'd all been craving some Mexican food pretty much since we got to Thailand, so we decided to hit up Bangkok on Thursday night to grab dinner and then head up to Khao Yai National Park for the rest of the weekend. We had a hostel booked for Thursday night and a few possible restaurant choices in mind, and everything ended up going exactly as planned. Dinner was a tad pricey, but totally worth it. I probably would have gladly paid twice as much for my steak fajitas and the delicious bowl of guacamole that I had. The hostel ended up being pretty decent, except for the one smelly dude in our room...but he came in late and we left early so we didn't really need to deal with that for too long.
We didn't have much of a plan for Khao Yai other than show up and figure out what to do as we went...and that ended up being quite interesting. Normally in Thailand, there isn't much need to book a place to stay in advance. In fact, aside from the hostel in Bangkok, I haven't reserved a room for any of the places I've traveled so far. After talking to Air, one of the park rangers we met when we got to Khao Yai however, we learned that apparently there was a music festival going on nearby and pretty much all the places were booked up already. As we were contemplating our admittedly limited options...Air called a couple nearby places, found a place that had room for the 5 of us, and then took the time to drive us over to the place. She even hung around while we negotiated the price with the owner to make sure we had a place to stay. Also, she arranged a songthaew to pick us up in the morning and show us around the park. Unfortunately, the room was already booked for Saturday night, but, thanks to Air, we at least had a place to stay for the night.
The next morning, the songthaew driver picked us up as promised and took us to a couple scenic overlooks before bringing us to the visitor's center to arrange a tour guide to take us on a hike. I had assumed that it would just be our group on the hike, but our guide had also booked a tour with another group from the UK who, as it turned out, are also teaching English here in Thailand. They had camped out in the park the night before and didn't have a songthaew, so we all piled into ours to drive over to the starting point. Even though we didn't see any animals, the hike was still super pretty. Since the other group still didn't have a driver of their own, they offered to split the cost of our driver for the rest of the day. They all seemed cool, and our driver didn't seem like he cared even a little bit about 5 extra passengers, so we gladly accepted and spent the rest of the day checking out a couple waterfalls around the park.
While it would've been super cool just deferring the cost of our songthaew and having some cool new friends to hang out with for the day, John, Enda, Grace, Ashley, and Natalie also helped us figure out a place to sleep for the night...which was awesome. After we were done hiking, they took us back to their campsite (which was packed due to the long weekend), showed us where we could rent some gear for the night, and moved their tents around a bit to give us room to set up. They also invited us on a night safari that they had booked. As it turned out 'night safari' is mostly driving around in a truck at night while a dude shines a spotlight in trees and fields. Oh, and every once in awhile you see a deer! Even so, we still had a good time.
Since Khao Yai is a bit of a drive from Amata, we wanted to get a moderately early start. We packed up our camping gear, said goodbye to our new friends, and started trying to figure out how to get out of the park. A bunch of the other campers were leaving as well and we were able to flag down a pick-up truck who agreed to give us a ride back to the park's entrance. He had friends, or teammates (they were all on a soccer team) camping in another area of the park, so we made a little detour so that they could get their convoy all in order. While we were waiting, we introduced ourselves to the driver, Nat, and his wife, Yam (pronounced with more of a soft 'y'). After talking with them for a bit, they realized that we were attempting to get to Bangkok so we could get a bus the rest of the way to Amata and, even though it was slightly out of their way, insisted on giving us a ride to the bus station.
We thought it was just going to be a simple ride to Bangkok, but apparently Nat, Yam, and the rest of the group wanted to show us some Thai hospitality. First they stopped at a giant dam and drove up to the top where there was a gorgeous view of the lake (made by the dam) and mountains. Then they asked if we were hungry...which we were, so they took us to lunch. They even asked if we wanted to check out a temple that Nat's brother likes to visit every time they pass through. It was really amazing. Once we arrived at the bus station they parked, got out, made sure we knew where to buy tickets, walked us to the bus, and made sure that the driver knew where he needed to stop to let us out. We tried to offer them some baht for all of their trouble, but they refused. We thanked them profusely, and told them that if they're ever in Chon Buri that we are treating them to dinner which seemed to make them very happy.
I would have been happy with just a ride, but the few extra stops they made to show us parts of Thailand that we might never have seen, and the extra effort they made in ensuring that we would get where we were going was extremely touching. Between Air, our friends from the UK, and the random soccer team we met, pretty much this whole weekend, we were the benefactors of a lot of kindness and generosity. It feels good.
I have no idea what TLC thought they were talking about, because, as it turns out, chasing waterfalls is totally awesome. Erawan National park was completely amazing. Not only does it sound like a character from the Lord of the Rings (which is pretty cool), but it was breathtakingly beautiful as well.
There are 7 levels of falls to hike up, and apparently the top few are closed for periods of the year, but we were lucky enough to be able to see all 7. We didn't go swimming at each level, but we definitely stopped to cool off in the water at a few of the steps. The 3rd level was pretty cool and, like the picture above, had a little cave underneath the waterfall that we were able to climb up into.
I think my favorite was somewhere around level 5. There weren't as many people around when we were there, and there were a few tiered pools of shallow water. It was a bit harder to swim around, due to the shallower water and the random rocks on the riverbed, but climbing up the tiers and relaxing in the pools of water was a lot of fun.
So basically, another successful weekend trip. Kanchanaburi was a bit farther away than anywhere else we've traveled on our own, and we ended up spending a decent amount of time on getting there and back...but it was totally worth the trip. Apparently there are some cool waterfalls a little bit closer to Chon Buri as well, so I'm probably gonna need to check that out sometime soon.
For now however, it is time for lunch and I am super hungry...so that's all for now. I'll probably come back and add in a few more of the pictures I took in a gallery.
Lunch was pretty bad today...but I'll upload some more pictures anyway.