Monday, July 31, 2006

Thai home

This place is beginning to feel like home. I wish I could speak more of the language and I am constantly frustrated by not being able to read signs, bus timetables or have the most basic conversation.

But I love the people and the scenery, the food and the bizarre mix of oriental and occidental.

Thai's envy westerners their noses with their large bridges, their hair, skin colour, wealth and material items like cars, shops, fast internet. So their culture is a mix of bits they have borrowed from the west mixed with elephants, old American buses, rice fields, high speed internet with the latest webcams and games, high heeled shoes and modestly covering knees and shoulders (well, most of them).

Coming back from Khon Kaen on the rickety bus which hurls you from side to side as it bumps over the many, many potholes I realised how much I love the vivid colours around Namsom. The rice fields are so green - such a lush colour brimming with life. It is not the dark green of British grass and trees but a lighter, more vibrant colour which almost glows infront of the dark mountains.

To hear the cry of falang, falang! can be tiresome. I don't want attention drawn to me every two seconds, but mostly it is well meant. I am western therefore an object of curiousity and a walking ATM machine.

The people smile all the time. I was talking to a man who owns a shop next to Namsom hospital's restaurant. He spoke very good English after working for a year with a Brit in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Like many Thai's in rural parts they warn me to keep safe.

"Thai's have friendly faces but not all have good hearts." Like any small town, the inhabitants fear the motives of Thai's in big cities towards foreigners despite evidence that it is in the rural areas in which people are most likely to encounter danger. Luckily, we have good friends here who make sure we are never alone, are always escorted back to Ban Falang and lecture us on the dangers of being a woman.

Chicago and London are slightly more dangerous than this small backwater, Natalie and I tell them but they just smile.

Now school calls and I must try and teach my children from a textbook that is too advanced. Instead I may try and teach them To be and To have. Boring but after last weeks dancing lesson, I think it is time for some hard work...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Khon kean

We have made it to Khon Kean. It is a bustling city - Thai style. In Thailand there seem to be less "slum areas". This does not mean there is not a lot of poverty. But big gated homes and nice residential blocks are built next to wooden huts.

Modern design firms, who have made over their buildings top to toe Western-style, sit next to dusty, dark shops selling prints of the King or laundry shops, stores selling odds and ends or places that look like they may be selling something but you are not sure what.

There are funky bars and restaurants here, many surrounding a large lake, but also the ubiqitous street vendors. The food is always very good from the vendors, the problem is you don't always know what dishes they are serving up from their mini restaurants and so you have to guess or go with the flow.

The streets of this town are busy with mopeds, cars and samlaws, tuk tuks and rikshaws and the occasional elephant strolling around. However this sadly seems to be for the benefit of the few falangs we see - although most seem to be of the older western men with young thai girl variety.

Today we found western-style breakfast which made us very happy - just for the novelty of something other than rice and noodles. French toast and bacon for me and club sandwich and fries for Natalie... calorie fest!

We have walked the neighbourhoods of Khon Kean a lot today and seen the markets and shopping centre though I have been markedly restrained I feel and just bought some CDs to burn my photos (having trouble uploading them to net anywhere) and razors. exciting eh.

Very bizarre to go into Boots store and see British products. Or Worcestershire sauce come all the way from Lea and Perrins just a few miles from home. Or Walls ice cream all the way from Gloucester! I should think...

Friday, July 28, 2006

naughty teacher

This week has been an interesting and busy one.

New volunteer Natalie and I have been doing some exploring - we hopped on our bikes and chose a direction out of town. We cycled a fair few kilometres in the heat. It is very hilly here so it was quite a feat. The countryside surrounding Namsom is stunning.

Farms circled the town so there are acres of rice fields, dotted with wooden huts where farmers rest from the midday heat, palm trees and patches deep red soil. In the distance are mountains rising steeply from the plains. Many undulate up from the earth then fall in a sheer drop down again.

We cycled through small villages - all amused to see the falangs attempting to speed up steep hills on rusty old bikes. I'm sure the brakes are permanently glued to my back wheel as it won't spin by itself. It makes for hard work.

We rested at a gas station, come cafe, come odds and ends shop and probably mechanic too and had a drink in the shade before heading home.

We felt virtuous and so the last two nights of Korean barbeques have not felt so naughty.

The first was after our Wednesday conversation session at the hospital with Pi Mon and Tae. Pi Mon's department were going to a barbecue for dinner and they invited us to join them. Piles of pork, seafood, morning glory, noodles and so on were brought out to the table for us to cook on the hot plate and boil in the bottom of it. Very tasty.

Last night, Jeab invited us to join her colleagues at an all-you-can-eat buffet (costs one pound). Only trouble is, if you leave anything you have to pay for that so we were pretty stuffed by the time we finished up there.

I think it is showing. Today, some children from a different class decided they would rather come and learn English with me than sit watching videos while their teacher was away. As I leaned back in my chair before the lesson started they were pointing at my stomach and laughing. hmmmm.

They also think my nose is hilarious. Because I have a bump at the top of it. Their noses all go in at the top and curve outwards with large bulbous ends. My horrid nose curves outwards and then in. I have never felt so much like plastic surgery in my life. Kids can be so cruel.

However after two days of teaching them simple verbs, I gave them a bit of a break today and after the first hour of work, we played musical chairs to Britney and Kylie songs and then had a bit of a dance and then played Bang Bang before I let them go early for lunch.

After my balling out of them this week I think they have been in fear somewhat so they are probably dead confused. Although some of them were just looking at me as if I was mad while I threw myself into dancing around the room as they played musical chairs!

Today Natalie and I will try to find elephants in the town of Khon Khean. Apparently they roam the streets. Otherwise there is not much there apart from a bigger night market and western food and drink! Not that I don't love eating fresh mangoes, mini bananas and rambutin for breakfast, delicious noodles or rice and curry for lunch and barbecued pork for dinner. But it will be a weekend of letting hair down I feel!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Thai Life

Everything I see and touch and taste and feel out here is so different to back home.

The air smells different. The colour of the earth is redder. The landscape is unusual. The Thai way of life - of what is rude and polite - is alien.

Perhaps I should explain a little of what I can see and do - especially as I am having trouble uploading the photos I have taken.

Around Namsom the land is mountainous - there are flat plains of rice fields surrounded by palms. Maybe a hut in the middle of green shoots of rice. Hills rise suddenly and unexpectedly, covered in dark green trees which climb the rocky, steep sides. In the distance there are mountain ranges.

The roads are bumpy, full of potholes. A bus journey is like a badly filmed amateur movie or a particularly old fairground ride. Your teeth continue chattering long after you have stepped off.

Everywhere I walk people stare. Sometimes it seems rude, often it is with curiousity. Mostly, I have learned that a smile and greeting sawadee ka produces waves, beaming toothless grins and returned good wishes.

A smile can do so much here even when nothing else is understood.

I wake at around 8am or 8.30am and shower. There are two bathrooms at Ban Falang, one has a squat toilet, the other a western toilet. Both have shower heads which run with cold water in the morning and warm water during the day when the pipes have been baking in the sun.

I eat bananas and yoghurt or maybe toast for breakfast and cycle on a bike with flat tyres through the town to school in time for 10am. It is not far but a hilly ride and I arrive sweaty and flushed.

When I get there every child I pass says hello or asks my name or where I come from (in English). They don't wait for reply and if they do, they rarely understand the answer. Sometime as I arrive at school there are boys working in the grounds, with spades and pick axes. Constructing something or nothing.

As I walk up the first floor, the children in my class greet me with 'hello charlie!' 'how are you?!' each wanting to shake my hand and get a smile. I am given a glass of cold cold water. Sometimes Pi Neung the teacher is there and we chat and she hands me a snack for break - a chocolate bar, muffins, cakes, sweets.

The lesson starts around 10.10am. We break at 11am for five minutes and finish at 12. The teacher, or one of the children collects some lunch from the canteen and I take the food gingerly wondering if today is the day I will come face to face with a chicken foot, eyeball, testicle or just more liver...

I cycle home a different way, past the Chinese temple and up the hill through town past the open air shops selling I love the King t-shirts, piles of rambutin and lagong fruits, stlls selling shakes and crepes, pancakes and coffees and go home to investigate lunch and consign the rest to resident dog, Dolly (for so Fem and I named her).

The afternoon is a laze of reading, washing, sunbathing, eating, tidying, cleaning, learning thai, going to the market and so on.

Yesterday (Monday) Mon came for lunch and we sat for hours nibbling and chatting about dangerous animals in Thailand. Turns out there is little malaria but Leptospirosis and Dengue Fever are pretty common as are scorpions, cobras, king cobras... but not poisonous spiders. Which was luckily as there was MASSIVE hairy spider in the Western toilet yesterday morning.
By the time I came back from school it had disappeared but Mon bravely swept the room and found it crouching in a hole and killed it.

She is handy to have in these situations. A nurse, snake slayer and identifier and spider killer. She tells me that if I am bitten by a snake I should kill it and take it to the hospital with me. AH ha yep ok. If I have been bitten by a four foot snake I am hardly likely to run after it looking to lose another chunk of flesh...

Around Ban Falang are small hut-like homes and bigger, gated stone and wooden houses. Most have dogs which give chase at night. A little off putting but they tend to tire after you get away from their territory.

Shops here are bizarre. They look like homes and then whoosh, some shutters are pulled back and in the dark recess is a photocopying shop or the kind of general store you get everywhere - selling cokes, sodas, yoghurts, biscuits, washing powder, whisky (naturally), beer, all sorts of odds and ends from the dusty interior. Mostly you take your shoes off at the door and pad in barefoot. Thai's don't like feet and shoes are considered highly dirty things.

Anyway, maybe that gives a better idea of things here other than the heat and humidity. The place is so different, but people are very kind and helpful. Which is good for those moments when you miss summer evenings and barbecues with friends and family, sitting in a pub being silly and the ease of talking to people who know you and understand your culture. But above all, the thing I miss the most, sorry mum, is wine...

The weekend

Had a great weekend. In Udon Thani I had lunch with Jeab and her classmates who all gave me the nickname kao neow - or sticky rice!
Tried some Som Tam - the spicy papaya salad which is renowned to knock dead even vindaloo-loving falangs and I lived to tell the tale!

In the shopping mall I bought a few choice bargains including the fabled ceramic hair straighters (cost me about two quid) and then Jeab and her friends came to pick me up to take me to Nong Khai.

Luckily I was able to stay at Travel to Teach's Meechai dorm, the nicer of the two, as some people had gone to Chiang Mai for the weekend. Several of the coordinators were leaving and a rock star party was planned for the dorm that night. In rolled copious amounts of Mexican food (!), soda, and all kinds of pop to mix with the ubiquitos SangSom whisky.

Tanu, Iris and I talk about how to possibly make our meagre traveller/teacher wardrobes rocks star friendly.

Later we sit on the roof terrace with the other volunteers looking at the stars and drinking and laughing. I meet Natalie who is to join me in Namsom and she is a 23 year old American gal who is luckily and nicely up for the Namsom rural life.

There were many Thai people at the party and it was a nice mix. But incredibly odd when the karaoke started and there were Thai guys singing Westlife at the top of their lungs. I would sya it's crazy how far banality can travel - but I was there joining in with the rest - 'Can't believe that I'm a fool again..."

Jeab stopped by on her on/off boyfriends motorbike and we went for a whizz down the Mekong River to a spot where mats line the pavements and people sit on them around low tables ordering milkshakes. I chose Oreo and Banana flavour and we chatted for ages about things.

Even as I was thinking about how similar people are despite the different cultures we grow up in. But then I was starkly reminded of how different Jeab's life is. She has two jobs (one as coordinator for Travel to Teach in Namsom) and the other in the municipal office in Namsom and studies all weekend at university.

She has a boyfriend who has a good job but gambles and possibly cheated on her and she feels she has a choice of staying with this bad boy who she loves or marrying a good rich boy who cares for her but who she cannot imagine marrying. Because she has to put her sister and brother through college and support her parents. They are currently in Bangkok doing construction work to make ends meet. She is 24 and feels she has to choose a man now...

I like her a lot but we are both tired after a long day and when she drives me back to the dorm, the whisky, milkshake, the long day, the heat... I need my bed and can't contemplate Bar Nana with its crazy dancers and more drinking. I head to bed...

On Sunday I take a lazy brunch with Iris and Tanu down at Mut Mee Guesthouse. It is run by a 'crazy' Brit who thinks listing Mekong Rver Water (natural and untreated) is very funny. And in some ways it is (imagine the embarrasment of those who think it a delicacy!).

Later, I take the long bus rides back to Namsom, planning to meet with Pi Mon for dinner unless she has to go out to work - she does but I don't mind and instead buy Phad Thai and settle down infront of Monster in Law, one of the few working DVDs we have at the dorm.

Yesterday, Monday, class went very well. I planned well, we had fun. We played Bingo, I made cards so they could hold them up and say 'I Like...' and ' I don't like...' and we had some games too.

Today class was also good with many cards, hearts and sweets offered during the lesson and teaching me to say their names and nicknames during the break. But half an hour before the lesson ended their concentration waned from Mr Funny book and they started indicating hunger adn walking about. I got a bit mad and made them write vocab instead. Hmmm could've been the late night that made me intolerant of their cheekiness. I must be extra nice tomorrow...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

To straighten or not to straighten...

Today, I am a burned pumpkin with frizzy hair. It is not attractive. I am sat at Udon Thani University surrounded by tiny, impeccably dressed thai's who all wonder what a falang is doing amongst them dressed in funny wide leg trousers (they go for the tight jeans look even in this heat) and a red baggy cotton top.

Attempts to tame my hair failed spectacularly this morning too.

Last night, Femke and I got a ride to Udon Thani, the biggest city in the North East, with a teacher at her school.

Wanting to thank her for all her hard work at the school, the teacher, her husband and two children took her to dinner and I tagged along. We had a lovely Korean Barbecue (all you can eat for 99Baht) as the sun set in a pretty place not far from the station.

Fem then took the night train to Bangkok (very exciting) and then I met up with Jeab, the coordinator for Namsom. We popped to the night market and bought fried chicken and sticky rice (typical Isan food) and banana mixed with coconut, sugar and some kind of flour wrapped in banana leaf and a similiar pumpkin mix - very delicious.

There were no buses back to her sister's dorm so she phoned her brother for a lift. Ah ha, success. Until I realised that a lift with her brother meant motorbikes. You soon get the hang of a motorbike when you're racing at 50mph through the streets, weaving in and out of traffic with only one hand to steady you as the other is holding all your food. I loved it!

Her sister lives in a one room with another girl, with a very small bathroom and one bed. However, among the teenage belongings, they had a rice cooker and a sort of portable electric wok in which her sister cooked up noodles mixed with egg and powder flavourings. Pretty impressive given the size of room and lack of facilities.

I managed to amuse them all, despite communication difficulties, because I had taken advantage of the blue skies and soaring temperatures to attempt to get something of a tan. It's actually not that easy here - Isaan small town life dictates covered shoulders and knees at all times when in public. Even in the privacy of Ban Falang if I am wearing a bikini top with trousers, it can embarrass Thai visitors (maybe it's my tummy hanging over the top...)

But yesterday, I threw a little caution to the wind and sunbathed with my trousers rolled up over the knees and bikini top on.

Oh dear. There is not only a very clear line just above each knee where tan ends and white skin starts (although nobody will see it in public I don't want to arrive on the beach in September with a hardy tan on the bottoms of my legs only). Oh no. The worst things is that I was extra careful to put a blob of suntan lotion where a newish mole is. I now have a 1p sized white patch around said tiny mole. ha ha! and burnt boobs!

I will never learn.

After helping the girls with their English homework (well, doing it for them really) we all bedded down for the night, myself and Jeab guiltly taking the bed while they girls slept on the floor.

Today, I am on a mission to buy some cheap hair straighteners - I have to do something, it is neither curly nor straighten and flicks in weird ways so even if I can control the weird flicks until my hair grows it will be a blessing - find some cool flip flops I saw Pi Mon wearing last week, buy mother a present for her birthday etc etc. And maybe to find the cinema if I have time...

Udon Thani is a purposeful place. Concrete and grey but the night market is a huge bustling place where you can buy anything and everything and the Thai's in Isaan love the shopping and cinema, big nightclubs and things to do from bowling to swimming and golf.

Again, a lot of older falang men with young thai girls...

Tonight we head to Nong Khai and out for drinkies so I hope to find a bed at the dorm or failing that, to find a cheap guesthouse where I can bed down for tonight.

I know several people were asking for my address so you can send stuff to:
Wattana (Charlie)
355 M. 3
Nangua Muncipality
Nangua District
Udon Thani 41210

This is Jeab's office and she can bring anything to me. However, I will prob only spend another 3 weeks in Namsom due to its quietness and maybe try and transfer to Pai for the last three weeks...

If anyone wants to call, my number is 00 (or+) 6652286956. However, there are loads of cheap ways to call this number - through Skype on the computer, or by putting a number in before calling it. I found one website where it cost 1p per min from a Brit mobile to a Thai mobile (you had to buy credit there first) and another that was 3p. So no excuses family members!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Namsom and Nam som

So the Thai language learning crawls on. This week I have picked up that Nam Som (with a rising tone on Som) means orange juice and Namsom (with a falling tone) is the town I am living in. No wonder people giggle at us falangs all the time.

Yesterday the monsoon rains prevented us doing much so watched some dvds (the selection is limited!). I tutored two nurses (Pi Mon and Tae) from the hospital with Femeke last night which was good fun as they are really lovely and more like conversation really. Until I bring up things like murder and crime which leads to a role play by Fem and myself. hilarious.

We then went to the hospital for dinner - an unusual concept you may agree but the monsoon rains meant the street vendors would be safely at home and the hospital is pretty close to where we live. The food was actually very good and it was a blessing have Mon and Tae to translate the whirly writing.

Earlier this week Daphne and I had a cooking lesson with Jeab, one of the thai coordinators. We made gai phad mit (cashew nuts and fried chicken), ka poew (fried chicken with basil - quite spicy), omlette and a few other bits and piece. Really lovely although it is so cheap to buy food here - much cheaper than buying all the ingrediants for dinner.

But perhaps less worrying. Our school lunches meet with a bemused look everyday wondering if there will be chicken feet in it, exactly what it means when someone tells you the meat is not chicken but bird, what went squish then crunch and why oh why they put so much liver in everything!

School this week has been quite good although I took my first lesson by myself today. We didn't have much time for games as the teacher requested I spent quite a long time testing their reading of simple words like cat and hat and sun and then I asked them to draw their favorite things. It was quite interesting to get this idea across to them as the teacher was absent but we got there in the end!

Today, in contrast to yesterday, is sunny. There are no extremes here. It is boiling hot - probably 38C and no air conditioning anywhere. I'm not complaining though, honest.

Yesteday (wednesday), was Daphne's last day at Namsom and teaching so we went in early to watch the flag ceremony. The general idea is that a boy and girl together raise the Thai flag up the mast while the rest of the primary school sing (well, shout) the national anthem. A prayer is then said.

The our teacher, Pi Neung, took the microphone to bid Daphne farewell and she had to say a few words. Then they said hello to me. By this time everyone seemed to be wandering off into their classrooms so I kept it short and sweet - not least becuase I doubt they had a clue what I was saying anyway!

Tomorrow Fem leaves and I think I am to go to Udon Thani. The Lonely Planet says this is a grey concrete town of no charm but the thai's love it for the shopping, cinema, and nightlife.

Jeab goes there to see her brother and sister so I will go with her or meet her there and check out the night market, shopping and maybe even get to see a film. I was hoping to catch Superman or Pirates of the Carribean 2 but I'm told most of these are dubbed in Thai.

So I may have to settle for a Thai film with English subtitles - which is the way it should be I suppose!

I am now to go and explore something at the bus station. Something about the market moving or the muncipal office... and some kind of festival. Not sure what it is exactly but I plan to go and be nosy!

Monday, July 17, 2006

I forgot....

Totally forgot to tell you all about the orphanage at Nong Khai. I went there last week with Christina and Emmy as it is an option for the volunteers there.

For some reason I think I was expecting older children but these were small babies - i think the youngest was seven months and the oldest about 18 months.

They were adorable. About 14 of them climbing over each other, playing with the toys, desperate for love. You could see the people running the place cared for the children and were affectionate and did their best. But it is a lot of children for just a few people to bathe, feed, play with and give attention to.

I walked in and a beautiful little girl toddled up to me, holding up her arms. She was so light and I scooped her up. She laughed. All the children wanted to be given attention, but she was constantly needing to be touched and hugged.

I found it hard. When you grow up and almost everyone you know has so much attention and love and affection given to them, it is hard to see a lesser degree of that afforded to a large group of toddlers. They need constant attention and affection and I found myself comparing their lot to mine, my friends and particuarly my nieces and nephews, all of whom I have played with at this same precious age.

I can't explain it but I just wanted to take them home with me. No wonder some people adopt a baby from impoverished countries. I somehow felt myself admiring of Angelina Jolie - a rare things for an Aniston fan!

At English camp I met two latter day saints missionaries from America who had been to more orphanages in Nong Khai and said there is one just devoted to children with AIDS. It is a huge problem here and it is not recognised - there is a huge taboo and safe sex is not taught here. Apparently they also hold big AIDS meetings in Nong Khai once a month for people with the disease - it's shocking how prevalent it is.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Getting accustomed

I am enjoying Nam Som and its laid back way of life. It is a small town - supposedly a city - but still sells plenty of western shampoos and so on. Still my hair remains wavy in the extreme and i'm crying for my hair straightners at night - but the frizz is so far kept at bay!

I love the dorm with its hammocks, kitchen, airy attic bedroom and balcony - it is known as Ban Falang - the westerners house!

Being the only Falangs in town does not mean we are isolated. Next week I will start teaching for an hour twice a week in the hospital and I have met the two nurses ( Pi Mon and Dai a girl and boy) who want to learn english and there will be others sometimes too. They came to Alexis's leaving do last week for food and have been really kind and helpful.

"Pi" bfore the name means "older" and is given as a sign of respect though not always among friends.

This region,the Isaan region of northeastern Thailand, is renowned for fried chicken, sticky rice and the spicy papaya salad. We generally go to the market in the evenings to buy unnamed and unknowable dishes - mostly delicious - though last night's fish bones and very spicy salad were not the best choices!

Yesterday, Saturday, some of the volunteers from Nong Khai came to a nearby historical park. There are cave paintings and odd rock formations from people who lived here 3,000 years ago. It was a bit of a trek in the heat and (unusual) sunshine but worth seeing.

There were Buddha images carved into the rocks, shrines to Buddha and all these ancient temples. It's hard to imagine that this is an out-of-the-way sight. In Britain this would be our main attraction. It's Stonehenge x6 i think!

Friday, July 14, 2006


So i finally have arrived in the place i am to call home for the next two months!
Namsom is a small town near the mountains, surrounded by rice fields and palm trees. It is very pretty and has a chinese temple in the middle of a lake at its heart.
The dorm is a wooden home with one western toilet (yipee!) and a shower (rather than the thai method of scooping water from a bowl which i have become accustomed to), hammocks, a balcony, kitchen, computer to burn photo cds and a resident scally dog which luckily stays outside. It has recently had pups and has long swinging teats. apparently the pups were taken away the other day but one must have escaped because it was outside the house this morning crying and trying to get in! it was very cute!

The bus to Namsom was, well, interesting. I rocked up to the bus station, backpack already 3x the size i left england, expecting to jump on a coach or even rickety version of a normal bus. oh no. that woul;d have been luxury.

It was a van with a hut nailed to the back with two benches inside. two hours in that i thought. death. and certainly no sleep. As more people crammed in, it got worse. But the openness meant it was breezy and I got to see the scenery.
However after about an hour i realised i didn;t know if the bus stopped at Ban Phue (where i changed buses) or if it carried on elsewhere. hmmm. no "falangs" around (westerners) or English speakers.

I managed to say Namsom inquistively after pointing at my lonely planet map (they had no clue) and they indicated I needed to get off. phew. could've ended up god knows where. However I was suddenly on a street corner laden down without a clue where to get the next bus.
Luckily the street vendors took me under their wing, said they would call the bus when it approached for me and sat me down on the step next to the pavement.

Here they quizzed me on my marital status, name, age and nationality all in thai and i grinned away not knowing what they were saying until i produced the scrap of paper with thai phrases learned earlier in the week.

I could then ask their age and name and numble a reply! It was quite good fun but bloody hard work.

The minibus came and i scrambled in for another 40 minute drive to Namsom. Once there I called the thai coordinator Jeab. No answer. ah ha. people were lovely though ad came to ask where i needed to go. But they all knew. There is only one place for people like me in Namsom - Ban Falang (the westerners house). The only Falang in Namsom are the volunteers.

When I arrived on Wednesday there were Daphne and Alexis (Dutch and American) who had been there for 3 weeks, Femeke (Dutch) who had been there a day, and Sabina and Rebbekah (german) who leave today. Alexis also leaves tomorrow to join the nuns in Loei for a week and daphne leaves next wednesday and Femeke a week today! So I am hoping new people come to join me soon!!!

It is really nice here. My first night they took me to the nightmarket - a row of food stalls and I met the teachers at one of the schools. She roped me into English camp for the following day.

So sure enough, at 7am yesterday we were picked up, Alexis, Daphne and I, to be driven 2 hours to teach some English. They are immensively respectful of teachers here and children are always bringing drinks and food to you.

I was given the 'verbs' group and had to teach 150 kids 'to be' and 'to have' in four groups for an hour each. Tough! I felt deflated after the first lesson but buoyed up by hw\ow much i felt i had improved by the final lesson.

The teachers there gave us traditional pillows and sheets as a thank you (how i will get them home is a mystery) and we came back to Namsom adn to juoin the others for a goodbye meal with Jeab, her friend and a guy and gurl from the hospital who i will be teaching twice a week.

Today I decided to change the school i am meant to be in. The main coordinator (mooy) is away so I figure I have the right! The school Thasom I am meant to be in likes to stick to the government textbook which is way too difficult for the children and the teacher is meant ot be horrid.
The other school, Nangngu, is poorer but the teacher speaks great English, is very kind and buys lunch everyday and lets you get on with teaching properly!

I went to help Rebbekah and Daphne today and it was fun -though by myself may be harder as it is a two hour lesson!

until next time...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Still Nong Khai

Once again no idea what i wrote last time!
Having fun here - been to sing karaoke (you all sit in a room and choose the songs - it's not a big bar and we were in a small room in a hotel dedicated to karaoke!). it is hilarious. 80s videos all the way!
You'lll all be glad to know i found some new flip flops (bet you were on the edge of your seat for that one). A bargain for 99B and very pretty though i have infected sores on my feet. lush eh?
Been for bike rides along the Mekong River and out to a night market where we had the best banana pancakes (loaded with sugar and condensed milk and egg and lard i guess!) and Marty, a hilarious dutch guy, ate bugs. He ate a scorpion, worms, crickets, grasshoppers and god knows what else!
To get a real taste of thailand, he and bernhard bought thai porn. terrible.
Last night we went out for ice cream and marty braved the Thai flavour ice cream. it honestly tasted of soap, rice, chicken and mango mixed up!

Today i went to the Sculpture park with two girls Emmy (dutch) and Christina (US) on our bikes. It is a bizarre muix of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures some of which were about 25 metres tall. They were all done over 20 years by a Lao man. Realkly interesting. I'll send the pics through soon.

Getting a bit scared about the teaching. I don't start tomorrow (weds) now as there are no coordinators in Namsom at the moment so i go tomorrow and hopefully start on thurs. think i'm teaching primary but not sure at the moment!
anwyay, i'm off to eat thai food int he balcony at the dorm. tomorrow - two bumpy bus rides to Namsom!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

nong khai

Well Nong Khai is very hot right now. The weather has improved and it doesn't rain so much and the sun comes out. lovely weather if by the beach but a bastard if cycling around everywhere.
Have had few travellng firsts in the last few days - side saddle on the back of a bike, on the back of a motorbikle, cycling aaginst the flow of traffic - all great fun.
Been to Bar Nana the local club a couple of times. Hilarious. You sit around a table and have waiter service and all dance around the table. they have shows a couple of times a night. maybe a traditional costume. Usually some real 90s gear, especially for the lads, and 90s dancing. Most of the lads are in rude boy outfits and sunglasses and the girls in next to nothing. the songs are mostly in Thai but they you get something random like Boom Boom Boom by the Outhere Brothers!
Tomorrow evening I go to Namsom where i start teaching on Wednesday (mon and tues are buddhist festival). don't seem to be many resources at all so wilkl have to sort out wordsearch sheets and so on.
For those of you on Skype, i the computer i am on has it so at weekends i may be on but in namsom it is very doubtful!
The river Mekong, which separates Thailand from Laos, is beautiful and we have been to eat at the waters edge twice. the food is superb. wonderful. the people are all very friendly but this region is the poorest in all of thailand and where 70% of bangkok's prosititues come from and the same for taxi drivers. So hoepfully teaching english will given them a chance to get a better life.
off to a market this evening. flip flops broke so need some new ones!
bought some shoes to teach in yesterday from Tesco (!!!) or just outside for 99Baht (about 1.40 ish) bargain.

Friday, July 07, 2006

up up and away

Well, can't exactly remember where got up to last blog. Spent another night in Kanchanaburi unplanned (3 nights in total) as decided not to go back to Bangkok early and stayed in this chilled out town to email people, upload pics and chill out.
In the evening met up with Ben and Brendan at the Friend bar again - discovered it was a 24-year-old aussie girl who was shot in Kanchanaburi three weeks ago. It was why it had been so dead.
Had a great night playing pool and so on before heading to the Buddha bar again to watch France v Portugal.
Next day I headed back to Bangkok on a minibus, meeting up with Wouter (Walter) a cool Dutch guy who spoke amazing English, who was on the last leg on his holiday.
We wandered Khao San and areas looking for a place to rest our heads and i ended up on Soi Rambutri again - this time at My House. Abit of a cell but only 180baht with private bathroom.
Did a bit of shopping and we met up for some drinks and Italian food (!) later and then headed back to My House for another drink.
I turned in earlyish as i had to be up at 3.50am to get a taxi to the airport for my flight up north.

The domestic flight was fairly cheap and pretty uneventful. An hour of kip before an hour bus ride to Nong Khai where i came to travel to teach dorm.

People seem pretty friendly - a mix of nationalities and people who have been here a long time or just got here.

Tomorrow (Sat) i have a weekend induction which includes thai classes, how to structure lessons etc, info on culture and cooking! Some of the guys are off to laos this weekend and others to hire Mopeds so i will have to see how my free time pans out.

On Monday and Tuesday there is a holiday so i don't start teaching til Wednesday. Not sure when I head to Namsom (the small town where teaching) but there are two girls Alexis and Daphne who are already there and everyone says are lovely.

I will meet them tonight as 2 guys are leaving tomorrow so we're all going out for food and to a thai club! very hot and sunny now. no malaria here for a decade so if i don't take the tablets now i can use them for chang mai, laos and cambodia and give the rest to hospitals in cambodia!

keep the news coming from home and away...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


This place is much much more chilled out than bangkok. still geared up for the travellers for th bridge over the river kwai and waterfalls, death railways and hellfire pass.

I went to the death railway museum - so so moving and jhust heartbreaking what they had to go through and to the Allied war cemetery (there are two in this town. this one had 6,000. The other almost as many - and that doesn't include US soldiers).

Yesterday (tuesday, july5) i went on a small tour with one of the companies. figured best way to see everything. went to the erawan waterfalls - 7 steps of beautiful waterfalls with huge pools to swim in. a lot of fun but hard work and very slippery! we also went to hellfire pass - where allied pow's (many australians) did a massive cutting through the rock and were made to work day and night to get the thailand-burma railway ready for the japanese during WWII.

We then went to see the bridge itself and take a ride over one of the old wooden sections of the railway which is still in use after all this time.

then met up with some guys had met night before - Brendan, Ben and Jamie - it was a late one staying up to see Italy v Germany (that was a 2am kick off here).
Tourist police crack down on bars hard to close at 1am (could it be the rumours of a murderer in this town are true??!) but we managed to get oursleves a lock-iin at the Buddha Bar with friendly bunch of people all cheering on the italians!

Decided to stay here another night before i head up to Nong Khai for induction into teaching tomorrow! Bangkok too much for this weary person right now!
keep in touch everyone! lots of love

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

out of the hundrum

Spent England game in bar in Khao San with two friendly types Helen and Noah until the carnival atmosphere died. less said about that the better...
Next morning I was dying of dehyrdration, hangover, some traveller bug... and couldn't get out of bed. Spent lazy day Sunday just chilling and then went to few bars for soft drinks last night.

Today (monday) I got up early to get to Kanchanaburi (where death valley railway and bridge over river kwai).After inauspicious start (tuk tk drivers refusing to take me etc) i got one to take me to the cross river ferry from where I had to find my way to a nonexistent station. It is meant to be just across the river but there were no english signs and no sign of trains!

After asking about 4 help[ful but clueless people I made it onto a tuk tuk van thing and got out at real station about a mile away. Then got 3rd class train here. took about 3 hours on very hard seat but views were immense. very cloudy though.

A rickshaw driver and i scouted out the best bed for the night and I wound up at Blue Star which has bamboo huts over the river. very pretty....

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Still having fun - that's all you need to know right?
Have moved from my plush hotel with swimming pool to major budget option - 270B a night for a double room (they ran out of singles). it's a bed and that's it. and a big fan on the ceiling which only works when you are in the room (craig - it's like that one in turkey - have to get the old key trick going again). not even sure that includes a shower! ha ha.

Last night I strolled Khao San Road (the backpacker heaven - or hell). Crazy full of stalls and bright lights . I loved it but wouldn't want to stay there. I must have been having a lost moment because i got caught unaware being dragged into a beauty salon (not literally mum) for a manicure and pedicure for 200B (about 3 quid). bit of an extravagance but hey - i'm on holiday!
I now have pretty toes which is a very very rare thing. They also tried to get me to have a hair cut, shampoo, straighten which gives you some idea of how crap my hair is l;ooking. it's not too bad today as there was a hairdryer in the hotel so it's under some semblance of control (and thanks to that frizz stuff you gave me Jen - legend!)

After that i went for some chicken noodle soup and plonked myself next to an oirsh girl from limerick who was very nice but i have no idea what her name was.

She'd just done a year working and traveling in Oz and was stopped off in bangkok because she couldn't bear to go straight home. She gave me lots of tips and even more enthusiam for Oz. Thoguh she suggested a go straight to NZ while i have the money.... it's a thought!

So this was good esp as the chicken noodle soup was abit crap and bland- couldn't figure out why but later it came to me. I am used to Craig's super douper Ainsley special. not even the thai's can match that eh?

After that i fuigured i had best be getting back to hotel as it's massively far from khao san and i wasn't sure how safe it was to be out late getting taxis. so i headed back with a great gent who i haggled with fairly succesively (well it's my fault he didn't put the meter on - doh!) and who taught me to count to 5 and from 100 to 500 (six to 10 and further seemed way too complicated after one beer). He also pointed out loads of stuff which was better than the sullen driver this morning who took me from posh hotel to khao san for half the price but just sighed the whole way.

The i went to hotel bar to watch the germany v argentina game and was confused who to support. nightmare. had my first chang beer - great stuff - but there it cost double the price of dinner!

Decided to take Taxi to khao san today as hotel had no clue about buses. Taxi driver this morn did take me through china town though which was so colourful and full of life. I loved it.

Traffic is crazy here but driving doesn't seem to be as bad as sri lanka - well actually i haven't seen them have the chance to go too fast.

So so far all is well and i'm loving it. Jon and Craig - you would've been proud of the job i did on the hotel buffet this morning (crazy choices but nothing compared to Dalyan schmaig). Furry, i went for a swim this morning before breakfast. How good am I? really didn't want to but was so glad i did. outside pool - lovely!

My bed for tonight is on a pretty and quiet road but still very backpackery (bella bella if anyone knows it). I like being with fellow travllers but the market yesterday was great because only saw about 2 western people. much more fun!

Now off for a spot of sightseeing probv at Siam Square. tomorrow i plan to do the palace first thing and then change hostels to one up road which has a pool you can use for a small fee.
Then i may well go to Kanchanduri on Monday to see bridge over river kwai, death railway etc. nothing like a bit of morbidity.

Nad of course there is the ENgland game at 10pm tonight. All great. The girl last night said there were screens on the beaches at Koh Samui for england games- heaven or hell?