Top 20 Things I Love About Thailand

A list of things I’ve enjoyed the most and will miss once I’ve left the land of smiles….(I will be attaching pictures….it is just that I’m currently working in Myanmar for a couple months (more on that soon!) and the wifi speed here is ATROCIOUS).

  • The FOOD!! Need I say more?
  • My students. At whatever school I’ve taught at, the students have been great and I really enjoyed teaching them
  • Koh Chang, my favorite place in all of Thailand
  • Lonely Beach, Koh Chang; where many days were spent relaxing and partying late into the night
  • Bangkok; I’ll miss the excitement and energy this city has
  • I spent a month here doing muay Thai training and for that it will always have a place in my heart
  • Chiang Mai. The laidback vibe, historical sites, and memories from the Songkran ultimate frisbee tournament
  • The temples….and a girl who .ibe, historical sites, and memories from the Songkran ultimate frisbee tournament own I dated on and off before it ended abruptly
  • Authentic muay Thai training; nothing beats it
  • The low cost of living
  • The women; I’ve dated a few Thai women and two of them were the most memorable women I’ve ever dated, for better or for worse
  • Cheap domestic travel
  • Driving a motorbike on a daily basis
  • The friends I made at camp
  • The cool season
  • Saritdidet public school, I’ve taught at 3 public schools, but this one was by far hands down the best in so many ways
  • My Thai co-workers, besides the Trat debacle, I’ve found them to be super helpful in every way, more so than what I experienced in South Korea
  • The abundance of hidden gems; forget the crown jewels of things to see, there are so many other natural, cultural, and historical sites to see that I’ve only really scratched the surface
  • The sabai sabai vibe of Thailand, this is one mellow country and I applaud it. Sadly, recent events and trends are beginning to change this
  • Low cost of rent, for $280USD you can get a decent sized apartment in a high rise building complete with access to a gym and swimming pool

With the good come the less than pleasant experiences, what I WON’T miss about Thailand:

  • The poor service at restaurants; probably one of my biggest pet peeves is having to wait ages for food with no explanation or apologies offered as would be the case in a Western country
  • The visa process to work here as a teacher is long and overly complicated
  • Tourist scams, foreigner pricing, overzealous vendors; anything that targets foreigners
  • Teaching agencies…..they are bloodsucking leaches who see teachers as nothing more than a paycheck
  • General low pay for foreign teachers; unless you are a certified teacher back in your country Thailand just doesn’t pay enough for most ESL teachers to stick around for longer than a year or two
  • Long bus rides
  • 711 food…..in smaller towns 711 might be one of the only options for quick/late night eating…

So what do you think? Is there something I missed on either list? Let me know in the comments below, cheers!

The Legend: Sathorn Ghost Tower

One of the most interesting and lesser known, until recently, off the grid attractions of Bangkok was the Sathorn Unique Tower, or more widely known as the Ghost Tower.  This towering building today stands abandoned, decaying, and its future still unknown but back in the heady economic boom of the 1990s it was very different.

Backstory

The 90s were a great time to be alive and in business, not just in the West but also in the developing world where the benefits of globalization were beginning to manifest outside of just the ‘Asian Tigers’ of Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore that had blossomed economically from the 1960s onward.  Countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, and indeed Thailand were beginning to catch the interest of overseas investors beginning in the 1980s and peaking in the mid 1990s.

Of particular pride for Thailand and a sign of its seemingly upward mobility in the world economic order was its acceptance into the World Trade Organization in 1995, made all the more remarkable when you consider that China, who’s global economic impact was already huge, was not accepted into the WTO until 2001.  By the time Thailand was accepted into the WTO in 1995 it was not only a growing tourist hot spot but also gaining ground through trade and industry.  With money flooding into Thailand in the 90s and elites eager to display their new wealth, a construction boom was well under way by 1995.  Here the story turns to the Sathorn Unique Tower, AKA the Ghost Tower.

A series of unfortunate events…

Construction began on the 49 floor luxury apartment tower in 1990 and was plagued by a series of unfortunate events that continue to haunt it to this day.  First, you have the fact that the tower is believed to have been built on a former graveyard causing the construction and all those associated with it bad karma and the tower itself being filled with angry spirits.  Then you have the drama that surrounded Rangsan Torsuwan, the designer and developer of the building.  In 1993 he was charged with allegedly plotting to murder the President of the Supreme Court of Thailand and although he was eventually acquitted in 2010 after initially being found guilty, the court case has made it hard to find financing to continue construction.  But perhaps the biggest impact on the tower was the onset of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis which led to construction being halted as investors and capital fled the country.  Since then the building has been left to decay, which brings us to more recent events.

The legend grows…

The tower gained notoriety on the web among travel bloggers and backpackers at least from 2010 and quickly gained popularity as a unique and eerie place to visit among the more intrepid and persistent visitors to Bangkok.  From what I’ve gathered, initially you could just find a hole in the fence and go right on through to the top. Then homeless people and hard drug users began to show up, asking for money to allow people through, which most people obliged as it only added up to a few hundred baht or so.  Soon, more and more people began showing up leading to a man claiming to be the owner to block people from entering the premises by having guards stationed at the bottom….unless people paid a fee.  Visitors kept pouring in, paying money, posting pictures, writing posts, and then apparently the true owner found out and took action against the imposter.  The true owner (Rangsan?) put his own guards in and threatened legal against a few bloggers to make an example of them and prevent more people from coming.  This all came to a head in 2014 when a Swedish backpacker was found to have committed suicide there and indeed it is possible other people met their ends there, only adding to the whispered legend of the ‘Ghost Tower’.

From what I’ve been able to piece together, 2014 marked the tightening up of security, except that the guards were still taking money but were cautious in allowing too many people in at one time and only at certain times of the day.  Some of the later events described in the last paragraph may be a little out of order but it is hard to be certain as much of what has been written is unconfirmed and unreported besides what is written in other travel blogs.

Too little too late…

Fast forward to August 2015 and I hadn’t even heard of the Ghost Tower until I was in Bangkok doing my CELTA course.  After seeing a picture from a friend of him being there I was instantly captivated and immediately planned on going, except my course turned out to be way more intense and I never got around to going.  Still, interested in the subject I’d Google it now and then to see if new information came up and to see more pictures.  After my course I went through Laos backpacking and then onto Pai in N. Thailand for muay Thai, and finally back home to Canada for a couple months before returning to Thailand on Boxing Day of the same year, 2015.

By this time it seems I was too late.  Rumors of more death and an increasingly firm set of guards, not to mention big locks and big metal doors preventing people from moving on from the first floor, meant the game was up.  From what I gathered the locks and metal doors appeared sometime between August to November 2015 though I may be off by a month or so.  The Ghost Tower is officially closed for business….or is it?

A hypothetical fictional way up to the clouds…

What I write next is in NO WAY intended to encourage people to go there and break the law (in fact I’m writing about a fictional hypothetical building), but if you do, it is your decision and you face the legal consequences, if you are found out, of going forward with your intent to reach the top.  Putting together information from the most recent blog posts from 2016, I think it is hypothetically possible to bypass the locks and barred metal doors but you need to be extremely well determined, have a plan, and be able to locate the necessary resources. 1)  I imagine you need some heavy duty bolt cutters 2) you need to camp out and learn the movements of the guards and the daily movements of people around the site 3) you may need a 30ft plus steel ladder to bypass the locked doors and go around the side.  So, yea, you need to be a James Bond/Macgyver type person and probably need a few people to pull it off.

I will also state that I’ve never actually been there and everything I have written has come purely from what I’ve found online and from my active imagination as to how you could actually do it.  I have also purposely not mentioned specifically where the tower is to further not encourage anyone to go there.  Perhaps the only thing this tower is good for is pictures like the one I posted and the fact it seems to a battlefield in the eternal struggle between Coca Cola and Pepsi as in my picture you can see Pepsi plastered over it and in other pictures online you can see Coke.  I’m a Pepsi man myself, Pepsi Max for the win!

Hope you enjoyed reading this post! I really quite enjoyed writing it and I hope it inspires people to find DIFFERENT ubran exploration adventures in Bangkok as there are many to be discovered. Cheers everyone, like and SUBSCRIBE!!!

 

Eating Out 1: Nai Meng in Bangkok

Hello everyone and happy New Year and all that jazz! It has been a while but I’m back with a quick post that will be sure to tempt the taste buds and kick off a new feature I’ll be running on the blog.

Eating Out with cover the food porn I come across along my travels and while it will focus on cheap eats for the backpacker at heart or just budget conscious, from time to time I’ll post about more upscale joints.

What better way to start off this series than a post set in the backpacker capital of SE Asia; Bangkok.  With the help of my viisting childhood Taiwanese friend and her desire to sample the delights of Bangkok without breaking the bank, she found us a super little Chinese/Thai noodle shop that packs a punch above it’s weight in the value and taste departments.  The restaurant, called Nai Meng, is situated near the Sala Daeng BTS station and is truly the definition of a hidden gem.

It is located near exit 3 (I believe!!) and if you weren’t looking for it you would just walk right past this unassuming place as I most definitely would have if it weren’t for my friend’s keen eye.  Inside you are greeted on the right by the staff as they prepare the noodles and other dishes right in front of you.

naimeng4

Such is the popularity with the locals that you may have to wait to get a seat but boy is it worth the wait!  Upon sitting down we were offered a menu, with English translations, and very quickly you see the wide range of selections as the menu has two sides and with the vast majority of the selections in the 40 to 60 baht range (a little over a pound or under $2USD!)

naimeng2

Personally I’m a carnivore at heart and went for a more meat heavy offering with different kinds of pork, and rice topped off with a brown soy based sauce(?) that also came with a bowl of chicken broth.  Either way it was super delicious and as a side dish I added pork dumplings.  All together this mouth watering meal came to a total of around 90 baht!

naimeng3

SO, if you’re in the downtown Bangkok area near Sala Daeng, I HIGHLY recommend this sweet little place.  The prices were great, we were served swiftly, there was a large selection of dishes, and the portion of the main dish with the side of dumplings was perfect for me as someone who likes to eat a fair bit. This place really is ideal for those wanting breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Check it out and let me know how it goes!

Teaching in Thailand: Observations

I’ve been teaching and living in Thailand long enough now to make some observations.  Thailand is a good first country to teach in because it offers adventure and an attractive lifestyle.  Equally, Thailand has some major issues  that I believe prevent it from being a long-term teaching destination if you do not have top teaching qualifications such as a PGCE, teacher’s license, B.Ed, or an MA in education, TESOL, applied linguistics, or a DELTA.  Below are my biggest criticisms of teaching in Thailand:

  • Teaching agencies: Most English teaching jobs in Thailand are through public schools, unfortunately most of these schools farm out the hiring of foreign teachers to agencies that find and place teachers in schools across Thailand. I’ve posted about this before but I’ll sum up the major reasons why agencies are a big factor why Thailand can’t compete as a top English teaching destination. Teaching agencies take a big slice of your paycheck for doing very little, they make you pay for your visa and work permit, most don’t pay during the long holiday months, they restrict your ability to go back to a school independently, and worst of all they’re famous for firing teachers without pay.
  • Most teachers working for public schools only make 30,000TBT, back in the early 2000s and 1990s this was good money but the times have changed with rising living costs and inflation. If you live in Bangkok and make 30,000TBT I do not know how you do it and I would not like to try haha.  Living outside of the cities can make that money go farther but if you think you can pay off your student debt in Thailand on that paltry salary, you’re wrong.  If you teach at a public school in a smaller town I think it’d be possible to save 10,000TBT a month which means per semester you could save 40-50,000TBT which is good for a ticket home or a month and a half, maybe 2, of traveling in Thailand or Southeast Asia.
  • Related to the above reason, top level paying jobs for strictly teaching English and not other subjects tops out at about 60,000TBT at private schools in Bangkok. It should also be said that there really aren’t that many jobs paying 50k+ to ESL teachers, 40K jobs are becoming more prevalent though.  While this money is certainly a good amount to live an exciting life in Bangkok and travel around the country, it still isn’t enough to save enough for a life back home.  If you are willing to work a part-time job or tutor on the evenings or weekends, then you could start to make the money to have a really good standard of living in Bangkok but still only really be on the starting money of what you could make in China or Korea
  • Vices: some people get sucked up into a life of cheap booze, easy access to drugs, and prostitutes. There is a lot of fun to be had in Thailand, but with the temptations so readily available it can be easy to lose control and succumb to some poor life chances if you don’t have a good handle on your self-control.
  • Future job prospects: future bosses may look at your resume and question why you spent so much time in Thailand; it is a country synonymous with pleasure after all. They may also question your quality as a teacher if they suspect the schools you taught at were sub-par.  For myself, I’ve made sure that each school I’ve taught at in Thailand has given me a new experience that I previously didn’t have.  By the time I leave Thailand I’ll only have been here for a year or two tops.  My plan is to leave next year in the spring.

Now the caveats; reasons why teaching English in Thailand can still be considered a good destination, though not a place to settle down.

  • If you are interested in a career in teaching English and have no experience, then Thailand is a great place to go, get a feel for it, and make a decision as to whether this is a line of work you are interested in.  My advice, get a job a public school not too far from the big destinations like Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, or the islands down south, then you can enjoy them on your weekends and during the week not pay the prices those places are associated with.  1 or 2 years in Thailand, then get out, and go somewhere like South Korea or even Vietnam where the money is much better than here.
  • If you’re a certified teacher in your home country, then by all means come to Thailand and settle down. International schools pay in excess of $2,000USD a month which goes a long way in Thailand.  You can even find int’l schools that pay $3,000USD+!
  • If you’re backpacking through Southeast Asia and don’t want to go home yet, then teaching in Thailand is a good way to stick around, travel the country more, and experience Thai culture.
  • If you’re an older teacher looking to take a break from teaching in your home country, or a retiree looking to supplement your income, then working at a public school might be a good fit for you.

Thus is my conclusion.  What do you think? Am I right? Far off? Unfairly disparaging of the teaching situation here? Let me know, I’m interested in hearing from you.  For me, I’ll be leaving sometime next year to go somewhere I can earn more for a masters degree and more backpacking trips.

Safety in Thailand

Long referred to as the Land of Smiles, Thailand has had a rough past few years as public policy reforms, bombings, and most regrettably, the passing of HM the King, have taken their toll on the nation.  While these events have impacted the stability of the country, Thailand is still open for business.

Current Situation

At the foremost of many backpackers, travelers, and teachers’ minds is the situation.  Since the passing of HM, there has been a month of official mourning, and as a further sign of dedication to the King, the ruling junta has declared a year long period of national mourning.  The difference being that the month of the immediate aftermath was the time when entertainment centers were either closed or had to close early.  In public, people were also expected to wear black or white, or failing that a black ribbon available for free throughout the country.  At the current time more people seem to be wearing normal colour clothes.  As a teacher at a public school, I wear a black, grey, or white shirt with grey pants.  To be safe, you could ask people in Thailand through social media groups what they feel to be appropriate in their part of the country.

As I mentioned, the entertainment centers of Thailand; Bangkok, Pattaya, and the islands, were closed for a certain time, but are now back up and running.  The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan is operating.  While there are less people from abroad visiting Thailand currently, it does mean that good deals can be found on accommodations as resorts do their best to compete for few customers.  You can also expect great deals on drinks as bars seek to out compete each other in a tough industry.

Lèse-majesté

You have probably heard about the strict lèse-majesté laws in Thailand that forbid people from criticizing the monarchy.  Punishments can be severe, including substantial jail time, for any comments thought to disparage the Thai royal family.  Whatever your opinion you may in that it infringes upon people’s freedom of speech, it is wise to keep it to yourself.  My best advice is to simply not talk about it, much better uses of time than being overheard and carted off to a cell and being in deep shit.

My Opinion

Having been in Bangkok the night of the bombing last August and having been worked and lived across quite a few locations in Thailand, I am not worried.  Granted, I live in Chanthaburi, which is not a big traveler destination.  I will say that I have never been a victim of violent crime in Thailand, nor have I felt unease when out in public even in small villages in Isaan where there are few, if any, foreigners.

Also, exercise the same level of caution you would when you visit anywhere abroad.  Watch your pockets in crowded places, avoid confrontations, smile, look out for each other, and keep an eye out for people behaving strangely.

Consulting with your country’s travel advisory page is another excellent way to answer any questions you may have.  Lastly, take the necessary precaution and don’t leave home without decent traveler’s insurance!

Life at a Thai English camp, part 2

Day 8

I woke up with my sore throat worse, a mild fever, and stuffed up nose.  Thankfully one of the camp coordinators sympathized with my situation and agreed to let me take the afternoon off if I just taught the 3 hour morning class.  The lessons were activity based.  I taught them about morse code and semaphore flag signals.  I put some codes up on the board and in teams the students worked to decipher the message ‘good morning’ and ‘how are you?’ I was actually really impressed by their ability to figure the messages out and then make their own short messages.  While they did that I decorated the class with all the crafts and worksheets the students have put so much hard work into.  After class I spent the rest of the day sleeping and working on my report cards.

Day 9

camp6

SPORTS DAY! Boy, was it a busy one.  The morning began with me serving breakfast followed by the opening ceremony.  This consisted of each team, of which there were three, each doing their chants. The teams were the Blue Bulldogs, the Yellow Minions, and last but certainly not least, my team, the Red Chilies.  After the pep rally everybody was amped and eager to go.

As the camp student ages range from 6 to 15, these were divided into junior, elementary, and senior brackets.  The initial round of events consisted of a rotation between playing futsal (indoor football), chairball (basically netball with a player holding a basket on a bench), and swimming relay races.  While my assigned age group, elementary, lit the other teams up at chairball and futsal, we could not compete with them at swimming.  The lunch break was a welcome respite.

The second round of events were arguably the most fun as it involved us teachers getting to join in.  The first event for the teachers and TAs was chairball.  Unfortunately while I am a tall guy at 6ft 2in, I prove the old basketball saying that ‘white men can’t jump’.  I was the defender but simply couldn’t block enough baskets for our team to go up the other end to score more and we ended up drawing the first match and losing our other one.  Next up was running.

camp4

The Red Chili students showed the teachers and TAs the way with some surprising victories, but alas us teachers could not follow their example in the relay running and sack races.  For the teacher relay race I would have been the first teacher to pass the baton…if I had slowed down enough to hand it to the other teacher without dropping it, oh well.  The sack race didn’t go so well either, with a couple of our teammates falling over, and me just trying to keep going without falling over.  Thankfully, we then had an hour and a half break to recharge and slam back energy drinks for the grand finale; tug of war.

Again, despite some victories in the tug of war we were outshone by the other teams’ impressive performances.  For me I just liked the look on the faces of the other teachers as they put every ounce of their energy into pulling that rope one way or the other!  The climatic contest was between the Red Chilies and Yellow Minion elementary teams, with a couple teachers on both sides.  Everything looked to be going our way as we inched towards pulling them the last foot over the line when the Minions stood their ground and it appeared to be heading towards a stalemate.  At the last second we crumbled and the tide was turned, the Minions emerged victorious.

To wrap up the day there was the closing ceremony and handing out of awards.  For the ceremony we made a huge circle around the gym, intermingling with the other teams and proceeded to go round the circle shaking hands to recognize the valiant effort everyone had put in on the day.  This was followed by an obligatory dance party and limbo contest.  Handing out the awards after dinner was a much tamer event with everyone involved thoroughly tired out.   Still, the Sports Day and Next Top Model events have been my personal favorite days of the camp.

Day 10

A very chill day.  We had to start making our story presentation for the final day of the camp but with my class being so young and hectic, I took the liberty to write our story and act it out while also drawing pictures on the board to accompany it.  I explained to them that they would be assigned parts the next day and they would make a diorama to go with their scene.  The rest of the class we used to finish off worksheets and for those lucky to finish everything, I took them outside to the playground to play monkey in the middle.

Lunch was amazing, Peppercorn pork steaks and massaman curry were the all round favorites among teachers, TAs, and students alike.  With lunch out of the way, we had the final round of rotation English games for the camp.  I chose to play a simplified version of the game mafia and the kids loved it!

Report cards were due at 7pm so teachers were given the rest of the day to finish them off.  Thankfully I had all but one done which made for an easy afternoon and evening.

Day 11

camp19
The boys making their dioramas for the class presentation

I woke up in the middle of the night stressing over how I was going to get my young kids to make their dioramas in a single morning session.  Then to make matters worse, another student dropped out of the class due to illness leaving a hole in the story and a diorama with no one to make it.  Thankfully, my students continued to surprise me.

Not only did they make some superb dioramas but we also managed to go over their story lines and isolate the words they had trouble with.  It just goes to show you that you shouldn’t underestimate your students.  With the dioramas made, one of the stars of the class stepping in to fill the gap, and we are on course to be ready for the final presentation. Albeit still lots of work to be done on how they read their lines.

camp18

After lunch the camp veterans showed us the dance moves for the talent show song they had done last camp and told us we’d be doing it again this tdone last year and told us we’for the still lots of work to be done on how they read their lines. camp.  Myself and the other teachers had no problem with this as the song and dance they did was really quite impressive.   The song was a mix of top recent pop songs with the teachers bustin’ dance moves and interchanging between the guys and girls.  A half hour practice session was enough for me to know that’d simply look to the guy who looked he knew who to do it.

camp17
The kids have talent!

When it came to the talent show itself, it simply rocked. The students, the TAs, and us teachers.  Myself? Ha.  I followed the most in the know teachers and hoped for the best.  If I can post the video you can see for yourself how it was haha.  Still, another great night of camp, not to mention the rest of the night spent at a pizza party with the TAs and other teachers, followed by the after party with the other farang teachers drinking outside of a bungalow.

Day 12

Wednesday, teacher’s day off. For the the past week I had been nursing a sore throat and so I’d only had a couple drinks and wasn’t totally wrecked.  Myself and two other teachers rented bikes and headed out to Khao Yai National Park. Check out the post.

Day 13

A simple day.  I spent the morning preparing for the final presentation, decorating the classroom, and overseeing the kids completing worksheets.

In the afternoon I made some props for a separate TA presentation, and then drove the bikes back to Pak Chong.

The highlight of the day came after dinner when in free time myself and a few of the other teachers played football with the kids. I played in goal and despite going 3-0 down we came back to win 7-4!

To cap the day off I had a couple of beers with a group of other teachers and then came back to my bungalow to write this post.

Day 14

The last full day and another easy one.  Again, we practiced for the final presentation but this time because we had more time I took them outside to the playground to play with the other classes who also had time to kill from having practiced so much.

After lunch we just had to go through a run through of the final day; a practice of the presentation AGAIN, walking over to the main gym, watching the students do their tributes to the King, and then finally handing out certificates.  Once my class had finished I went back to my bungalow to rest; my sore throat was persisting.

Day 15

camp13

The students ran through their presentation to the best of their ability with their parents watching and I felt proud at how far they had come in two weeks.  It was also clear that some of the students had really enjoyed their time in my classes which made me feel happy at having done a good job.  Once the presentation was over, the students had cleared out their desks, and their crafts stripped from the walls, we proceeded to walk over to the gym for the tribute show to the King and award ceremony.

camp14
My students sitting calmly before their tribute to the King

Everything went swell, the students performed songs and dances written by the late King, I handed out certificates and posed for pictures, and the students said their goodbyes to their new friends, TAs, and teachers.  I will miss those kids.  Best of luck students of Team Galapagos Camp C!

camp15
One last picture with my students before they departed home with their families

Life at a Thai English camp, part 1

I previously spoke about English camps and my own experience with finding one of the higher paying camps in Bangkok.  Originally I was to work at a language center in downtown Bangkok but a few weeks later the director emailed me to let me know that the camp didn’t attract as many students as hoped for and so I was no longer needed.  However, the director put me in touch with a friend of his working at an international school who was looking for a camp teacher for 2 weeks.  So, I had a Skype interview with him and I was hired on the spot!  While the camp was going to pay less and be harder work, the upside would be that I’d get to work for a prestigious international school, getting free meals 3 times a day, working near Khao Yai National Park, and my own bungalow for the duration of the camp!  It was a no-brainer really.  Here’s what I got up for the first week of camp.

Day 1

Woke up early to make sure I got to the school early, managed to get to the school with time to spare but not before I was given an unplanned tour of northern Bangkok after my moto taxi got the directions wrong several times leading to me to worry I would be left behind!

After a scenic drive north to Khao Yai, I settled into my wonderful bungalow complete with kitchen, dining area, living area, bedroom, and AC.  Having settled in and eaten dinner, we went over to the teacher’s office and had a brief run down of expectations, followed by last but not least, ice breaker games to introduce the teachers and Thai TAs to each other.

camp3
Standard bungalows for teachers

To finish off the day I had a beer together with some of the other teachers and generally got to know each other better.

Day 2

We started off the day with a good breakfast and then had a more thorough orientation to the camp which included a run through the ‘survival guide’, the allocation of classes, and a Q and A.

After lunch we met the parents briefly, basically just stated our name, our current teaching position, and how long we have been in Thailand.  From there we went back to the teacher’s office and planned our classes for the next day.

camp1
Dividing the students into their classes, followed by name games

Dinner was served at 5pm to the students by myself and a group of other teachers as one of our camp duties.  We then went to the school gym where we were finally introduced to our students and played a game to get to know names.

Capping the day off a small group of us made the trek up the highway to a 711 and liquor store to buy snacks and a couple of beers.  For fun we then played a few games including ‘what are the odds’ and ‘mafia’.

Day 3

camp11

Breakfast as usual, followed by class. 2 hours and 45 minutes later I had gained a good initial impression of my class, including their strengths, weakness, personalities, and the kind of activities they enjoyed most.

In the afternoon we had an hour and a half of games.  As part of group 1 I played the game ‘zip, zap, zoom’ for 20 minutes before having each group of students rotated.  After a short break we had a meeting about the upcoming ‘Next Top Model’ event on Friday and how we should prepare for it.  Should be a fun and interesting day for all!

To finish the day off we had another round of rotation games centered more around sports with classes competing for points to win prize.  While my Team Galapagos didn’t win, much fun and laugher was had by all!

That night we had a quiet night to charge the batteries for the next day.

Day 4

camp10
My Galapagos students and TA

I had an early start to the day to quickly eat breakfast before the hungry hordes of students turned up to eat the food I’d be serving them; 3 meals a day, one day on, one day off rotating with another group of teachers

That morning my Galapagos class learned about habitats, types of animals, and features of animals.  This most revolved around playing scategories and learning the sentence structures e.g. Tigers are mammals and tigers live in the jungle.  After the break we had a more hands on lesson about senses with questions like ‘how does it feel’ and ‘how does it look?’ and answers ‘it feels __________’ and ‘it looks ________’.  To have a more interactive class, I took the students for a walk around the expansive school grounds giving the students the chance to find things that felt rough, smooth, soft, wet, dry, etc.  With time to spare, I let the students have some well earned time on the playground.

Next on the itinerary after lunch we had rotation games again.  This time the game I had was a little confusing so I adapted it to make it more suitable for my younger class, ages 7-10.  Thankfully the changes I made ensured most of the students thoroughly enjoyed the game.

While most teachers were able to go back to the bungalows for their afternoon break, myself and three other teachers had to go to Pak Chong to get a police check for the school.  This turned out to be surprisingly painless, we were in and out of there in under an hour, and even got to see the cells…complete with prisoners languishing inside them staring at us with intrigue.

After dinner the students had free time and number of activities to choose from including football, basketball, ping pong, and swimming.  I chose to play football with the students and had a great time.

With the next day being a day off, a few of the teachers settled in on my porch for some drinks, before it quickly turned into all 11 of us drinking beers and whisky after a long last few days.

Day 5

I literally slept on and off to 3pm in the afternoon before going over to one of the other teacher’s bungalows to watch UFC.  After that we had dinner, and then I went for a walk up the highway to 711 and returned to my room to start writing report cards due for next Monday.  Just the relaxing day and evening I needed before the next 7 hectic days kick off tomorrow!

Day 6

camp-9

Today was probably the best day so far!  We had survival themed classes where we made water traps by attaching bags to plants, sun dials with sticks, and even made compasses to put up on the wall to decorate the classroom.  After the break we talked about the things students should bring on an island to survive and why.  Even the problem child of the class was well behaved!

The rotation game we had today was also arguably the most enjoyable yet.  We played guns, bombs, and angels.  Students answered a question, chose a square on a grid and discovered whether they got a gun (to shoot the other teams, taking away one of their 7 lives), a bomb (which took away one of their own lives), and an angel (which gave their team an extra life).  The kids had loads of fun taking the other teams out of the game before being switched on to the next rotation.

camp-8

For the late afternoon activity I was placed on the Red Chilies Team for sports day.  For our team we needed to make a tie dye shirt.  I went for a more unorthodox style which didn’t turn out too bad!  Other than that, I went home, took a nap, had dinner, played football with the kids, and then retired back to my bungalow for a quiet night.

It was also a momentous day in Thai history today as the Thai king, the longest serving monarch in the world and widely considered the spiritual leader of Thailand, died at age 88.  How this will affect the rest of the camp and the daily life in Thailand remains unclear as the country embarks on a year long period of mourning.

Day 7

camp7

Despite the previous day’s tragic event, the show must go on.  The day could be summarized in just three words: Next Top Model.  My job was to create badges, wings, feet, and a mask for all 17 of my kids in preparation for the main event in the evening.  It was stressful, getting the kids to behave and work together to make their costumes but we did it.  I have to give special thanks to my TAs who worked tirelessly to make my vision a reality.  When all the pieces were put together, the students were dressed as blue footed booby birds from Galapagos.

camp20

The end result was a wonderful evening put together through the collective efforts of the teachers, TAs, and the students themselves.  Each class took turns to strut their stuff down the catwalk to the music students chose.  My class went with Sugar by Robin Schulz through our game of musical chairs at the beginning of the day.  The finale of the show concluded with teachers and a special student in special costumes strolling down the catwalk.  Needless to say everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  There was even a Kanye West moment when Bill, one of my students, ran on stage to collect the prize for best finale student, won by another of my students, Joogim.  When all was said and done, I was very proud with the work everyone put in to make the evening a great success.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, check out part 2!

Khao Yai National Park

On my day off from working at the English camp, myself and two other amigos headed out from our bungalows, rented bikes, and drove up to Khao Yai National Park for the day.  This post will tell you what’s good.  For clarity, we entered through the north entrance near Pak Chong.

ky8
One of many signs warning visitors about the wild elephants of Khao Yai, though we never saw any!

What makes Khao Yai National Park special?

Khao Yai National Park is the 3rd largest national park in Thailand and was established in 1962.  The park covers an area of 2,168km and is mostly comprised of thick highland jungle as well as some grasslands.  Khao Yai National Park is famous for its abundant wildlife including wild elephants, monkeys, and deer.  It also has two big beautiful waterfalls to visit with Haew Suwat being the scene of the famous waterfall jump in the 2001 Leo DiCaprio movie The Beach.

How to get there?

Khao Yai National Park is about 3 hours north of Bangkok and would make an excellent weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Guesthouses and hotels can be found in abundance around the approaches to the park and in nearby Pak Chong.

ky1
The mighty jungle

Once at Pak Chong, or just outside the north entrance to the park, you can rent motorbikes for the duration of your stay.  Having a motorbike to ride through the park makes a hell of a difference.  It was super convenient as it meant that my friends and I were able to get to see everything we wanted on our own timetable.  Plus, on a bike it is much easier to see wildlife as you can stop where you want to take pictures and not have to worry about missing out like you would if you were part of a tour.  Just be sure to gas up before going in, you don’t want to run out of gas out in tiger country! (Joking, tigers are rarely seen now in this part of the park).

What to see/do?

haew-surat
Haew Suwat, made famous by The Beach.  Where they jumped was debated as the waterfall has changed a fair bit since the movie came out over 15 years ago.

Most of the park is covered in thick highland jungle but there are some grasslands.  There are also several waterfalls to visit, the most notable being Haew Suwat, of The Beach, and Haew Narok.  If you only have time for one, I’d recommend Haew Suwat.  Not only is it more famous but it really is more exotic, not to mention that the trail to Haew Narok gets extremely steep and is not for those of lesser inclination.  I should also note that while people have jumped the Haew Suwat 25 meter waterfall, you are now prohibited from doing so and it has been like this for at least 10yrs as there have been deaths.

haew-narok
A bit of a hike to get to down a steep path, but still quite an impressive sight to see!

The other major attraction, besides the beautiful surroundings of the jungle, is the abundant wildlife that inhabits the park.  It is possible to see deer, gibbons, elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, wild dogs, and other species throughout the park.  You will almost certainly see deer as they like to hang out around the Visitor Center.  You will also probably see monkeys including gibbons.  On the way to Haew Narok we saw a ton of monkeys.  As for the elephants, obviously a big draw for tourists, it is harder to say.  We didn’t see any, but we saw plenty of elephant poop out on the road to Haew Narok so they must be out there!  The other animals likes the tigers, leopards, bears, and wild dogs, are rarely seen and mostly only come out at night but especially in the less visited parts of the park away from the trails and roads.

ky7
Deer hanging out by the Visitor Center

Besides going for hikes down the numerous trails or driving around looking for wildlife, another cool thing you can do is actually camp inside the park at one of several designated camping grounds.  This is totally safe, though you might wake up to find deer gently grazing outside of your tent. Another word of warning, if you do decide to go hiking along the trails, stick to them!  Every year people get lost in the park, sometimes for days, after wandering off the trails….

ky4
We saw lots of monkeys on the road to Haew Narok.

Another really cool thing we did was go bat watching.  We drove our bikes out into the countryside, after leaving the park, and went to a spot where it is possible to see literally thousands of bats flying together in arching trails through the sky.  The best time to go is just before sundown.  We went on our own but it is possible to pay to get a guide to take you there.  This was arguably the highlight of our day, it was incredible to see so many bats and the sound they made as they flew all around us.

ky6
Giant monitor lizard chilling on the bank of the river near the Visitor Center
ky3
Giant spider as big as my hand trying to get a leaf out of its web, this was on the trail down to Haew Narok….definitely poisonous!

Food and drink?

If you are entering the park at the north entrance near Pak Chong, it is a short drive to the Visitor Center where nearby are a number of food stalls and restaurants/cafes with seating areas.  There is also a small convenience store there for snacks, drinks, ponchos, etc.  It might be an idea to bring your own food and drink.

How much?

It is 400 baht to get in to the park for farangs, but the ticket does allow you to go in and out of the park on that date.  To take a motorbike in it costs an additional 30 baht.

Food can be found in the park for under 100 baht depending on what you are looking for.  It is also more than possible to eat cheaply in Pak Chong and the surrounding area if you eat Thai food.

Motorbikes can be rented for around 300 baht a day but that may change depending on where you rent it.  Typically just a copy of your passport is needed to rent a bike.

Accommodation can be found for as low as 400 baht a night and up near the park and in Pak Chong.

I hope this post proves useful to any trips you make out to this beautiful part of the country!  Like if you enjoyed the post! Leave a comment about your own experience! Share to a friend if you know they’re making a trip this way! Subscribe if you want to see more posts like this!

Summer English camps in Thailand

Are you a teacher, backpacker, or digital nomad in Thailand and looking for an exciting opportunity? English camps are a great way to try teaching for the first time while also being rewarded for your time. If you are a backpacker or digital nomad thinking about teaching ESL then these English camps give you an idea of what teaching can be like  before committing to a full semester or a full year required for most ESL jobs in Thailand.  Non-native speakers can also apply for some of these jobs if their level of English is high enough and they can speak in a relatively clear accent.  Here’s the rundown on English camps in Thailand and how I fared recently trying to find a job for the holiday in October.

English camps are a part of daily life for English teachers in Thailand and are most often ran by teaching agencies and the schools themselves.  These events typically last for a day or two, or even three days.  The English camps are ran by the teachers and sometimes agency staff who come up with a theme, activities, songs, rewards, etc.  I have done a few English camps here in Thailand and similar style events in Korea and I quite enjoy them as a way to have some much needed fun outside the classroom.

As for your duties, these are quite light with teachers operating an activity station in a circuit with other teachers for one or two hours and taking part in other camp activities that incorporate learning English in a fun and entertaining way. For example, you may run a flashcard type activity for 20mins with a group of kids before the groups switch stations and a whole new batch of students stop by.  But what I didn’t realise until recently is how big and popular English camps really are in Thailand.

Schools and agencies run English camps pretty much all year round.  If you work at a public school directly you will probably do at least one English camp a semester.  However, if you work at a public school through an agency, you might be asked to work additional English camps at other schools, which can include meals, accommodations, and additional payments.  While you can find English camp job ads posted online most months, the most lucrative months are March-April and October as these are the months most public schools close for the holidays meaning lots of teachers are free to work at English camps. Wanting to earn some extra money, I looked online for English camp jobs recently.

Basic English camp jobs start at 1000THB ($30USD approx) a day and often include meals, accommodation, and transport.  I went to my usual spot Ajarn.com and gave Craigslist a try.  Sure enough, there were ads looking for English teachers to work at English camps in September and October.  Pay for those jobs ranged from 1000-1500THB and lasted for two or three days meaning a Friday to Sunday camp could net at least 3000THB ($85USD) which is not bad considering you would have accommodation and meals taken care of.  I thought of applying for them but then I came across the top tier English camp jobs.

Big private schools in Bangkok offer top money for English teachers during the peak months of English camps.  The jobs that I saw were offering 2000-3000THB ($60-85USD) a day for 10 day camps teaching phonics while also playing games and singing with young learners under 10.  20,000-30,000THB ($570-860USD) for a 10 day job, with a weekend in between, is not bad at all especially when the starting salary for ESL teachers in Thailand is 30,000THB a/m.

There was no way I wasn’t going to at least try for the top tier jobs.  With my past and current experience with younger learners as well as the English camps and big school events I have worked, I was able to snag two interviews in Bangkok.  After a long ass day that involved waking up at the crack of dawn for a 4hr bus ride to Bangkok, having the first interview, and then hanging around Terminal 21 in Asok for hours before the second interview, I was pleased to be offered a position at the second school before even leaving the interview.    It just shows how fast you can make an opportunity like that happen if you do a little research and line up some interviews

VDay pic.jpg
V for Victory! At Victory Monument, Bangkok

I hope this post helps teachers,backpackers, or nomads who are traveling or living in Thailand and looking to try teaching and be compensated for your time and efforts.  The work is fun, the days are not that long, and a 10 day job at 30,000THB could cover a month of your stay in Thailand!  Food for thought indeed.

 

A Month of Muay Thai

Muay Thai, the art of the eight limbs.  Before coming to Thailand I didn’t know much about muay Thai besides it coming from Thailand.  I’d seen clips of muay Thai fights on YouTube and I’d seen MMA knockouts using Muay Thai techniques but I had no interest in it.

Then one day in Korea, while I was getting over a break up and having trouble at work, I Skyped with a friend of mine who had left Korea to go backpacking and was now in northern Thailand in a town called Pai doing a month of Muay Thai training.  Intrigued, I asked to know more about it and everything he told me just made me want to go there and do it myself.  I’d been doing ultimate frisbee to stay active but I knew it would not compare in the slightest to the intensity of muay Thai.  I thereafter decided that this was a challenge I wanted and that could help to rebuild my confidence, get fit, make new friends, and hopefully enable me to defend myself on my travels.  This post is about my experience and what you should expect from attending a month long intensive muay Thai camp.

Who goes to a muay Thai camp in Thailand?

I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in people who were at the camp I chose to go to.  There were people like me; a complete newbie to the sport but choosing to better one’s self after a trying personal ordeal, professionals who had dozens of fights under their belt, backpackers who’d come for a day or two just for the experience, people who had weight or fitness issues and looked to the intensity of muay Thai as an answer, and those who wanted to train intensely for a few months before culminating in a fight to test themselves.  Anyone can go to a muay Thai camp and enjoy it, ladies included.  Don’t be discouraged from going there and fearing that you might be surrounded by hardcore fitness fanatics who will make your efforts look pathetic, the truth is everyone goes to a camp with their own goals and I found the atmosphere very friendly and inclusive.

muathaigroup.jpg

 

What camp to choose?

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of muay Thai camps all over Thailand to choose from.  Choices range from the most basic of camps out in the middle of nowhere and limited to a few fighters, all the way up to a place like the Tiger Muay Thai & MMA gym in Phuket and now Chiang Mai where the equipment and trainers are world class but prices are at a premium.

I followed my friend’s recommendation and went to Charnchai Muay Thai in the beautiful little town of Pai.  It was perfect for me.  The trainers, led by Bee the owner, really make you feel a part of the family while you train there and create a fun, positive atmosphere for the students.  The gym itself has more of an old school vibe to it, like the gyms seen in Rocky, but they put more emphasis on technique, hard work, and preservation than fancy equipment.  I also really liked that Charnchai is well priced, meals can be included, and there are special rates for accommodations nearby for muay Thai students.  All in, I paid 15,000THB ($435USD) which is a real bargain compared to the gyms down south where prices can be in excess of $1,000USD and not include meals or accommodation.  If you’re thinking I went to this gym because it is cheap, you should taken into consideration Charnchai has featured in VICE articles in the past and most recently an article was written about the head trainer and owner, Bee, who was a champion in his time as a fighter and works hard to make new students feel welcome and enjoy their stay.  You gotta be doing something right for a major media outlet to notice you.

A typical session at Charnchai

Routines vary camp to camp but most train 6 days a week with a morning and afternoon session.   I think my experience at Charnchai was a good example of what to expect.

7:30am: Wake up, get ready, have a light snack, head over to the gym.

7:45-8:00am: Bike for 15mins or skip rope to start at 8am.  Others more dedicated than me went for runs to warm up.

8:00-8:15am: Start the day with group stretching.

8:15-8:45am: Trainers instruct students about techniques and are taken aside to work one on one with other trainers to do 3 3minute rounds of pad work.  20 push ups between each round is also expected during the one minute break between rounds.

8:45-9:15am: Bag work.  At Charnchai we did a few kicking drills then followed that up with 50 kicks for each leg followed by 100 knees.

9:15-9:30am: You find a partner and do 30 raises and sit ups on the edge of the ring.

9:30-9:45am: Clinching.  Trainers demonstrate techniques, then students practice them on each other.

9:45-10:00am: Group core exercises.  Everyone sits in a big circle and follows the trainer’s lead.  They start off with one exercise, count up to 10, then the student to their right counts up to 10, and this goes on until it has reached back to the trainer. Then the trainer switches to the next exercise.  This is arguably the most exhausting part of the workout but it feels good to see even the fittest of students sweating it out just like you.

The times and activities vary a little day by day but I’d say this is what you can expect at a typical Charnchai session.  Wednesdays and Saturdays are special as they are devoted to sparring and the first hour in the morning session is taken up by a 7km temple run through the town and up a mountain to the big white Buddha, then you head back down and run to the gym.

muaythaipic

How hard can it be?

VERY.  But that is what makes it worth it.  You’re not going to a muay Thai camp to have an easy time, you’re there to be pushed to your physical limits.  Personally, a few weeks before I was set to go to Pai to train I was sitting in a bar in Vang Vieng, Laos, while it absolutely bucketed outside raining, surrounded by empty beer bottles and clouds of marijuana smoke watching a muay Thai fight, and I panicked.  I thought to myself ‘I am in no shape to do this’.  But later on that evening I decided to fuck it and go anyway.  The whole point of going to a muay Thai camp for me was to be test myself and push myself further than I’d been in my whole life.

The hardest session was the first.  Feeling that there was no way I could do this twice a day, 6 days a week, for an entire month.  But I did.  I think the hardest part not physically but mentally.  You can slow down, you take a break, you don’t have to do all the work. But what you do have to do, is to keep going, to remind yourself that the pain is to get you to a better place.  Once you’ve gotten that through your mind, it gets so much easier.

After each session I felt aches, exhaustion, irritation from new mosquito bites, thirst, and hunger.  But when I sat down for the post-training meal with the other students I felt the warm feeling of satisfaction of having completed the training, of not giving up, of persevering through the pain and exhaustion.  It really wasn’t that bad when I look back at it now.

What will you gain?

Everyone has their own motivation for trying out muay Thai or committing to it completely but the gains are the same.  You will feel happier with yourself and sense of worth, you will learn discipline and determination, you will make new friends with your fellow students and trainers, you will have new stories to tell, you will gain a new appreciation for the Thai people and culture, and above all you will get fit.  What I like about doing muay Thai, or any martial art, is that it gets you active and moving while taking part in a group which I think is a better overall experience than going to a gym and lifting weights by yourself blasting music in your ears.

muay Thai pic

I have never been a person who goes to the gym lots or have taken my fitness very serious but muay Thai has given me a sport that I thoroughly enjoy and will continue to practice.  Right now where I live in Chanthanaburi I go to a gym that has muay Thai 3-5 times a week.  It makes me happy and gives me a sense of accomplishment and is a great way to finish a day after the stresses of work.  So, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try if you’re backpacking through Thailand and even just want to give it a go for a day, it might just change your life!

Like, share, and subscribe please!