travel

What I miss most about Bangkok

Even though I am happy to be back home and even though I now have a deeper appreciation for Cape Town, there are things that I miss about living in Bangkok.

I miss the fruit, on every corner, everywhere and the fact that it is so cheap. The fruit there for some reason tastes so much better than the fruit here. Mangoes are sweeter and juicer.

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I miss the availability and options of public transport. A cab at 3 in the morning? No problem. The Skytrain runs until midnight and is always clean. Buses that costs only a few cents to get all the way to the other side of the city. Motorbike taxis that zip through traffic to get you somewhere quickly. The Chao Praya Express boat if you want to get around the city on water. Never  having to take tuk-tuks because they are such a tourist rip off and knowing how to get around using all the other options.

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The friendly people, more importantly, the friendly Muslim neighbourhood I lived in. Becoming regulars at the restaurants and with the street vendors and having them keep my favourite things aside for me.

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Malls!! They are simply amazing. Which is surprising because I despise malls and avoid them like the plague. From major fashion designers to quirky little boutique stores they have everything and the aircon is pure bliss.

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Free WiFi everywhere and I mean everywhere, even at temples. My YouTube addiction was activated in Thailand and now that I am back home the price of data bundles absolutely kill me.

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7 Eleven – perhaps a weird thing to add but 7 Elevens here are something else. They sell everything from make-up to painkillers, DVDs to pre-packaged hard-boiled eggs, stationery and quick meals for one. They also don’t have insane mark-up and are sometimes even cheaper than supermarkets.

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There are so many more little things that I miss that I cannot even think of now and of course there are many things that I do not miss. One thing that I do know is that I do not regret a second of it all and would love to go back one day.

 

 

 

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Teaching at an International School in Thailand

The contrast between teaching at a Thai government school and an International school in Thailand is stark.  It’s like day and night, black and white, yes it’s that different from each other. After tiring of teaching English in rural Thailand I was craving for the bright city lights and decided to head to Bangkok. After weeks of job hunting I managed to get a job teaching English at the Everclever summer camp at Wells International School along Sukhumvit Road.

I ended up teaching two 1 hour lessons daily and then accompanying my class to Gym, Art, Performing arts and Readers Theater. I had 10 students in my class, only three of which were local Thais, the rest were from Japan, Russia and Taiwan. The great thing about teaching at an international school is that the entire curriculum is in English so my students could already speak English well. I was able to teach Grammar something not entirely possible at a Thai school, where I would usually only teach 8 new words per lesson.  Apart from being able to teach Grammar I also taught them many games which took up half of all the lessons. I dredged up a few long forgotten games that I used to play as a child.

I was also fortunate to be able to participate in all the additional activities on offer to the students. At no cost to myself I was lucky to attend movie nights, visit temples, go on canal cruises, a weekend away in Kanchanaburi where we went to the Tiger Temple and Erawan waterfalls.  We also went to Kidzania, Dusit Zoo, Science center, Bangkok parks, Siam Niramet cultural show and I enjoyed every minute of it. This and the fact that the other teachers were American and all over the world meant that I was not the only English-speaking teacher made my time at the school memorable. When I was asked to stay on for longer because they extended summer camp I jumped at the opportunity and was sad when it finally all came to an end.

With my return flight date confirmed I knew I was going to miss this school and my students very much. I was happy when they asked me when I would return to Bangkok as they would love to offer me a full-time teaching position. Will I go back? Definitely. When? Right now I don’t know but I like that I have options and this time I will be more prepared and do things differently.

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travel

Call the Fire Department! It’s Songkran

Songkran festival is celebrated every year between 13 – 16 April in Thailand to usher in the New Year. In recent years the dates have been fixed to fall over the weekend.  Songkran happens during the hottest time of the year, perfect timing for a water festival. Initially a time to pay respect to your elders but gently pouring water on them it has now evolved into massive water fights on the streets with parts of the city cordoned off. The throwing of the water on passerby’s are meant to be cleansing, a washing away of the bad and blessing you for the new year. Some Thais may also smear a paste/talc mixture onto your face.

I never knew about this festival until I decided to move to Thailand and I am glad to have had the opportunity to celebrate it this year in Bangkok. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I headed out to Silom Road Sunday evening, maybe a couple of kids squirting me with some water guns. Having low or zero expectations usually means you end up having a great time and in this case I have to agree. It was way more than a few kids with water guns, it seems the whole city came out to play. Apart from water gun fights there were also people on every second block with hose pipes and barrels of water. On every other block there trucks from the fire department hosing people with fire department issue hoses, that is huge ass hoses people, the stream of water is so powerful you have to close your eyes and walk blindly until you and passed the trucks. Then there are the people selling water for festival goers to fill up their water guns, they also join in and throw ice-cold water at passerby’s.

There is no way you can walk away from Silom Road dry, you will be soaked, if you clothing isn’t chaffing you by the end of the evening you doing it wrong. Every couple of minutes you will have talc mixture smeared onto your face (gently, might I add) which will get into your eyes and it will burn, but don’t worry it’s harmless. Never in my life have I experienced anything even close to this but I am so glad that I got to be part of an amazing celebration.

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Images:

http://samuiontour.com/About-Samui/News/koh-samui-songkran-festival-2012.html

http://apinyasomya.exteen.com/20090409/songkran-festival

http://www.zimbio.com/Thailand/articles/vZYFEwzatVK/Songkran+Festival+Canberra+Songkran+Festival

 

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adventures, travel

How I almost wasn’t let back into Thailand

When my 3 month tourist visa was about to expire I started preparing for my first visa run. Visa runs are a necessary evil and can be a lot of fun. Basically until you have a work permit or student visa secured you need to leave Thailand every 3 months by crossing the border into one of the neighbouring countries, applying for your visa at the Thai embassy and heading back into Thailand. In theory, sounds easy enough, right? Well let’s see I forgot to pack a few essentials which in retrospect I should have taken as a sign of things to come. Things I forgot to pack: my toothbrush and toothpaste, clean underwear and my camera. I mean how could I forget my camera when I knew I was going to visit a new country? No toothbrush or underwear are minor problems.

I was initially going to do my visa run with the help of an agency but he called me on the morning of the trip and told me that unfortunately he will no longer be able to take me. He said that I can collect my deposit and that the reason that he was no longer to help me was that his drivers have had problems in the past with bringing ‘black’ people to the border and not being able to have visas processed for them. Discrimination based on my skin colour? I  must say I am getting more than just a little tired of this. He advised me to do a visa run on my own to Malaysia as I wouldn’t have any problems at that particular border. So that’s what I did, I bought a second class sleeper train ticket from Bangkok to Hat Yai. The journey took 15 hours most of which was through the night but let me tell you it is not easy sleeping on a train. When I arrived in Hat Yai I bought a ticket for the minivan to Penang, Georgetown in Malaysia. The minivan left about one hour after I arrived in Hat Yai and so the four-hour journey to Malaysia began. By pure chance fellow friends from my TEFL class were also in Hat Yai and on the same minivan that was taking me to Malaysia.

Once I got to the Sadao border and got my passport ready to be processed and check out of Thailand. All nationalities except those from African countries get to queue as per normal. If you’re from an African country like me, you have to go to the office and get your passport stamped there. I did feel welcome this was the first thing I felt when entering the office. When the immigration officer eventually waltzed in he treated us all with thinly veiled disdain and contempt. The whole process took longer than it should have and I did not relish the thought that I was coming back this way to get into Thailand once I have my new visa. Once on the other side I had to get my passport stamped with a Malaysian tourist visa which went much quicker. Now I could finally relax a bit and just enjoy the ride. After the minivan dropped me at Banana Guesthouse where I would be staying for the next two days, I booked in, left my bag in the room and headed across the road to Banana Tours to start my visa application. The visa application took less than ten minutes and the agent said I would get my passport and visa the next day.

Food. That was all I could think of next as I haven’t had real food in 24 hours. I went to an Indian restaurant called Al Kapitan which came highly recommended. I ordered the mutton rogan josh with garlic naan but here’s the thing, the meal was just normal.  If you grew up eating curries and biryanis your whole life then any restaurant that offers these meals needs to be out of this world phenomenal and spectacular. I’m not saying the food wasn’t good but I’ve definitely had better from home. I went back the next day to give them another chance but was equally unimpressed with the tandoori chicken, again, not bad but for me just usual stuff that I eat back home. Oh, I forgot to mention I made a new friend on the minivan, a lady from Kenya, who shall now be called Kenya from this point onwards. We decided to share a room to save on costs and she seemed normal enough on the four-hour ride from Thailand to Malaysia. Once in our room though warning bells started going off like the fact that she uses the toilet without closing the bathroom door (even for number 2), she slept in the nude (luckily we had separate beds) and she gave me a blow-by-blow account of her miscarriage she had two weeks ago as well as intimate details about her sex life. Lady I do not know well you for you to divulge any of this. I could not wait for us to part ways.

The next day I decided to explore Georgetown, I bought a postcard and after finding the post office sent it off to my family. Georgetown is a shabby little town that reminded me a lot of home surprisingly enough. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to sightsee as much as I would have liked as I had to head back to collect my passport and new visa and get ready for the minivan back to the Thai border. Kenya kept mentioning that we needed to have either funds or proof of funds once we get to the border. I did not take her seriously as my agent did not advise me that this was a requirement so I tried not to worry too much about it, however there was an impending sense of dread growing in the pit of my stomach.

Once we got to the Thai side of the border all hell broke loose, again all Africans were told to go to the office and yes they did want to see x amount of funds, 20 000 baht to be exact. I did not have this amount of money on me and to complicate matters even further I could not get an ATM bank slip nor would the ATM allow me to withdraw any money. A phone call to my bank back in South Africa did not to sooth my frayed nerves, the call centre agent assured me that my card is not blocked and that I should be able to withdraw cash. That is all good and well for him safely at work but I still could not access my money and I was starting to panic. I was shaking and near to tears and had visions of myself stranded at the border with no money, no visa and sleeping on the streets. Then our minivan driver came up to me and told me if I gave 2000 baht to the border officer they would let me enter Thailand. Me? Bribe a border officer? I don’t think so? I could almost see the headlines. SOUTH AFRICAN TOURIST THROWN INTO THAI PRISON FOR BRIBERY. Luckily my friends and Kenya borrowed me the money and still the official threatened to cancel my visa. Only by the grace of God was my passport stamped and I was allowed to re-enter Thailand. Never in my life was I made to feel like  criminal and never in my life was I treated as if I was less than the dirt on the bottom of the immigration officials shoe. It was a completely harrowing experience and it was hardly comforting to know that I was not singled out and that there were many other South Africans in the same predicament as me.

Due to the 2 hour delay at the border I missed the Hat Yai minivan back to Bangkok and decided to just spend the night in Hat Yai. I took the first minivan back to Bangkok the following morning. I am still in shock over what happened and sadly I will never ever feel the way about Thailand the way I did before all of this happened. What happened to the land of smiles?

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An oasis in a bustling city

A lot has happened since I last blogged, my time was up at the school where I was volunteering and it was an amazing experience. Even though I was not there for long the teachers and students I have met made an impact on my life. The school threw a farewell party with lots of food, gifts and karaoke. I was forced to sing and dance like a performing circus monkey. I loved it. I will never forget the kindness and generosity of the people in the Phanom District in the south of Thailand.

The other thing that happened down south in Thailand was that my laptop crashed and I picked up the flu on my last night there. I flew out to Bangkok over the weekend and have been fighting off this virus and recovering slowly. Finally managed to find a place to live for the next 6 months and I am almost fully recovered. I have been exploring Bangkok like a woman possessed. There was not much to do in Phanom and I am making up for lost time and where better to go than a beautiful park to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Lumphini Park is situated in the business district of Silom and Sathorn and is used by people for exercising such as running or cycling or just relaxing on the grass with a cold drink. Watch out for lizards though, they are everywhere and roam freely.

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adventures, travel

Bangkok: First impressions

I did not have any expectations for Bangkok as I have never travelled to South East Asia before. The only thing that I knew I had to expect was humidity which is the first thing you feel when you exit Bangkok International Airport. It takes a couple of minutes to adjust to the intensity of if but luckily most places have aircon.

Bangkok is a cacophony of sounds. A place where all senses are engaged simultaneously. Even for a born city dweller it can be overwhelming. Here urban and rural, modern and ancient, old and new all live seamlessly side by side, perfectly juxtaposed.

If you are on a motorbike or scooter you own the road. Red lights mean nothing. Then there are the tuk-tuks (3-wheeled taxis) – watch out for these guys. They do not always take you where you want them to. Already fell for the ‘temple is closed scam and gem shop scam’. Basically they tell you the temple is closed but will take you to another temple instead. Once inside they take you to gem shops and suite making shop in the hopes that you’ll buy something and earn them a lovely commission. I am not a shopper nor rich so all he really did was waste petrol. I did get to go to monk village though and got to see a giant standing golden Buddha so all was not lost. I also did manage to go the Grand Palace the following day which unfortunately was hot and full but I managed to get a few decent pictures.

The street food all look great but for a Muslim person this does not mean much if it is not halaal. Finding a place that serves halaal food is not easy, not impossible either. If you find a mosque then there will surely be Muslim people making halaal food. So do not despair. Fresh fruit already peeled and sliced can be bought ready-made – served in a small plastic bag and with a kebab skewer.

Walking around at night is safe even for females. Not once did I feel unsafe even though some roads were quite dark with very few street lights. There are so many massage places that I am surprised that I have not yet had one. One hour Thai massages are 350 Baht (ZAR 100) so it is on my to do list.

My time is Bangkok was too short so I should give it another chance. My first impression is that it is too loud, smelly, busy but I didn’t get to see all of it so I will have to go back.

I will do a Bangkok in pictures post during the week once I have had time to go through all my photos.

 

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