I'll start with our week long orientation in Bangkok. I'll try to summarize. May 2nd, Stephen and I arrived in Bangkok after 32 hours of travel. Our trip involved flying from the Chicago O'Hare International Airport (on April 30th) straight to Hong Kong. During our 8 hour layover in the Hong Kong International Airport, we passed the time journaling (about the only time we have in the 2 months we've been here), reveling in our new-found adventure, dreaming (in shifts, on the airport benches), researching in our Lonely Planet guide, completing crossword puzzles on Stephen's kindle and exploring the enormous airport. From there, we flew under 3 hours to Bangkok, where our journey had just begun.
At O'Hare, saying goodbye to America!
Passing the time in the Hong Kong Airport.
Arriving in Bangkok was a whirlwind of happenings and absolute sensory overload. Stephen and I could hardly think or talk for of all the different sights and smells surrounding us. After getting through customs (which, surprisingly was pretty easy), we picked up our baggage (all 3 pieces of luggage, excepting our stuffed backpacks) and promptly found our way to snag a taxi to the Louis Tavern Hotel, where we would stay for orientation the following week. I remember looking outside the taxi window at the unimpressive landscapes of dust, garbage, and tattered infrastructure feeling excited and thrilled to be surrounded by something so foreign to my senses. Whizzing traffic, motorbikes packed with full families (including the dog), monks, stray dogs and odd smells. All the while, the buzzing chatter of an entirely foreign language every where you turn. Arriving in Laksi, the suberb of Bangkok in which the hotel resided, I realized that sure, this particular areas of Thailand was not lush and beautiful...but it was still intriguing to me. I looked past the abandoned plastic bags, pepsi bottles, candy wrappers and dusty, smelly grime of the city and tried to focus on the landscape itself and the little things that pulled at my heart. A crooked tree filled with orange blossoms. A woman selling khao neo mamuang (mango sticky rice). Spirit houses lining the outskirts of nearly every family household and business. An art commune hidden in the midst of apparent nothingness filled with astounding original artwork. Making friends with a couple living in the local area and gaining insight from their experience. A beer by the pool with a visiting Thai soccer team, using the little language we could to communicate and discuss things from colors and numbers to social norms, likes, dislikes. Being amazed by how much can be communicated simply through body language and facial expression. We spent the first couple of days in Laksi familiarizing ourselves with the immediate area and meeting our fellow CIEE-ers who gradually began arriving the following days until the 6th, when orientation began. We experienced a great amount of culture when we found ourselves suddenly ushered into a Thai wedding procession going on at the Louis Tavern Hotel...on only our second day. At orientation, we attended classes on teaching, the Thai language, traveling, the Thai education system, etc. We visited the Grand Palace, reveling in the ornate architecture and history, then enjoyed a night of dinner and dancing on a floating restaurant until the sun went down. Nearing the end of the week, we took a trip to Kanchanaburi where we got the opportunity to get up close and personal with elephants and ride them. There, we also enjoyed floating down the River Kwai on bamboo rafts, before heading back to an amazing resort for the night where we sleepily had a few drinks with friends and swam in the pool. The next morning, we left to go back to Laksi, where everyone shipped off to their allocated destinations. We took a 6 hour air-conditioned-TV-equipped-snacks-included-vibrating-massage-chair bus ride to Khon Kaen, in which we slept the entire way there. An exhausting week. But again, our journey still had just begun. Alright, so I'm not doing a good job summing things up, am I? I've got a lot of ground to cover, so I'll let the pictures do more of the talking.
Khao Neo Mamuang
It's not a wedding unless the farangs sing karaoke to "A Whole New World".
Friends, a sniffer, and some drinks on the infamous Khao San Road.
Our trip to the Grand Palace.
Our dinner cruise. You know I loved the mountains...
Stephen turned the dance party into a limbo.
We're riding an elephant!
The hair on his head felt like bristles on a broom (the elephant, of course).
Alright, so moving on to Khon Kaen...
Our humble abode, equipped with air conditioning, water heater, refrigerator, microwave and other small conveniences.
Bung Kaen Nakhon and Wat Nongwang.
Our new morning walking buddy.
Karaoke-ing with friends in KK.
The Kombover Kings.
Nong Khai was the first trip Stephen and I made after moving to Khon Kaen. It remains one of our favorite memories in Isaan (northeast Thailand) yet. Nong Khai is roughly 3 hours away by bus or train and lies along the Mekong River, separating Laos from Thailand. It was amazing to walk along the promenade in Nong Khai and see the trees, cars, and houses in Laos right across the river!
Our lovely guesthouse set in a lush garden, the Mut Mee!
Mosquito netting and all.
Relaxing upon arrival with some friends.
Peering across the moon-reflected Mekong to the Friendship bridge, leading over to Laos.
Mut Mee garden.
The next morning, Mut Mee Spirit House overlooking the Mekong.
Biking around the town.
Our awesome new friends from Kalasin, Jason and Ashley, who met us for the weekend.
Stopping in a temple along the way...
Arriving at the sculpture park.
Both Buddhist and Hindu influences.
Stephen enjoying his beloved doener kebab at a German cafe we found through Lonely Planet!
Roti, of course!
From Thailand to Laos.
Our train ride home.
Windows wide open.
Our next trip was to the small town of Kalasin, where we enjoyed the company of our new friends. Although Khon Kaen can be awfully stifling from all of the traffic, crowds and busy city life...experiencing the remoteness of Kalasin opened our eyes up to the little luxuries KK has to offer which can make living in such a foreign place a little more comfortable. Our attempt at finding a waterfall an hour north of Kalasin proved to much more difficult than we anticipated. We spent a lot of time on this trip being lost and confused...but having friends with us made all of the difference.
So we know the Thai people can do it...how many farang can we fit on a motorbike?
Late night 7-11 ham and cheese runs.
Lost on a mountain somewhere in search of a waterfall. Eventually a random Khon Kaen taxi (far from its home) drove along and we headed back to Kalasin, where the next day we tried it all over again!
We found it! If only we knew to look for a rock with painted Thai letters signifying its entrance!
Hiking to the waterfall.
All of that and we found ourselves standing over a dry waterfall--during the rainy season, no less. Mai pen rai!
Ubonrat Dam was the following destination in our Isaan adventure. We took an hour bus ride out of Khon Kaen and found ourselves wandering around the bus stop not quite knowing where we were until we suddenly were on a motorbike taxi, zooming towards what we thought was the dam.
Turns out we were dropped off in a beautiful resort area along a vast lake, multiple kilometers from the dam. It was beautiful and we arrived just in time for a breathtaking sunset.
Terrace around the Green Lake Resort.
Looking off our balcony.
Colorful hotel nearby.
Along our walk around the surrounding area, some lovely gents invited us to Lao Khao, beer and some...questionable food.
Looking across the lake.
Banana Boat...which we did end up doing but it was so expensive!
Living the life.
Being a bloody backpacker.
1,000 steps to the Big Buddha!
Halfway up there were some other statues and a temple.
Enormously terrifying spider.
Okay, so the last trip I will leave you with is a little trip to Loei. Stephen and I were invited by our school to attend a teaching seminar last Thursday and Friday. We left at the end of the school day on Wednesday and between 3 and 4 hours later we found ourselves at a beautiful mountain river resort in a small, quaint town called Chiang Khan. We felt very lucky to have such an opportunity to not only get 2 days off from teaching (nice!) but to see such a lovely natural space. The mountains and Mekong river (we were even closer to Laos this time, only mere feet away) provided such a beautiful setting. Living in Khon Kaen, we don't see a lot of green, so I always feel more at home when I find myself surrounded by the green, lush presence of nature.
Our room for our two-night stay.
Looking out at the view the next day.
Sunset on the Mekong.
We enjoyed Thai dance over dinner.
Stephen and I even found beer lao at the night market! But not the dark one we were looking for...
Alright, so I suppose that about sums up what Stephen and I have been up to. That was exhausting! I really want to make a point of trying to write more. Stephen and I are really trying our very best here but it can be absolutely exhausting and consuming being a teacher. That's why we try to fully take advantage and live it up on the weekends! Although travel can be exponentially more difficult for us out here in Isaan because of the lack of the English language...we find joy out of seeing new places. Until next time!
Stephen and I witness so many absurdly ridiculous things out here on basically a daily basis, so I will leave you with some videos of just two of them I have managed to catch on tape. These are both from the KK night market this past weekend.