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Christmas in Thailand

The last couple of weeks have just passed me like a whirlwind.  I feel as though I haven’t blogged in an age, and that Christmas was just a tornado of too much food and drink and nonsense, and now it’s all just gone for another year.

Christmas Eve saw the Christmas show here at the school.  I came in, full of Christmas cheer, which was amplified tenfold when I saw all the children dressed up in Santa Claus outfits, and sparkling dresses.  Even though this was not a huge holiday for them, they put such a lot of effort in which was really lovely to see.

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We all walked over to the main hall, where Kindergarten all sat together, and the other grades sat behind.  After some speeches from teachers, it was time for the songs and dances to begin.

My class was second to go up, singing their rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”.  They were great, if a little shy with the rest of the school as their audience, however I was so proud, taking photos and videos like some over enthusiastic Mum.

We then sat and watched as the older children took it in turns to perform their songs and dances.  There were so many great acts from the kids, and it was so lovely to see smiles on everybody’s faces.

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After the days antics it was time to get ready for the grown up side of Christmas.

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All our friends we have here in Chiang Rai and the surrounding towns live in accommodation that mainly consists of a double bed, a wardrobe, and a shower / toilet room.  Eating out here is so cheap; we don’t really have a use for kitchen.  As we were all away from our homes and families this year, we agreed that it’d be nice for us to have use of a house with a kitchen.  After looking online, it was clear that using Airbnb.com was our best option.  Not only did we manage to rent a place with a kitchen, it just so happened that it was a beautiful villa, with swimming pool and next to a little lake.

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The best bit being that as there were so many people wishing to make use of the house, split between us all, in only came to £7.92 per person.

A few of us went to the shopping centre, where we bought all the provisions necessary to see out Christmas, before returning to the house.  We had a lovely Christmas Eve with a handful of friends, where we wore Christmas hats, drank wine and danced to festive songs.

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We awoke on Christmas day to a beautiful misty haze hovering over the pool.  After cleaning up some clutter from the previous night, Emma made pancakes and eggs for breakfast, as we drank our coffees in the rising sun.  Being the first Christmas I’d ever spent out of England; it was certainly preferable to the freezing cold mornings I’d experienced every other year of my life.

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From here on we lazed by the pool, enjoyed some drinks, and slowly more and more friendly trickled in from finishing at their schools.

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Finally, everyone was present, and an amazing Christmas dinner was cooked.  We all sat around and said Grace, before tucking in round a big make shift table, before retiring to the living room to watch Elf and feel fat.

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There are some things that remain the same whether in the UK or Thailand.

Wat We Did at Wat Rong Khun.

Although, as I am fast discovering, there is an endless list of things to discover here in Chiang Rai, when researching the city before moving, there wasn’t a lot that came up on Google searches.  However, the one thing that did appear repeatedly, and I feel is the main pull for tourism to the area, is Wat Rong Khun, more commonly referred to as the White Temple.

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Wat Rong Khun differs hugely from the endless amount of temples you see in this country.  Apart from the main fact that it is white, with the majority of Thai temples being bright colours, mainly gold and red, Wat Rong Khun also has contemporary aspects to it, which makes it a more unconventional Buddhist Temple.

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The temple is the brain child of Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, and was built in 1997.  What makes the temple stand out as a symbol of the modern world is that it takes the beauty of traditional Thai art, however brings it a modern twist.  Upon first glance, the gardens surrounding the temple appear rather traditional and nothing out of the ordinary.  However, upon closer inspection, you see that the delicate architecture is made up from a pit of twisted hands, reaching up.

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Inside the main room, the art looks beautifully ornate, with images of Buddha everywhere.  However, peer a little closer, and you will find some Sneaky Prawns from the film District 9, or perhaps a minion from Despicable Me; and I think I’m right in remembering I saw Chewbacca from the Star Wars trilogy in there somewhere.  Unfortunately there were strictly no cameras within the main hall of the temple, so you will just have to take my word for it.

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We wandered around the grounds some more, dazed at how the sunlight reflects in the surrounding moat, and dances on the white walls of this incredibly individual building.  I fear that on a cloudy day, the impact would not be as wonderful.

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Some of the building is being reworked, due to damage caused by an earthquake, that struck the district on 5th May 2014.  At first, the damage was thought to be so severe that the temple would have to be demolished; however, upon closer inspection, only some parts need to be restored.

It is a simply breathtaking building, and I cannot stress enough, that if you ever find yourself in this beautiful city, certainly pay Wat Rong Khun a visit.  I don’t know why I waited so long until I did so myself.

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The New Chapter Begins

I finally feel now that I have begun to settle into my new home in Chiang Rai. As well as Emma living in the same apartment block, we now have Alice who’s joined us, and also teaches at the same school.

On top of this, my best friend from the UK, Abbey, is currently staying with me, as a first stop before she embarks upon finding the world, and possibly herself, over the next year.

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Best Buds

With the girls, and a lovely bunch of people who we’ve met from visiting our favourite bar repeatedly, we have a nice little group in Chiang Rai; so that’s certainly helping to make me feel more confident and at ease in the city.

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My first day teaching in Kindergarten was a blend of amazing feelings, and beautiful kids who melted my heart, mixed with equal parts stress, confusion and the loss of my voice. However I loved it.

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Morning Dancing

I teach one of the Kindergarten classes, which contains 27 children, all either 5 or 6 years old. Speaking to the teacher beforehand, she advised me to just come in and observe the class for my first week, before getting more involved and planning in the second.

Perhaps I was naïve, however, this didn’t actually happen. I arrived, and was immediately told to stand up in front of all the Kindergarten children at the flag raising ceremony (which happens daily). A microphone was thrust into my hand, and straight away I had to talk to 300+ children and teachers, the majority of whom speak little to no English, whilst their blank faces looked at me in sheer bewilderment.

After this, I went to my classroom where I met the children. They’re all brilliant. They have this cute little uniform, which looks like a little sailor’s outfit. They have the most charismatic little personalities, even without being able to really speak English, they’re so loving and smiling and playful, that you can get along with them anyway.

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Little Sailors Off For Lunch

They all have such huge hearts, and will run and hug me as I walk past, or cuddle my leg for no apparent reason.

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My Class With Their Lanterns

Being told not to lesson plan, however, was a massive lie. There’s only one theme per week, as the children are so young, so last week was Loy Krathong; a festival celebrated around Thailand. Lesson planning for this, without any prior knowledge was a little challenging however we got there in the end, and the class and I ended up making our very own Kathrongs for the festival.

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Homemade Kathrong

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Kindy Kathrongs

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Class With Their Kathrongs

This week the topic is “Thailand” so using the Internet as my resource, I’m planning lessons surrounding Thailand’s Geography within South East Asia, and also cultural traditions native to Thailand, such as The Wai, which is how you greet someone, by placing the hands together like a prayer, and bowing slightly.

I realise it’s only been one week at the school, but I’ve never felt so happy within a job. I could wake up in the worst mood, but walking through the door every day at 07.30 and seeing 27 smiling and happy faces grinning back at me…well it’s certainly the best cure for bad moods and irrelevant worries that may have come with me from my previous life back in England.

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Lunch Time

I can only strive to keep these good feelings up.

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Bye Chiang Mai, Oh Hi Chiang Rai

I arrived in Chiang Rai after a quick three-hour bus ride, direct from Chiang Mai.

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Leaving Chiang Mai Bus Station

Leaving the other friends I’d made in Chiang Mai, I felt really sad, as we’d all got on so well; however, now it was time to go to our own placements, in areas all over the North of Thailand, and therefore everyone had their own adventures to now embark upon.

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The Journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang rai

However, another girl from the programme, Emma, was on the same bus, and had already moved to Chiang Rai, where she took me back to where she was living, so I could see if that’d suit my needs for accommodation too.

The property was basically a block of about 12 “apartments”, split between two levels. Each apartment is basically a double bed, wardrobe, fan, and an attached toilet / shower room. This seems quite the norm for Thai living, with no need for a kitchen, seeing as the option of eating out is so wonderfully cheap.

After seeing Emma’s room, I called the landlord, who quickly zipped over on his moped, from across town, where I’ve heard he also has another business owning a little noodle shop. He showed me the room next to hers, and I agreed to take it right there and then. At only 2600 Thai Baht per month, from what I can tell, this was a pretty good deal.

So that was the first hurdle jumped, the next was to make it look a little less clinical, and a little more like home.

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After showering, and unpacking we both took a walk to the city’s night bazaar; much smaller than that of Chiang Mai, however still charming in its own right, with musical performances taking place each night, and a large food court where you can eat anything from worms to sushi, to Pad Thai. Passing perhaps on the worms, it’s a great place to come and eat for cheap, however I wouldn’t want to every night, due to the canteen style seating and the sometimes oppressive local music.

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Tasty Selection of Treats (!)

Over the next few days, I tried to get myself as settled as possible, and also discovering the local things on offer, including lots of nice cafes where I’d like to wile away the hours, drinking iced coffees.

One place we visited was near to the Kok River, called Chivet Thamma Da. It was simply beautiful. I’d first heard about it from another blog I follow, called 8 Miles From Home. I saw the pictures on this blog when still back in England, and knew I needed to visit.

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Chivet Thamma Da is a beautiful old house situated on the riverbank. Part of it is also a day spa, however we just visited the coffee house part. We walked in, and were greeted warmly, and taken to the back of the house, which opened up to a beautiful garden. Lanterns, birdcages, and flowers decorated the split-level garden. We sat, and were instantly in love with this place. There was a piano against a wall and framed pictures hanging. The menu was extensive and looked fabulous, however a little on the pricey side, but this is to be expected with somewhere so lovely, and certainly different from the norm. The house reminded me of the one from The Notebook, when Noah buys it and does it all up for Ally. It was just so romantic, with old wartime music playing in the corner, and swings hanging from the trees by the river.

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We both shared a piece of amazing banoffee pie, and possibly a white chocolate cake too, which were both so incredibly good.

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I’d certainly recommend this place to anyone who visits Chiang Rai, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so, seeing as it’s ranked at number two, on Trip Advisor’s list of best restaurants in Chiang Rai.

The next few days consisted of more settling, and nesting, in which I bought a little bicycle too, for me to get around the City more efficiently. This can be done on foot, as it a relatively small place, however having a bike does make it that little bit easier.

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I’ve joined a gym at the Pinmann Inn, where I also use their outdoor saltwater pool. The bike ride is really easy from my apartment to the pool, and makes the half hour walk seem a lot more inviting when it turns into a ten minute cycle ride.

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My Local Pool 

On Saturday the 25th October, I woke up with a slightly sore head from the night before (we visited Coconuts Bar in town; a new favourite bar of mine now).

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Journey Home 

Before coming to Thailand, I’d heard online about the Lanna Yi Peng Festival. It’s a festival celebrated in Thailand, and certain parts of Burma and Laos. Translated, Yi means “two” and Peng means “full moon day”. The festival is in celebration of the full moon day, in the second month, according to the Lanna Lunar calendar. (Remembering Lanna refers to the Northern area of Thailand, which was once a Kingdom until the 18th centaury). AND BREATHE.

As I was saying, I woke up, thinking I really couldn’t be bothered to travel down to Chiang Mai, and bed was far more appealing; however I dragged myself up and got on a bus, after telling myself not to be such a lazy hung over fool. I can honestly say that going, and visiting the festival, was in the top ten best decisions of my life.

To celebrate this festival, swarms of people descend upon the University grounds in Chiang Mai. In the evening, prayers are said by the Buddhist Monks, whilst spectators from the other side of the riverbank release a few lanterns. The prayers last a couple of hours, paying homage to Buddha, and are all said in Thai. This bit was difficult to enjoy, as the crowds were so thick and intense, and you couldn’t see the ceremony, for all the people. However, what came next made it all worth the wait.

In excess of 10,000 paper lanterns, (Kohm Loi) were released at once into the sky. Words just cannot describe how wonderful it was. It just was one of those moments that was so humbling, and I just stood there in awe of being such a small and insignificant part of this incredible world.

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Luckily, I heard about this event online, as it being the original and Buddhist celebration. There is also a more tourists-friendly version, where the prayers are spoken in English, and a meal is included, however I hear that this is as much as $100USD, whereas the one I saw was free.   The ticketed one takes place on Thursday 6th November.

The festival certainly made me miss Julien, as it was such a romantic and beautiful sight, and I wished so much that he could have been there to see it with me. However, I then realised how intensely hot and sweaty I was, and as a result, maybe a little stinky too, so perhaps it was for the best that he was in London.

Now I am back in Chiang Rai, and have been into the school where I start working as a Kindergarten teacher on Monday. I am so incredibly happy right now, and so excited to get into the school and start working. I feel so lucky to have been able to make this dream of moving abroad and getting this job, working alongside GVI, come true, and can only hope it continues to be so wonderful.

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Miss Tim, Myself and Miss Chay; Kindergarten Teachers

The Move to Thailand. First Stop…Chiang Mai

The day had finally arrived. After talking about it continuously since February, it was at last the day that I was off to Thailand.

Julien took me to Heathrow bright and early on the Tuesday morning, where I checked in my bags, before we had a final Café Rouge Breakfast together.

So that was it; living In Julien’s pocket had come to a momentary end, and I was out, conquering the world alone.

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My flight was to Mumbai, where I had a couple of hours in the airport, before flying to Bangkok, and then getting a connecting flight to Chiang Mai.

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I reached Chiang Mai, and grabbed a TukTuk to the Eco Resort, and instantly took a sleep for around 5 hours.

When I woke up, I had two new roommates in the form of Pooja, from Dubai, and Alex, from the UK. We went to dinner in a local restaurant, and then went with Molly, another girl from the same organisation; GVI to the night Bazaar.

After we had all just arrived, everyone felt pretty sleepy, so we decided to head home for a relatively early one.

The next day, we woke up, ate some food, and lay by the pool again and slowly started to get out the hotel and see things. At first, we took a trip to the large shopping mall, in an attempt to sort out various phones and SIM cards, with the hope that we’d all be set up with a Thai number soon.

It was interesting to see the mall, of which I hadn’t quite known what to expect of. However it was scarily like home, with shops ranging from H&M, to Topshop, and even a Marks and Spencer. These shops aren’t really prevalent outside of the mall, so it was a surprise to see them in there; so different to the hustle and bustle of the chaotic streets outside.

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Leaving here, we got a TukTuk to the old town of Chiang Mai, a square in the heart of the city.  We walked around the perimeter until we got to Thapae Gate, which is historically, the main entrance to the old city.

Whilst walking towards this, it was startling to see how many tours there were, offering trips to take you to the Tiger Temple. These are those God-Awful places that offer the tigers “a sanctuary”; however from what, I am not exactly sure. The tigers are chained around the neck, and more likely than not, are heavily sedated in order to keep them docile, so that tourists can pose with the animals, for their new Facebook profile pictures. A recent report observed that these beautiful animals were put on public display, each day between 1pm and 4pm, with no shade and under direct sunlight with temperatures often reaching 40 degrees Celsius. However, even with this knowledge, every tour guide claims that their visit to the Tiger Temple is not like that, and that theirs are different, which unfortunately still lures many travellers into these trips.

Anyway, we walked into the Old City, stopping to look at the odd market stall here and there. We eventually reached one of Chiang Mai’s many Buddhist Temples, this one being The Relic of the Lord Buddha and Arahants, at Wat Phan Tao. We entered, being respectful of the culture and religion trying to remember the rules ranging from no shoes, to lowering your head so you are always lower than an image of Buddha.

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Outside we met some monks, who invited me to hit the big gong, otherwise known as the singing bowl. We visited a couple more of the temples, however it was soon time to head home, before our night in Chiang Mai.

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We ate dinner, another variation of noodle and rice dishes, in the Bazaar area, quickly scoffing this down so that we could get good seats for the start of the Cabaret Show; or the Lady Boy show if you prefer.

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We sat through a good 1.5 hours of the show, each act astounding us all even more at how these beautiful women were actually men. However, the put on a wonderful performance, even if they are a bit cheeky at asking for 200 Baht per head (rather a lot by Thai standards).

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The next day, Pooja, Alex and myself woke up to take a taxi to the temple on the hill that overlooks Chiang Mai, by the name of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. When arriving back at the hostel room the night before, we’d discovered a new roommate, Amy, from America, so we brought her along with us for the days outings.

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The taxi took us up many a winding turn, to the top of the large mountain. From here, we climbed the 309 steps to the temple.

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Thankfully, if you are slightly older or have trouble tackling that many stairs, especially in the heat, there is an option of a cable car.   However, always in the pursuit of a better bottom, we opted for the stairs, and with little breath, reached the top. We paid our 30Baht, and entered through the grand gates.

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Taking our shoes off, just at the temple doorway, we climbed just a couple more steps and entered the courtyard. It was simply breath taking. Words, or even pictures cannot justify the intricate design and architecture that is involved. The gold reaches from symbols of Buddha, to rooftops, to parasols. It is everywhere. The image of Buddha is on nearly every surface you look at, and the smell of incense rushes up your nose. You hear the chimes of the bells as Monks pray. The only downside is the hoards of tourists everywhere you turn. However, I am included in that category, so I guess I can’t really talk.

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We then walked round the outskirts of the temple, overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, however due to being so high up it was hard to see the city in any detail.

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10698627_10154766063125541_7744298025192200311_nIMG_6261 We descended the steps, where we met our taxi driver once more, who drove us back down the mountain, and into the town. Along with two Buddhist Monks and a very small child.

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After some orientation that evening, and the following day, regarding the teaching projects we would all be embarking on shortly, the whole group of Global Vision International teachers and staff, went for a collective meal at a restaurant named Khum Khantoke. We here experienced authentic Lanna style dining, and dances, which are typical of the Northern parts of Thailand.

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We had so much amazing food, from traditionally cooked chicken and rice, to curry pastes and banana fritters. This was followed by a series of performances and traditional dances, offset with lanterns being released into the sky. It was a really beautiful experience, even though it was for the sake of the diners and tourists, the colours, costumes and music were just wonderful.

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And with that, it was to bed, and to finish up with a couple more days of training and Thai language classes, before making my way North, to the city of Chiang Rai, which is to be my home for the foreseeable future.