Days like These

Since I have been living in Bangkok I get regular emails about what’s on. I don’t do that much on a regular basis but sometimes I see something that catches my eye.

So one Friday-my only day off- I got up early and was in the pool by 8.30am, followed by my regular exercise workout, had breakfast and was out the door at 10am.

I went to Thai lessons, which is what I normally do on Fridays, and afterwards I took myself to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre where they were holding the “Bonjour Fair”- a French and Italian market. These types of events always intrigue me because I think it’s strange that you would get such a thing in Thailand. But Bangkok is an international city so of course these types of events happen here. I still find it strange. (Or maybe it is me who is strange!?) Anyway, I arrived and wandered around, bought a ham quiche and left. I only really went to check it out and as I didn’t have much money to buy all the delicious things I wanted to buy (Umm wine!) I didn’t hang around long.

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There were lovely offerings to be had- cheese, wine, bread and meats. There were also shoes and perfumes. All the things you would imagine would be at a French and Italian market. You could even try before you buy. I believe this market happens once a year.

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bonjour 2

The next thing on my agenda was to go to Lumpini Park to see the Bangkok Street Fair. After a quick trip to do some Christmas shopping, I got to Lumpini and meandered around watching the variety of street performers. There weren’t many people there when I arrived so I could easily watch the performers that were dotted around the park.

There were mime artists and trapeze artists but the best ones were a group of guys dancing and doing the limbo.

They had attracted quite a crowd.

On the way out I stopped to watch a woman doing her piece, which included a toilet and some flowers. I have no idea what that was all about but when she stuck her head in the toilet it reminded me of Renton in “Trainspotting.” I walked out of the park chuckling to myself.

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On the way back I stopped off at Onnut night market for somtam and a beer. I deserved it after my busy day. I hadn’t been there for a while and, although the prices have gone up a little, it is still a place I enjoy especially when the lady, who sells the somtam, recognized me, and I got a beer by simply mouthing the word “Singha” to the waitress.

I love days like these. They definitely put a smile on my face. 

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A-Z in Shapes and Objects

When my friends, Jamie and Trudy, were in Thailand in November, Jamie set me an A-Z photographic challenge. I had to take a photograph of things that represent each letter but I had to go through the alphabet in order. It’s taken me a while but here it is 😉

Why don’t you give it a try and see what you come up with 🙂

A DIY Day Out To Saraburi

My friend and I went to Saraburi to visit a local tourist attraction-sunflower fields. Doesn’t sound that exciting? Believe me it is worth the effort of getting there and even more so because we decided to skip the organised day trips from Bangkok and do a DIY version instead.

We left Bang Sue at 9.20am- the train should have left at 8.20am but hey this is Thailand. We travelled an hour and a half north to Khaeng Koi Junction where we changed trains for a thirty minute journey to Hin Son.


Hin Son is literally in the middle of nowhere. We had co-ordinates to follow and we had been told that the sunflower field was in the direction away from the school and towards the temple. That’s all we knew, and without ACTUAL GPS we walked for about 10 minutes to a temple we had spotted and decided that we were going in the wrong direction.

Luckily, we had seen some sunflower fields from the train, so we walked back to the train station-getting some bemused stares from the locals. On the opposite side to the station was a road but we agreed that it didn’t look like it went to the fields-we found out later it did-so we decided to walk back along the train track. Actually, we started walking through the fields but the grass started to get very long in places and we were scared that there may be snakes. A snake bite in the middle of nowhere would lead to certain death- maybe a bit of an exaggeration but a snake bite would be very serious, to say the least, considering one of us would have to leave the bitten party to go in search of help. Not a very sensible idea. So we backtracked a little and started walking along the train track. There are only three trains a day and we didn’t see one but we were constantly checking in both directions and we were ready to dive off to the side of the track if one came trundling along.

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Following the Tracks

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Sunflower Fields

We arrived at the sunflower field with no scrapes- even though we had to scramble across the track with a 12 foot drop below. In our imaginations that drop was 1000 feet. We were a little burnt and our feet were sore from walking on the track.

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Crossing the Ravine!

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Sun Hat?

On either side of the train track there are fields and fields of beautiful sunflowers. It’s very peaceful, right in the middle of nowhere. There was no one else there apart from a couple of people who arrived in a van who, like us, had come to see the sunflowers, and a few stallholders who were setting up their stalls for the weekend rush of people arriving on the train. We basically had the place to ourselves. We wandered around taking photos and then we went and rested up a while in the shade with some sunflower juice to quench our thirsts.


While we were sitting there one the stallholders asked where we had come from. We told her that we had walked from Hin Son. She looked shocked. Thais don’t walk anywhere. Once we had recovered we decided to continue walking away from Hin Son-back in the direction of Bangkok-to the train stop-no more than a hut- at Khao Hin Dad. We didn’t know the name of the place at the time but we had definitely seen the hut. We walked off with the lady shouting:
“You can’t walk that way, it’s all jungle.”

We both looked at each other, jungle? The train goes that way so we thought it was safe to say there wasn’t any jungle going to block our way.

Along the Tracks Again!

Along the Tracks Again!

So off we went walking along the train track again. After a while we suddenly realised that the road was running parallel to the track but there was no way that we were going to get to it because the undergrowth was just too thick. So we continued along the track. Every few minutes we could hear lorries passing by on the road but we thought it was a train, so we stopped in our tracks (get it) and were ready to dive to safety. But all was ok. How we misjudged the distance between the hut and the sunflower field I still wonder today. We were sure it was closer. We kept walking and walking with nothing but train track in front of us. In the end I spotted a way off the train track to the road. It’s a good job I saw it because we were chatting to each other and could easily have missed it. But we swapped track for road. At least it was easier to walk on. After a good fifteen minutes we finally saw a sign that said railway crossing. At the same time a guy stopped on this motorbike and was asking us where we were going and where we had been. Typical. We had been walked for what turned out to be 5 km when someone saw us and told us where we were supposed to be going.

More Sunflower Fields

More Sunflower Fields

This guy, whose name was Mr. Praset, asked us if we wanted to go to his house and sleep the night. We gathered that he ran some sort of homestay. We politely turned him down and said we would wait for the train back to Bangkok. Off he went and we sat by the road. About fifteen minutes later he came back with bananas, a packet of chocolate biscuits, and a bottle of water each for us. He sat there and chatted away to us for ages. He asked us if we wanted a lift to Khaeng Koi but, again, we politely declined and said we would get the train. Off he went again and we moved to the hut that is the train stop in Khao Hin Dad. Some more people arrived, this time to just sit and stare at us- quite amusing really.

Mr. Praset came back again-this time in his truck- and asked us again if we wanted a lift to Khaeng Koi because he didn’t think we would make it in time to get the train back to Bangkok. As much as we wanted to get the train back, we also didn’t want to miss the train from Khaeng Koi, so we agreed and got in his truck. So we were off back towards Khaeng Koi but not before going back to Mr. Praset’s home. He wanted to show us where he lived. We literally drove into the drive, said hello to his daughter, and reversed out again. From what we saw it looked lovely and we found out that he exports flowers to China from the fields at the back of his house. But we suspected that he only wanted to show off his new “farang” friends to his daughter.

Mr. Praset seemed happy at our accepting his offer and excitedly kept saying:
“Look! It’s only 5.30pm; you won’t miss your train.”
We arrived at Khaeng Koi and offered him some money for the ride. He told us before that it would cost 100 baht each but he did not accept anything from us.

Khaeng Koi Station

Khaeng Koi Station

This is one of these random things that happen and it’s been a long time since anything like this has happened to me. While I don’t want to be walking along any train tracks, with seemingly no end, for a while, I loved meeting Mr. Praset and will definitely be paying him a visit when I am next in that area. As for the DIY day out to visit the sunflower fields- I would not have missed it for the world.

The End of a Beautiful Day

The End of a Beautiful Day

A Walk through Chinatown with Expique

My friend had already done one of these tours with Expique so I checked out their website and found this walking tour around Chinatown. I have never been to Chinatown in Bangkok before so I thought this would be a nice introduction. I had images of Chinatown having large streets with countless bars and restaurants- a bit like Chinatown in London, but we didn’t even hit the commercial area. Instead we meandered through the back streets for over two hours and learned a little bit of history.

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Chinatown’s Talad Noi

I met the rest of the group at River City Mall, a short motorbike taxi ride away from Suphan Taksin BTS. We were given a short introduction to the tour by Simon, who runs Expique, and then we were on our way.
The first port of call was the Holy Rosary Church, also known as the Kalawar Church. The location of the church is on land granted to the Portuguese by King Rama l. During 1891-1898 the church was renovated and neo-gothic style towering spires were added. The interior has Romanesque stained- glass windows and a gilded stucco ceiling.


Then we visited the Siam Commercial Bank. The Talad Noi branch of SCB is housed in a building that is 103 years old. King Rama V was very interested in architecture from abroad, so he commissioned Italian architect, Annibale Rigotti, to design this building and it was constructed between 1906-1910. Interestingly, Siam Commercial was actually the third bank to be opened here. In 1888 HSBC started the first bank and printed the country’s first bank notes. Chartered Bank (Standard Chartered) followed in 1894. It was Prince Mahisara Rachaharuthai that started the first Thai bank in 1904. Siam Commercial was curiously called the “Book Club” before its name was changed in 1906.


We continued onwards strolling along the back streets of Talad Noi (little market). We saw people in the community going about their daily business. We passed workshops of metal workers, and bakers; we saw people’s houses, and  Chinese temples. We came across a doorway with red gates, and walls painted blue, with pictures on either side of the door. This house is over 200 years old and one of the families still lives there. We had a peek inside and all we could see was a swimming pool in the middle of the yard where people from a nearby hotel go to practise scuba diving. A case of old meets new!

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200 Year Old House

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I had just finished saying that I wondered whether any tourists come this way when we came across a hotel. The River View Guest House appeared from nowhere. We went up to the roof top for splendid views across the Chao Phraya River.

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Rooftop Views

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We stayed there a while and had a drink to quench our thirst while taking in the views. From our vantage point we saw a building to the right of the roof top bar. I was told it was a restaurant called Nang Gin Kui– a unique private dining experience in an architect’s apartment. You can enjoy a 15 course dinner either as part of a group or a more intimate dinner for two in the heart of Chinatown.

Nang Gin Kui

Nang Gin Kui

After a while it started to rain so we donned our ponchos, kindly provided by Expique, and we returned to street level to continue our tour.


The Vegetarian Festival was happening on that day and we went to a covered area where all the people were dressed in white and there were huge incense sticks burning, and drums thumping out music.

We learned that the Vegetarian Festival has happened twice during 2014 which happens every 182 years. We were invited into a replica Chinese house to have a look and we got treated to some kids dressed up as a dragon.

Replica Chinese House

Replica Chinese House

We continued through the streets and tried the delicious food on offer.

Vegetarian Food

Vegetarian Food

Another temple and a visit to a rice making shop before the rain started pelting down again.

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Chinese Temple

We sheltered under a tin roof for a bit then made our way to the last location- the Chinese gateway that is located at the bottom of Yarowat Road-the commercial part of Chinatown.

Chinese Shrine, Yarowat Road

Chinese Shrine, Yarowat Road

From here the tour ends but you are free to wander at your heart’s content. For me I had to dash off to Thai lessons. All in all I thought the tour was excellent. It gave some interesting information about some of Thailand’s history. And you will visit places that you will probably have never been to nor are likely to go on your own. I would definitely recommend Expique and I will be going on one of their other tours sometime soon.

Visit Expique website for details of their Bangkok Walking Tours

46 Soi Sathorn 9, Yannawa, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120

Email: info@expique.com

Tel: +66 (0) 85 873 3308

Wine I Love You

As one who loves her wine I just had to go and check out a bar which I had found through BK Weekend- an online magazine that give you information about places in Bangkok.
After much searching I finally found Wine I Love You nestled in among some other cool little places that make up Groove @ Central World, in the Rajadamri area of Bangkok.

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Wine I love You

It was empty when I was there but I can imagine that the place would be buzzing during the evening. I was nearly disappointed when I looked at the menu to find there were no glasses of wine to order-only wine cocktails. I love drinking alcohol but even I have limits, and as it was only 1.30pm I wasn’t really up for wine and rum in the same glass.
I thought to myself-an establishment calling itself “Wine-I love you” must have glasses of wine, so I sat down and asked, and 5 minutes later I had a glass of very lovely tasting red wine in my hand.

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Red Wine-mmmmm

 

They do a good range of food-appetisers, salads, soups, pasta, pizza, seafood and burgers. Both Thai and Western- with prices ranging from 95 baht for garlic bread, up to around 700 baht for steak.
There is indoor and outdoor seating and because it is situated in a small complex, if you choose to sit outside, like I always do, then you are shaded from the ever present Bangkok sun.

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Outdoor Seating

 

Drinks are reasonable as well-cocktails around 235 baht and the best news of all is that when I asked for the bill for my (two) glasses of red wine I was pleasantly shocked to find the bill came to 250 baht. I was expecting a bit more than that. I was a very happy girl.

Outdoor Seating

Outdoor Seating

I will definitely be going back at some point. It will make a nice evening out, someplace different. But the main reason is-Wine, I really do love you!

Diving in the Andaman Sea

A few years ago I went on a three day diving trip off of Ranong, on Thailand’s west coast, in the Andaman Sea. The Andaman Sea is part of the Indian Ocean and touches the shores of Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia and Sumatra. This is a very popular diving location due to the colourful coral and many species of tropical marine life-including whale sharks, leopard sharks and manta rays. As part of my TEFL course, I had paid for the four week course, accommodation and a job guarantee which was their full package, and because of this they threw in this diving trip for free.

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My Diving Buddies

I have a love-hate relationship with diving- actually to be fair I have only done it twice- but it is one of those things, for me anyway, that I never look forward to doing but once I have done it I want to go back for more. The problem is that I have terrible trouble with my ears. It is very painful to descend into the watery depths. If I don’t get rushed and can take my time I am fine, but descending too quickly and the pain is just unbearable.
We arrived in Ranong and boarded the “Sea World”- a 25 metre vessel especially equipped for these live-a-board trips. The air conditioned rooms are all located on the main deck providing sea views, sun decks and the communal “saloon” where you can relax watching TV or listening to music. The crew was fantastic, providing delicious meals for us in between dives, and looking after us while we were aboard.

We left Ranong around 9pm and more or less went straight to bed. It took about 8 or 9 hours to reach our first dive site- Koh Chi, 2km off the north east coast of Surin Nua. Imagine waking up and leaving your bunk to be greeted by a huge expanse of blue water, with no noise other than the squawking sea birds. The calm swell of the ocean as you sleepily get into your diving gear. It was rather surreal.

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Morning on the Ocean

Koh Chi has an average of 15 metres visibility and I saw a lot of marine life- clown fish, trumpet fish, bat fish, trigger fish, puffer fish, parrot fish, moorish idol, and blue starfish. In fact, looking in my dive log, this is the site where I saw the most fish. It’s very calm and relaxed down in that other world. The fish are just hanging out, going about their daily business.

Castle Rock was our next dive and this is where it went pear-shaped for me. This was our second dive of the day at 11.00 am and I only lasted 15 minutes. Actually it was 10 minutes, the last 5 minutes was ascending. I got my diving gear on and my diving buddy told me that there was a strong current at the surface so I had to descend quickly. I tried, I really did, but I had trouble equalising and I was in so much pain. Because I was trying to descend but couldn’t, we got swept away from the dive site. I gave up and signalled to my buddy that I wanted to go up. Reaching the surface I realised my nose was bleeding, and then I started to cry. I think I was a little shaken at how easily we got swept away. Plus the fact that I don’t like giving up on anything.

Before a Dive

Before a Dive

After a Dive

After a Dive

Afterwards, my ears felt like they had the whole ocean in them, but I pulled myself together and decided to stay on board for the next few dives and just watch the others from a “non-nose bleed and painful ears” vantage point.
The next few dives sites- Coral Garden, South East Point, South Point and Hin Kong were all done successfully, even though the nose bleed had put me off somewhat. But it was the last dive, at Richelieu Rock, that was the most stunning, and I was so glad I didn’t sit that one out. There was a bit of a current, but it was mostly calm making the conditions perfect for diving.

Richelieu Rock at Low Tide

Dive Site at Low Tide

Richelieu Rock is located about 200km northwest of Phuket and lies about 18km off the shore of Surin Island. It was discovered by Jacques-Yves Cousteau as a recreational scuba dive site, and it is considered to be one of Thailand’s most iconic dive sites. It is a horse-shoe shaped reef, rising 50 m from the ocean floor to just below the surface at low tide. It attracts all kinds of marine life including scorpion fish, moray eels, and groupers which I saw. Other divers have seen the occasional manta rays and whale sharks passing by as well.

The corals, as well as the fish, are beautiful, ranging in colour from red to purple. And it’s from the colours that the rock gets its name. Some say that it is named after the red robes of Cardinal Richelieu, while others say it is named after a general in the Royal Thai Navy. Either way the colours of the coral are simply stunning. I spent 50 minutes in the company of the rock and its inhabitants. And for those 50 minutes I forgot about painful ears and nose bleeds and enjoyed what I was seeing.

Blue Andaman Sea

Blue Andaman Sea

I never looked forward to any of these dives, but once I was down there I relaxed and started to enjoy myself. If I get the chance again I will go diving again but I am not quite ready to go out and buy my own dive equipment just yet.

A-One Diving
256 Ruengrad Rd, Kaoniwate, Muang – 85000 Ranong – Thailand.

Mobile: +66 (0)81 8915510
Tel: +66 (0)77 832984
Fax: +66 (0)77 830984
Email: info@a-one-diving.com

My First Foray into TEFL

Back in 2009, having landed back in my beloved Thailand after three months at home, and spending a few silly drunken nights with a friend, I took a flight to Phnom Penh. I was spending the next two weeks in Cambodia’s capital city, as part of a month long TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).

My TEFL Course-Mates

My TEFL Course-Mates

I was told to meet the director of the course at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, so I went to the designated meeting point, and spent the next few hours feeling on edge, not really knowing what was going on. He wasn’t exactly the most talkative fellow I have ever come across, and he didn’t seem to want to engage in conversation. But I arrived in Phnom Penh later that afternoon and met the other people that were doing the same course. I was slightly perturbed at the seemingly lack of organisation, and basically being left on our own not really knowing what was going on until the tour of the city and welcome dinner the next day.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

The people were nice and hailed mostly from America. There was Lucie, who I am still friends with, from Czechoslovakia, and Bradley from England. Maybe it was because we were both British but Bradley followed me around a lot, which I didn’t mind too much. I think he was just a bit nervous to meet new people, which we all can be in certain situations. But being the social butterfly that I am, I made him have lunch with everyone one day, just so he would mix with the others a bit more. I remember one afternoon I wanted to get out and just have time to myself, so I went to a nearby bar and not long after I heard rustling in the bushes, and before you knew it Bradley had appeared and was asking if it was ok if he joined me. I couldn’t say no, so we sat there discussing our common love of Thailand.

A Little Visitor

A Little Visitor

The accommodation was, in name, grander than it actually was. It was called a villa. What do you normally think off when you hear the word “villa?”- Luxurious? Private pool? It was sadly neither luxurious, nor did it have a private pool. Granted, it was big and had enough bedrooms for most of the group- the rest were in a smaller place down the road. The villa was a little dated to say the least, and it was located in an area of Phnom Penh where all the street lights were turned off after 8pm. Not exactly party central.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

After two days of classes I found it was going OK but it was very tiring. Strangely, I kept wanting to burst into tears- part excitement at the prospect of working in Thailand, and part scared at how the hell I was going to be a teacher. So those first few days were a little up and down. We did activities together that were quite nerve wracking- we practised teaching exercises, and teaching classes using drama (I am no drama queen), but we were all in the same boat, so we just kind of got on with it and did what we had to do to pass the course.

Finally made it to the end of the first week. It was really tough going in parts but, after a long time off work, it was good to get my brain thinking again.

On one of our weekends off we went to Siem Reap. Lucie and I decided that we were going to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, so when we got to the hotel we went straight to bed and got up at 4am. We had arranged for a tuk-tuk to pick us up and, as you usually find in Asian countries, everyone is on a different time schedule that you. Eventually, he picked us up some thirty minutes later and off we went. When we arrived it was still pitch black. We had to stumble our way to the temple not knowing what was around us or indeed if we were going the right way. We just followed the crowd of people that had all had the same idea as us.

Slowly but surely the sun began to rise lightening the day with its rays. There are no words to describe just how amazing it was. Although, we didn’t have to get up quite as early as 4am, I was so glad I was able to experience this. The sun came up behind Angkor Wat and it was just stunning. We had a laugh at ourselves because we both, seemingly smart girls, had thought a giant yellow balloon in the distance was actually the sun.

Is that the Sun? er... NO!

Is that the Sun? er… NO!

We weren’t sure where the sun would appear and eventually we saw it……..

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Stunning Sun-Rise

Later on that day we went back again with the whole group and visited a few more temples. It is really nice to wander around the grounds seeing the different buildings. There are a few temples where the jungle has grown up and around it, and you can scramble over the ruined buildings exploring them to your heart’s content. One of the temples was called Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed. We finished the day sitting on top of a temple to watch the sun set. It was a very serene experience as long as you ignore the hundreds of other people doing the same thing. I really need to go back to Cambodia and visit these temples again and then do some proper research about them.

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Angkor Sun-Set

 

Back in Siam Reap we went from culture to debauchery- we went out for pizza at a place called Ecstatic Pizza, where you can get “happy” pizza. Yup, your normal margherita or pepperoni sprinkled with a dash of marijuana. Just to point out I didn’t indulge, when I eat pizza I am as happy as I need to be, but in Cambodia you can get high whilst eating if that’s what floats your boat.

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Happy Pizza- Siem Reap

Afterwards we had a couple of drinks in a bar listening to a band, which were actually really good, and then….. My fun was coming to an end because the others wanted to go to a karaoke bar. At the time I was very much into my clubbing and we actually had to by-pass a club to get to the karaoke place. Thinking back I don’t know why I even went, I hate karaoke. Although, I have since been known to belt out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” a few times, but that was in someone’s house, not out in public. Anyway, this karaoke bar… you get escorted to what looks like a padded cell, they provide you with drinks and snacks, and a microphone and choice of songs and away you go. I tried to get into the party spirit of things but you can imagine my face in that padded cell.

Karaoke Frustration

Karaoke Frustration

After two weeks in Cambodia I was back in Thailand to complete two weeks of teaching practise and Thai lessons. I had my first class proper teaching with a group of 25-50 year old men and women at the local church. The classes lasted for two hours a day and, at first, I wasn’t sure whether I would have enough material. I needed have worried though, we kept going off on tangents here and there, even going into maths for a while, so in the end I had plenty of stuff to teach them. My students were so nice and they made me feel very relaxed. They said “thank you teacher, see you tomorrow.” So I left that first day hoping that they had enjoyed it, and that they liked me. In fact, after two weeks I loved it so much I stayed on for an extra week.

My Very First Students

My Very First Students

My first experience of teaching made me realise just how generous and appreciative the Thais are. At the end of my third week teaching, my students gave me some gifts. I was overwhelmed. I had bought them all bracelets but that didn’t compare to what I received. I got a t shirt, bracelet, diary, home-made beer mats, a key ring, and necklaces. They also bought food and we had a little farewell party. I cried afterwards saying goodbye. I will always remember those lovely students. They made my first days of teaching in Thailand very enjoyable.

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From Swerve of Shore

A Blog by Photographer Aaron Joel Santos

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World Travel | Award-winning Photography| Inspiration | Tips

CEREBRATION

Dedicated to people who stand out of the crowd !!

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