Welcome to an upclose and extremely personal recap of my past two years over here in Thailand. This is not a super informational post but more a ‘what happened so far’ kinda thing with a lot of extremely personal opinions and biased conclusions. Just so you know. And yes, that was the first of many bad musical references.
Let’s start with the easy and for most people probably most interesting part: Traveling.
Over the past two years I’ve seen a lot but I’m still far away from having seen ‘it all’. Even though I would say I’ve seen most ‘must see’ tourist attractions (with some exceptions like the Full Moon Party for example) there is so much more to explore. It’s a cliche but the ‘unseen Thailand’ is actually pretty cool – if you take your time to find and explore it.
However, this post being a review, we’ll start by checking some of the highlight places I’ve seen so far:
Beach (Thai: hut, Def: Place that should only be attended with long sleeve shirts – or moonboots).
I have always been a big fan of beaches everywhere. When it came down to decide whether to go to the mountains or the beach, I wouldn’t hesitate to much and choose the beach. So it was no surprise that I kicked of my Thai adventure, 2 years ago, with an awesome holiday at the beach. On Koh Tao to be precise. This small Turtle Island still is in my heart even though I’ve seen many more places by now. It’s not that crowded, offers a perfect atmosphere to come down (and to learn how to dive) and enjoy wonderful Thailand like it’s supposed to be: sabai sabai (totally relaxed).
Another highlight, on a personal level, was the trip to Chonburi and Chanthaburi (Jon & Janta). It’s not that awesome as a location – both of them – but since it was a trip with my students from Udon Thani it was something very special. Spending time with them outside of school was always awesome – so was this trip. The trip actually even more than the location in particular. Infinity Tour rules! ;-)
A pretty darn cool experience when it comes down to locations was Phuket – however only after leaving it. Phuket itself kinda, well, sucks. Not that clean, people incredibly unfriendly (compared to the rest of Thailand) and the quality of food, housing, etc. is also quite annoying and lower standard – most of the times.
The cool thing with Phuket: It’s easy to go somewhere else and take cool trips from there. For example: To the Similan Islands.
Snorkeling with huge turtles (not planned) and seeing an incredible colorful flora and fauna under water was worth the trip immediately. Before becoming to joyful though some advice: Be prepared for some stomach trouble – a few of our tour members really had to fight with sea sickness since the boats that bring you out there do it formula one style…I liked it and even fell asleep, a few others became quite sick. So: You’ve been warned!
Before I share my absolute highlight so far also some warning words and bad experiences. I also did the ‘tourist’ trips that bring you to ‘The Beach’ (Maya Bay) or other famous places like Koh Phi Phi and so on. While those places all look awesome on postcards and in movies you probably will never have the chance to see it that way – there are just always to many tourists. No quiet spots, no clear view, annoying. You might have better chances to enjoy those beautiful places when not doing a tourist tour but chartering a longtail boat for yourself. I think I’ll try that as soon as the disappointment of the past visit dissolves.
The by far best beach experience was definitely – and probably forever will be – Krabi. While Krabi comes to mind quite often when talking about cool beaches I’m not talking about the famous ‘Railey Beach’ with its resorts or ‘Aong Nang’ close to Krabi city (which is boring by the way). I’m talking about Tonsai Beach. Just ‘around the corner’ from Railey it is only accessible via longtail boat or hike through the waves (no kindergarten hike) or the forresty hills (not to easy either). However it is all worth the trip. Awesome people, great basic bungalows and climbing experiences that are incomparable. Before you mistake me though: It’s not the perfect white beach (which isn’t there – the beach itself is small and not smooth!) that makes Tonsai so perfect. It’s the overall atmosphere and the natural beauty of those rocks merging with the beautiful crystal clear water while the typical thai longtail boats cross the horizon. What Thai girls haven’t been able to accomplish, Tonsai Beach did quite easily. Make me fall in love at first sight.
Ain’t no mountain high enough.
Yes, there are mountains in Thailand. Especially in the North. When you head to Chiang Mai you can already find some of them. Easy accessible and quite nice to visit since it’s completely different to your daily city life – of course. Fresh air, cold weather – maybe even in a tent. I did exactly this camping thing with some friends from Bangkok and it was amazing to see how they reacted to their first time in the ‘wild’ and ‘cold’. They went totally crazy when they saw, for their first time ever, their own breath (due to the cold weather up there int he mountains). Like little kids. Awesome :-)
So like I said. Camping is possible. I would recommend to not book a ‘mega camp’ (100 tents next to each other) but even if you do, you will still have enough space to escape fellow campers when finally hitting the woods. If you go even further north to Chiang Rai or neighboring cities you might find even more quiet space and fresh air.
When talking about traveling in Thailand you, of course, also have to talk about cultural sights. Thailand is rich of them and, no matter where you are, you are very likely to come across something impressive. No matter if in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, Krabi or Udon Thani – almost every place has something to astonish you. The most astonishing, cultural highlight for me include until now:
Wat Prah Kaew – Grand Palace / Wat Saket – Golden Mount / Wat Poh Bangkok
It simply is an incredibly huge and impressive area with beautiful buildings and creations on it. Wat Prah Kaew – The Grand palace simply needs to be on this list. You have to pay for entrance but it’s worth it and should be a must see for everyone. Just as The Golden Mount – Wat Saket needs to be. The view from the golden mount is quite nice and let’s you see other sights such as the Rama IX Bridge for example. Besides those two Temples there are many more that deserve to be mentioned such as Wat Poh (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn). It’s really hard to pick a favorite since all of those temples have their own charme and I’m always happy to come back once in a while.
Chiang Mai – City
Chiang Mai is, by far, the most beautiful city I’ve seen in Thailand. It’s narrow streets, beautifully created shops, cool atmosphere and impressive Walking Street are only a few of the reasons why I still love to take the eight hour trip to the ‘rose of the north’. Chiang Mai is relaxed, cheap (compared to Bangkok) and a multi-cultured (small) melting pot of cool, alternative and simply interesting people. Always worth a visit – with the exception of New Year’s Eve – it’s just toooo crowded at that period of time.
Being in Thailand is awesome for many reasons. One of them: It’s easy to go somewhere else. Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia….and so much more to come. I can’t wait to see more and every trip so far proved to be worth it. No matter if you hang out in Hanoi, eat french baguette in Vientiane or let your jaw drop to the ground in front of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur – it is always great to leave Thailand to explore one of it’s amazing neighbors. Don’t miss out on that! – But don’t get me wrong! Coming back to Thailand is also amazing :-)
There is so much to say about Bangkok City and I’ve already composed so many posts about this amazing city so I will keept it quite short here: Bangkok is weird, strange, amazing. I hated it when came here 2 years ago. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, how to handle the people and was happy when we finally travelled to some remote islands. However I learned to like and love The Big Mango. Bangkok is awesome when you know what to do and how to handle the city and its people. Heck, now I even moved to Bangkok or Krung Thep Mahanakhon – how Thai people call it.
Work / Teaching
Let’s hit the part that, so far, takes up the most space on my website. It’s obviously the working / teaching part and since that’s the sole reason for coming to Thailand in the first place, it completely makes sense that a lot of my posts focus on this matter. Since I blog about working & teaching quite extensively I will try to keep it here a little shorter and really only focus on the biggest highlights or news worthy incidents. Hit it!
A different Visa a day keeps the doctor….oh no. Wait…Visaaa freedom for eve…a screw it! The Visa regulations in Thailand are incredibly crazy and sometimes even more ridiculous. It even looks like most of the governmental officers don’t even quite understand what it’s all about. Here’s a short walk through of the visas I had so far:
Non Immigrant B Work Visa. Multiple Entries. Best visa so far. Applied for at the Thai embassy in Germany before leaving Germany. 1 year visa. Allows you to enter Thailand as often as you want within 1 year. Great. However, what nobody tells you, you still have to leave Thailand every 90 days and simply come back in. Otherwise you’ll have to pay 500 THB per day your overstay those 90 days. I had to pay 20,000 THB since I didn’t know about this rule and completely trusted my College (FAIL! NEVER do this! Do not trust your school. Check it our yourself. Internet or call the immigration office….). However, besides that, the best Visa.
After the aforementioned visa had expired people from the western world might think ‘hey, let’s extend it or apply for a similar one’ – ha! Not so fast my dear young padawan. Thailand is not the rest of the world and just because it would make sense doesn’t mean it works that way. In Thailand, you can’t just apply for a similar Visa. If you want to apply for a work visa (Non-Immigrant B or similar) you have to go to a Thai embassy OUTSIDE of Thailand. For example in Vientiane, Laos. While I like Laos and met a lot of nice people during my trips (yes, more than one) there I still consider it ridiculous that people with work contracts can’t apply for work visas from within Thailand (turns out you can, wait and see). At least that’s what immigration offices tell you when you don’t bribe them. As soon as you put 2,000 extra Thai Baht on (better: under) the table everything is possible though – at least that’s why I heard. I wouldn’t wanna point with the finger on someone special (like the immigration office in Udon Thani for example) though.
Back to the visa though. Vientiane, embassy. Apply for Visa on day 1, get your passport back on day 2 (clever people in Laos. Make you stay 1 night). Valid: 90 days. Single or multiple entry. Meaning: Same same again in 3 months.
Same procedure as last year James? Same procedure as every quarter, Miss Sophie!
By the way: You can only apply for this visa when you have a current work contract (and ideally a work permit. Otherwise you need to proof that you really really really will bring the work permit next time).
So in between my contracts I didn’t have a work visa and I had to leave the country every 14 days (that’s how long you can stay when entering via land)….sucked of course so better get your Visa and work permits and contracts straight!
The good thing: Now, at my new work place, everything started quite slow again but since it’s a big University with many foreign teachers I simply trusted them (one should have thought I learned my lesson, but….) and it worked out. My Visa got extended for one year, didn’t need to leave the country, everything’s fine. Turns out you actually can do that from within – but maybe that’s the secret of our HR department ;-)
Enough Visa stuff though. Let’s hit the classroom.
‘That’s your schedule. Those are your classrooms and that are the courses you teach…it’s in Thai but you can at least read the numbers, right? Good luck’.
That’s how my teaching experience in Thailand started 2 years ago. I have never stood in front of a ‘real’ (i mean i worked as tutor, even for uni classes, but still this was different!) class. And then this. Oh Lord! My first class ever. Tourism 1/1 at Vocational College Udon Thani. I will never forget their faces when they walked into the classroom and I will never forget how nervous I was while walking up those stairs to the classroom and, one thing that I won’t forget as well and what happens to me until now: Once I enter the classroom confidence is back. They are here to learn something from me, I’m here to help them. I know what I’m doing. Let’s do this! Great feeling.
However some time had to pass until this great feeling was able to connect with all those other feelings (damn, they don’t understand me, man the culture is so different, etc…).
During my first school term at UVC (Udon Thani Vocational College) I admit I might have been a little biased once in a while since some classes have been way nicer (‘yeah, a new teacher. foreigner even. cool’) and more enthusiastic than others (‘oh no. a foreigner. maybe he can’t understand me’). Furthermore the cultural aspects (getting angry in Thailand just doesn’t help) were hard to understand and to take into account when preparing for classes. So it happened that I became quite angry once in a while but instead of students doing their homework and assignments they did even less….and simply stayed scared.
Realizing this I changed my ‘anger management’ or ‘error handling’. Don’t get me wrong: I always had fun most of the time with all my classes – I simply had to adjust my response to those ‘I didn’t do my homework – again’ cases. Once we got everything straight though that has never been a problem again and even the students with non-top grades still ‘like’ me (or at least pretend to).
After having figured out how to handle students in class I took on to prepare and execute some more out of the classroom experiences. We went on tours together, cooked German Schnitzel & Potato Salad or Italian Pizza (with some Thai influences) together or even went out to party together. All this increased their English skills and our ‘family feeling’. We’re not there to fight, we’re there to help each other.
That’s, by the way, something I can’t state often enough. Sure I taught them a lot by my students also taught me a few very important things. Patience, Compassion and how to swear in Thai for example ;-) Kidding! Well, the did teach me this but most importantly they showed me what I want to do with my life at the very moment. And that’s not, like planned, leaving Thailand after a short one term ‘teaching break’ and going back into my marketing job in Europe. It was staying here and improving and developing as a teacher. Helping those kids kicking some serious English speaking ass.
Having that said, we kicked ass during the provincial English speaking competition (champions, baby), the vocational colleges competition (3rd place english speaking, 1st place english singing, baby baby baby oh!) and the ASEAN English speaking competition (winneeeeeers). And all this with some ‘stupid’ (NOT WHAT I SAID, what others said about Vocational Colleges in the North-East) kids from a public college…. IN YOUR FACE, HATERS! :-)
Why I state that extra bold? Because it was so darn easy to improve the skills of those kids. All it took was…..
….. some change in teaching approaches and somebody who really cared about them.
I mentioned it many times before: Obviously the older teachers had their style and a lot of stuff to do so it wasn’t easy for them to change something etc. pp….hence it was a win:win situation for me and the students. Nice!
Oh…uhm…win:win….one side was the loser though. The Vocational College itself. But I don’t wanna think about that anymore (read it up).
As you might have read I then finally left Udon Thani and turned my teaching career into something more professional when joining Rangsit University as University lecturer for Online Business, Search Engines, Information Technology & Communication. It’s a great experience to meet students from all around the globe and help them to achieve their dreams. It is completely different to what I’ve done before at college level and I had to change and improve my teaching style and approach quite a bit – but that’s the fun part of it. New challenges every day. Love it.
Finally, the most private part of this blog post, the living part.
Let’s start with Health Issues I had so far since many people keep asking about food problems, Malaria or similar scary stories they read somewhere. I did not have any problems regarding such horror stories.
I had kind of a food poisoning once when I went to Chiang Mai and apparently had some bad chicken from a street vendor. This sent me to the bathroom for 2 days and made me miss New Year’s Eve that year. However that’s once in 2 years and I’m still not sure whether it was that chicken all alone or if I had been sick anyway. But let’s just say it was the ‘food’ so the fact remains: One problem in two years. That’s less problems than I usually have with food somewhere else – even at home.
When it comes to sickness, colds, flus etc. I have to say that I am way healthier here than back home in Europe. I think I’ve been sick (having a cold) twice since coming to Thailand – that’s a pretty good ratio in my opinion.
The worst experience in health terms was my Knee Luxation – dislocating my knee in one of the worst ways possible while being roller blading. I never had problems roller blading for around 15 years now. Did a lot of crazy stuff and never had issues and then, all of a sudden, when just rolling straight without doing anything, my knee bent in ways it should not have bent. Ever. It immediately swell to a size 4 or 5 times as big as usual and then pain I felt was more intense than anything I felt before. I was laying there, unable to move or even scream. Pain, shock, tears…that’s all I can remember by now.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and almost nobody was there to hear me suffer or scream in vain until some of my second year students, who were filming their homework at that day, heard me and came running. They then tried to make me feel better while holding my hand, giving me something to put my head on and calling the ambulance (worst ambulance ride ever! I don’t know where they learned how to drive or how to fixate a patient – but man that was painful!). My students then even went to the hospital with me, took care of the forms that needed to be filled out and tried to translate as much as possible for me since, on a Sunday afternoon, all doctors who speak English are on holidays….
The treatment in the hospital in Udon Thani was then something that I would describe as middle aged. If you ever had a (sport) injury in Germany (or the rest of the western world I guess) you know what’s going to happen and how you are going to be treated – in Udon it was quite different. First they made me take on the hospital outfit (since they wanted me to stay there) and fill out forms I didn’t understand (couldn’t read Thai) before a male nurse (no doctor, doctors on holidays…only one’s working on Sundays and he didn’t have time for me) came to my bed, smiled at me and then, all of a sudden, pulled my crippled leg straight. He was just lucky that I didn’t have as much Muay Thai experience back then ‘cause I’d probably would have kicked him out of the freaking hospital after pulling that stunt. Without saying anything or even warning me pulling my injured (DISLOCATED) leg straight and making me scream every single swear word I know at him. He kept smiling though – and so did everybody else around me. I’m in real pain, they all laugh and smile – I hated this part of the culture at that time!
Afterwards they sent me to different x-ray tests and after I insisted of going home that very night (they put me in HUGE room with 20 beds or so with real sick – not injured – people) they even got the doctor to see me. He only agreed on letting me home if I would come back every week to get checked on. Of course I agreed and then stumbled home on my two 18th century wooden crutches.
Despite all warnings I started to teach again the next day – not as actively as I was used to do it, but I went to the classroom taught while I was sitting on a chair – most of the time. I simply couldn’t stay at home. It would have driven me crazy and left my students without any English conversation possibilities for quite a while. I really liked this responsibility and hence felt I couldn’t let them down. They appreciated it and really tried to be nice and thoughtful while helping me as much as they could. Even though I complained a lot about Thai student laziness – when it comes to such things, they really are amazing.
This whole thing, walking around with crutches, visiting the hospital, etc. lasted around 3 months and it was pretty hard to learn walking without crutches again. And, what also sucked big time, I couldn’t do any sports. Sport was always the one thing that kept me sane during my time in Udon. Going running around the park at night, shooting some hoops, working out….all of a sudden I wasn’t able to do that anymore for quite a while. And it really killed me.
So when I finally got rid of the crutches I started to walk around again quite soon. I wasn’t able to run but I walked to the park and back…then walked a quarter round and back…and so on. The first time I went ‘running’ again was in October (the accident happened in June) and it was more like a fast paced walking than actual running. My right knee felt quite weak and, unfortunately, does so until today (1 year later) once in a while. I then also did some physiotherapy but started to do workout and basic Parkour sessions to soon again so that my knee snapped again by the end of November and I had to cut back the amount of exercise again. As you can see it really took a long time for me to come back on the sports track.
At the very moment however I’m quite fit. I started to play Beachvolleyball quite regularly after coming to Bangkok and also started to do Yoga (yes, really) a few times a week and this really helps to stay in shape and fit. My knee also starts to feel much better now and I was even able to start playing Squash again (still undefeated until the point of writing). During the upcoming holidays I planned to go Wake Boarding and Bungee Jumping (if I can persuade my friend we gonna switch to skydiving though). So sports is back on my schedule. Back on track so to say.
Girls Girls Girls
Yeah. I know. That’s what so many of you want to know and what I get asked in almost every email. What about the girls? I know I might be a little different to other Thailand related websites but I didn’t come here to shake as many girls as possible or anything similar and neither did I set out to write about those pick up places and strategies that are talked about so often. All I have to say regarding this topic: Thai girls are crazy ;-) Some dates, relationship-like encounters etc….but nothing lasted for long due to the craziness & jealousy over here. Feel free to read my guide to Thai girls if you want to know more.
Finding friends in Thailand is both, easy and incredibly hard. While it’s easy to find ‘nice’ people to talk and hang out with once in a while it is very difficult to find ‘real’ friends that really care about you and aren’t afraid of telling their opinion and really listening to you.
It might be a cultural thing (quite sure it is) and hence it’s hard to change. Most people here don’t like confrontation and consider ‘being friends’ similar to ‘saying yes and smile all the time’. However, when it comes to real friends, that’s not what I expect. I want real opinions and meaningful conversations. Those things are, unfortunately, quite rare to find though.
So hanging out with fun people having a good time and some laughs: No problem at all. Finding real friends: Problem.
What else is there to say? Thailand is, even after 2 years, still a huge adventure and I still come across a lot of new things on an almost daily basis. My new job provides me with some new challenges, my PhD studies keep me going into the education & technology direction and students keep to amaze. All in all: Life’s good and I’m looking forward where life will guide me to during the next 2 years in Thailand, South East Asia or somewhere completely different.
Chok dee krub!
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