The Land of Smiles

Thailand has several monikers. Among them are the land of the free, due to its history free of colonization. It is also called the land of smiles. If you had to ask me what I enjoyed the most about Thailand, I think it was the smiles. The scenery was beautiful with its mountains, beaches, and tropical forests. The food was unique and wonderful, although I wish I could tolerate more spiciness. But the best thing of all was its people. Everyone was so friendly, positive, and respectful. It was easy for us to fall in love with our students because they were so happy and eager to learn. But even the people we met on the street were kind and cheerful. It was so refreshing to interact with people like this every day, and I honestly think Americans could take a lesson in optimism from the Thai.
Tim and I loved our trip, and there were tears from both of us on the way home. We were sad to leave the place, but we were mostly sad to leave our wonderful students. We can’t wait to go back. Below, I’m going to try to outline the events of each day and include a few pictures at the bottom. I’ll upload the rest onto Flickr for anyone who is interested in scrolling through more.
Oh, I almost forgot the camp leaders. We all bonded really well, but it’s kind of hard to describe what good friends we became. We’re going to try our best to keep in contact with everyone, because they were all so amazing. I thought it was really common for like-minded people to connect on a trip like this, but I’m hearing from Kris and Rosemary that our group was pretty unique. We were very lucky to meet such wonderful people these three weeks, whether they were Thai, American, or Canadian!
We left Indianapolis on May 12 to depart for Bangkok. We definitely did not have a direct flight, and we arrived about 29 hours later (pretty comfortably thanks to Korean Air) in Bangkok. I know some of you were worried about us, and the situation with the protests was very serious. However, it was so isolated that we would have hardly known anything was happening except for the heightened military presence. It was Thursday night because we also lost a day. We promptly went to sleep.
On Friday, we visited the temple of the Emerald Buddha. We learned a lot about the Buddhist religion and were really fascinated by how detailed the architecture of. We were able to pray in the temple, and it was nice to feel the spirituality flow through the temple. I felt very calm and at ease there. There was also a miniature of the Angkor Watt that was very detailed and accurate. We ate lunch at the Rose Garden, and then we rode an elephant. We saw an elephant show and a cultural show that described everything from the celebration of a man becoming a monk to Thai boxing. That night we left Bangkok for Trang. We ate at our first night market on the way. Night markets are streets filled with stalls of amazing food. There is also some shopping, and my students say they eat at a night market a few times a week. We drove a little bit more, and before we went to sleep we went to 7/11 and had roti from a street vendor. Roti is like a crepe filled with egg and banana. It’s so good!
Saturday included a little bit more driving. It was a really good chance to get to know the other camp leaders, and we had a blast on the bus. We would meet our students in Trang later. It was also fun to try all the yummy Thai snacks at the convenience stores on the way. We ate at open markets along the way, and tried some really great fruit.
On Sunday, we did a tour of islands in the Andaman Sea and went snorkeling. The boat ride itself was beautiful enough, but the snorkeling and the beach topped it all off. Tim and I took our life jackets off, so we were able to dive down deeper. We saw clown fish, sea urchins, and some other really pretty marine life. The tour operator knew we would be dehydrated and thirsty from the saltwater, and he had pineapple and watermelon for everyone. One camp leader kept the pineapple and we took turns feed the fish while we were underwater. The nipped at my hand a little, but it was cool to have them swarm around us. One island we went to was a beach completely surrounded by cliffs. The only way to get to the beach was by swimming through a cave about 80 meters long. Essentially there was a rope on the boat and a rope on the beach, and we held onto it to guide ourselves through the dark cave. When the rope didn’t work, we kept one hand on the lifejacket of the person in front of us and one hand above our heads to keep from bumping them when the waves carried us up. The beach was beautiful, and the Thai people there loved taking pictures with Tim and the other male camp leaders.
On Monday, our students took a pretest and we introduced ourselves. I had four English majors who were in their second or third year of university. Tim had three engineering students. The students were shy at first, but they definitely warmed up and we were fast friends within a few days.
On Tuesday, we had a lesson and we went on a walk through the botanical gardens. We were able to see a lot of fruit trees and plants used for Thai herbal medicine. We also walked across a series of suspension bridges that went above the canopy. Neither of us is scared of heights, so it was pretty neat. I thought the bridge would be wooden, but it was metal. By Tuesday, my students were asking me a lot of questions about my home. One of them asked me about legends from my hometown, and so I told a few ghost stories. They shared one with me about a cat and a rat in a boat becoming the sand and the water. The canopy walk was really hot, as was all the weather there. Tim and I mainly stayed apart and hung out with our students, so it was really nice when he brought me a cold drink afterward. My students thought he was very considerate, and he quickly became one of the sweethearts of the camp. That night we ate at a department store, and I had a soup with pork blood in it. It was fine, but it was just the beginning of my foodventures in Thailand. We saw a chicken donut at Dunkin Donuts, but I didn’t try it.
The next day we toured an eco-friendly toy factory. We heard all about their policies, saw the factory, and even got to play with the toys. The boys had a good time with the tea set, and Tim and I picked up some things for Blake and Morgan.
Wednesday we toured an aquarium. This was good for conversing with students because the signs were all in Thai and English. Then we walked over to the beach and took pictures together. By this time the students were just crazy for pictures with all of this, so a photo session was fun. We had ice cream, and I had coconut ice cream with corn and green beans in it. It was really good! Sometime in Trang, we began running with other camp leaders. We had to start before six because of the heat, but soon we had a whole group and eventually students started running too. I was so proud of everyone who joined us, and it was a great way to see the areas around our hotels.
A few days later, we traveled to Krabi. We arrived in the afternoon, and we had dinner with our students that night. Later we all walked down to the beach and sang songs we all knew. Then we went to a karaoke room. Basically you pay $10 and you can put as many people as you want in. The room has a screen and a computer, and you just sing. Our students knew a lot of American music, and we tried to sing along with some Thai. We were quite horrible, but we had fun. Krabi had a lot more tourists than Trang, but our hotel was also close to everything in the city. One day we went to the beach and we were able to walk to an island because of the low tide. Tim taught our students to skip rocks, and one of my students got pretty good at it.
We played cards at night with our students. They taught us Kang, and we taught them spoons. By the end they loved spoons, and they got pretty brutal. Good times. One night in Krabi Tim and I took our students out for pizza. This was a real Italian restaurant in the city, so it was different than Thai pizza they had had. They all said they kind of liked pizza, and Kris said we would have a lot left over since we ordered two. We ended up ordering a third because we all wanted more. Tim got a massage that night, and the next day we left for Surat Thani.
In Surat Thani, we stayed at the guest house of the university. We were pretty removed from the city, but we were in the same guest house as our students. This made for some fun nights with students and camp leaders. We went to a monkey training center where they teach the monkeys to pick coconuts, and we visited another temple. The next day we went to Khamin cave. The lights weren’t working, so we held onto each other as we stumbled along the path. There were a lot of bats and an abandoned jeep from when communists used it as a hideout. That same day we visited a Selah (sp?) farm. They’re like prickly sweet strawberries you pick the skin off. They were delicious, as was all the fruit there. We toured the farm and saw the rubber trees (Thailand’s main export) and rode basically on a wagon with benches pulled by an ATV. That was bumpy and scary, but fun.
The last day we had a lesson, and the rest of the afternoon was spent practicing for the farewell show’s performance. I knew the students were working so hard, and some of them were up until 2 or 3 in the morning practicing. It really paid off and they did a great job. You can see the whole performance here. After that, we exchanged gifts were our students and they gave us a blessing. There were a lot of tears, and it’s difficult for me to describe the bond Tim and I created with our students. Let’s just say they were amazing people and amazing students, and Tim and I both cried all the way home because we had to leave them. They gave us a snow globe that is now our most prized possession. Yes, we’re very carefully taking it to Moldova. Anyway, I love our students, and we’re trying our best to stay in touch.
The day and a half was spent in Koh Samui with a lot of other European tourists. It was nice to lay on the beach and hang out with the other camp leaders again, but there was also a touch of sadness. We all decided it was like we got dumped by our students. We didn’t want to leave, we thought things were good between us, but we both had to go our separate ways. Just like being dumped, there were reminders of them everywhere.
For our last meal, about five of us shared a whole fish and reflected on our time in Thailand. It was a good ending, even though it was sad. I’ve been able to describe what we did in those few days, but I can’t really describe the connections we made or everything we saw. That’s difficult for me as a writer, but I feel like Thailand has changed me a lot. We would like to go back someday, maybe to teach English after PC.
We arrived to staging yesterday. There were some icebreakers and discussions about what to expect and what is expected of us. It’s all a little intimidating and scary, but we’re excited. Last night I had a Philly cheese steak and a beer with some other volunteers. We’re on a plane to Frankfurt as I type this, where we have a layover and a connection to Chisinau. We are in a hotel for a few days, and then we move in with our host families. Here’s hoping that Moldova is as wonderful as Thailand was.


Author: Bre

I am in motion and in transition right now. I married Tim Knoll less than a year ago, and we recently applied to The Peace Corps. I work as a freelance journalist.

One thought on “The Land of Smiles”

  1. So good to hear more details about your trip to Thailand. I’m SO glad it was such a positive experience, I just wish you’d have had a little more time before gearing up for Trip 2!!! What adventures you are experiencing! It’s all happening so fast you barely have time to process it all. We anxiously await reports from Moldova. Remember that we will be enthralled with the mundane, so do tell all! Let us know how we can make your stay happier (snail mail vs email? Comments here? Facebook? )
    Thanks for sharing!!

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