In my last year of college, I was feeling the slow, creeping dread of shaping that formless gray blob on the horizon called ‘The Future’ into something closer to ‘Success’ and ‘Things My Parents Won’t be Embarrassed to Tell Their Friends’. (At that point, the blob resembled something more like ‘Minimum Wage Transition Job’ and ‘Crippling Uncertainty’). What the hell was I going to do with my life?! And why did everyone else seem to have it figured out?
My boyfriend and I decided that travel and work abroad (specifically teaching) would be the best way to avoid adult responsibilities and what I like to call ‘future questions’ (Are you going back to school? When are you getting married?)
So, the two of us took our hard-earned and generously donated cash to Europe. We attempted to find the best beer in the world, walk as far as we could without using transportation, and eat vegetarian food in as many different cuisines as possible. We also had our first ‘workaway’ experiences where we traded labor for a free place to stay and 3 meals a day. It’s possibly one of the most rewarding ways to travel and experience day-to-day life in another country (but that’s another blog post…)
After 10 weeks in Europe, we headed to Thailand where the real unknown lay ahead. We had a one-way ticket and no concrete plans. We spent two months exploring Laos and Central Thailand before moving to Chiang Mai for a month and a half. We were lucky enough during our travels to end up at the major sites of celebration for Loi Krathong and Yi Ping (lantern lighting and candle floating festivals).
In Chiang Mai, we enrolled in a month long course to get our TEFL certificates. I learned how to teach young monks and hilarious Chinese university students. We also learned to drive a motorbike (or in my case, crash one) and to speak fairly decent Thai with the locals. One of the best parts of living in Chiang Mai was the food – it was cheap, fresh, delicious, and there were SO many vegetarian options. I daresay it is the vegetarian mecca of Thailand (and I don’t say it lightly!)
After finishing the program, we took an epic tour of Southern Thailand and Malaysia before settling down in Bangkok to teach. Island hopping was an awesome (and eye-opening) experience for us. We both got certified to scuba dive, found an island with no cars or electricity, and discovered first-hand how the tourist industry is destroying some of the most beautiful parts of Thailand. Overall though, it was an extremely positive traveling experience and reaffirmed my belief that Thais are the friendliest people on Earth (another generalization, but a fair one).
After our foray to the South, we came back to Bangkok nearly broke. We bit the bullet and applied for teaching jobs for the beginning of the school year (May). I was lucky enough to be offered a job at a prestigious government school teaching Math and Science. So, for the next 8 months, I enjoyed the big city life, traveled during breaks, and taught my all-male students – an adventure I’m still experiencing!
I have explored, loved, tasted, smelled, taught, hated, experienced and truly enjoyed Thailand in the last two years. I have tried to be an open and conscientious traveler and to learn the language and listen to what people have to say. Most importantly though, I have tried to engage with and appreciate the culture of this beautiful country for what it is, getting outside of the ‘Western’ mindset of what makes a country functional and/or modern.
I have been respectful. I have let go of the contradictions of Thai life and enjoyed the freedom and peace of mind that comes with the mai pen rai mentality. And I have learned so many life lessons here! While some of my posts will be critical of Thai life, know that I have an overwhelming sense of fondness and appreciation for this amazing country. This is why I feel I have so much to share about Thailand with you, dear readers. I hope to encourage travel and do this wondrous country justice!