It has been a while since my last post and although it is already July, June seemed to be one of the longest months ever. After my last trip to Chiang Mai, I have been too exhausted and busy on the weekends to travel and thus have stayed relatively close to the confines of Tha Wang Pha.
Two weeks ago, Ben and I had just ordered food from a noodle shop when I received a call from one of the girls who teaches in Nan. She told me she was actually in Tha Wang Pha with the other teachers from Nan (8 other girls), but that one of the girls had gotten a flat tire on her motorbike and was trying to figure out how to fix it. I wanted to help, but having just ordered our food (with no idea how to tell the kitchen staff to cancel), I had to wait until after we finished eating to try and help. On the way to the gas station they were supposedly at we saw two of the girls struggling to push the motorbike down the road. It turned out that there was a tire place very nearby that was able to give her a new tire free of charge (they actually refused her money when she tried to pay).
The girls had been on their way to a nearby waterfall (Tad Luang Waterfall) and invited us to join them while their tire was being fixed. Having had a strong urge to swim in the humid, sweltering heat since I arrived in Tha Wang Pha, I immediately accepted. The journey to the waterfall took about forty minutes and the final road up to the waterfall had nice views of a nearby valley.
From the parking area it was a short, somewhat treacherous hike to the waterfall over dirt, rocks, and small slippery log bridges. The waterfall had several different tiers, with several different waterfalls and corresponding pools on each tier (there were three tiers with their own pools at the section we were at). There was a group of young Thais at one of the pools we were swimming at, also enjoying the cool water of the pools. At first the water felt incredibly cold to my shivering body, but after I dunked myself it just felt amazing. The pools were not very deep- there were only a few spots in each of the pools that were deep enough to not stand up in, but just being able to swim in cold water made me not care. After exploring the middle and top tier of the waterfall, I joined most of the girls at the bottom tier where the Thais were also hanging out.
To my chagrin, one of the Thai guys had managed to climb into a small cave right behind the cascade of water pounding into the pool. I immediately wanted to climb in the cave as well, although the only way to get there was by scrambling up slick rocks to its side. Nonetheless, I decided to try, prompting the girls to tell me not to split my head open and die. After getting my footing, I attempted to climb further up the rock only to slip and almost fall. Laughing at the slipperiness of the rocks, I grabbed the rock wall to my side (also slippery) and tried my best to carefully climb up the rocks. As I neared the cave which was very small (the opening being roughly one square meter with water at the bottom), I switched my footing, delicately placing my left foot where my right had been and awkwardly threw my body onto the cave lip. Although it wasn’t very graceful (I probably resembled something like a walrus or seal flopping around on rocks), I managed to slide my body into the water of the cave which was eerily very deep. However, it was instantly worth it as I was able to slide my body over the lip of the cave and let the deluge from the waterfall pound my back like an elemental masseuse. The only way to get out of the cave was to slide down the front of the rocks like a natural waterslide. Seeing the Thai guy do this first, I was fairly certain they were no rocks below, although as I splashed into the water I was relieved to not have hit any foreign objects.
I swam around the pool a bit more, before deciding to go back in the cave a second time. As I once again climbed the side rocks to the cave and attempted to switch my footing, I slipped and thought this is going to hurt as I fell down the rock into the pool. Fortunately, I slid down the rock like it was another natural water slide and slipped into the water without even being hurt from the impact. This made me determined to try the cave ascent one last time, which I victoriously finished by sliding my walrus like body into the deep water of the cave.
After swimming around a little more, we decided to head back. On the drive back, we were starting to near Tha Wang Pha when one of the girls pulled over on the side of the road. Somehow, her tire that had just been replaced went flat again. While it was somewhat comical, we were at a loss whether there would be a place nearby to fix the tire and how long it would take to mend the situation. Luckily enough there was another tire repair shop nearby (nothing short of a miracle as there is hardly ever any kind of store nearby here other than basic shops and restaurants), and the repair took no more than fifteen minutes. Once again, the man repairing the bike refused to take any money, and so we left, hoping that the new tire would hold up.
We all stopped in Tha Wang Pha to eat dinner before wishing goodbye to the girls, they still had about an hour drive to Nan left.
Other than the trip to the waterfall, the last few weeks have mainly been filled with working, eating, and sleeping. A couple weeks ago some of my seventh grade students asked me when my birthday was. Not thinking anything of it, I told them and continued my day. That Friday (June 27th), I was surprised when that same class of students came into the foreign language department office with a cake and sang happy birthday to me. During our earlier conversation the students must have not realized I said my birthday was July and thought I had said June. Nonetheless I was still very moved that the students would do such a nice gesture for me (in the end it’s only the thought that counts anyway), and I was very thankful that at least some of my students like me.
Since the students delivered the cake early in the morning while I was still half asleep, I was kind of shocked and confused, and thus did not feel like eating any of the cake. I felt bad after the students left, as I probably should have shared the cake with them. To make up for it, I decided to buy them a cake that weekend. I ended up getting them a chocolate cake from a nearby bakery and bringing it into the next class, after thanking them again for the gesture.
On a different note, I am now an official worker in Thailand. A few weeks ago Ben and I went to Nan with our coordinator Kru Rin to pick up our work permits. We got to leave from school after lunch on a Thursday, missing fifth and sixth periods for the day. Needless to say I was not disappointed that I did not have to teach that afternoon. Instead, we stopped at the Employment Office in Nan where we turned in some paperwork and received our work permits. The work permit definitely looks and feels official; it resembles a thinner version of a passport, and is the first step to getting a re-entry permit (allowing me to travel outside of Thailand) as well as assurance that I am now a legal worker in Thailand. After picking up the work permits, we went to Tesco where Ben and I bought a speaker system (both for our apartments and for playing music to our classes). Kru Rin also bought us blizzards from Dairy Queen which was both amazing and also the first food I have had from an American restaurant since I have arrived in Thailand (although that has more or less been purposeful). It was a great end to the day, and much more relaxing than teaching teenage-angst filled students.
Since last Friday was the fourth of July, I wanted to commemorate the holiday in at least some small way. For dinner, Ben and I ate hamburgers at Family Burger, the only ‘American’ restaurant in Tha Wang Pha. I stressed the word American because the restaurant is actually run by a French man and his Thai wife, so the American-ness of its fare is questionable. Also, somewhat ironically, the best hamburgers the restaurant sells are not their beef burgers but rather their pork burgers. I think this is because all forms of beef are harder to find in Thailand and thus the beef sold at restaurants seems to be poorer quality than the pork. After eating the burgers, we went to a nearby bar to watch the France vs. Germany game of the World Cup. While not much of a celebration, it was still a nice day and I didn’t miss much of the American celebration other than the delicious barbecue food.
This weekend will be a long holiday (a four day weekend), and thus Ben and I decided to travel to Sukhothai. Sukhothai, a UNESCO world heritage site, has a historical park that is the site of several ruins of the old capital of the Sukhothai empire. While the ruins attract decent crowds of tourists, it is supposedly large enough that you can find solitude among the old temples and statues. It will be nice to get away and see some more historical sites of Thailand.
Later on, in about two weeks, we will have the whole week off because of midterm exams. Since the midterm exams need to be proctored by a Thai teacher (so that they can answer any questions the students might have), there is basically no reason for Ben and I to be at school. I have no problem with this, as it means that we have the week off to travel and relax. We decided to go to Krabi and some nearby islands (most likely Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta), in the south of Thailand on the Andaman Sea side of the peninsula. I am very excited to relax on the beach, and do some scuba diving. Although it is not necessarily the best time to go (because it is the rainy season), I still think it will be more fun to visit than another destination in the north or Bangkok.
With several trips planned and a bunch of days off, the next few weeks should be a nice change from the grind that was June. It is crazy to think that the semester is just about halfway over but also nice to think that the longest part (without holidays) and hopefully the hardest part, is already over. I think that the trip down south will also help clear my head and be a good start of what should be many more travels to come in the future!