Living the Dream

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Friday, January 14, 2011

   The last few months of my life has been filled with dramatic ups and downs.  My grandmother's health had taken a dive, and my family made the decision to move her to St. Louis to enter an assisted living program after spending 50 years of her life living in the same little quaint neighborhood in northern Jersey.  I had planned to return home for a couple months after my SE Asia adventure to spend some time with her and make sure she was comfortable in her new situation.  Unfortunately, she passed away before thanksgiving.  

    I always had a very close relationship with my grandmother, and after my grandfather died 8 years ago, I became particularly close with her.  My grandmother was the type of person who had favorites (particularly grandchildren) and made this blatantly obvious.  As the only male grandchild, I was lucky enough to fall into the "favorites" category.  I have so many good memories of my nanny (grandmother) but our Yankee gossip was by far the most prominent one.  Particularly, during the postseason (which is almost every year being a Yankees baseball fan) I would expect routine calls from her after every win.  This was her way of finding a common ground with me, and I absolutely loved this!  Towards the end of her life, her memory really took a dive.  My mother told me that she would watch the games with a pen and notepad so that she could write down what happened and have a conversation with me about it after the game. 

            There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to make the trip back to America to attend the service.  After three days of traveling, I was back with my family.  I first stopped in St. Louis for two days to spend a bit of time with my father, step mother, and sisters.  I got to have a traditional thanksgiving meal with my family before making my way to New Jersey where the funeral was.  The service itself was about as nice as it could possibly be given the circumstances.  The funeral home, Called Lamonica, was originally chosen by my grandparents based on the Italian name (my grandparents were very traditional Italians, and liked to support other Italian businesses in there community).  The post funeral meal was held at Alpertis restaurant in Clark, and could have possibly been one of the best meals of my life.  All you can eat macaroni, chicken cutlets, and meatballs is always a great thing!  During the meal, I couldn’t help but notice the exuberant nature of my family.  My mom mentioned to me that we were celebrating my Nan’s long fulfilling life rather then mourning her loss. 

            My cousin recently began working for a marketing company in Manhattan, which does a majority of there work helping spread the word about new alcoholic beverages in the New York area.  At the time, her company was co hosting a Christmas party with Gotham magazine, one of NYC’s trendiest publications.  She happened to have three extra guest passes to the private event, which she gave to me and two of my cousins.  Let me tell you, this was quite an experience.  I had never gone between such different scenarios over a 5 day period.  I had come from a life where I was drinking $3 bottles of Thai whiskey in the jungles of Southeast Asia to sipping liquors I had never even heard of in the concrete jungle that is New York. 

Four days later, I was back to the “simple” life in Thailand.  My return came right before a Buddhist holiday, so everyone was planning on taking advantage of the three day weekend and heading to the notorious party island of koh phangan.  I was exhausted from the travel and decided to do my own thing for a few days.  I decided last minute to head to an area north of Phuket (western Thailand) called Krabi.  The bus ride to Krabi town was about three hours (one of the great things about Surat is that it is conveniently located between a number of great destinations).  Krabi town itself is nothing great, very similar to Surat actually.  I was told by a fellow teacher that the place to go in Krabi was Riley Beach.  Riley beach is quite expensive, so I originally decided to go with its neighboring beach community called Tonsi beach.  After a short long tail boat ride (both beaches are not accessible by road) I found my self being dropped on a small beach surrounded by pictures limestone cliffs.

 I walked down the beach to find the nearest dirt road which would take me to my accommodation.  The first thing I noticed about the island was that it was full of hippies and adrenaline junkies who came to the area to take advantage of the towering limestone cliffs.  After following a dirt road through the thick jungle for about twenty minutes, I found myself in front of some bungalows.  The bungalow owner was a Thai man who spoke perfect English.  250 Baht (or about $8) got me a simple room with a fan, toilet, and mosquito net…all you need really.  After getting situated into my room, I spent the rest of the day exploring the area, watching the rock climbers, and laying on the beach.  The following day I decided to head to Riley beach.

Riley is a bit more expensive then Tonsi and directed more towards families rather then budgeting backpackers.  Being the cheap person I am, I decided against a long tail boat ride to Riley, instead choosing to take the hike there which can only be done during low tide.  After about 30 minutes of hiking through thick jungle, I saw exactly why Riley was world renown. 

In my opinion, Riley is the most beautiful beach landscape I have ever seen (in person or pictures).  The beach itself is about 300 yards long, and is situated between two towering limestone cliffs.  Behind the beach is jungle with several bungalows and shops intertwined.  After exploring the area for about ten minutes, I came to the conclusion that this was paradise on earth.  There was a good mixture of Thai and farang (Thai word for westerners).  Particularly, there was an abundance of Scandinavians.  I remember my friend Pete (who is from Finland) telling me that at any one time 5% of the Scandinavian population was vacationing in Thailand.  After visiting Riley, I believe this statement. 

The next couple of days were spent relaxing on the beach and exploring the surrounding Riley jungle area.  I was told that there was a hike you could take through the jungle that would lead me to another spectacular secluded beach scene.  Having no plans, I decided to do the hike. After 45 minutes, I found myself on the east side of Riley.  The scene was breathtaking, complete with more limestone cliffs, blue/green water, and monkeys frolicking about.  After spending the afternoon here, I returned to the western part of Riley where I was staying.  Unfortunately, I only had 2 days (1 day of travelling) to explore the Krabi area.  Luckily, my father is coming for a visit in May, so a return to Riley in the near future in inevitable. 

Life in Surat has been great as of late.  I finally feel like I am adjusted to the differences of living in Thailand (it only took me 5 months).  For the first time, I am really enjoying my job, and the every day routine of my life here.  I have really started to form a bond with all my classes, but particularly with my youngest group.  I have my EP 1 class (ages 6 and 7) ten times a week for Math, Science, and English.  I have twenty different students, and enjoy teaching every one of them.  When it comes time to write progress reports, I get excited to discuss all there little unique personalities.  I can’t say that I like them all equally, because that is simply not the case.  Like my grandmother, I have favorites.  In my EP1 class I teach a little boy named Chim (his real name is actually Chimpanzee).  He is one of my brighter students, but also one of my cheekiest.  I am required to review the rules everyday before class, which Chim has a field day with.  Rule number six reads “bum in your chair” and during my lessons, Chim is constantly reminding me of this… “Teacher Shane, bum in your chair!”  He is a very smart little boy and can recognize the boundary of what he can and can’t get away with. 

My roommate scenario is pretty good, as I recently moved houses.  I used to live twenty minutes out of the city and had to commute quite a distance every morning.  I now live in a nice two story bachelor pad complete with a pool table and air conditioning.  My roommates are very easy going, and we all get along.  My daily routine consists of work from 9-5 then gym and dinner which puts me home around 8.  Those of you who know me know that I have never really been a fan of routines and 9-5 jobs, but I am starting to get used to the idea (Mom, I know you worry about this). 

Two weeks ago, Thailand hosted the infamous full moon party on Koh Pangang.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the party, as I heard mixed reviews.  Some people told me that it was the best experience of there life and some described it as a bunch of drunk Brits trying to start fights.  When I returned to the United States for the funeral and told people I was living in Thailand, many people asked me if I had been to the big party yet.  I had never realized how well known it was around the world.  I was told that the New Year’s full moon is the biggest party of the year, so I figured if I was ever going to go to something like this, now would be the perfect time to do it.    

Our school gave us a four day weekend for the holidays, and everyone planned to go.  I made a last minute decision to hop a boat with my roommate and meet some other friends at the party (Yes, I am still alive).  I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy the experience of this particular shitshow.  The event usually hosts around 15,000 drunken tourists all partying on a fairly small strip of beach, but being New Years Eve, even more people were expected.  The full moon is notorious for narcotics of all types.  It is one of the few places in the world you could walk up to any bar and order 4 beers, an ounce of bud, a mushroom shake, and 3 MDMA pills.  With this in mind, people constantly go missing from these parties, so you have to keep this in the back of your mind. 

I found myself in a number of strange scenarios over the course of the weekend…and I mean STRANGE!  I came away from the weekend 5,000 Baht poorer (about $200) but with some memories I will have forever.  All in all a well spent $200.  I also met a lot of the new teachers in Surat, and have since hung out with them.  It’s just a shame that I have to leave this experience in a few months.  Anyways, I will try and be more consistent with my blog entries, and will make another entry in the near future.

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