[Two] nights in Bangkok- Day One

Apologies for the heinously cliche blog title but I love me a good piece of politcially allegorical musical theatre and I love me a bit of Bangkok too.

But I think, only a bit.

I spent my first 2 days in the original Sin City of Thailand and it was everything I was expecting and more- overwhelming, busy, chaotic and delicious.

I knew I wanted to make the most out of my time in BKK but not be so wrecked by the time I arrived in CM for my volunteer experience so I definitely scheduled in both exciting activities and active relaxtion time.

Let’s begin!

I arrived at 8:30 on Sunday morning- not the best time to get to a new city, I’ll be honest. It’s tempting to let jet lag and the weariness of travel overwhelm you and just nap and so, knowing this, I chose (to the utter disbelief of everyone I met) to go on a cycle tour of the city in the afternoon followed by a food tour by tuk tuk which finished up around 11:30. Perfect!

And it was. I was picked up by a driver (a perk of my Stray Arrival Pack), got to my lovely hotel, the Dewan, in good time- mesmerised by the changing vistas outside the airconditioned comfort of the car as we sped along the highway and bustled through the traffic which is synonymous with many cities but especially Bangkok.

I checked in super easily, immediately found myself a coconut to sip on (unfortunately, it wasn’t very good- but fortunately, the only bad one I’ve had!) and wandered through a VERY quiet Khao San road area to the Stray Shop. It was dead- everyone was sleeping off big Saturday nights and the vibe was decidedly one of hazey regrets. I didn’t mind KS area, but to be honest, next time I’m in BKK I’d rather stay somewhere a bit less tourist focused, the bars and nightclub scene is just not really my jam and I found the constant presence of pasta, pizza and burgers intrusive. There were little street food vendors around but their prices were significantly higher than many of the places I’ve been since.

That said- the Dewan was awesome and I’d stay there again in a heart beat.

After popping into the Stray Shop to confirm all the details of my tours on Monday, I walked to the pier and caught the tourist boat down the river to where my bike tour was starting. It was so lovely and the cool breeze was stunning in  the heat. I was hoping to just catch the local boat but I wasn’t sure what boat was what and in my worry that I wouldn’t make in time for the tour, I caved. The tourist boat was probably much more expensive but ultimately? It’s hardly an issue. It was still only just over $1. It was a beautiful way of getting around the city and I would highly recommend the river over the road.

Once I located Co van Kessel bike tours, (right next to a Coffee Club- dubbed as being home of Australia’s favourite brunch… um, sure CC.) I grabbed lunch from a local hole in the wall and then, it was time for the tour! We had a few Dutchies (the man who originally started this now Thai run company was Dutch), a few Brits, a couple of Australians and a lady from the Philippines. I was the only one wearing a helmet so Mother, you should be proud I didn’t bow to peer pressure etc. The bikes were great quality and very comfortable.

The tour was so interesting! We rode through the back streets of China Town, around some very extravagant houses and past some places where it was clear the people were only just scraping by. We rode, precariously, through tiny alleys and even through busy market places. I will admit, I felt a bit intrusive at times and did wonder how good this voyuerism was for the community, but they didn’t really pay attention to this bevy of white folk trundling past on our cycles. We also boarded a shuttle ferry and went to the quieter side of the city and visited a temple which was just beautiful. I’m constantly struck by the respect and devotion that the Thai’s have toward their faith and while I’m glad that, as a Christian, I’m not bound to any physical expressions of my faith, but rather spiritual ones, it certainly causes me to pause and think if I’m really giving my faith the respect God’s glorious grace deserves.

We also visited the flower market- absolutely one of my favourite places in BKK. Filled with spices, tea, flowers and fruit, this place is a feast for the senses and the intricacies of the flower designs blow me and my fat fingers away. I almost bought my weights worth of spices and teas but showed a modicum of self control knowing I’m not allowed to bring anything into the country- least of all, tea (though that rule is probably more heavily monitored by my father than customs).

We finished up the tour, along with some fruit and random Thai snacks, at about 4:30, giving me time to walk to the meeting point for my next tour- the street food extravaganza!

This was run by Bangkok Food Tours and was faultless. We hopped into the waiting tuk tuks and were ferried around all night until we were full to bursting. We sampled some traditional Northern food (tom yum, duck larb, sticky rice, grilled tilapia, cucumber salad), had a version of pad see ew which you could get with either a runny egg or cooked, omeletteish egg. I got the runny egg and it was delicious. Because the egg was cracked in with the food, hot from the wok, it cooked slowly and became the most delicious sauce. We also had mango sticky rice, a few little desserts, longan, and pad thai from the most famous pad thai in BKK. It’s featured in a bunch of TV shows, the Guardian rated it as the best “fast food” in the world in 2014 and it is consistently busy. I had the modern version (which is the one I’d seen on Luke Nguyen’s show) and while it was delicious and looked amazing, it was a little sweet. I preferred my friend’s traditional version which was less attractive but less sweet. I’m yet to try any other Pad Thai over here though so it remains to be seen if it is the best.

We finished the night atop a rooftop bar overlooking the river where I had a mocktail and enjoyed the rain and the city lights. We were then each dropped around the city to our various hotels, concluding the night in comfort and style.

I slowly climbed the stairs to my room and collapsed into bed… looking forward to my floating market tour and massage which I had in store for tomorrow….

Though not before brushing my teeth with local water…a decision that thankfully, didn’t hamper too much of my much needed sleep.

Day Two, coming soon.

Amy xx

South East Amy So Far…

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It’s been 5 days that I’ve been in this country and it already feels like I belong here. Yes, I can’t read any signs and I definitely miss the grid system of Lovely Melbourne and I can’t speak the language and I’ve probably been over charged and I’ve probably unwittingly offended people but this place is just beyond what I thought it would be. The spirit of the people is as intense as the damp heat and the sense of possibility is as sweet as the fruit I’ve been eating off street stalls. I know it will be a challenge at times (I’ve just realised my wifi in my apartment only allows one device to be connected at a time which is fine, I just have to get used to it) but it’s hard to get used to for someone who’s used to being connected to everything, all of the time. Other challenges I forsee:

  • Cycling on these roads.

When I went on my cycling tour of Bangkok (post to come) I was struck by how quiet the back streets were… but how narrow and scary they also were. Chiang Mai- as far as I can see doesn’t have the latter issue. The back streets seem nice and wide and easy to get around, but the main streets are just as busy and mildly terrifying, I’m not going to lie. Although, I have mastered (that term has never been used more loosely) merging across a 3 lane road to turn right or do a u-turn. People are actually super tolerant of cyclists so I think I’ll end up ok… it’ll just take some getting used to, I suppose! I’ll come back fearless!

 

  • Managing my thermostat.

I don’t like sleeping with the air conditioner on. At all. But, if I leave my doors open, the carnival/night market across the road is really loud AND I’m paranoid about insects coming in. Not because I’m scared of insects… I’m just scared of the blood borne diseases they carry.

So, I tend to turn the aircon on, wake up freezing, turn it off, wake up boiling, turn it on… and it continues ad nauseum.

 

  • Cold showers.

My ex-personal trainer will be thrilled to know that I’ll be adopting his fat burning recommendation of cold showers while I’m in CM as it seems my shower has two settings- cold and slightly less cold. Which, to be honest, I don’t mind. It’s actually really refreshing and I don’t really want a hot shower at this point in time. But… it’s still a shock to the system, no matter how hot and sweaty you are post in-room workout.

 

  • Making decisions.

For anyone who has ever dined with me, you know decisions are hardly my strong point. It is why I love chef’s menus which don’t give you any choice, combination plates which let you try a little of everything and fro yo bars which let you put as many flavours and toppings into your cup as your heart so desires. It’s why I love HIIT hybrid workouts so I can practice my lifting while also getting my cardio in. It’s why I’m a “plan in advance” person so I can know precisely what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it. This is a bit harder when I purposely did not plan much for this portion of my trip… which means I need to decide what I’m going to do each day. This has been interesting thus far but I’ve sort of settled into a routine-

 

  • Wake up around 6:30
  • Do an in room HIIT workout- either self run or using Fitness Blender
  • Have breakfast (this either involves having some fruit and yoghurt [I found a tiny little fresh yoghurt place that sells tubs of homemade, pro biotic, natural yoghurt w. NO SUGAR! Win!], and vegemite on these cracker things I found which are sort of like saladas OR strolling down to the wet market and getting a traditional Thai breakfast of egg, rice and some sort of stirfried dish.) and do my quiet time.
  • Linger over the beautiful Nancy Chandler map of Chiang Mai and decide what incredible thing I’m going to do this morning.
  • Ride bike/walk in general direction of that thing hoping for the best.
  • Find thing (it’s closed)
  • Ride/walk around aimlessly, taking note of cool looking places to visit. Meander like the locals
  • Head to TFH by 10am if I’m not teaching that night…
  • And to be honest, I’m not sure what I do there. Today is my first day so it’s still v early stages- I’m basically learning where things go.
  • Have a delicious lunch. I’m going to work my way through their menu, it all looks so divine.
  • Back to work…
  • Ride home around 5- if I’m not teaching that night…
  • Chill for a bit while I decide what to do that night… I’m not really a massive party animal so I need to be sure that I get my sleep. I also don’t want to spend loads on red trucks and tuk tuks, so I want to be able to walk/ride to most places myself… but I’m still not very confident on the roads. So… we shall see. I would like to go to documentary screening tonight about the Burmese Civil War which is still affecting many of our students, but I think I’ll take a red truck there as I’m not 100% confident in riding to the location… or rather, riding back in the dark. Most nights I’m envisaging heading over to the night market or one of the many vendors/restaurants in the area, grabbing some food and enjoying it while people watching or reading my book.
  • Have an earlyish night and fight with the air conditioning as to ensure a good nights sleep, ready for another day tomorrow.

 

The freedom is divine and actually really challenging for me, so it’s been a good learning experience ALREADY, and it’s only week 1! I think it’ll get easier, or just be different, when there’s another volunteer who I might be able to do things with. Someone is starting tomorrow (Friday!)

 

  • Coming home.
    It’s already dawning on me how quickly this year will go and all the things I’ll miss when I’m at home, or even while I’m travelling. I don’t want to dwell on this though as I know this year will be life changing and life at home will be so rewarding when I return and all the more richer for this experience.

 

  • Visas….
    Still scared. Don’t want to think about the border runs I need to do.

I’m certain this list will grow and expand but at the moment, this is it. Which is pretty good, so far I think!

I’ve been so struck while I’ve been here how blessed I am to be able to do what I’m doing. I’ve always known that I’m privileged to do what I’m doing but I really think this trip is such a gift and I thank God every day that I’m able to explore my world so freely, so safely and hopefully, have an impact while I’m doing it.

Thanks for following along and supporting me in your prayers and thoughts. I’ll post more about what I did in BKK soon!

Sawadee Ka!

It’s time. 

It’s now The Month That I Leave. I leave in 16 sleeps. It’s 2 weeks and 2 days before I go. I am now officially counting down the days. 
I feel ready most of the time. Every so often I absolutely freak out, but mostly in a excitement. I haven’t had an “Oh God, help me! What have I done?!” moment yet (I’m sure it will come though!). But generally, I feel ready and willing to get my life shaken up in all sorts of ways. 
For those of you not in the know (I don’t know how- I am literally the worst and will not slipping it into conversation) I’m about to embark on the gap year I never had- I’m going to Thailand to volunteer with Burmese refugees. I’ll be living in Chiang Mai for 6 month, working with the Thai Freedom House as a teacher and in their office. After this experience, I’ll be travelling to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore. I fly back into Australia on the 28th of March next year, into Darwin, before flying to Brisbane and then (depending on circumstances!) road tripping back to Melbourne. 
I’m going to be doing it solo- meeting people as I go and finding new things out- about myself, about my world, about this life. 
And I cannot wait. 
Why Thailand?
I’ve always loved- LOVED- Thailand- its culture, its people, its vibe. When I was 10, I went on a 5-6 week holiday to visit my uncle who, at the time, lived and worked in Thailand. It wasn’t the typical holiday you imagine when a 10 year old says they went to Thailand. My parents took me everywhere- we went up north, out to the River Kwai, down south to Phuket (of course)- taking our time on the way to each destination. Yes, it was a package tour- it made sense for us- but it wasn’t entirely sanistised. I wasn’t in a resort enclave the entire trip. I was exposed to real poverty. I was exposed to the sex tourism industry. While I didn’t totally understand, I knew that what I was seeing was wrong and that sparked a life long (thus far) passion for the marginalised and voiceless. 
And ever since, I’ve wanted to go back and do something on the ground. 
Why TFH?
When I decided to just DO this thing I’d be dreaming of forever, I started researching different options for volunteering. There was a lot of voluntourism options where it seemed like the focus was on getting through the hour or two you were with the kids so you could go travelling/drinking. Or, they were 1-2 week stop overs where you ticked the “good person” box and got the necessary Insta pics with the adorable children. 
Neither of these options appealed to me for a variety of reasons and please understand that I’m not passing judgment on either of those options, they just weren’t for me. I didn’t want something short term or easy to get. I wanted a vigorous screening and approval process. I wanted a program where I was working and helping an existing organisation who would appreciate my help and where my help would last beyond my time there. I wanted my help not to be a hindrance. 
Thai Freedom House seemed to provide all of these things. Their program looks vigorous. I look like I’ll be actually helpful. I think I’ll provide skills that they can use! I think my own skills will be nurtured and grown.

I’ll be thrust out of my comfort zone in very real ways and Thai Freedom House also gives great support to their volunteers. 

I know my money will go toward incredible work and not to advertising and brochures.
Why now?
In 2015 I had a quarter life crisis, 1 year early, and I felt like I had stagnated. So much had changed in my passions and life since school and yet I was still there. In a different role, yes but still.
I decided to look for a new church at the same time. 
A lot of my friends were getting married which not only increased the feeling of stagnation in my perpetually single life but also made me feel a little isolated because my own stupid brain told me they didn’t need me anymore- and that was purely me.
I started a uni course in desperation and unenrolled just as quickly as I enrolled when I realised I was running and not trusting God.
Then I decided that it made sense to finish another year at school- but in a slightly smaller role to allow myself to rest a bit more and not fall into my highly perfectionist trap I laid for myself- and then move on from my perfectly controlled life and give it to God. And what better way to do that than to go and live and work O/S- in a non English speaking, developing nation.
I didn’t have any obligations, no boyfriend, no debts, no loose ends… just an open door and a God who was whispering that He had me and I just needed to let Him take the lead. 
And so I saved like a monster. Gave my notice at work. Started the process of applying for TFH and now it’s here. 
And I’m ready, most of the time. 
If you’d like to follow my adventures and learning experiences please keep an eye on Facebook and this blog. I’ll be posting life updates, work specific stuff, fitness posts, faith posts, personal posts and travel posts.
I look forward to going on this journey together. 
Please pray for me, if you’re the praying type. I’ll need strength, the ability to rest, friends, an escape from my obsessions with exercise and food which occasionally rear their ugly heads and help to stay focused on the one constant- my faith. 

Come with me, it’ll be one hell of a (non- elephant) ride. 

Boot Camp for Burma!

One of the reasons I started this blog was to get me into the habit of writing regularly. Why did I want to write regularly, you might ask? Well, beyond the obvious benefits of improving my writing flow, fluency and depth, improving my vocabulary, strengthening my voice and developing my online presence; I wanted to start writing on the reg so that I continue this habit when I go to Thailand later this year.

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And later this year is rapidly approaching. Last Friday was the 3 months to go point. That’s less than 90 days. Writing that made my heart skip all sorts of beats. It’s been such a long process and now that departure is getting closer and closer to being here, everything is starting to feel extremely real. I’ve paid for the majority of my trip (the only thing I have to pay for is food, activities and accommodation in the places I choose to “hop off” at during the travel portion of my journey, and my flights home), I know when I’m applying for my visa, I have my cards and phone sorted, my gym membership is set to finish on the day I leave (last minute bootcamp, yes please!) and I’ve started figuring out the points of my journey which I linger over and those which I’ll breeze through. That said, I want this plan to remain flexible enough for unplanned excursions to take place and to allow for locations I never knew about to capture my heart and never let it go.

While all the travel planning is desperately exciting, what I am most looking forward to is my time at Thai Freedom House which will make up the bulk of my trip. The Thai Freedom House is a “non-government, not-for-profit, language and arts community learning center in Northern Thailand dedicated to assisting families and individuals who are refugees from Burma and members of minority groups of Thailand.” They work specifically with these people to ensure that they don’t become victims of exploitation, trafficking, harassment, gang violence, or the poverty cycle. There are plenty of complex reasons behind the mistreatment of Burmese refugees in Thailand and I encourage you to pay the Thai Freedom House website a visit to learn some info about the issues inherent in the refugee/immigration situation.

I have always had a heart for refugees and asylum seekers and the way our own (Australian) government treats these marginalised and often highly damaged people disgusts me. I refuse to sit back and watch and am hoping to one day work more closely with community groups to raise awareness, advocate and educate. My decision to work with such a grassroots group instead of a more well known, “voluntourism” organisation is a part of that process. I want to learn from the people I’m working with, not just provide a few English lessons a week.

I also went with the Thai Freedom House because of their volunteer program and the fact that all the money I spend on said program will go straight to those I’m teaching, not on shiny brochures. It’s transparent and it’s real. It’s also got real needs. Receiving no government funding and only earning money from donations and their on site café and op shop, Thai Freedom House struggles at times to pay rent and ensure the minimal staff receive payment.

This is also the reason I held my “Bootcamp for Burma” earlier this month! I knew I wanted to raise money for TFH and I love fitness so I decided to combine my two passions and run a charity “pay what you feel” boot camp on Labour Day!

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I had about 15 people come along to get their sweat on while simultaneously doing a good deed, as well as multiple other people donate money even though they couldn’t attend due to being away (or not willing to workout- which is FINE!)

It was an incredible session and everyone gave it their all, spurring each other on and encouraging their friends and team mates to push just a bit harder.

Not counting the donations people made directly to TFH online (which I have no way of tracking so THANKYOU if you did!), I raised about $500, all of which is to be donated directly to the organisation.

Thank you so much if you came along and donated, or if you just donated! It was such a great morning and I hope the sore muscles were an acceptable price to pay in exchange for knowing you’ve improved the lives of vulnerable children and families in Thailand.

I’m hoping to do another boot camp session before I go to raise more money for the program so please stay tuned and stay awesome.

Amy xx

5 Minute Friday

Linking up with other bloggers is one thing I’d love to do as I embark on this journey and one way I want to do that is by joining blog events such as this writing challenge hosted by Kate Motaung at Heading Home. It’s exactly what it sounds like- there’s a prompt set up and you free write (no editing, no planning, no over thinking… just WRITE) for those 5 minutes. Sounds like fun and everyone can take 5 minutes out  of their day to stimulate their thinking muscles.

Join us!

Today’s prompt was “MIDDLE”

My writing:

Summer holidays. But it’s not really holidays anymore. I’m just unemployed- but the next stage has not yet begun- I’m not in routine. I don’t have a CRT wake up call to hope for. My schedule is made up by what I, not my future tutoring students, decide to pencil in.

January. It’s between the rush of Christmas and the anticipation of back-to-school-birthday-month madness that I’ve always felt most productive and PRESENT. There were lessons to plan and people to see and places to go and now?

Now, that time of rest stretches on to the beyond and is without an end in sight.

That’s terrifying.

And that’s ok.

And I just need to embrace being in the middle of two great, big adventures and accept that this may actually  be another one all on its own.

END.

It’s been a while since I’ve done free writing and it’s so liberating and natural but goes against all my perfectionist tendencies. Maybe that’s why it’s called “free writing”.

Starting anew

This is probably the fifth blog I’ve started in as many years.

I’ve tried to start an education blog, a letter writing blog, a fat-shion blog, a fitness blog… but it’s never stuck. I get too busy, too preoccupied, too lazy, feel too inadequate when I look at other blogs in the sphere and then fall apart and neglect my poor blogger-wordpress-tumblr-xanga(lol) to the depths of the interwebz where it lies in wait for people to stumble upon it, ignorant of the antique status of the page they just dredged up.

But this time is different. It’s a new beginning. I’ve just finished up at my previous place of work and bid it and the lifestyle it demanded (or rather, that I demanded of myself) farewell.

For the last four years, I’ve been teaching Secondary English and History to students ranging from 12-18. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve loved it. However, it is exhausting and as I went from school, straight to uni, back to school I’m starting to feel it. To emphasise the feeling of being in the one system for a very long time, I was also teaching at the school I attended as a student. I loved it there and it was a sad goodbye but I know that it’s time to move on, explore other passions and gain some of that oft-lauded “life experience” everyone talks about.

This blog is to assist me in that endeavour. I’ll be writing on the various components of my life that really determine my identity- education, fitness, food, faith, human rights issues and other more personal posts. It may include snippets of my personal writing- poetry and prose have both been known to grace my page and it will definitely include what will seem like the ramblings of a mad woman.

I’ll be posting recipes, reviews, reflections and the odd rant.

The other thing which will help me in my attempt to gain life experience is what I’m dubbing My Ultimate Adventure.

Next year, I’m travelling over to Chiang Mai, Thailand to volunteer with Burmese Refugees and teach English in that setting. After the 6 month placement is complete, I’ll be travelling around SEA, specifically Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and (hopefully) Myanmar and Singapore (if I can stretch my funds that far).

The planning process and the experience itself will also documented on this humble blog as both an assistance to others who are considering similar journeys and also to spread awareness of the organisation I’ll be working with- Thai Freedom House.

So, we shall see. I’ve finished my year on a high note; I have a banging new hair cut, an exciting casual job, a great fitness routine, a lot of freedom, not a lot of funds and most excitingly, a deep trust that God will take me where He wants me and a willingness to go there- sans the feet dragging that I may have employed in the past.

Please follow along on here and interact with me as much as you so desire.

Keep smiling

Amy xx