The Slow Life – Koh Lipe, Thailand

It might have been a long day of travel to make it all the way from Bangkok all the way to Koh Lipe, and my first evening here was more to decompress from the travel rather than soaking up the island life, but after a good night’s sleep, and a change of perspective, I really found the groove of this place really quick.

And that is to move slow. There is no reason to rush anything because everything I really need is right within my reach, and even more than I really do need.

I have landed on the far corner of the beach that stretches along one side of this tiny island at a spot they call the Sunrise side. It is supposed to be the perfect place to rise up early and get some amazing photos of the sun rising over the horizon. I am not at the place in vacation yet where I want to set my alarm so I can see the sunrise, but it will be one of the things that I will do while I am out here. It is also nice because it makes this the quieter part of the beach. Many of the people who choose to stay here do so because they know that people will be going to bed earlier because of the allure of that sunrise option in the morning.

But if there is a sunrise side of the beach there needs to be a sunset side as well. When the tide rushes out, the beach becomes wide enough where you can make the walk easily to the other side of the beach and watch the sunset from over there. When I first heard of this feature, I though that meant that I would have to curve around the island to get to the other side, but it shaped more like a horseshoe or a bay with each side looking out over the other side of the island. Once again, I have been only here for a day and have not made it to that other side yet, but it is in the plans to make sure I get in one good sunset while I am here. This one should be easier to do because it won’t require me to set an alarm to make it happen.

In between the sunset and the sunrise, there are all the things one would expect to see on an island. There are great snorkeling opportunities, and I have been out a couple of times already. The fish that hide among the coral reefs right off the shore are amazing and I need to figure out a way to take pictures underwater so I can share some of these treasures. There is a Market Street to explore that has a lot of great restaurants and a night life scene that I will have to participate in a couple of times while I am out here. And there is always the surprise around the corner. I have heard wild boar rooting around underneath my cabin at night, and I have run into a couple of monitor lizards enjoying the beach as much as the tourists.

All in all, now that I have slowed down a bit and am able take in things at a more reasonable pace, the vacation mindset has taken over. It is nice to be a part of the slow life every once in awhile, and it looks like Koh Lipe is the perfect place to take in this slower pace.

The Path of Suffering – Koh Lipe, Thailand

According to Buddhists, the only way to achieve nirvana is by traveling down the path of suffering. There is a lot that can be learned during traveling down that path as long as we are willing to sit down and reflect on those moments and think about how they have affected us. In principle, this sounds like a beautiful thing, but it is really hard to reflect back on those moments and think about how they have changed us or what lessons we are supposed to learn from the experience. Sometimes this is just something we wish to forget all about.

My travels to my Songkron Break location, the island of Koh Lipe in southern Thailand, was one of these experiences that I would love to forget about and I don’t know if I will ever want to revisit the experience to see if I can come up with a lesson that I have learned from the experience. There were a lot of steps that I needed to take on this commute, but one of them hung everything up and turned what should have been nine hour travel day into one that took a little over fourteen hours to arrive at our destination. We scheduled a driver to take us to the airport at five in the morning, and we had plenty of time to get on our seven o’clock flight which left on time. It took a few extra minutes to find out driver to take us down to the pier where we were going to catch our ferry to Koh Lipe, but once we found him, he did a great job of getting us there on time.

It was when we hit this part of our travels where things came to a grinding halt. After a year and a half of getting hit with low tourism, the industry saw a sudden surge in travelers this week. Some of them took advantage of this fact by overbooking certain services. The ferry was one of these services that was overbooked. We were a little late for the ferry we booked a month ago, but it didn’t matter because they were running so far behind that we were not able to get on a ferry four hours later.

There is nothing like sitting on a crowded dock during a pandemic with dreams of a sandy beach dancing in your head. I looked at the people not wearing their masks and wondered if they were going to be packed in my ferry, and I wondered if I would ever get off of this concrete slab protruding out into the sea. It didn’t help that the only shops in the ferry building sold either expensive jewelry or coffee drinks, neither of which would satisfy my grumbling stomach. I might have left to go to another restaurant close by to get a quick bite to eat, but we had to wait around in the hopes of getting on whatever ferry they deemed us worthy enough to join.

It might not have been the worst suffering that anyone had to endure in their lifetimes, but I did feel like I was on Buddhism’s famous path, and I should meditate about the moment in order to reach my Nirvana. And now that I have finally reached Koh Lipe and have a whole week to do nothing but enjoy the beauty of this small island far away from the hustle and bustle of my regular life. Yes, it was a painful day and some of that pain seemed a little unnecessary with a little more organization, but in the long run I made it to Koh Lipe. I am safe. I have a comfortable hotel room. I am surrounded by kind and caring staff. I have choice of excellent restaurants to eat at. I have options of many sea activities to entertain me during the next week.

Maybe there is something to that path of suffering.

Maybe I have reached my Nirvana.

NerdFest 2021 – The Allure of the Game

While I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to play board and table top games. I spent a lot of time with my friends playing Dungeons and Dragons, Monopoly, Axis and Allies, and any new game that we could get our hands on. Most of the games had not been updated for years, and it caused us to think of ways that we could create our own games to see what other worlds we could create or how we could adapt the games we already loved to make them more exciting. Some of them got a little too complicated while others were a little too simple, but every once in awhile we hit that sweet spot and created a game that we all really loved, and it became our new favorite.

As years went by, my friends moved to other parts of the country or got to busy to play a game. Soon all of these games got put away into a closet and collected dust. I am actually not quite sure what happened to all of them after I moved away to college because my parents eventually moved into a new house and I don’t know if the games made the move or not. At the time, I didn’t care much because the idea of playing a game seemed childish and I was too busy with my life.

When I moved overseas, I was looking for that way to connect with people again. There was always the option of heading out to the bars, and that can be fun for awhile, but after working in bars for so long, I knew that this could get old after a little while. I was lucky enough to get hooked up with a Dungeons and Dragons group in Korea, and it got me interested in the game again. A lot about it had changed since my days of hacking and slashing my way through dungeons in search of riches. The Wizards of the Coast had bought the rights to the game, and added to the story aspect of the game. It changed how the game was played, made it simpler and yet more of a sandbox that allowed creative minds to play off of each other to create wonderful story moments. Being an English teacher and a writer, I instantly got sucked back into this world of table top games.

Then Covid happened.

I know that there are a lot of people out there that here that statement and divide their lives to before this event and after it. The pandemic has changed many people’s lives and the way that they look at the world. Many people can look at this in a bad way, and there are times where I fall into this category. But not everything that has happened during this world wide event has been all bad. I went on the search for things that my wife and I could do while being confined in our house that would not drive us crazy, and this brought me back to a love that I had in my childhood with board games. I also did not realize how much the hobby had changed over the years and how much it is now directed towards an adult audience. There are so many games out there with amazing puzzles to unlock your imagination, and tickle your strategic ingenuity. It was hard to decide which games I should get into first because there were so many out there, but I did some research, and with the help of my new favorite YouTube channel, Shut Up and Sit Down, I was able to find a couple that I would love as well as my wife.

It helped us get through that tough time this year, and we still pull out a couple of these games from time to time to play. But there was another benefit to them that I did not expect as much.

It introduced me to a whole new group of people who shared the same interest. These board games have not only become a way to challenge myself intellectually, but also to visit and hang out with people on a regular basis. It is a trend that I hope continues because I am loving the games that I am playing, whether it is a simple card game or a complex role playing game. They all tell stories and I get to be a part of those stories that are being told. And most importantly I get to also create stories with other people as well.

Until the next NerdFest, thanks for coming along.

Nerdfest 2021 – The Start of the End

I belong to a Dungeons and Dragons group.

Years ago, this would be something that people would just not admit to other people. It would be something that they would keep quiet because there was this stigma associated with it that they person was not living in reality, or was exceptionally nerdy. People would stop associating with others who played this game would gather in the woods to roll dice, conduct Satanic rituals, and throw play fireballs at each other. The people who played this game were thought of as not having one foot in reality.

In recent years with the arrival of the newest edition, 5e, and the inclusion of the game in shows like Stranger Things, the bad image associated around this game has dissipated a little bit, and people don’t look at you as weirdly when you tell them that you like to play this game. They still think of you as a nerd, but all of the throwing fake fireballs, and committing acts humanity are no longer associated with it. I can handle being called a nerd, and I admit to playing the game more easily now. In fact, I enjoy the game so much that I will spend time talking about it with people who show even the slightest interest in it.

The reason for this enjoyment is partly because of the group that I am playing with at this time. They are a great group of people who know each others’ strengths and how to use those to create a single story that builds in intensity and hilarity. The current campaign I am playing is definitely episodic, and has a lose story arc with it, but some of the most epic moments I have ever experienced in a story has come from it, and a lot of it comes from us playing together. Leaving this group behind is going to be one of the hardest things I am going to have to do when I move to Jordan next year, and I hope I am going to be able to find another group of people to play with next year. It has become something that I have looked forward to doing no matter where I live in the world.

With that being said, the group is breaking up. Being in international teaching, people moving on to new locations is something that I have become accustomed to seeing every year, and after a year of being locked up, there are a lot of international school teachers looking for a change of scenery this year. Four out of the group of six is doing this. One of those rare moments in life where you find that perfect connection with group is falling apart. In order to hold on to that magic for just a little longer, we decided to have a getaway weekend where we found a big AirB+B with a large table so we could do a marathon session. We would call it NerdFest 2021 and we would go down to Pattaya and play a bunch of games.

People who are aware of the culture of Pattaya would think that we had gone down there to do other things, but in all honesty, we went to play games, and enjoy each others’ company. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to this group. Yes, we would get together at another time later on before we made the final move, but this would be the special session that we could take with us to our new locations. It marked the beginning of the end of this final campaign for this group, and it had a bittersweet feeling to it. It was fun to get together to laugh and enjoy the story we have created together, but at the same time we knew that it was coming to a close.

But I guess that is what happens with all great things. They can only occupy a small place in time and space, and then they need to move on. It is just the random luck of this world that we were all able to come together to create this moment. I will be sad when it finally ends, but while it still goes on, I want to hold on to it and experience it as much as I can, so when it finally does have to come to a close, I have created the best memories I could. That was what this weekend was about, letting the story be told in its fullest, and I am glad that I got to experience it.

Dear Professor

Thank you for showing me your pedigree.

I am glad they have taught you how to jump.

Did you believe that it would impress me
That you could rise above this so-called dump
By adding to your paper collection?

Do you believe that the given title
Allows you the right to have suspension
Of reality in the work cycle?

You are nothing more than a yipping pup
Whose master preaches academia,
But if our society called you up,
Survival for you would be a failure.

Do you know how to live beyond theory,
Functioning within a reality?

Rain on a Work Day

Nothing is left we can possibly do
Then watch the rain pour over the roof’s edge.
All of the work that we tried to get through
Is just another thing I have to hedge.
More important things need my attention
Because they can only happen right now,
And please do not even try to mention
Conditions of my contractual vow.
My needs lie with the puddles being born,
And making sure they fill up completely.
It may leave your business feeling forlorn,
But it reflect the way fortune treats me.
I do not care for the way that you cry.
My concern comes from the tears in the sky.

Work Identity

My class has been talking a lot about identity lately and how we determine what our personal identity is. It is not something new that I have taught, but it has been something that I have thought a lot about recently, especially the way that we go about shaping our identity. It got me thinking about how many adults determine their identity, and for most, at least the ones that I come in contact with, it is connected with their job.

I know that this should not be considered a great new revelation. People have been talking about how this has been a fact for many years. It is the first question that many people ask of each other when they first meet outside of the work place which is rare considering that most of the people we associate with come from within the work place. If I really think about it, this is even something that is ingrained is us from our college days when we question asked of many of our fellow students was what their major was, or another way of putting it, what they planned to make of their future careers.

It is strange that we tie so much of our identity to this part of our lives, yet it is the one things that most of us would love to get as far way from as soon as we can. It is also not all of us that place this much importance on our jobs, but I do believe that this is the minority out there. It makes me wonder how these people are able to leave this aspect of their lives behind, and what it is that they shape their identity around.

The obvious answer to that is their family, followed by their accomplishments. But that is still looking at our identity through the lens of another person in order to define who we are. When are we able to define ourselves through our own understanding of our identity, and not through the lens imposed on us by society? Has anybody ever come to this true understanding of self? I’m sure that there are a few who have throughout the course of history, but those are rare and I am also betting that are the more influential people the world has ever known.

Thinking about that makes me start to understand better the importance of identity. It something that I see all of my high school students struggle with, and I am sure that this is something that is typical for all people their age. But I am also starting to come to the realization that it is not only exclusive to them, but to all people of all ages. It is a struggle for all of us, and what makes it even more difficult is the changing landscape of our lives and how they automatically changes the essence of our identity.

The best I think that any of us can hope for is to come to an acceptance that this change is constantly happening and be happy with the identity that we have on any given basis understanding how it connects to the identity that proceeded it. It is what I have begun to strive to do, and I have found a certain amount of peace within myself because of this perspective.

Or maybe I should quit teaching such philosophical ideas in my class and I won’t have these deeper thoughts causing me to have an identity crisis. But then would my class be as interesting, and what would their identity be?

Khao Sok, Thailand

There are many places in Thailand that bring visitors in, and most of them have guarantee a wonderful, and relaxing time. But they do tend to blend into each other especially if you drive up and down the coast. It is one beach resort after another competing for your money, and they will pull out all the stops with great restaurants, fun night time atmosphere, exotic beaches, and a sprinkle of culture so you can feel like you gained something by traveling half way across the world and visiting this place. It works well for those who might be here for a couple of weeks, but when you cannot leave Thailand, you start to look for something a little different. I would even say that after a couple of weeks, you would probably want the same thing. This is where Khao Sok comes into play.

Khao Sok is a national park located in the southern part of Thailand, right above the island of Phuket. It is a big reservoir that they made sure to limit the amount of impact that humans could have on it. There are a few resorts floating on the lake that was created, but they are far enough away from each other that it feels like the group of people that you came in with are the only ones on this big, huge nature reserve. 

And nature is allowed to thrive in this location. I personally did not see a wide range of animals, probably because they kept themselves hidden in the deep foliage that can be found on all of the mountains, but I was lucky enough to see a couple of hornbill birds fly in front of our resort, and one morning I got to experience a family of elephants foraging for their breakfast before taking a morning dip in the cool water. Despite this, Khao Sok is home to a variety of other animals including water buffalo, bears, panthers, and deer. They are not always witnessed because they like to hide in the forests that cling to the mountains, but it is always a good idea to keep a watchful eye out because you never know what you are going to see.

There are many places to say in this National Park, and they vary in luxury and the programs that they offer for people who stay there. We decided to stay at the Panvaree Resort even though this is a destination that more Thais go to rather than foreigners. In fact, we were the only English speaking people at this resort, and if it wasn’t for a couple of Japanese ladies, we would have been the only foreigners. It did not matter much because the staff there was still incredibly friendly with a couple of them speaking English fluently. And when things got tight, I still know enough Thai to get by.

The main reason that we picked this resort over the other was because it offer a two day, two night package where most of the other place get you in and out within one day. This allowed us enough time to go and see what it was we wanted to see while still having a little downtime so we did not feel exhausted.

The food that they served was all traditional Thai food, and it came out in huge portions with the option for being able to get a refill at any time that we wanted. It was authentic home made Thai food as well. With us being farangs (foreigners), they believed that we could not handle the spice that they gave to all over the other people staying there, and though I would tend to agree that I cannot handle the spice that many Thai people can, being raised on Mexican food, I can hold my own when it comes to spice. I kind of wished they added a little bit more of a kick to our food, but that did not detract from the overall pleasure of the meals.

They also created our itinerary for us, and made sure that we had plenty of activities. There were a couple of boats rides to take us to the various sites in the park, and give us the perfect picture opportunities. We got caught in a rain storm in one of them, and they had to bring us back early, but they made sure to reschedule it for the morning so we could make sure we could take in all of the beauty of the park. The sunrise probably made for a better picture opportunity rather than the sunset, so I am glad that it worked out this way, and all I had to do was endure a little bit of rain in the process.

There was also a little hike through the forest. Many times this would be the place where you would see the wildlife, but we were not that lucky this time around. It wasn’t too strenuous either. Most of the time when I go hiking out in Thailand, I come back a sweaty mess, but that was not the case with this hike. There was a little uphill and a little downhill, but it led us to a little alcove and a couple of boats that would take us to our next destination.

The boat could have been one of the most interesting things I witnessed on this trip. Most of the time when I hear the term boat, I think that they have at least a couple of sides to them to help them keep them afloat, but this boat was nothing more that a few bamboo logs lashed together with a walkway on them and a motor to take people to their destination. It did not look like the safest thing in the world, but we were not going far, and everybody seemed okay with it, so I went along for the ride.

It was worth the trip too because it took us to another of the natural wonders in this national park, a cave that can only be reached from crossing this small inlet. It was not the most amazing cave I have ever seen, but the people in the park have a healthy respect for nature and made sure that nobody disturbed anything in the cave in order maintain all of the natural features that can be found in it, and there are quite a few.

Khao Sok has easily become one of my favorite spots in Thailand, and it is must see for anybody coming out here. I know that it does not have the name recognition as some of the island resorts or bigger cities, but it is that hidden gem that is really worth finding. It only takes a couple of days to truly enjoy the experience and everything will be taken care of if you find the right place, so please make sure you try to pencil it in.

Otherwise, thanks for reading and I hope that you can get back out there soon to see what the world has to offer.

Elephants in the Morning Mist – Khao Sok, Thailand

I am not usually the type of person that likes to get up early in the morning while I am on vacation, but I was not really given a choice today. The plan was to get up early to travel to one of the more iconic spots on this vast lake, and it was worth the annoying ring of my alarm. Khao Sok looks completely different in the morning. The clouds hang low over the hills creating a misty atmosphere that I originally thought could only be seen in a Hollywood movie about this part of the world. I wondered what it would have looked like during the rainy season, or if the clouds would have dipped down even further, making it impossible to see anything at all.

Being on a boat in Khao Sok National Park is also an amazing experience whether it is in the heat of the afternoon, or early in the morning. The water instantly cools you off, and there are so many nooks and crannies to explore in the mountains. It is fun to find the explore the dramatic landscape and find the place for the perfect picture. Of course, the guides know these spots already and will take you there, and most of the time they know how to rotate boats in and out so it appears that you are the only person on the lake, but there are a couple of places where the boats get a little packed in, but with patience you can still find that perfect shot.

The place we stayed in also had kayaks that we could take out on to the lake anytime that we wanted to which gave us a little more freedom to explore, though they told us not to wander too far away from the place. One of the things about Khao Sok and the surrounding area is that a storm could roll in at any time and catch you unaware. While we were there, we got to witness two of these storms. One of them came rolling in while we were lounging around the dock, swimming and kayaking. We were close enough to find shelter quickly. But the other one caught us while we were on the bigger boat looking for the perfect evening shots. There was not much we could do but rush back to our resort while holding the life jackets over our heads to try to stay as dry as possible.

Needless to say, it did not work very well.

It just meant that we got to spend more time on the boat in the morning. And we were lucky that we did because as we started to make our way back to our resort after enjoying the sunrise, someone with an eagle eye caught a glimpse of an elephant on the distant shore. Breakfast was going to be delayed for a little bit because we had to go check out these rare sights to the park.

Khao Sok does have a multitude of animals that run around through its forests, but most of them remain hidden, and it is only once in awhile where they venture out to the places where humans can witness them. If you are around during one of those rare instances, you go out and enjoy it.

What looked like one elephant far away turned into a family of elephants enjoying their morning breakfast. We sat there and watch for awhile as they munched on leaves and tore down trees, but after a bit, we decided to get some breakfast of our own and give them some privacy.

After our breakfast, we could still see them as they got in the water a moved a little further down the coast to get closer to us. This is where the kayaks came in beautifully. We hopped on one, paddled out to where they were and enjoyed their presence for a little bit longer before they wandered back into the trees.

These kinds of experiences have been what has made this place such a wonderful one to visit. I know we have been pretty lucky so far with the experience, but I am sure that whoever comes out here will get to collect their own stories to tell. It is why that it is regular destination for many Thai people, and a must add to an itinerary for people thinking about making their way out to Thailand.

A Holiday Delayed – Khao Sok, Thailand

It was supposed to be the last hurrah during the holiday season, and we were supposed to be wowed by what we were going to experience. But then the Thai government threatened to close down the boundaries between the provinces, and because we were worried about being stuck in a part of the country and not being able to get to work, we cut our vacation short and cut out the couple of nights at Thailand’s national park, Khao Sok. We were lucky that they told us that we would be able to reschedule our trip for a later date when the Covid crisis had calmed down a bit. Not every place we had booked had been so generous, and I am glad that this place in Thailand made this concession.

It wasn’t necessarily the best time to leave work, but my time in Thailand is starting to tick down and this was one of the places that I wished to visit before we left. So considering I have not really taken much time off from work while living out here, I took the day off to enjoy what I now consider a mini Spring Break.

Khao Sok is a remote place in southern Thailand where the connection to the grid is a little spotty. It is part of the reason that many people book a place down here. There are a few resorts dotting this huge lake surrounded by jagged peaks. The only way you can get to one of these place is by boat, and once you arrive, there is nothing else around. They supply all of the meals and subject you to an itinerary of hikes, and boat rides that will introduce you to many of the amazing sites around as well as the wildlife that inhabits this location. I have already seen one of Thailand’s famous hornbill birds soaring over our resort, and we have not even gone on one of the tours yet.

When not hiking or visiting the sites, there are many other things to pass the time at the place we are staying. They have a whole fleet of kayaks that we can borrow at any time to do a little exploring on our own, and the water is warm and clear. It is the perfect place to float around in and see the mountains that tower over us. I have not done a lot beyond travel to the place and unwind from the last couple of months of work, but I am looking forward to the adventure that this place will provide. I am happy that I will be able to enjoy the holiday that almost didn’t happen, and I am excited to squeeze in this corner of the country before I have to go.