A Note about Travel Now – Siam Summer

I have struggled with whether I should be writing this blog about the time I have spent in downtown Bangkok right now. There are many countries in the world that are still under lockdown and many place are only starting to open their doors back to the world to see what it is like out there. A bunch of uncertainty hangs in the air about what will happen next and whether it is safe to go out and enjoy life again. Bangkok is also going through this. They just happen to be a little ahead of other countries with getting back to a daily hustle and bustle, yet there is still a long way to go. There have been a lot of question bouncing around the back of my mind as I wonder who stayed in this place before us, whether the places I have been going to have been taking it seriously, and why do some people believe they are above common safety reason by walking around without a mask. It makes me wonder if we are safe by doing this.

Then I think about the other side of it. Why am I living overseas? I am here to experience other cultures, and travel and see the world. It is the main reason that we made this choice, and if I spend all of that time in a little house looking out at my mango tree and waiting for a soi dog to walk down my street, I am not really living the life that I wanted to. I know that there are many people out there thinking the same way as they spend another day in quarantine, and it would not matter where I was in the world, but I would have to go through the same kind of experience of staying indoors. Though some people might believe otherwise, this is not a problem that is isolated to one country; it is a worldwide problem. It is just some countries did a better job of handling the problem than others, and if I am living in one of those countries, should I take advantage of it?

Thailand is one of those countries that did a great job of containing this virus. It is not completely under control yet. There are still cases popping up daily, but they are so minor, the biggest spike being 17 people one day in the last couple of week with it usually being under five people daily, that it would seem silly to keep a population of people at bay. Like I have been talking about in my last posts, it is not completely opened up yet, but there are opportunities out there, and as long as I take reasonable precautions, I can enjoy my time out here, and still feel safe.

But this is not the worry that I have while writing this blog. My thought is about all of those people who are reading this still stuck at home while I am out there enjoying life again. I know that I have a lot of readers in America and they have been going in and out of quarantine. I understand your suffering because just like many other people in the world, I have gone through the same experience. It was not fun, and the walls of my place started to beat down upon me and I felt like I would never leave that place. But the time I spent in near isolation paid off as the causes of the disease died down and Thailand is now a safer place to live in. Yes, there are a couple of inconveniences. I have to wear a mask when I go out and I have to be aware of my proximity to other people. They ask that I check in as I go into stores so if there is an outbreak they can contact me about the way I have been exposed, but this is a minor problem compared to the bigger ones that could happen if I contract the disease. It is then that I become a danger to other people, and I do not know if I could have that responsibility on my conscience.

This whole summer has been great to see Thailand without all of the tourists. I have been lucky that way, despite the fact that things were not always open the way that they usually are. I know people are suffering right now, but it is nice to see that things are starting to turn around for them, and the economy is starting to pick up again. But know that just like you, it has not been an easy journey, and they is still a long way to go to fully recover from this. But they understand that everything is very fragile right now, and another outbreak could cause everybody to revert back to the devastating lifestyle we had to endure earlier this year. I hope that never happens, but I am also doing my part to prevent this for coming back as well.

I guess the reason that I wrote about my travels this summer was not to cause you frustration and anger because somebody was able to do something that you were not, but instead I wished to give you hope and inspiration that if you do the right thing, that travel could be in your life again as well. It may not look the way that you had thought it would, and many opportunities might not be available to you, but make the most out of the situation, and you will still find that life can be rewarding. Just know that it will happen again someday, but until then, do you part to help mitigate the problem and you will enjoy that reward even more when you finally achieve it.

The International Community – Siam Summer

It may hard for me to admit it right now not being able to go back home to America, but one of the best decisions I made in my life was joining the international teaching community. There are the obvious advantages such as traveling opportunities, experiencing different cultures by living in them, great work environments, and being able to work with some of the brightest young minds out there right now. But I think the things I enjoy the most is the community that comes with working international. You would think that it is huge and there would be no way to know all the people that work in this field in all of the different countries that have international schools, but this is not the case. The more I work in international teaching, the more I realize how small of a community it actually is.

Earlier this year I was talking with a friend I made out in Thailand, and he was telling me this story of his friend John and a camping experience he had in Alaska with a bear. I sat there listening to the story, and I could have sworn that I had heard it before, and I asked him if the John he was talking about was the same John I was friends with back in Korea. We found out that we had a mutual friend, and these are not the only cases. My principal right now worked with other friends of mine in Columbia. The car I bought in Thailand I bought from the same person that I bought my car from in Korea. There is a network of friends that I have all over the place in the world. I know people all over Asia, Europe, and even Africa that I could go visit at the drop of a hat. If I pick any person at the school I am currently working at, we could probably six degrees of separation and find out that we have acquaintances with other people somewhere else in this community. Even though we are spread all over the world, we still have created a small community within that world.

This is probably my favorite thing about teaching internationally. It makes me feel like I belong to something bigger, yet still feel comfortable enough with the people that I encounter to feel like it is still intimate. As I start to prepare for my sixth year overseas, I look forward to the new connections I will make this year and renewing the older ones that I have already encountered. It is one of the factors that people who are considering this field should consider because the friendships I have made through this experience will last a lifetime, and I believe you would find the same thing as well.

The Importance of a Navigator – Siam Summer

There is a saying in Minnesota that they only have three seasons: Winter, Spring, and Construction. It makes sense that with the harsh weather that this part of the world experiences, they would need a couple of months a year to rebuild the roads that get destroyed. I would like to say that this is the case for many of the places in the world. They take those months of nice weather to make sure that they fix the roads. In Thailand that is basically all year. It doesn’t matter if it is the dry season or the monsoon season, it is always construction season.

This is important to recognize when going on a road trip in Thailand because you will run into road construction somewhere along the way. In the United States, this will just cause a little delay as the cars line up and wait their turn to make it through the construction. But it Thailand, it could mean the complete rerouting of the road, and if you do not pay close attention you could be taken off of your path and onto a windy mountain road.

This happened yesterday. We were directed off to another path that took us on a loop that added another hour onto the drive. The reason for this was because the right turn was completely blocked off and we were only allowed to turn left. As soon as we did this, Google Maps instantly redirected us to take this loop to get us back on track when all we need to do was take a U-turn to get back on the path that we were supposed to go on. It is a common occurrence to have to take a U-turn while driving in Thailand. I have to take two of them when I go to work every morning, but if you are not aware of this fact, it could cause some serious problems and get you lost.

It wasn’t until we were driving by the same big mountain for the second time that we recognized this problem or we might still be on the road right now looking for the right direction. All I’m trying to say is that if you come to Thailand and think that the best way to get around will be driving, make sure that you have someone keeping an eye on exactly where you want to go. Technology is great, but it does not hold the intuitive reasoning of humans that are needed to get around in Thailand. It is just looking for the quickest path to get you where it thinks you want to go, and it is getting faster at doing it. This is where your problems may arise.

Despite the fact that we got turned around for an hour, it was still a beautiful drive, and though it is not for the weak of stomach because of all of the winding, it was fun to see this rare part of the country. Luckily, it is more of a straight shot today, and I should not have to encounter the same problem that we did yesterday.

Phuket – Siam Summer

The view of the Big Buddha from Karon Beach

I have really enjoyed my time in Phuket, and I don’t know if it is because I came during a time when it is not overcrowded with people, or if it is just the general vibe of this tourist destination. It is definitely one of the places that I will have to return to so I can get a perspective on this place as how it is meant to be experienced, and I still have to make it up the hill to visit that ever elusive Big Buddha.

Businesses who have not opened back up yet across the street from Karon Beach

Though on my last day here, there were many more places that were starting to open up, the majority of places still remained closed. I went to check out Karon Beach which is usually considered one of the top three beaches in the city, and we, once again, basically had the beach to ourselves. It seemed like a coordinated plan of everybody in the city because there wasn’t the usual small restaurants that I see all over the place in Thailand and some of the convenience stores in the areas were closed down.

The closed down resort on the northern end of Karon Beach

I think the most depressing example of this was the resort at the end of the beach. I could tell that this place is usually packed with people because it has great rooms that look out over the ocean, easy access to the beach, and a pool to wash off with after a day of trouncing around the sand. But it, like so many other resorts in this town, had closed down to wait for a day when the people decided to come back and visit.

The sunset over the busier Kata Beach

Like I said earlier, it will eventually happen, but Phuket is going to do it on its own schedule. This is not the height of their tourist season and there are no international flights coming into their airport right now, so why should they push the envelope if there is a chance that they might have to close everything down again when they get back to the height of their tourist season. There were a couple of restaurants opened, and a couple of resorts. The bar across the street from where we were staying opened their doors yesterday and started to crank 90s rock music to attract customers. It didn’t look like he got any yet, but he had built up the courage to make the try.

It is really a great place with many exciting things to see and do. Some of them I didn’t get to do because they were closed down, and others I made an attempt to try but didn’t complete the challenge. All in all, it was a great place to come to and I will be back. It will be a completely different experience as well because it will be a different crowd of people. It will happen here just as it will happen wherever you find yourself right now. You just need to be patient, and let it happen in its own time and when it is safe to happen.

Until next time, be safe and treat each other well.

Fighting the Surf – Siam Summer

I know I said yesterday that I would attempt to make it to the top of the hill to go see the big Buddha this morning, but that is not going to happen. I could blame it on the weather, and even though there has been a couple of rumbles of thunder in the distance and one quick rain blew through our neighborhood, it was really not enough to make it an excuse not to go.

The real reason I did not want to hike up the hill today is because of yesterday afternoon. We went back to Noi Harn Beach to enjoy the waves, and that took a lot out of me. I know that spending a day relaxing on a beach does not sound like it would be enough to make for an excuse for being lazy today, but let me explain something about the waves that I encountered the other day.

During my life, I have seen surfing videos from time to time that show these huge waves that surfers ride. I have also been to many beaches and have never really seen these waves before. In fact, I was starting to believe that it was something that was made up, and I would never see them in my lifetime. Yesterday proved me wrong. The waves were there in full force. Some of them towered over me and I would have needed at least three other people standing on my shoulders to have been taller then them. That might be an exaggeration, but when you stand underneath one of these waves and look at them like the ant that you are, the really look that way.

For those surfers, this was a great beach to go to. There were many surfers out there yesterday, catching the waves, and riding them. But it was also a great place for other people as well. They had sectioned off a portion of the beach for people to swim in so they would not get in the way of the surfers, and the surfers would not run into them.

Being from Colorado and never having witnessed anything like this, I had to run out there and jump into them for a couple of hours. It is fun fighting against the undertow and watching the surge of a wave come at you. It made me feel like a nazgul in The Fellowship of the Ring as they got taken out by the waves on the border of Rivendale. And when I made it far enough out to have to fight the towering waves, the feeling was invigorating.

That was until I got back to our hotel, and felt like I had been thrown into a brick wall a couple of dozens of times. I woke up seriously sore this morning, and that is the real reason that I will not be hiking up to visit the big Buddha this morning. It is okay though because I still have one more morning in Phuket to accomplish this. I will try again tomorrow.

My First Attempt – Siam Summer

A view of the big Buddha from the distance. He is looking out to the east in this picture.

There is a big hill right out of our hotel room, and sitting on top of that hill is a really big Buddha. It has been my intention to climb up that mountain and visit this site, and I got up early this morning to make the attempt before it got to hot and humid outside.

The view from the top of the hill that took us out of the neighborhood that we had to walk up to get to the trailhead to the top of the mountain

It does require a little bit of effort to make it up that hill even though at first it does not seem like it would be that difficult, but things started to get steep within the first kilometer.

The path was still paved here, but it was only a short time later where it turned into a muddy dirt path.

As soon as we made it out of the housing district and left behind all forms of civilization, the road got even more steep and started to fall apart. The recent rains had turned the path into a slippery mud which made the trek even more dangerous.

I actually caught a picture of one of the many bugs that swarmed around us on the hike. It is in the upper left corner of the picture.

We made it about a mile away from the Buddha before things got a little too difficult and we had to turn around and head back down the hill. If we had plugged on, could we have made it to the top? Yes, it was difficult, but it was not impossible. What would have been the consequences if we had done that? Well, one of us has issues with their ankle and having to hike up the hill using mainly our toes due to the steepness was not doing them any good. If we had continued, there was a good possibility that it was have strained the ankles and caused one of us to spend the rest of our vacation on a couch with our foot up in the air. So is there any shame that we turned back, and chalked it up to one of our failed attempts? Not at all. We learned a lot from the experience, and were still able to see some pretty spectacular views from the height that we had made it to. Too often, people push themselves into something that they should not, and it causes them harm, preventing them from enjoying other experiences in life. There are some that even push so hard that it causes injury and death to those around them. Sometimes it is just better to recognize our limitations and live within them.

A discarded teak wood spirit house left on the side of the road right before the turn off to the mud path up to the big Buddha

It does not mean that you can’t go back again on another day to make the attempt again. This is probably what I will end up doing tomorrow. I really want to see the Buddha on top of that hill, and I know I can make it. But I want to make sure that I am not putting anybody else at risk or leaving them some place where they would be uncomfortable until my return.

Apparently, this is the place where all old spirit house are sent for them to die

So tomorrow, I will get up to try attempt number two, and hopefully I can bring you some amazing picture from the view from the top. Please tune into tomorrow to see if my attempt this time around is successful.

An Island Drive – Siam Summer

I know I have shown a bunch of pictures of empty sandy beaches and suns set over the ocean, and I know it is getting to be a little repetitive. But what else am I supposed to do when I find myself in a country that is all about the beach and it is unwise at this time for me to leave. So I am going to check out the beaches. That was my goal yesterday, to take a little drive along the coast and see other places of interest.

There is a lot of coastline to cover, and there was no way that I was going to be able to get to all of it, so I decided to just look at the coastline in the south, looking at Noi Harn Beach, and Noi Kata Beach as well as a couple of the viewpoints along the way. Monday is a good day to visit the beaches, especially right now. Noi Kata Beach was completely empty except for the sand crab that scurried out of our way as we walked along the shoreline. But it was Noi Harn Beach that was my favorite and the one that I will be going back to later this week to swim in the ocean. The water was clear, the beach was clean, and the waves towered over the people out there. One of my favorite things to do at the ocean is to jump into these waves as they crash over me. I could spend hours doing that, and Noi Harn is one of the safer places to do this. I know I should learn how to surf while I am living in Thailand, but that might take too much effort and money, but if I did learn, this coast would be the place to do it because I do not think I have seen so many big and perfect waves in my life.

But yesterday was not all about the beaches. The viewpoints were also great stopping places and not just because of the views that they offered. They also had a little bit of culture with them. Prom Thep Cape had some great views of the surrounding islands, one of which had a secluded monastery on it. There was also a lighthouse that appeared to be a place that you could explore during times without a pandemic.

And there was a Buddhist shrine up there as well, except this one was ringed by a series of carved elephants as if they would protect it. At first I though it was decoration until the only other people up there bought some flowers from an attendant so they could pray.

It was an interesting experience to go out and see other things besides a beach. I know that they are the big draw to this area, but I am also glad that there are other things to experience. It will make this stretch of my trip more interesting and give me some culture at the same time. All it takes is a simple drive to explore more.

A Phuket Sunset – Siam Summer

The sunset from Kata Beach on Phuket Island, Thailand

Most of yesterday was spent traveling and getting situated in our new place. We opted to stay in a Condotel this time around. Yeah, I had never heard of them either, but basically it is a small apartment that is treated as a hotel so you can have a small kitchen and a living space. It is nice to have a kitchen again, and we went to the grocery store so we did not have to eat out for every meal. There was also the washing of clothes that needed to happen on these longer voyages, and a little bit of down time. By the time we got to a place where it was comfortable to go out and explore, it was time for the sunset.

The view from the southern tip of Kata Beach

Considering I have spent the last few nights going out to watch the sunset, it seemed like the right thing to keep up the tradition. This time around we had to walk fifteen minutes to Kata Beach in order to catch it. The walk over reminded me that Phuket is still trying to get up and running again. Many of the places around town were closed down except for the occasional bar, massage parlor and convenience store. It depressed me a little to think that there was still much to endure in this tourist destination and I wondered where all of the people might be found.

People coming back to the beach

Coming to the beach helped me see that there were people out there ready to take advantage to the beautiful weather and the rising surf. It wasn’t as busy as I suspect that it gets normally this time of year, but it was nice to know that things were starting to pick up again. It also made enjoying the beach perfect. I did not have to jostle around to find a spot to relax, and there was enough space to stroll up and down it leisurely. It made for a great spot to watch the sunset.

The Surf House across the street from the beach opening back up for business

There were also a couple of business that had opened next to the beach as well. I counted at least five restaurants that were getting back to helping the small amount of tourists that have arrived out here from other parts of Thailand. Granted, they were still not at full capacity, but it was nice to see that they were open and the whole town wasn’t closed down completely.

It gives me hope that my time out here will be fun and I will get to experience a little bit of Phuket’s culture. At least it will be an educational experience to see what a tourist town is like during the down parts of the year and they grapple with the same problems that the rest of the world struggles with. It is nice to know that things are heading in the right direction, and I hope that wherever you find yourself that they are doing the same thing for you as well.

Leaving Paradise – Siam Summer

The bigger pool at Santhiya Resort getting ready to open up in the next couple of weeks.

I was able to talk to the head manager of Santhiya Resort today, and it was not because I wanted to complain about anything. There was nothing that I could complain about with this part of my trip. He was just at the dock to see us off when we left and while we were waiting for our boat to dock, he was telling us about the current status of the resort. Everyday, they were able to open up a new aspect of it, and they were seeing more and more guests as things moved forward. He expected that by the end of the month, they would be fully operational. It was just a matter of the guests returning.

The view from the dock at Santhiya Resort

This seemed to be moving in the right direction as well. On our first morning here, there were only three or four other couples having breakfast at the buffet, but by the end of our stay, it was hard to find a spot where we could have a meal. It even caused the coffee to be delayed when they made it, but we survived and got to enjoy a couple of cups before we had to pack up our bags and head for the dock.

One of the fishing boats now starting to travel out into the bay

The bay also started to pick up. On the day we came in, we were the only boat that we saw as we made the voyage from Phuket to the dock at Koh Yao Yai, but the way back, we had to weave through many fishing boats. I don’t know if this is because they wait until Sunday to fish this part of the bay, or if this is where they found the fish today, or if it had to do with the fact that more and more people were making their way to this part of Thailand, and the demand for fish was starting to grow again, and they needed to get the boats back out there to help with the demand.

Another amazing wood carving found on the grounds of Santhiya Resort

Everything was pointing to an economy that was jump starting itself once again. It has been the bigger theme I have witnessed everywhere I have gone in Thailand this summer. They are not back to 100 percent yet, but they are taking it slow because they do not want to screw this up. I know that I have enjoyed my time out here this summer, but this is not the height of the tourist season for them, and considering a lot of the economy is based on that, they want to make sure that it is safe for everybody when the reach that time of year. I think of right now as a test run to see what they would need to do if Covid popped up again someplace and if they could contain it before it destroyed all of the places in their land that could be affected by it.

I have seen it happen at least once, and I do believe that they did a great job of containing it. But this is not only the concern of the government. It involves everybody doing their part. If one person slips with their responsibility, it could mean the end for everybody involved. So the temperature checks keep on happening, and people still wear their masks when they are in public.

Moving out to get on the boat back to Phuket

And with that in mind, it is with a sad heart that I need to leave this part of my journey this summer. Koh Yao Yai is truly a magical place, and I do hope to come back to it some day. Sadly, I do not think it will be the same experience the next time around though. The crowds will surely be back, and it won’t feel like the place belongs to only me. I did enjoy all of my time here, but I enjoyed it more when there were less people. It is still an amazing place either way, and it will just be a different way to experience it when everything is opened and there are more options available.

The view from the rooftop at my next place next to Kata Beach on Phuket Island

This is not the end of my travels this summer though. It is just a change of pace. We left Koh Yao Yai behind, but find ourselves at a different part of Phuket island. I know it has not been that long, but it feels weird to be back in civilization. But I am looking forward to this leg on the trip. It looks like I will spend a little more time taking in the culture of the area, and less time lounging around a pool waiting for the next amazing sunset. I hope you join me as I deliver the goods on this part of Thailand as it slowly starts to open up as well.

Until next time, be safe and treat each other well.

One More Day – Siam Summer

The view at night from the beach at the bottom of the hill at Santhiya Resort on Koh Yao Yai

I was supposed to be picking up my belongings, packing them into my suitcase, and getting on the speedboat to go across the bay and arrive at Phuket again today. But I am on summer vacation and there is no schedule that I need to attend to except enjoying myself. I have been enjoying myself so far on Koh Yao Yai and there are a lot of open hotel rooms out here for a good price. So why not stick around for one more day and enjoy all that this resort has to offer?

The empty beach on Koh Yao Yai

I did venture away from the top of the mountain and ventured to the restaurant that was opened by the beach and the dock which is where they dropped me off when I first arrived. The beach was completely empty due to the low amount of people staying at the resort at this time, and though it was inviting, it was a stark reminder as to what was going on in the world at this time. The building at the bottom of the hill that usually houses many people during their stay here was also abandoned. They were not getting enough business so it did not make sense to open up many different spots throughout the resort. Instead, they have put all of the people in the hotel buildings at the top of the hill nearest the infinity pool. But I do not know how much longer this is going to last until they are going to need to open up more of the resort. It kept getting busier every day that we have been here. Part of that might be because of it now being the weekend and people are able to get away right now, and it might be because people are feeling pretty safe right now and are willing to take that chance and travel.

Carving work that has been done on the pillars holding up the entry point from the pier when first arriving on Koh Yao Yai

Many of the places that can do so are taking advantage of this time of lower numbers at their location, and Santhiya Resorts is no exception to this trend. The buildings in the lower part of the resort that are not being used right now are seeing a lot of upgrades. There was a lot of evidence of construction that had been going on, and there were places where they were making unique carvings into the wood to help to add to the unique atmosphere of the place. It will just make it that more of a great getaway the moment the crowds finally do return.

The view of the sunset from the beach at Santhiya Resort on Koh Yao Yai

It is still strange to know that all of the amenities that are usually available are not here at this time. We thought we would be getting different menu options at the other restaurant, but they used the same menu, and the food was still cooked at the restaurant up the hill and then carted to the restaurant down below. All we did by going down the hill was change the scenery, but it was still a fun evening though we did not get to experience everything out here to experience. I still should not complain. I have found myself in the middle of paradise for a quarter of the price. I did not have to contend with the crowds that would normally be out here, and it has been so great that I decided to stay an extra day.

It has been a great part of this summer vacation, and I will have fond memories of here, but I am also excited to see what the next step will bring as I force myself out of my pool chair and to more exciting adventures.