Greatest Hits

In life, sometimes you need a vacation
Where you do not witness anything new.
You need to fulfill your relaxation,
And to make sure the surprises are few.
You know spots where they treat you like a king,
Ready to serve your favorite meals.
You won’t engage in any sightseeing
Or search out the touristy appeals.
You’ll surround yourself with the familiar
As you walk down paths you’ve walked down before.
The last time you were here, they were a blur,
But this time around, you know what’s in store.
You know that the short time only permits
You to revisit all your greatest hits.

Toby’s – A Breakfast Story

The French toast with a side of bacon

I recently talked about my staycation to downtown Bangkok being like a greatest hits album where I didn’t take any pictures because I have been to all the places I went to before. Therefore, it was pointless to take pictures because I was already so familiar with these places. But there was one place that I do want to talk about, Toby’s. I have never been here for dinner, and I have heard that they have some amazing Italian food, but I have been here a couple of times for breakfast, and it might be one of the best places for breakfast that I have ever been to.

How do I describe it? To go back to the analogy of a greatest hits album, there is always one song on it that stands out above all the rest. Yes, you still love all of the songs on the album, but there is the one song that everybody gravitates to. It is that band’s best of their best. It is the “Satisfaction”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Joker” on the album. And this is what Toby’s is.

Toby’s is a small restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 38 and you really have to have your eyes open to see the place or you can easily drive past it. But there are hints that you are close. There is usually a group of people gathered outside waiting to get one of the few tables the place has. Cars are collected on this sleepy street near to the entrance of the place. And your stomach will start growling because it knows the treat that it is about to experience.

The bacon platter with eggs done over medium

And yes, this place is worth searching for when you are hunting down a good brunch. The food is fresh and obviously prepared there. Most of the time, the dishes come with a selection of fresh fruit, unless you get the bacon platter (yes, they have a platter dedicated totally to different kinds of bacon), and this still comes with a bacon jam that I would recommend smearing all over the two eggs that come with the dish. But the best dish that they have for breakfast has to be the French toast. I have always enjoyed this dish and I have had some amazing versions of it, but the one here is made with crumpled corn flakes that gives it a crunchy coating that is so good. And instead of topping it with butter, they give you a scoop of vanilla ice cream that makes this entre more of a dessert that you will come back to time and time again.

It was the perfect spot to complete my greatest hits tour. It filled me up with the great food that this city has to offer before sending me back home and the reality of life. I will come back again someday, but for now this was a great way to enjoy a weekend in Bangkok.

Vacation’s Greatest Hits

It hit me last night at dinner that I had only taken one picture during this trip. Usually I am looking for great moments as I experience them, but I never even really thought about pulling out my phone and taking some pictures. It took me a moment to think about why this was, but it came to me as I took another delicious piece of sushi to dip into my soy sauce and wasabi mixture. I had done all of this before.

Don’t get me wrong. It is really nice to get out of my usual routine and go some place where I usually don’t hang out, but going twelve kilometers away to where the big building I usually see in the distance is not really getting away. It is more like making things a little more convenient for me as I go to the places where I really like to go in this city. And that is exactly what I did. I had bar-b-q at the Smokin’ Pug, lunch at Dim Ti Fung, and dinner at my favorite sushi place downtown. I did nothing new on this little excursion. Does that mean that I am getting into a rut and I can’t find anything exciting in life anymore? Should I blame it on Covid and the fact that my options have been limited? Should I push myself in the future to make sure I make the most out of every moment in my life?

Does it really matter if I am still enjoying myself?

I compare it to a concert I went to during my high school years at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Steve Miller had dusted off his guitar and took it on tour that summer, and considering my love for Classic Rock at the time, I just had to see him. It was a great show, and I had a lot of fun singing along to all of the songs that I was extremely familiar with. But there was nothing profound about what I saw there. He played every song off of his Greatest Hits album, and even hit a few songs that was on his other Greatest Hits album that not as many people listen to, but they still know the songs. He played for an hour and afterwards, I was always able to say that I saw the Steve Miller Band once in my lifetime.

Does the fact that he did not push the boundaries mean that it was a bad show? I don’t think so. These are the songs that people cherish, and it makes them happy to hear them. They go to the concert to hear those songs, and they would be disappointed if he decided to play some deep tracks instead. Yes, I do not claim it to be one of the best concerts I have ever seen, but it was still a good time, and I do have a couple of fond memories from the night. The same goes for this trip downtown. No, I will not be raving about my experience for years to come. I won’t even have pictures to look back as mementos. I did not do anything spectacular, but that does not mean that it wasn’t worth my time. Sometimes, it is okay to go back to those comforts, and enjoy the experience without worrying about taking a dozen pictures in the meantime.

It might not be the best trip, but I still had a good time, and I will walk away with a couple of fond memories from the experience.

I guess that is what the greatest hits are all about.

When People Leave Downtown, That’s the Time To Go

Travel during the times of Covid-19 is tough. Everybody knows that making those trips that you have always wanted to go on, and seeing those countries that you have always wanted to see has to be put on hold for a little while until we can work this thing out. But that does not mean that travel is gone altogether. It just means that those epic trips need to be replaced by simpler excursions to check out that part of the world where you live. Luckily, I found myself in a place that I did not know a lot about, and this gave me the opportunity to dig in deep into the country I reside, Thailand. And considering that it has been over a hundred days since there has been a new case of the disease originating within the country, it means that a lot of places are now available for us.

This weekend was the best weekend to get out of my hood and check out a different part of the city of Bangkok. The reason being is the government declared it to be a four day weekend to make up for the lost holiday week of Songkron that was supposed to happen way back in April. Because of this new holiday, many people have packed up their cars and headed to the various beach resorts in the country. I, on the other hand, took the other approach. I went to the place where nobody would be. I didn’t feel like fighting the crowds amongst the sand and surf, or jostle for a place at one of the bars or restaurants in Thailand’s most famous tourist spots. I instead decided to go downtown to enjoy the open streets and reduction of traffic.

It was a great choice. I now have access to some of the best restaurants this country has to offer, and I don’t have to wait to get a seat at any of them. I was also able to find a really great deal at one of the premiere hotels in one of the premiere spots downtown that allowed me comfort without breaking my bank account. I am also going to get to enjoy a relaxing weekend while checking out parts of the downtown area that I have not seen yet. It was an easy choice to make and so far, it has paid off. Granted, it is a quick little jaunt, but what more could I ask for a weekend? I am not stuck in a long line of traffic, hoping to grab a moment in a place that is overcrowded because everybody had the same idea to vacation in the same place at the same time. Instead, I go where I know where they will not be and suddenly find the place to myself.

I am starting to think this is how I should spend every holiday weekend. It is by far the best way to experience a part of the country I have not seen yet.


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.