Happy Holidays from Thailand

One of the things that I absolutely love about the Thai people is their love of celebration. The majority of them are Buddhist, and they will look for any opportunity to have a celebration. They have many traditional holidays that they observe, and they still adopt all of the other holidays around the world and celebrate those as well.

They don’t always reach the same level of excitement that they have in other places in the world, and Christmas is one such holiday. The malls are all decked out with holiday gear, and the night sky is lit up with the twinkling lights, especially when you get to the city centers, but the whole country does not shut down on Christmas day. It is just another day for them.

My students were still excited to wake up on Christmas morning and receive presents, and they all wanted to listen to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album. I don’t know why, out of all the Christmas albums ever made, this is the one that captured the country’s heartstrings, but I have heard it a little too much the last couple of weeks.

But after the morning festivities, it is life back to normal, and then they gear up for the next holiday only a couple of days away. It is always cause to be happy and get together with family and friends. It is part of the reason that there are so many smiles on the faces of people out here.

I hope today gives you the smile that the country is able to find, and you are able to spend it with family and friends, whether face to face or safely over Zoom. And I wish you all the happiest of holidays whichever ones you may observe.

Let’s Talk about Food – Nai Harn Beach

It can’t all be about the beach and playing in the water. There has to be a time to fuel up, and the Nai Harn Beach part of Phuket has a lot of options of great food all over the place. I have not really found the street food stalls that you would expect to see in a city of Thailand, but enough of the restaurants serve good Thai food that I do not feel like I have to worry about talking much about that. It is all of the other cuisine that is made available out here that makes this place a gastronomical heaven.

To start off with, I have not eaten many lunches out here. I have been moving a little slow in the mornings; it is vacation after all. And the resort that we are staying in, Nai Harn Beach Resort, serves the best breakfast buffet I have ever seen. They will make omelettes, or eggs benedict for you fresh, and the rest of the food is so well prepared that it is hard to believe that you are eating at a buffet. I am usually so stuffed afterwards that I am not hungry again until mid afternoon, so there is no reason to think about lunch.

Dinner has been a different story, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every place we have been to. The highlights have to be Rustic and Blue, a favorite of ours from Chiang Mai. We have been to that place at least four time during our visits to this northern part of Thailand, and we were really excited to see that there was another one in Phuket, right by the place where we are staying. The food is western cuisine with a heavy dose of seafood dishes in the Phuket version of the restaurant, but there are still enough of the other favorites to make it a comfortable. My favorite is the grilled cheese sandwich with maple bacon and jalapenos.

There is also the Green Tamarind Burger which took a little longer to find, but it was worth the search. The food there is obviously burgers, but could easily be the best burger I have found in Thailand. They make their own buns, and they have fresh ingredients that just make the burger a juicy treat to eat.

And if you are in the mood for Italian, there is Trattoria del Buongustaio. This is right next to the Nai Harn Beach resort, but it is not associated with the resort. The owner is always around helping the customers, and the food has an authentic Italian flavor to it. Most of the food comes with fresh seafood, and has a little bit of a kick to it that reminds you that you are in Thailand.

It has been one of my favorite experiences in this part of Phuket, and I am glad that it has opened up more so I could experience it. It makes me just as excited for the rest of the trip and I hope that the country stays open long enough for me to experience it, but with new Covid cases confirmed up north, it might end sooner than usual. If that is the case, at least I was able to have these moments in Nai Harn Beach.

The Importance of Play – Nai Harn Beach

There are many reasons that many people go on vacation: to relax and recharge their batteries, to see and experience different places in the world, and to go visit loved ones. No matter the reason for travel, it is really important to understand and participate in one of the biggest aspects of it, play.

Play is one of the things I believe the most in. I know that there is a time to take things seriously, and we always need those moments to unwind, but play is the time in our life where we truly find our passion and make the most out of the moments that we are given. It is the time when we find real joy and experience a variety of emotions that allow us to say that we have really experienced life. It is the one thing that I try to incorporate into my lessons, because when my students are actually having fun with their learning, it is when they are really processing the information and internalizing it. The lesson that they are supposed to be learning suddenly becomes their passion because it is now a part of their playtime.

There are times on vacation where I just lounge by a pool or stroll on a beach and do not find time for play. It makes the trips relaxing, but it does not make them memorable. It is those times when I go out a play that I start to have a good time with my vacation. The Nai Harn Beach Resort understands this and gives their guests many opportunities for play on the beach that the resort overlooks. They supply the guests with boogie boards, paddle boards, snorkels, and kayaks. The waves are not big enough right now to make the boogie boards of much use, but the rest of the stuff there has made for some memorable moments.

I have gone out on the paddle board a couple of times to place myself in complete isolation from the rest of the society hanging out on the beach, and today Christine and I took one of the kayaks out to check out the other beaches nearby and the island right across the bay from us. It was a little bit of exercise to get out there, but it was completely worth it. We ran into local fishermen, and in the rocks near the shore we were able to observe schools of tropical fish float underneath our boat. It made for a memorable day.

Which makes the nights even more worth it. It is almost as if I earned the moments of relaxation after the moments of play. It has created the perfect balance on this trip to make every moment the most that it possibly can.

Looking for a Sunset – Nai Harn Beach

I think I have hit that point in this vacation where I am starting to feel more like myself and am ready to take on bigger adventures. I am sorry if my posts have not been that exciting the last couple of days, but if you are ever in the mood for one of those relaxing beach vacations, I would highly recommend Nia Harn Beach. It is a little off the beaten path on the Phuket island, but it has some great restaurants within walking distance, the beach is relatively quiet with calm waters during the winter months, and the place just begs to be lazy for a couple of days.

One of the things that I like the most about it is that the it had a nice view of the west and there should be a good view of the sunset almost every evening. I have gone out the three nights I have been out here in order to witness one of these highlights from nature. Unfortunately, this is the best one I have seen so far. Something has always seemed to pop up in order hide this from view. The first day had big violent rainstorms out in the distant sea that obscured the sunset from view, and the second day was too cloudy for it to make an appearance.

It does not mean that I will not continue to try to get that elusive picture of a great sunset. Last time I was down here, I could out every night and catch an amazing light show on the horizon, but it is funny what s difference a couple of months makes. The sun shifts a bit, the weather makes adjustments as well, and now the sunset is hard to come by.

But it is important that I continue to look for it. If I give up and let myself by satisfied with the small example I collected earlier, I will miss the bigger show when it comes around. I fear that too many people give up too early when there is something spectacular on the horizon, and if we would just practice a little patience, it will be another beautiful sunset.

The Healing Properties of Water – Nai Harn Beach

The Celtic culture uses many aspects of nature as symbols to express certain ideas within their stories, and many of these symbols have found their way into the literature of the world. The strange thing about these symbols is that they have a duality to them that can express things that are the complete opposite of each other. One of the best examples of this is water. It can be a destructive force that can wipe out a civilization, but it can also be a healing entity that can restore a person and show them a new life that they had been missing all along. Both of them work hand in hand to form this world. We cannot build something better unless we first destroy the mess that we have left behind. We cannot find something new within ourselves if we don’t wash away the thing that is holding us back.

This has to be the reason that beaches are such a big draw. They are the place where we can find this property in such great quantities that we cannot help to feel the healing qualities that it has to offer. Many people are not big fans of these tourist destinations and I get the reasons why. You spend a lot of time wiping away the sand off of your body and somehow you seem to grab suitcases full of the stuff to bring back with you. Most of the time it is almost impossible to find a nice spot where you are not disturbed by other people. So why would people want to come here?

Well, there is the plethora of water sports that they can participate in and if the world is tilting the right way, there are huge waves that will crash on the beach bringing the surfers to their shores. But I think it is something more. I felt it yesterday as I wandered into the warm waters of Nai Harn Beach. All of the work and stress from a semester as a high school English teacher was washed away. I no longer had to worry about lesson plans or grading essays. I didn’t have to reread books I have read numerous times and guide students who may not have read them through their intricacies. I didn’t need to worry about yearly evaluations or the problems that were happening behind the scenes of my school. I could find myself in the moment, laying on back in a huge body of salt water and let it wipe away all of these worries and just enjoy where I ended up.

This is the reason that people search out destinations where the land ends and the ocean begins. They need to wash away the pains and stress of everyday life in the healing waters of the ocean and be rejuvenated into something new that allows them to look at the world in a more positive and joyful light. After a year like we all have had, I hope you can find that place of calm so the next year is something that you are not only willing to conquer but you are looking forward to the possibilities that it will offer.

Afternoon Arrival – Nai Harn Beach

It is amazing the difference that one night can make. The previous night I had slept at a roadside hotel made out of repurposed material to a hotel that is a destination in itself looking out over one of my favorite beaches in all of Thailand, Nai Harn. It is not that I would ever have been able to afford to stay at this place normally, but considering that the usual tourists that come to Thailand are absent this year, a lot of the higher end hotels are having great deals, and I am taking advantage of them while I still can. In a year, I will have to go back to spending nights in private rooms in hostels, and hotels made out of shipping crates, but right now, it is five star locations overlooking some spectacular scenery.

We arrived later in the afternoon after another good day of driving. It is a nice feeling to be able to get out of the car for a little while and enjoy the place where we have stopped. It is also nice to know that we have left Bangkok just in time. This morning news of a Covid outbreak in the region to the south of Bangkok has put that area under lockdown, and it has not meant that it has crept into the big city yet, but it has put the people living there a little more on edge. Hopefully it does not mean a lockdown of all Thailand in the future, but only time can tell. It just means that this might be our last hurrah for a little while as we go back to a culture of being safer with what we do and how we interact with other people.

Until then I find out more about that, I will just have to enjoy the beach lifestyle I find myself at. Where the hotel is at, I have only a two minute walk from the top story down to the beach and then I can relax on the sandy beach, jump into the warm Thai waters, or even borrow one of the paddle boards or kayaks to explore more of the bay. Basically, my goal to make the most out of the freedom while it lasts because in this time, we do not know when for the sake of the health of others that it will be restricted for a time.

The fun that can be had in the waters will be a little different this time around as well. Last time I was here, over the summer, the waves were huge and the bay was filled with surfers looking to catch one of the waves. This time the surf is not as crazy. I am really surprised by how calm the waters are. I can see through the clear blue water down to the bottom this time around where as last time there was so much sand and sediment swirling through the water that I could never see an inch into the water even though I was standing right over it. I guess that is the difference in season and part of the reason that tourists make their way out to this part of Thailand during this time of the year as opposed during the summer months. The beach is still not very crowded though. I guess that is another bonus for finding myself here at this time in history. Those crowds are not allowed in the country just as it makes it really hard for me to leave the country.

I am happy to have finally arrived and I look forward to the next couple of weeks off from work. I hope things stay safe and I won’t have to cut things short, but in the meantime, I will make the most out of each opportunity that comes my way when I can grab it. I guess that is one of the better things to come out of this situation. We all have started to appreciate those moments that we used to take for granted, and I know that I am able to have more than most people, but I have really learned to make the most out of them. I hope that you can do the same wherever you find yourself, and that you can make it the greatest that it possibly can be.

Until next time, stay healthy and be kind to each other.

I Spent the Night in a Shipping Crate – Tropical Holiday

it that time of the year that teachers all over the world look forward to more than any other; the time when all of their grades have been submitted and they can spend the next two to three weeks thinking of nothing else but recharging their batteries and enjoying those small moments of life. In a normal year, you would see flocks of these people gathering around pools and vacation spots filling in the void that has been left behind because of the vast amount of individuals who have responsibilities due to the regular scheduling of the school year, whether it is themselves or their children who need to be attending one of these institutions located everywhere. But when that restriction relaxes, so does the rest of the world.

That was until Covid-19, and now this group of people are so happy that they do not have to spend their time staring at a computer as they try to learn in any way possible during this unprecedented time in history. They know that they can’t move anywhere right now, and if given the opportunity to do it safely, they would. Luckily, I have found myself in one of the countries where travel is still possible because of the way the way they have handled the pandemic. It still is not completely under control, and hints are on the horizon that quarantine might come back soon even though there is now a vaccine, but it is still under control enough to take this opportunity responsibly. So on Friday, after school with a packed car, we took a drive down south to eventually reach Phuket to enjoy the holidays the best we could without the people we would have hoped to have spent the holiday with.

The only problem with this is that the place we hoped to eventually get to is a fourteen hour drive away from Bangkok, and we did not get out of school until noon that day. There was no way that we could make it all of the way without arriving way too early in the morning. We needed to stop half way along the way to make it a reasonable drive. Our goal was the town of Chumphon, a fairly good sized city that is the jumping off point for many of the smaller islands down south, and we first thought of staying at a hotel right along the highway, but found a different one that had really good reviews that we chose instead, the Retro Box Hotel.

The reviews were correct, and it turned out to be the perfect place for us to stay that night. The rooms were tiny, but we weren’t there to spread out. We were there to sleep, and the beds were comfortable. It was in a good location only ten minutes from the highway, and they even served a breakfast of eggs, sausages, and toast in the morning. The price was even great that even included access to a pool which we never took advantage of. The whole thing seemed perfect, so what possibly could be the problem with the place.

Well, there was one thing that might have turned people away from the place. The whole building was built out of reused shipping crates. The Retro Box Hotel took a bunch of these crates that were no longer being used by shipping companies, stacked them on top of each other, and then made a hotel out of them.

Now I know what a lot of you are thinking. Why would anybody want to stay in a place like this? But in all actuality, is was a nice, quiet, and very clean place. Each room had its own bathroom, and most importantly, a working air conditioning unit. It was perfectly, and even well designed that some of the room opened right up to private entry to the pool. I even liked the fact that the place repurposed these crates to make them something useful instead of them rotting away some place in an empty field because nobody knew what to do with them anymore.

I even liked the breakfast. It wasn’t part of some fancy buffet that I have been able to experience lately due to the lowered rates of fancy hotels in Thailand, but it was satisfying and served the purpose of filling me up with a good meal before sending me down the road.

I guess my point is that life sometimes piles on the dirt and it feels like we get buried underneath it, but every once in awhile there is an opening in that dirt that allows us to crawl out and enjoy the sun that is shining up above. It might not be the beautiful paradise that is promised in some brochure that is passed around the workers at the lunch room table, but it is surprisingly great for what it is. We should enjoy it while we are given that opportunity. If that means smiling while spending the night in a shipping crate, then that is what it means. There has never been a year where this means more than this year. It is has been full of life piling dirt on us, but there are those small moments where life is truly great. In fact, better than it ever could be because of its simplicity. We should treasure those moments when they are given to us.

I know I did not spend a lot of time savoring my time in the shipping crate, but it was such a unique experience that I don’t think I will ever forget it. It is a great start to this tropical holiday, and makes me excited for all of the other opportunities that will present themselves over the next couple of weeks. Whether it is fancy or quaint, I am ready to take it on, and enjoy it while I can.

Experiencing the Creep – Hua Hin, Thailand

My travels have taken me to some really interesting places, and I have gotten to have some crazy experiences during that time. I feel grateful that I have been able to live this life, and I look forward to more of these experiences as I move on. I think back at the old town celebration that I wander in on in Lucern, or watching the Spain World Cup Game with a bunch of locals in Salamanca. I treasure the moments of standing in the rain with my friends in Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan, or being the only couple in the ryokan in Magome. I will never forget wandering the Hobbiton movie set outside of Mata Mata, New Zealand, or enjoying a drink on the docks just outside of Dubrovnik before it became the biggest destination site when visiting Europe. The memories keep coming too. I have enjoyed a steak dinner in the hills outside of Hua Hin, and stumbled on a jazz music festival. The will be filed away with the other memories that I have collected, but there has been a change in the way I have travelled lately, and I am starting to recognize that change.

I used to look at the big huge fancy hotels and resorts from a distance. Most of the places I used to stay in were hostels. They were the only places I could afford. Sometimes, I could pull an extra couple of dollars together for a private room, but most of the time I was sharing a room with up to fifty other people, and would not spend a lot of time there. It was just a place to put my stuff, and lay my head down at when I had worn myself out by running around checking out the sites. It was part of the adventure and there were many moments from these places that hold a special place in my memory, but a few years back, we decided that we had outgrown the hostel experience and we only find hotels or Air B+Bs from here on out.

The places were still not the height of luxury. The bigger concern when picking the place had to do with location. It was important that we were close to the city center so we could easily wander around and see what we traveled so far to see. Sometimes that meant finding a place right on the beach so when I walked out my door, I could watch the waves crash on the sand.

But which spot we stayed at, it started to get fancier and fancier. Where we would run to a grocery store to find something to cook or find a local hot spot for dinner, we now found places with fancy restaurants attached to the grounds. Breakfast would be a quick affair with a bowl of cereal made with milk that we had placed in our tiny fridges, but now we make sure to find a place where it is included in the price of the stay.

Sometimes we would find a park to share some cheese and crackers that we bought off a local street vendor. Now the park is part of the hotel experience, and if we want some snacks we can order room service and have it brought to us. In other words, the last few times I have gone out for a quick trip, things have changed significantly. Part of this might be because, we have found ourselves in Thailand during a worldwide pandemic and the is country that is so dependent on tourism has so incredible deals going on right now. But if I am being honest, it is also about the change in lifestyle. As I have grown older and moved my way up in the world of academia, I have been able to afford places like this more often. I also find that I enjoy this moment of relaxation during my busy schedule, so I buy into it even more.

But the bigger question, the thing that has been bugging me about this, pops up. Is something lost because of this change? Am I getting the most out of my traveling experience because of the change to booking resorts? I have wandered away from the hotel a couple of times while I have been here this weekend, but most of the time was spent lounging around the pool and soaking in the moment. Granted, this was a quick weekend that I was taking before a longer break comes up, and I will definitely spend more time experiencing things during the three week break, but I find myself spending more time relaxing on vacation instead of trying to take as much of it in as I can. I do come back refreshed and ready to take on the next challenge, but the little stories aren’t as plentiful when I live a pampered lifestyle.

Some call it the creep. It is that moment in your life where you make enough money to enjoy the easy life a little more often, but at the expense of finding those same experiences for a little less. At the same time, the better pay comes with more responsibility, and I do need that time to relax or my life will be one big bundle of stress. I guess like many other things in life, it comes down to finding that balance between the two. I need to fight against the creep from time to time. I need to find those more humble experiences where I take in what life brings to me. This does not mean that I will go back to staying at hostels, but I do not need to find the biggest resort where I do not need to do much of anything. I need to find that place that gives me enough relaxation so I feel ready to go out and take in the place in the world where I have found myself. It is the whole reason I travel. I need to get back to experiencing the world. I have enjoyed this quick respite, but I am ready to take on the world again.

And as thing start to open up again and the vaccines get delivered to places around the world, I find that this year of trying to make the most out of the situation I found myself in will soon be behind me. I look forward to the new opportunities out there, and I can’t wait to see where my next adventure will take me.

Until next time, stay safe, and find the most out the time given to you.

Cicada Market – Hua Hin, Thailand

There are two ways to dine out in Thailand. There are the big fancy restaurants that serve meals from traditional Thai food to fare that could be found all over the world. There is also the street food that is extremely cheap and most of the time just as good. There is a little danger with this type of food because you might fall victim to the Thailand tummy or the Bangkok belly, but I have never had this experience since I have been out here though I have been witness to those who have. There is a simple rule of thumb when it comes to eating street food in Thailand, go to the places that have long lines and then you know the food you are getting will always be fresh and free from the things that might cause the rumble down below.

If I am Hua Hin, there are two street markets that allow for this great experience of dining with the street food. There is the old night market further in town and though a great, fun experience, does not necessarily meet with the higher standards of cleanliness that the other place does, the Cicada Market which can be found further on the southern part of the city. This is a newer market, and it boasts numerous venders who are all trying to sell you the greatest culinary delights for relatively cheap prices. It only takes place on the weekends, but it is definitely worth the voyage down there to check it out.

First off, the food down there is great. They sell all of your favorite Thai dishes from chicken satay to pineapple fried rice served in the husk of the pineapple where the delicious ingredient for the dish came from. They also have other quick street food fare that can be found in other places around the world such as wood stove pizza and Korean bar-b-q. Each dish is relatively inexpensive, so it is fun to walk around and have a little bit of this dish followed by a little bit of that dish.

The Cicada market also creates an atmosphere that is a blend of carnival as well as cultural. They have clowns walking around on stilts, people making balloon animals, and booths performing magic tricks, all around two stages where various juggling and comedic acts will perform, or if you prefer something a little more adult, you can go and watch a rock band perform next to the beer garden. There are also little niches where bands will set up to play traditional Thai music, or break dance to electronic beats produced by some of the country’s best DJs.

Considering that it also a market, there is also a section dedicated to various vendors selling their wares. This is a little different than what can be seen in a traditional market in Thailand though. Most of those places have quick products that can be found in most places around the country. You have knock off coffee mugs set next to t-shirts and phone cases. The items that are sold here are actually produced by the people selling them. There is a certain type of artistic quality that can be found at this market which makes it feel like that what you are buying can only be found in this little corner of Hua Hin. It also makes wandering through the market really fun because you see a lot of strange items that you would never find anywhere else.

It is my second time coming down to this market and if I ever find myself in Hua Hin over a weekend, I would make sure that I would come back here again. It is a must see for anybody visiting this city and I would recommend that when you come you bring a healthy appetite with you because you are going to want to spend a lot of your time here satisfying it.

The Garden by the Sea – Hua Hin, Thailand

One of the bigger holidays in Thailand is Father’s Day. It is celebrated every year on December 5th, and it is the perfect time for a teacher to run out of town for a couple of days to recharge the batteries to make that final push through the end of the first semester. There are many places to go around Bangkok, but the one we landed on was Hua Hin, a beach resort town about a three hour drive from our school. It is a great town with some beautiful hikes, a fun bar scene downtown, and a beach that stretches out for miles. It is a weekend destination site for many people in Bangkok and I had a feeling that this weekend would not be any different considering it is a long weekend for many people due to the holiday. Little did I know that there was another reason that this weekend would make Hua Hin an even bigger destination, the Hua Hun Jazz festival. We got down here late the night before and drove to our hotel to find that cars parked all up and down the skinny streets and many people walking to the beach to go and partake in this event. We were able to catch a bit of the show last night, but were a little too tired to stay up late enough to watch the whole thing.

I am glad that this was the decision that we made because I needed the rest and it made for a beautiful day as we explored the ground of the hotel that we stayed at, the Centara Grand. Most of the time, I do not really care much about the place where we stay because it is only a place to rest my head while I get ready to take on whatever adventure awaits me the next day. But being a short weekend run, and the fact that I knew I would be spending a lot of time at the hotel while I got caught up on my grading for the end of the semester, I was very happy with the choice that Christine had made. It is right next to the beach, and has at least three pools that I have found, but there are probably more hidden in different corners of the place. There are also a couple of bars and restaurants on the grounds, not to mention one of the best breakfast buffets that I have ever run into.

My favorite part though so far has easily been the expansive gardens that surround the rooms. It is something right out of Stephen King’s The Shining as there is a topiary of wild animals carved into the trees and bushes out there. It has to be quite the feat to make sure that these plants maintain their look and there were a couple of them that were starting to grow extra limbs out of their heads and stomachs.

But for the most part, I was really impressed by the way that they maintained the garden. I only saw one person working on it while I was walking through it, and I would think that they would need more than one person to maintain this botanical zoo. But it had to have been a full time job for this individual and he must have a regular rotation to make sure that the plants never get too far our of control.

I am not usually impressed by gardens when I have come across them, but the one on the grounds of the Centara Grand really came as a surprise. I enjoyed the breeze that blew in from the ocean to cool down the temperature in Hua Hin to make it one of the more pleasant experiences I have had since moving out here. It made the perfect environment to enjoy this place, and it made this hotel a great find in Thailand. It has enough character to make it more of an experience rather than the impersonal rooms that come with most hotels I stay at. It makes it a place that I don’t mind hanging around as I enjoy my weekend away from the rat race.