Phi Phi’d my pants with how excited I was to see bioluminescent plankton

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You can’t be crabby in Krabi!

After a few weeks of waiting, Val and I were finally able to head back to our favorite road, Khao San, and we brought my family with us. Yes, my parents and sister came to visit me in Thailand! Drinking from buckets and eating burritos made us happy, but the street was not as packed on a Wednesday night as it was the last time we went there on a Friday night—a bit of a bummer.

IMG_7516Val and I living it up on Khao San Road!

After classes the next day, I took the bus back into Bangkok where my family and I got on a plane to Krabi, a beach town in southern Thailand. White sand beaches, here we come! Krabi is best known for its wonderful island hopping. On Friday, we went on a speed boat island tour around the Phi Phi islands. The boat was awesome—too bad we weren’t tubing from the back of it—and held about 30 people. We saw several limestone mountains with cliffs, caves, and long white sandy beaches.

At the first island, we went swimming in the Straight of Malacca. At the second island, we went snorkeling, where we saw many, many different types of colorful fish. At the third island, we ate a great lunch of rice and chicken and watermelon, and then walked around and took photos. At the fourth island—Monkey Island—guess what we saw?! Monkeys! We stopped to snorkel again on the way home.

IMG_7537The tour of the Phi Phi Islands was amazing.

Despite putting sunscreen all over me, my shoulders got a little burned. I truly thought I would be much tanner since I have been living in the sun for over three months, but I was wrong! When the tour ended, we headed back to our hotel and then grabbed some Thai food, and I got a head and shoulder massage. (I’m going to miss the all the great food and pampering massages when I leave!)

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On Saturday, my family left bright and early to head back to Bangkok and homeward, while Val and I slept in late. When we finally woke up, we decided to take a long boat ride to Prah Nang Cave island, where we spent the afternoon. The boat ride was short, and we were happy to see that when we got to the island, there were not a lot of people and the water and scenery looked pristine.

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We swam in the surprisingly warm water, ate grilled corn and roti, explored caves—and of course, I made Val take lots of pictures of me.

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By the time the sun was setting, we were beat, so we took the boat back to the main land and then took a tuk tuk to our new hotel. The hotel had lost of cats and was right on the water; however, we had no air conditioning! Ahhhh!!! If you understand how HOT it is here, you’ll know how miserable it is to be without AC! That night, we watched the waves roll in as we ate fried rice on the beach (because when is it not a good idea to eat fried rice?!).

IMG_7659Watching the sun set from the beach—life doesn’t get any better than this!

After falling asleep super early and sleeping for 10 hours, on Sunday, we went on another island-hopping tour. This tour consisted of seven islands, a beautiful sunset, delicious dinner, and a swim in bioluminescent plankton. The tour was sadly not on a speed boat, but instead a large ferry. The ferry took us to a turquoise blue area where I then jumped into the water to snorkel with lots and lots of fish. We then went to a National Park—while it was no United States National Park, it was still beautiful.

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We went at low tide, so when Val and I went swimming, we were surprised how far we could go out while still touching the bottom. We snorkeled again at another island. This area had fish that looked like Dory from Finding Nemo! I would have been happy snorkeling all day, but I was forced to get out and watch the sunset on an island while eating some great Thai food and fried chicken! (You can’t go wrong with fried chicken, so it was all good.)

DCIM100GOPROStill smiling despite finding a large crab stuck in my hair.

After the sun went down, I was surprised how completely dark it was. Most of the islands don’t have houses on them, so looking out from the boat, all we saw was pitch blackness—and the occasional lightning strikes in the distance. The boat then stopped in the middle water, and the crew told us to jump in the water. When we were in the water, they turned the lights off on the boat, and the water lit up with bioluminescent plankton! It looked like little twinkle lights floating in the water. When you moved your hands underwater, they would light up brightly! While in the water, we looked up and the sky was covered with stars as lightening from the storm came closer. It was an incredible experience, and I didn’t want to get out of the water (no surprise!). As I was swimming back to the boat, the crew kept yelling to watch out for sharks because sharks here love to eat pretty women. So flattering! It was no surprise that when we got back to Krabi, I passed out pretty quick. What a fun day!

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It was hard to leave Monday morning and go back to Bangkok because the sun and the beach were just what I needed. However, the fried bananas and pineapple at the airport helped ease the pain of leaving.)

IMG_7732Anything fried is usually pretty good!

Now it’s my last week of classes and I have to deal with finals. Just take me back to the beach, please!

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For the love of elephants

When I decided to study abroad in Thailand, one thing I had my heart set on was was seeing and playing with elephants. On a mission to make this happen, I learned that inhumane treatment of elephants and riding them is sadly very common in Thailand, mostly to please tourists. I did not want to partake in such activities, so made sure to find a place that was a no-riding facility.

In Kanchanaburi, about three hours north of Bangkok, is a camp that focuses on loving elephants and letting them live their life without chains. I was very excited to find a place like this! So this weekend, my friends Val and Audrey and I went to Kanchanaburi.

Due to heavy Bangkok traffic, we arrived 30 minutes late to the bus stop and thought we’d missed our departure time. Luckily, “Thai time” is more relaxed and the bus had not left without us. We hopped onboard and made it to Kanchanaburi. Again, not quite according to plan, we struggled to find our hotel, a little bungalow outside of the city, but eventually, we made it.

On Saturday morning, we headed to Elephant Haven to see elephants. When we arrived, we were greeted by seven elephants! We fed them sugar canes. Some of them were very greedy and would take the canes from another elephant’s mouth. It was funny! But they were all very gentle and sweet. Next, we cut up A LOT of watermelons and made banana rice balls.

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The elephants loved the watermelon, and it was fun to see how they would use their trunks to pick up all the food. When they were done eating, we walked with them through the jungle. They kept eating all the plants—even though we’d just fed them. Elephants eat about 16 hours a day—which is crazy! During the jungle walk, the elephants began playing in the mud to cool off.

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They were constantly spraying us with mud—messy but a lot of fun! After the elephants were thoroughly covered in mud, we headed to the river where we washed and swam with them. We even got into a competitive splash battle with one of the workers. The water was moving quite swiftly, but the elephants used their trunks to hang onto us and stop us from flowing downstream. The sweetness of the elephants made my heart melt. I loved spending the day with elephants in a place where there were no trail rides, chains, or hooks to force them to do what people wanted them to do. The elephants were safe and free—even though this sometimes meant they would wander away to find good leaves to eat—and you could tell they were happy.

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The workers at Elephant Haven were very kind to the elephants and loved to tell us “No Danger,” which we thought was funny. We would literally be standing in an empty field and they would just say, “No Danger”.

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When we were done with our day with the elephants, we headed back to our hotel. Our host was so kind. He took us to his favorite restaurant where I ate fried bananas and pineapple. He then took us to the Bridge over the River Kwai and to a night market. Val and I bought about 20 bananas for a dollar, and then ate some amazing roti (flatbread). I can’t stop thinking about the roti—I probably could have eaten 10 pieces, they were so good.

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The next morning, our host said he wanted to take us to a Chinese temple, breakfast, a floating market, and a dam. Breakfast was delicious. Val and I split a raspberry cream cheese crepe and cashew chicken. (Thais don’t really have specific breakfast foods, so you can get rice and chicken at 9 a.m. with no judgement!) The Chinese temple was cool—different than the other temples we’ve seen in Thailand. Already in the early morning, it was 90 degrees and we were dying from the heat. The floating market was cool, too. It was located in an old film studio. There was also another great market where I could not resist buying an adorable shirt. After the market, our host took us on a 45-minute ride into the mountains to see the Srinagarind Dam. It was very interesting and reminded me of the Hoover Dam.

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It was fun that our host took us to places where there were no other tourists. In the afternoon, we hopped on a train back to Bangkok. We thought it would be fun because Kanchanaburi is known for its railways. When we got on, we discovered that there were only wooden seats and open windows. No air conditioning! As we pulled out of the station, we knew we’d made a mistake. Everyone had on masks because of the amount of dust swirling into the train. My phone was covered in a nice layer of dust within four minutes. We were miserable in the heat—and it was an extremely hot day (over 100 degrees). I was happy when that three-hour “train ride from hell” was over! Covered in a thick film of dirt, I was excited to go home and shower and sit in a nice air conditioned room. Kanchanaburi was great, but a bus ride home would have been a great end to the trip.

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Nothing can RUIN our Time in Thailand

Spending two weekends in a row in Bangkok has got to be a new record for me since arriving in Thailand in January. For the past eight weeks, my friends and I have been hitting up a new city or country most weekends. This past week, I realized I was much too pale for someone living in a tropical location for two months. I’ve spent a lot of time covering my skin with pants and sweaters, which are required when touring temples. No school on Friday, a pool day seemed like the perfect idea to get a nice tan. I spent all day relaxing at the pool, which I had to myself for the most part.

A little “crispy”, I gave up my last hour of sun rays to share pizza with my friend Val (although it was ketchup sauce pizza, it was better than no pizza). On Friday night, we went to a concert at school. After the concert, some of the people in our house convinced us to go with them to Khao San Road in Bangkok.

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With eight people squeezed into a cab, we made our way to Khao San Road, known for its carnival-like atmosphere, markets, and nightlife. We spent the whole night dancing in the street. Although every tour book would tell you to skip Khao San Road because it is very touristy, we had an amazing night.  The people were a good mix of Thais, Europeans, and Americans out for a fun night. Before heading home to Salaya, we shared one of the best burritos I’ve ever had—it was sooo delicious and the perfect way to end the night.

On Saturday, we headed back into Bangkok to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. When we got there, I thought it was closed because absolutely no one was there. It wasn’t closed—we just had the museum to ourselves. The art was beautiful, and we enjoyed taking pictures in front of the art pieces. They even had a temporary exhibit with the art from the Black House that we had toured in Chiang Rai. I was glad to see the art from the Black House since when we were actually there, I couldn’t see very well because of my eye patch!

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After the museum, we went on a search to find the rest of our friends who were meeting us in MBK, a 2000 store shopping mall—a shopper’s paradise—too bad Thailand has made me cheap and I don’t want to pay $10 for a shirt anymore! When we finally found them at the Burger King (apparently there are in fact two Burger Kings in the mall), we went to the Jim Thompson House, a museum in central Bangkok, housing the art collection of American businessman and architect Jim Thompson, a self-made American entrepreneur who was the founder of the World renowned Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company.

We arrived, all sweating in the intense Bangkok heat, only to discover that there was no air conditioning at the house. Bummer! Despite the heat, we enjoyed the house and the surrounding garden. Finally, it was the time we were all waiting for—Margarita Storm! We had all been looking forward to tacos and salsa. We stuffed ourselves with amazing Mexican food and great margaritas.

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On Sunday, the exploration continued. After days of searching for transportation, we finally found a cheap van to take us to Ayutthaya, an ancient capital and modern city in the Central Plains of Thailand, 85 kilometers north of Bangkok. Six of piled into the van for the journey. On our way, we stopped at Wat Muang, home of a giant gold Buddha statue, beautiful Chinese New Year animal statues, statues depicting hell (which we all thought was pretty funny), and lots of fish to feed bread to! The gold Buddha statue was gorgeous, and we looked minuscule when we stood next to it.

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We were miserable from heat and thankful to get out of the sun as we continued the 40-minute ride to the ruins of Ayutthaya. The fan I bought at the temple was the best purchase of the entire trip so far—a true lifesaver and (bonus) a great wrist/arm workout.

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Before we got to the ruins, our super cool driver took us to lunch—although we had just eaten insane amounts of fried bananas and some other weird fried thing (that even though I didn’t know what it was, I ate a lot of it). For lunch, I had the best Thai food I think I’ve had since being here. I didn’t know it could get any better since it was already amazing!

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When we finally made it to the ruins, it was cloudy (thank God!), allowing us to explore the ruins somewhat more comfortably. We were all sweating insanely though, but then again—that’s the one thing you can count on happening in Thailand!

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The ruins were incredible—so much to see and learn about while we were there. Ayutthaya was much different than Bangkok or Chiang Mai, making it a very unique and memorable experience. All the ruins got me excited for my upcoming trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

mu-signI have way too much fun posing with my Marquette sign!

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