I’m Home! A Recap of the Past Few Months (Including Ten Days in Thailand!)

It’s now the end of June, and I am home in Baltimore! Of course I was sad to leave my beloved host family and community in Malaysia, but I am also excited to get back into life here and be with my friends and family.

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Before coming back to Baltimore: After sad goodbyes to our host families, the four other American AFSers and I had left Kuala Lumpur at 7am June 22 and flew 7 hours to Tokyo. I said goodbye to my friends in Tokyo and then flew the 10-hour journey to LAX by myself. Both flights were fine, though I didn’t sleep much, and I slept about 3 hours out of the 48 which I spent traveling (somehow I wasn’t even tired!).  I met up with my dad and we spent five days in Los Angeles, CA to look at colleges, which was very fun and was a good gentle welcome back into American society.

But let’s go back a few months.


 

A lot happened in the three months about which I haven’t yet posted anything, so stay tuned for possible more descriptive posts separately.

Big highlights included a trip to Thailand! My cousin came from the US and we met in Kuala Lumpur, then flew to Bangkok together. We spent two days in Bangkok, then took an overnight train to Chiang Mai in the north where we stayed for four days. After that, we flew/ rode a bus/ took a ferry to Koh Pha Ngan (yes, the island (in)famous for the Full Moon Parties; we hadn’t planned on going here but were convinced by a sketchy travel agency that it was a nice place and we thankfully ended up here not during any of the crazy parties. We were told that the island we originally planned to go to was having monsoon season. ) The island was nice, and we visited nearby Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan, which was absolutely gorgeous.

I have a ton of amazing photos taken on my cousin’s phone (after March I hadn’t had a camera of my own, usually just borrowing those of other people and later sending them to myself). Some were taken by me, some by her, so credit to both.

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Met up in KL! It was so exciting/weird to see someone from home
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First night: Green curry, my favorite food
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I fell in love with the grimy open-window city buses, from the way the ticket givers folded and stored money to the sights we saw along the way to the presence of monks.

I have some wonderful stories about our first day in Bangkok, as well as a lot of tips on how NOT to get scammed, from experience.

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In between these temples we had some fun at a slightly sketchy travel agency we had been invited to and later paid to arrange our next 10 days of travel.IMG_0742_2

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Walking around Bangkok we came upon a temple with monks chanting inside! It was incredible and one of our favorite memories.

People throughout the city wore solid black or white clothing, still in mourning for their king who had recently passed away.IMG_0748_2

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Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha:IMG_0784_2

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We stayed at an AirBnB apartment on the outskirts of the city with a nice pool!IMG_0216_2

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We visited the famous Grand Palace:IMG_0221

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We stumbled upon the Flower Market, which was amazing:

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The train station

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And that was just the beginning!
Next up, 4 days in the northern Thailand town of Chiang Mai, famous for temples in abundance.

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Dining car of the night train

A train worker came around and transformed the seats into beds. They weren’t uncomfortable, but the train was loud and bouncy and didn’t make for  a particularly good night’s sleep. It was a wonderful experience, though, and I loved it! (And the bathrooms were quite an experience by themselves.)

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Highlighting the train workers smoking right beneath the “no smoking” sign; but it’s Southeast Asia, so rules are just a suggestion.

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Thai Iced Tea
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I can proudly say I drank the whole bowl of spicy red curry without rice

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Recommended by our AirBnB host, we had fabulous Thai massages here– for a cost of less than 4 USD! Over our ten days in Thailand, we had three massages; the most expensive one was $9!
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The massage center was on the grounds of a temple

 

One of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai:

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We took an amazing yoga class!

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Our lovely AirBnB

Day 2: A tour outside of the town

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These King and Queen Pagodas were high up on a mountain and fog was moving around periodically covering the top of the pagodas from view.

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We visited a market run by the local Karen people.

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Egg fruit; it has the texture of the yolk of a hard-boiled egg!

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We visited two waterfalls. The first:

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We visited a Karen village; the Karen people are known for their hand-woven clothes and for coffee.

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Next: the second waterfall.

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We hiked up alongside the huge waterfall.

Back in Chiang Mai town:

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We came across the Flower Festival, as explained to us by a nice stranger we met on the way. We met so many kind, helpful people throughout our travels; even though most of them couldn’t speak English, they went out of their way to try to understand us. I was fascinated by how few people could speak English compared to Malaysia. Most Malaysians can speak at least some English– it helps that the alphabets are the same for English and Malay, and many words are similar– but Malaysia has far fewer tourists than its neighbor Thailand. Parts of Thailand seem overrun by foreigners (we were there during the slow season!), but few Thais can speak English outside of those in the business of tourism. IMG_0178_2

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We went to the nightly food market, which was as awesome as it sounds!

The next morning we went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, which rescues elephants from riding camps. One must be very careful in choosing an elephant visiting place; this one had great reviews. Riding is harmful to the elephants, so it shouldn’t be supported. Here we fed the elephants and played with them in a pond and in the mud.

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Later that day we took a cooking class!! It was a fabulous class, run by Baan Thai Cooking School.  We were the only people in the class, which began with a tour of a local market, where the instructor told us about the ingredients.

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Pad thai!

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Coconut soup! Fish and vegetarian ‘chicken’ varieties

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Chiang Mai curry with noodles and Green curry

Chiang Mai had a huge Night Bazaar market with all sorts of clothes and souvenirs, which we explored a couple of times.

We came across dozens of temples (each called a wat) while wandering around Chiang Mai which we were able to enter (after taking our shoes off, of course).

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On our final day, we were driven to the small airport, where we flew an hour and a half to Surat Thani, then took a bus to a pier, then a two-and-a-half hour ferry to the island where we boarded a pickup truck taxi to our hotel.

We stayed on Koh Pha Ngan at The Beach Village, a nice-ish resort. The whole island was pretty quiet but we did see quite a few tourists.

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View by the ferry jetty

The ferry was a massive

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Sunset on the ferry

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Sitting area at The Beach Village

On our first day, we tried to walk to a nicer beach than the one near the resort (it was low tide and the day was cloudy, so the beach wasn’t particularly beautiful by Thailand standards.) We probably walked six miles; it was hot and humid and the roads were hilly, but it was beautiful!

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a field of huge banana trees
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Look closely at this sign…

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Not sure how safe this is but roadside shelves like this seemed to be the only source of gasoline for the island’s many motorbikes.

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We took a pickup truck taxi for our long ride back.

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The next day, we went on a hike up to a waterfall! Again, we walked very far.

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This monkey, which was on a leash, climbed the super-tall trees and threw coconuts down for the man at the other end of the leash!

 

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We stopped for homemade coconut ice cream near this river along the way.

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We climbed the steep mountain of a national park and were rewarded with an amazing view.IMG_0018_2

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At the top, we met some really nice British travelers and talked for a long time, making me realize one of my favorite parts of traveling: meeting awesome people from around the world!

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The waterfalls didn’t have much water, so we climbed down them to get back down the mountain. It was awesome!IMG_0037

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The next day, we took an island hopping/ snorkeling guided trip to Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan.

Off the coast of Koh Tao, I was distressed to see a rather lifeless (aside from some beautiful fish) array of broken, colorless corals. Out of the water, it was beautiful, though.

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Next up was Koh Nang Yuan.

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Back on Koh Pha Ngan:

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Here is what beautiful Thai currency looks like! 100 Thai Baht is about 3 USD.

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We came across a water buffalo!
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And a swing!

We were finally blessed with beautiful sunny weather on our last day on the island.

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We took a taxi, ferry, van, airplane, and then walked and ended up at a hostel in Bangkok near the airport around midnight, where we slept for four hours before flying back to Kuala Lumpur.

And that’s all for our awesome adventure in Thailand!

 

I’ll post updates about the rest of my time in Malaysia later.

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