After one month of living and working in Thailand, it is finally sinking in that this is my reality now! There are a lot of “new normals” in my life, such as eating with a spoon in my right hand and a fork in my left, carrying an umbrella wherever I go (just in case!) and remembering to always apply bug spray. I’m definitely still adjusting, but I think each day I am making progress. I am doing my best to not only learn about Thai culture, but also to learn to appreciate Thai culture.
I recently visited the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (also known as Wat Phra Kaew, Wat meaning “temple” in Thai). I didn’t do my research before visiting (…oops) so I was surprised to learn the Grand Palace actually isn’t just one building. Instead, it is a complex made up of various buildings and temples. Though the Grand Palace has been the official residence of the Royal Family for over 200 years, they don’t spend much of their time there anymore. The grounds are now mainly used for various events such as coronations and official ceremonies. This is a historically significant time to visit the Grand Palace because the renowned King of Thailand passed away last month. Since his passing, Thais from across the country have been traveling to the Grand Palace to mourn King Rama IX. While I walked around the grounds, there were hundreds of people in line waiting to pay their respects to the Royal Family. It was incredible to see how much King Rama IX touched the lives of the people of Thailand.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is one of the most notable sights at the Grand Palace. The name is a bit misleading; since monks do not live there, it is technically a chapel, not a temple. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is unbelievably ornate, designed with intricate patterns and filled with gold and gems from floor to ceiling. As I was walking around, I felt like I had stepped inside of a jewelry box! It was quite the juxtaposition to witness this attraction during the mourning period in Thailand.
Seated at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha - one of the most beautiful sights I've seen so far! Click photo to enlarge.
From the Grand Palace, I walked to Khao San Road, a lively street in Bangkok (part of the Banana Pancake Trail) known for its shopping and other tourist attractions that are popular with Westerners. I took part in one of these attractions – a fish pedicure! I paid less than $5 to put my feet in a pool of live fish for 15 minutes in the hope that they would eat the dead skin off of my feet. Admittedly, it was just about as gross as it sounds and I basically paid to have a 15-minute anxiety attack. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (and maybe fishier?) so now I can check this off of my to-do list!
In case my distressed look doesn't give it away, I really wasn't a fan of the fish pedicure. Click photo to enlarge.
After taking 6 modes of transportation, I finally made it back home from Bangkok! I continued teaching throughout the week before visiting the Ban Mai Riverside market. “Riverside” is in reference to the Bang Pakong River, which winds through my home province, Chachoengsao.
This market serves many traditional delicacies, most of which I tasted. My palette definitely approved!
Lunch at Ban Mai: Kuay Tien Pak Mor - a broth based noodle dish served with flour-wrapped vegetables on the side. Click photo to enlarge.
From the market, I traveled to a local farm where I had the unique opportunity to plant rice in a marsh. Keep in mind, the target age group of this farm is about 3-5 years old, but I had a blast getting in the mud and planting my crops. It definitely gave me a new appreciation for rice – it’s a backbreaking job!
There are markets everywhere in Thailand and one even opened on the street I live on for a few days. The neighborhood completely transformed from empty sidewalks and streets filled with motorcycles to vendors selling kebabs, popcorn, and smoothies among hundreds of other food items. Least appetizing of them all (for me, at least) was the table with fried bugs. Still working on getting past my fear of all things creepy crawly!
Last week I celebrated the festival Loy Krathong, which means, “to float a basket.” This festival is significant because it is a time to pay respect to rivers, as well as make wishes for the upcoming year. Loy Krathong is observed during the full moon of the 12th lunar month, which just so happened to be a super moon this year! In preparation for the festival I handcrafted a krathong, a small buoyant basket. I decorated my krathong with banana leaves and a variety of flowers, finally topping it off with a candle.
After decorating my krathong, I traveled to the Bang Pakong River. In my free time I visit an English class for young children (which is beyond cute) and the families from class were so kind as to invite me to join them at the river. It was such an honor to celebrate Loy Krathong with all of my new Thai friends!
My Thai family (pictured above) and moments before I placed my Krathong in the river to float away (below). Click photos to enlarge.
Even though I will be 13 time zones away from my family this Thanksgiving, I am still thinking of how much I have to be grateful for – specifically, my mom’s voice of reason. I’m going through a huge transition in my life right now and I am faced with challenges I never could have anticipated. She is a great sounding board and I feel so fortunate to have a strong support system, both at home and abroad. With the help of my family in America and my adopted family in Thailand, I am confident I will get in the groove of things soon.