I can’t believe it’s been over two months since my last post. That’s mostly because I got a new job, which consumes my working week. Any free time I have has been spent with friends or writing for various publications.
When my new job’s Board of Directors offered me a position, the President said, “You cannot write about our school.” (The most I can say is that it’s an all-boys school.) At the time I laughed and said, “That won’t be a problem.” What I wanted to say was: why would I write about a bunch of teenage boys? How interesting can they be?
Turns out, they are very interesting. The Lord of the Flies is real, and there’s at least four or five Piggys in my class. One kid already fell down a flight of stairs, and my students did nothing but take his shoes off and poke him. There have been several moments where I want to say, “Why didn’t you get an adult?!” and then I realize I’m the adult. (I think this is why alcohol isn’t sold in Thailand between 2 and 5 pm. All of the teachers would guzzle a bottle of wine before the end of 6th period.)
I also can’t write about my school because my students have found my websites. So hey, guys.
And now, a quick recap on my travels from the past two months.
First Trip: Penang, Malaysia
I went to Penang, Malaysia because I needed to reset my visa for my Lord of the Flies job. At first I told coworkers I was going to Kuala Lumpur. “KL sucks,” they said. “It’s just a big, fancy city with nothing to do.” So I changed my plans to Penang. Then they said, “Penang sucks. It’s boring and there’s nothing to do.” I stopped listening to everyone and decided to just stick with Penang. I’d survived boring Vientaine; couldn’t I survive boring Penang?
Maybe my coworkers and I have different levels of boring and exciting because I LOVED Penang. The small city reminded me a lot of Savannah, GA: historic buildings, cobblestone streets, no sky scrapers, a port, and art at every turn.
When my friend and I first arrived at Penang, we found out the power box to our AirBnB had been stolen. The AirBnB owner rushed over and shuttled us to a row of townhouses he and his boyfriend owned. “Do people steal power boxes often?” I asked.
“No,” the guy said. “This has never happened before.” (Again, stealing a power box is also something I would both expect and not expect in Savannah.)
The switch ended up being fantastic. My friend and I got an adorable two-story townhouse with garden-esque swings in the living room, an outdoor courtyard that led to the shower and bathroom, and my bed was even suspended off the ground like a gigantic full-sized mattress hammock.
Whoever spearheads the tourism industry in Penang is a genius. Although my coworkers hated KL, I think most travelers to Malaysia either visit KL or the beaches. Penang is at the bottom of the destination ladder. However, what does draw people to Penang are the photo opportunities. Asia is really into the selfie and Instagram culture. Obviously the West is into that, too, but there are actual “selfie spots” in Asia: staged photo areas made just for Instagram (there’s a large swing and a giant bird’s nest in Bali just so people can take their pictures in them).
To lure social media obsessed millennials, Penang has several museums that are just for picture taking. My friend and I first went to the Upside Down Museum, where everything is bolted to the ceiling to make you feel as if you’ve walked into a home that was turned on its head. Museum stewards pass you from room to room, and position you so that you and the thousands of other Upside Down Museum visitors have identical photos.
What I also liked about Penang was the seamless blending of cultures. There’s China Town, Korea Town, and Little India, and there’s no noticeable divide between any of them. In Chicago, there’s also a China Town, Korea Town, Little India, and countless other national neighborhoods, but they’re separated by blocks and blocks of just plain ol’ Chicago. In Penang, the neighborhoods were next to each other and it was hard to tell when you walked from one to the other except that some of the street decorations changed.
If you like small historic cities with great food, great nightlife, and street art, Penang is the place to go. And if you know and love Savannah, Penang should definitely be at the top of your Travel Bucket List.
Second Trip: Hua Hin, Thailand
Maybe I’m going through my first ever bout of homesickness for the U.S., but Hua Hin reminded me of a Florida beachtown like Fernandina or Palm Beach. Like Penang, there were no sky scrapers and the tallest structures were temples and a Buddha statue. Like Florida, the ocean is a mix of blue and turquoise, the sand is white, and there are surfers trying to ride baby waves that Californians would laugh at.
Whereas Penang was walkable, Hua Hin seemed easiest to get around by bike. A friend and I rented a moto from our guesthouse, and were able to zip around to the Cicada Market, some temples, and the Artist Village. Without a bike I don’t think we would have seen as much as we did or we would have been shelling out a lot of Baht for taxis.
As the child of artists, I geeked out hard over the Artist Village. It’s inland from the beach and you need a car or moto to reach it. It’s set up like a small village with open-air houses clustered together. Each house is packed with art: oil paintings, acrylic paintings, ceramic sculptures, glass, driftwood creations, etc. A few artists sat in the houses working on new pieces. I don’t know how long we were there, but I could have stayed all day. I ended up buying an oil painting from a Thai artist who was painting inside one of the houses. He also gave my friend a free painting because my friend is Indian and the artist loves India.
Third Trip: Khao Yai (sort of)
I booked a weekend trip to Khao Yai National Park during a week when my students were driving me up the wall and the school got a long weekend because of hand, foot, and mouth disease. I wanted to get away from Bangkok, and since I’d already done the beach I decided to head up north.
The trip to Khao Yai was my first time traveling solo in Thailand. Part of the reason I went solo was to see if I could do it solo. Despite my post about being more confident in Thailand, if I’m with someone I largely let them do the talking. With Khao Yai I wanted to do everything myself: find the bus, find the resort, etc etc.
Finding the right bus ended up being easy because two bus station attendants immediately set upon me and rushed me from the ticket window to the correct bus. When I said I was going to Muak Lek, the bus station lady looked at me oddly.
“Muak Lek?” she asked.
“Yes? Muak Lek?”
“Muak. Lek?” She raised one eyebrow as if to say, are you sure?
I pulled out my phone and showed her the spot on Google maps. She sighed and shrugged. “Muak Lek.”
I fretted slightly when the bus driver had the same are you sure? reaction to my Muak Lek ticket. The ride took about two hours. The bus pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway and the bus attendant came to my seat and grabbed my bag: “Muak Lek.”
As the bus pulled away I realized why everyone seemed confused about my destination. Not only was I the only person who got off at Muak Lek, but the stop was just a small shack on the side of the highway with a sleepy, practically empty market behind it. I called the resort where I was to stay and tried to explain where I was.
“Are you by a clock tower?” the concierge asked.
“Umm there’s an overpass.”
“What did you pass before the bus dropped you?”
“A cow sculpture.” I could almost hear the man drop his head in frustration. “There’s a broken down bus beside me,” I said. “Does that help? If you drive down the highway, you can’t miss it.”
Somehow the man did find me and he shuttled me to the St. James Resort, which had had a special deal on Agoda and was the entire reason I decided to be bougie and stay at a resort rather than my normal cheap AirBnB route.
Turns out, the resort is 44 km away from the entrance to Khao Yai. The resort is almost exclusively geared toward golfers, and not only did I stick out because I was one of only a handful of guests on the enormous property, but I was the only one there not playing golf. My lack of golfing also limited the places I could go because much of the resort was a “Golfers Only” golf course. Instead, I spent the weekend looking at the gorgeous mountain view from my room, enjoyed the luxury of having a bathtub again, and sat at the golf shack drinking Chang and eavesdropping on British men talking about their Thai wives and girlfriends.
Next up: a quick weekend trip to Jaipur, India and a few weeks in Japan and Hanoi, Vietnam.