Say Hello to Life on the Road

Say Hello to Life on the Road
In just three short days I will be saying my final goodbyes and moving out of Ban Phet.  I’ll spend the following 53 days traveling around Southeast Asia via bus, plane, train, and boat before coming home on November 9th.  I wanted to update my blog before the next chapter of my adventure begins!
Mother’s Day celebration at school – my coworkers all put on their fancy white uniforms.  It was the only time I saw these uniforms all semester!
Me standing in front of the backdrop for the Mother’s Day ceremony.  The images are of the Queen of Thailand.  Notice the flags.  The ones on the left are the flag of Thailand, the ones on the left are the flag of the Queen.  Blue is the color of the Queen.  Also, Mother’s Day is on the Queen’s birthday.

My students in their military uniforms for presenting the photo of the Queen.

During the second part of the ceremony, mothers of the students of each class came on stage and accepted awards.
And after that, the students planted trees and shrubs all over the school campus.
For the long weekend created from Mother’s Day, Emily and I decided to visit Pai.  I like this description of Pai the best:

 “Fresh air, green mountains, friendly Lanna people — no wonder so many hippies decided to settle in the quiet, riverside town of Pai, Thailand. Situated in the mountains just four hours from Chiang Mai, Pai is an accessible escape when the tourist hordes start clogging the moat around Chiang Mai.

We climbed up a few massive sets of stairs to get to this Buddha statue.

The “Grand Canyon” of Thailand.  Rather a stretch, but still a lovely little sight to visit.

Thai people are obsessed with things like this: A tourist destination with EVERYTHING strawberry.  Go figure.

We cruised on our rented motorbike to a waterfall, which was full of foreign tourists.
A view of the mountains from a cruise around the countryside.

Our accommodation:  A cozy little bamboo hut with a thatched roof.  
It had a mattress on a raised surface, a mosquito net, a fan, a light switch, and two plugins.  At night, we slept to the sound of the crickets and bullfrogs.  It was lovely.

The bathrooms were “jungle style.”  Two closed off rooms, each with a toilet and a shower.  It was like fancy camping.  We loved it.
I got home from Pai just in time for a(nother) Mother’s Day Celebration.  There were performances on a big stage in the center of town, including from this group of adorable little girls!
I saw my landlady’s granddaughter, Deef, and grabbed her for a photo.  She is always happy to see me, and runs up and gives me a big hug.  We don’t understand each other, though, but she always jabbers away to me in Thai.  Such a cutie!

At the end of the celebration, we all lit candles and they turned off the lights.  They sang two songs for the Queen, then we put the candles in a little raised trough filled with sand.  It was a really neat experience to be a part of.

Every Thursday, I do a morning talk in front of the school assembly.  My topic this day was about shaking hands.  In Thailand, the formal greeting is the wai, where you press the palms of you hands together in front of your chest with your fingers pointing up and bow your head.  In this picture, I was showing that it is important to shake hands with a firm hand.  Floppy hands are baaaaaddd!

Practicing shaking hands with my student 

I had a two week break right before the end of the school semester because my school was hosting a “soldier camp.”  I took the chance to travel!  The next four destinations are from this two week break.

I had heard about this fabulous temple near the town where my friend Emily teaches, and I was determined to visit it while I was in Thailand.  It was definitely worth the effort it took to get there!  I took a bus up into the mountains, got a ride on someone’s motorcycle to the temple, and on the way home, waiting for a bus, I was offered a ride back into town from a van full of lady monks.  What an adventure!  It was absolutely breathtaking.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking!

Enjoying nature along the way

I have no idea what these are, but they were like hallow, flimsy plant balloons.  So cool!


When I left Lom Sak, I headed up to northern Laos, to the city of Luang Prabang.  The road to Luang Prabang cuts through the mountains on a small, potholed, windy road, with cliffs often on one side or the other.  The air conditioning in my “VIP” bus broke down, and the lunch break took two hours since they were pulling apart and putting back together the engine.  At the end of the trip, we drove THROUGH a thunderstorm in the dark, in the rain, in the mountains.  It was one of the most stressful moments of my life.  All that said, it was absolutely worth it to get these views of the mountains.  Absolutely breathtaking.

My first destination in Luang Prabang was the Kwang Si Waterfall, and at the entrance of the waterfall was the Asiatic Black Bear rescue center.  It housed about a dozen adorable bears. 

The path led you along the lower parts of the waterfall until you read the main spectacle.  The amount of water going over the falls was impressive with it being the rainy season.

The main falls!  To put it into scale, there is a man standing at the base of the falls on a small bridge on the left hand side.

See the small person in a blue shirt out on the bridge?  That’s me!

I went to a language center and participated in an English conversation swap.  I made friends with the girl on the left, named Mon, who was sassy and hilarious.  We had dinner together both nights I was in LP and I got to know her fascinating life story.

A group of novice monks visiting the Royal Cars Exhibition at the National Museum.  LP is known for having many young novice monks.  Every morning at 5:30 AM they walk the streets of LP and accept food donations from the locals.  It’s a pretty sight with their bright colored robes.

The Royal Palace of Laos, which is now the home of the National Museum.

The temple at the National Museum

I went the second night as well to the English swap.  I had a great time and really enjoying meeting young people in Laos!  Their spoken English was remarkably good.  They were asking me for definitions of words such as fire extinguisher, illiteracy, alibi, alter.  Very impressive.

Phimai is a small town in NE Thailand that has some beautiful, well-preserved ruins older and similar in style to Angkor Wat.  They are believed to possibly be the blueprint for the famous ruins in Cambodia.  I made the trip to see them.  This is a picture of me renting a bicycle from my guesthouse to cruise the town for the day!

The ruins didn’t let me down.  They were beautifully preserved and in a well-maintained park.  Being a person who appreciates aesthetics and being in a country where they often lack, I truly enjoyed visiting the historical park.

Since I was traveling alone, I got a little creative with the 10-second timer on my camera.

I went to visit their National Museum, but the indoor exhibit was under a complete remodel.  The outdoors exhibit, which was a collection of pieces pulled from the ruins, were open to the public.  Again, in an effort to entertain myself and record my visit, I got creative with the timer, dancing in the same style as the lintel behind me.

Then I went to visit the oldest and largest banyan tree in all of Thailand, which inhabits and small island in a river in Phimai.

The main trunk of the tree was tied in all the colored fabrics shown above.  This is to protect the spirit that lives inside the tree.

This is what a typical inter-city bus looks like.  The bus attendance was sitting on a little chair next to the open back down.  I was afraid he was going to fall out… though he’d clearly been doing what he was doing for a long time.


Khao Yai National Park is the oldest and most famous park in all of Thailand.  It is over 2000 square kilometers (800 sq miles) in size and houses 112 species of mammals, 209 species of reptile and amphibian, and 392 species of birds, as well as numerous insects and spiders.  I went on a guided tour and got to see some of these magnificent animals!
A pretty snake spotted in the trees by our guide.

We stopped for a quick dip in a cool spring.


A tarantula lingering in the entrance of her burrow.

Another neat insect.

And a cool centipede.

For some reason, the guide felt compelled to put this enormous millipede on my neck…  And as he took it off, he explained that they are venomous but not aggressive, so they rarely bite. 

Then we went to watch the bats leave their cave for the evening to go feed.

Lovely sunset over the mountains

They bats are insect eating bats, and when they leave the caves, they leave in a narrow line formation, and they tornado down to the low areas to feed on insects.  We watched them for the whole 45 minutes while the tens of thousands of bats left the cave.

On the second day, we found a pretty snake that was the same species as the white one we’d seen the day before.  This species are chameleons – they can change color!  But they change very slowly, over a matter of days, not instant like some animals can.

Got my leech socks on and I’m ready for some jungle trekking!

This snake is called a pit viper, and it is a venomous snake that is fairly common in Khao Yai.  We saw two.  The guide said he had just eaten because he was fat and sleepy.  I let the guide borrow my camera to get this up close shot. =)

A gibbon!

A cool horned beetle

The guide spotted a giant squirrel – they can grow up to 2 feet long!
A monitor lizard.  She was about 4 feet long… through they can grow to 6.5 feet long!  Yikes!

A large spider on her web.

The guide lured a scorpion out of her burrow and then we all took turns holding her.  I was terrified but this guide really knew how to control her movements and said the sting was not dangerous from this species.  Just painful.  Nobody was stung in the process.

Pretty fungi

A waterfall in the park

We spotted a handful of giant hornbills.  Enormous, impressive birds!

A type of deer that lives in the park

Macaque monkeys.  Like the ones I’d seen before, but a different species.  These ones are called pig-tailed macaques.

This was me with my two guides.  They were absolutely amazing at spotting and showing us different animals on the tours, and had answers to any questions we had about any of the animals.  They were wonderful, really educational tours.


It’s my last week of school, and I gave the final exam in every class.  After the exam, we took pictures.  This picture is of my 1/1 class, who has been wonderful all semester.  They all showered me with little gifts of pages they colored and decorated with “I love teacher Erika!”

I don’t know if you can tell, but my eyes are all watery.  They love and gifts they showered over me completely overwhelmed me.  I’ll miss these little sweethearts.  This boy’s name is Toey.

This student offered to take a group photo, then spiced it up with the selfie.  Haha.  Class 5/4

Every Wednesday, I teach an English lesson to whatever teachers at the school want to participate.  After our final “teaching Thai teacher” they wanted to take photos with me!
Every Thursday morning before school, I do “gate duty” which means I stand by the main entrance and greet students as they arrive.  The students wai the teachers at the gate and wai the Buddha statue on the other side.

The students sitting during the morning assembly
The whole school sits through a 30 minute assembly every morning, where they sing the national anthem and raise the flag, sing the school song, and listened to the teachers give speeches.

Me giving my final morning talk.


During one of my off periods, a group of M1 students came and crowded around my desk.  They begged to see pictures of my mom!  I showed them her Facebook tagged photos and the crowd got so large that they were standing on chairs behind the first group to see.  They know true beauty when they see it! =)  This student was so excited when she saw this picture of my family that she wanted to take a picture of them.  I hope my family is okay that I’ve completely exploited them…

Some of my sweet little ladyboy students.
This is my friend New.  I spend most weekends and weeknights with him and his family.  I found some things I’d brought in case I was teaching children and I gifted them to him.  He got a stickerbook and two childrens books.  He was overjoyed to get The Lion King.

While I was gone on vacation, they got another cat.  Here’s New showing me their newest addition.

While cruising around town, I found a big group of students from my 3/1 class hanging out and eating together.  They pulled me in and had me try some tom kah gai that one of them made.  Delicious!  I was impressed by a 14 year old boy could make this yummy soup!
A typical night hanging out with my “adoptive” family.  Mae is cooking up some dinner and New has created a game where he shoots marbles with little milkboxes (like juiceboxes… but with milk) into goals made with milkboxes.  Life is simple and entertaining in this town.
I’m going to really miss this kiddo.  He has been my best buddy in this town.  Language barriers disappear when your games include playing with cats, paper airplanes, badminton, and tickle fights.

This week, I have class on Monday and Tuesday, and I will wrap up all my loose ends and say goodbye to my friends, students and coworkers.  On Wednesday, I’m traveling to Bangkok, and on Thursday, Emily and I are flying to Myanmar.  It’s time to say goodbye to this settled life and say hello to life on the road.  I’m incredibly excited for the travels to come.  We will see thousands of temples in Myanmar, the stunning Halong Bay in Vietnam, ancient Angkor Wat in Cambodia, busy Kuala Lumpur in multicultural Malaysia, modern Singapore, lantern festivals in northern Thailand, and much, much more.  I can’t wait.

And then, home.  I can’t wait to be home and see everyone I love and miss so much.  I can’t wait to have a proper cheeseburger.  And Mexican food.  And spaghetti.  And then I’m sure I’ll be crying for some Thai food again. =)

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