February & March 2015 :)

Hey there,

I haven’t written in a while – because frankly – I haven’t wanted to. Today perhaps, I’ve felt a change of heart. February and March have flown by faster than the blink of an eye. I turned 24 last week and had an incredible birthday – one of the best I’ve ever had! Let me entertain you with some recent projects and travels. It’s been a very busy few months and I’ll briefly share a few events.

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PALA U – I’ve posted pictures of this waterfall spot before (located at Kaeng Krachan National Park on the Thai-Burmese border). But again, six of us hopped on three motorbikes and took the hour or two drive back to Pala U – passing wild elephant warning signs and monkeys on the streets. We parked, we hiked, and we arrived at the waterfall swimming hole. As we were laughing and throwing around fish food (sold by park rangers) we saw monkeys far off in the trees (very normal – we were in the jungle). But the monkeys got closer and closer and began to surround us.   The six of us notice the monkeys aren’t the normal species we are used to having contact with – and began to evacuate the swimming hole and making our way back to the national park entrance. The monkeys (now identified as stump tailed macaques) began to chase us through the jungle. My friend, Markus, began picking up rocks and throwing them to prevent the macaques from getting to close to our group and stealing our belongings). And my friend, Helen, threw the macaques our leftover fish food as we continued making a swift exit from the waterfall. Eventually, with the conquer our fish food, the macaques stopped following us – and we made it home safely.

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I’ve been working with an extension of the Rotary Club – specifically for people ages 18-30 – in order to participate in community service projects.   In February our Rotaract club, was invited by other local Rotary clubs, to help with the “Annual Handicapped Children’s Day,” where local handicapped children were treated to a day on the beach – with famous Thai personalities, karaoke, buffet foods, toys, and swimming. The Rotaract club was in charge of holding the children in the water while they swam – some of the children had never been in the ocean before!

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Currently in the Rotaract club I am the Education Executive Member – so with the help of my friend Mint and my family back in California – I make lesson plans and take them to a local Thai school and teach the kids English. The English-teaching program is on a hiatus currently because it is summer vacation in Thailand right now – but I’m excited to grow this program and make it something rewarding and special for all involved!

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Aside from the Rotaract Club, I’ve started working with NGO Rescue Paws – with other people from school.   The stray dog situation in Thailand is not something I am going to elaborate on – but here’s a link from National Geographic about the stray dogs in Bangkok alone (published in 2009).

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/06/090608-thailand-straydogs-video-ap.html

Rescue Paws is a NGO that feeds, immunizes, and sterilizes local street dogs in Hua Hin (where I live). The health condition and shear numbers of street dogs in Hua Hin alone is both depressing and overwhelming. Our aim with Rescue Paws is to help the NGO create a sustainable way of supporting themselves. Right now we are in the process of creating a merchandise store – that can hopefully be sold online or at local shops or markets in order to create a profit. Rescue Paws wants to build a paid-volunteer program that invites international volunteers to pay to stay and help with day-to-day activities. I just hope we can somehow help this organization.  If you want to check them out or donate 🙂  …

http://www.rescuepawsasia.org/

Krabi and Ko Jum

A big group of us went on vacation to Krabi and Ko Jum. The trip was full of delicious foods, glow in the dark plankton, and boat tours. At the island of Ko Jum we stayed in bungalows overlooking the sea and ate French cuisine everyday.

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The island of Ko Jum was bigger than we expected – because the resort we stayed at gave us an island map of all the places tourists were “wanted” and not a map of all the places that were actually on the island – without explanation.  This colossal failure resulted in spending a day kayaking (with Helen and Markus) with a geographically useless map and getting lost in the Andaman Sea.   After ending up in a VERY religious village that specifically did not want tourists – we attempted to escape the village quickly (but the entire beach surrounding the village was literally covered in quick sand and only 8 inches of water so we had to walk the kayaks through shallow water while our feet sank 12 inches with every step for about an hour) and had to find our way back to our resort on Kayaks, with no phones, at night in the dark…. A textbook example of what you don’t want to happen. I could elaborate but it’s better if I just, don’t. All I can say is that day left me with very bloody feet, two friends that have essentially turned into my Norwegian brother and sister, and a $60 bill to repair two fucking scratched up kayaks.

Krabi – usually one of the pictures that comes up immediately whenever you google “Thailand” – was beautiful. Ao Nang, Railay Beach, Tiger Temple….. I could go on. I can’t wait to go back this May with my friends when they come to visit! The trip was extremely affordable – until I lost my wallet and all the money inside it. You win some, you lose some.

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I got the pleasure of visiting Wat Songkhammakalayani, the only temple in Thailand where there are fully ordained female monks. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that female monks generally deal with a great amount of gender inequality and suffer from discrimination because of their gender. Not only did I get to visit this temple, but I got to sit in on the abbess, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, answer a Q&A session. She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and it was truly a life-changing moment being in the presence of someone who devotes their life to advocate for a better more equal world.

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Thank you for letting me share my life with you,

Until next time friends,

T

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15/1/2015 …when you accidentally pick the wrong place to stay: an anecdote

Geographically I live on the gulf of Thailand – not far far south – but 3 hours from Bangkok. Because I’m studying Computer Science – I travel to Bangkok once a week – due to the confusing utter bullshit make up of my University. I made the decision when I knew I had to be in Bangkok one morning a week that I would come by van the night before and stay at a hotel or hostel each night rather than renting an entire apartment when I only needed lodging for one night a week. That being said – for 150-180TBH or approx.. $6-$8 I take a van from where I live (Hua Hin) to Bangkok. Currently as I am typing I am sitting in one of these vans. The van is of similar makeup to a Chevy Astrovan and seats 14 plus a driver – but just know when I say 14 people – I do not mean comfortably. This three hour van ride consists of stale circulating air that smells like pork on a stick, seats so crammed together you forget your legs are actually attached to your body, Thai country music blasting (proof country music is equally complete shit in every language), and a driver either texting, cleaning coffee stains off his shirt, or on a specific version of meth popular to this region of the world – or if you’re lucky – the driver will be doing all three of these things at once. Thai driving is some of the most unsafe driving I’ve ever witnessed – the scary part is – a typical Seattle driver is shitty because he/she has a coffee in hand, a dog in lap, a cigarette in the mouth, and a phone on the shoulder connecting it to the ear…. Why must I bring this up? Because a majority of drivers here USUALLY have none of those things as distractions – they just consciously don’t use lanes, drive whatever speed limit feels comfortable, tailgate to the point of no return, and drive on the opposite side of the road. I must digress on this point, so let me continue. Last Thursday night I booked a room through Airbnb in Bangkok – after a lovely, safe, and truly special and memorable van ride from Hua Hin to Bangkok. Once I got to the Bangkok bus station I made my way to the sky train, as my host Justin, messages me where I am… I keep thinking to myself “I’ve never used Airbnb does it have some sort of etiquette?” I felt awkward to say the least. I told Justin I was on my way, he sent me directions – and I got lost. To give myself some credit (although I probably don’t deserve it) directions consist of “Get off on Sala Daeng BTS, walk to Sala Daeng, get a motorbike from 7/11, the motorbike guy will know.” The problem with these directions is my embarrassing Thai – and the inability for me to explain to a motorbike driver an address that I myself cannot comprehend. The streets here are labeled by numbers but then the street numbers have extensions. For example you could live on “Soi 88” but the next street may not be “Soi 89” it might be “Soi 88/1” and the one after is “Soi 88/2” and I still have not figured out the logic behind that system…. So 45 minutes later, after wandering down the same street on 1% iPhone battery, I arrive at Justin’s hostel. His hostel, titled, “Simple Rest,” would’ve been easier to find in the daylight – and when I find it – the entrance is closed (and by closed I mean barricaded by an 8ft foot gate) and there is simply a phone number posted outside the gate followed by one sentence written in Thai. As my anxiety climbs and exceeds all expectations – Justin answers my phone call and the conversation makes no sense. You know when you walk away from a conversation having no idea what the hell just happened? That was my conversation with Justin. His accent was not completely hard to understand but his English was. Eventually Justin opens the door to the four story compound hidden in an ally and greets me. He greets me with a beautiful kind smile, high cheek bones, and thin ken Barbie-esque physique (think Asian Ken Barbie – I’m picturing a Japanese Olympic gymnast). He offers me water and a locker – neither of which I want – and leads me up the stairs. The stairs were narrow, extremely narrow…. I walk up three stories and Justin leads me on the third floor – maybe 250 sq. feet – divided into at least 8-10 rooms which were all equipped with one massage table and one over head light – with a red light bulb. Justin led me into the bathroom – very 70s looking – with a bathtub and a shower hose and a toilet – all light brown – and a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It was an odd establishment – but it was late – I was tired, and figured a bed is a bed. Just because Justin’s house full of massage tables obviously had another purpose – there was no one there – and it was too late to turn back now. There were a few mosquitos flying around my “room” aka “massage table” biting my arms but I made sure to sleep in pants and keep the blankets over my body because I didn’t want to leave the compound after it was such a pain in the ass finding the place. Unfortunately my idea of sleeping in pants and using blankets wasn’t a thorough plan. I woke up shortly after I had fallen asleep and noticed mosquitos flying around my head. I slept like Frankenstien, on my back, on a starch hard massage table, so uncomfortable. I woke up with at least 30 mosquito bites – but the most disturbing part – was the amount of bites on my face. There were 5 bites on my chin, 2 on my cheek, and 1 on my eyebrow. I’m still trying to figure out the “romantic” vibe of “Simple rest” but I guess the purpose of this compound was unlikely an overnight stay. I woke up before my alarm, didn’t shower in the chandeliered tub, and departed before Justin could send me off. Unfortunately – or fortunately – I will never have the chance to see lovely Justin again – although Airbnb keeps reminding me I only have 9 days left to leave Justin a review. As I get to Bangkok tonight, I’m staying at a cute little place (that’s not a massage parlor) at Thong Lor – and am going to pass on leaving Justin a review. Sayonara Justin, thanks for leaving me with a bunch of bumps on my face, xox 😉

a little finish of 2014

The last part of 2014 in Thailand 🙂IMG_5830Collages1Wordpress 20151 Pala U is a national park on the Burmese/Thai border full of waterfalls and swim spots.  Nine of us packed ourselves into the back of a tuk-tuk, drank a few beers, and spent the day at this beautiful swimming hole.  The fish were huge and I had fun throwing fish food at who ever was in the water so the fish would swarm them! IMG_6117-002 Wordpress 20152 The temple at Khao Takiab is my absolute favorite!  Each time I go I discover something different.  My friend, Helen, introduced me to the “Buddha Cemetery” which is the home to fallen Buddha (and other religious) statues – because – of course – they cannot be thrown away!

Wordpress 20155Wordpress 20156 Friendsgiving was a fun experience – I attempted to introduce a little American group dinner with people from Norway, Malaysia, Indonesia, The United States, Slovakia, and Thailand!IMG_6210

Wordpress 20153Helen from Norway, Bao from Minnesota, Aisha from Malaysia, and I all danced bollywood style together for our college “culture night”.  I’m an absolutely terrible dancer but I’m grateful for the experience and the girls!

October Travels

I’ve spent the past few weeks travelling through Thailand. Some friends and I backpacked through Khao Yai National Park, I spent a week or so absorbing in Bangkok, visited magical Kanchanaburi and it’s lovely Erawan waterfalls, came back to Hua Hin and volunteered with Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, and finally spent a week in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai visiting wats (temples), an aquarium, and national parks. We even visited the Golden Triangle (famous for Opium Trade) and experienced a little bit of what Laos has to offer (whiskey)!

It’s been a liberating experience and I’m grateful to my lively friend Jenna who never wanted to sleep, even when I was mean to her!

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Khao Yai – Thailiand’s second largest national park

Getting to Khao Yai was such a pain in the ass. We bused from Bangkok only to find out where the bus dropped us off still left us an hour away from the national park! We rented two motorbikes for four people – but two of us tried to drive the motorbike with our backpacks and felt like we were going to kill ourselves – so two of us took a ride in an old crappy red pick up truck into the park. Once we finally got to the park, the entrance fee was different for foreigners (500tbh) and Thai people (40tbh). Although this is a common occurrence for fees to be higher for foreigners, we spent a good 10 minutes attempting to convince the patrol we were on Thai visas (which worked)! Once we got through the entrance we discovered you essentially needed a vehicle to hike and camp at Khao Yai, and we only had one motor bike between the four of us. We found a group of Americans (from UCSB) and shared a truck, and got into the camp ground about an hour later. Khao Yai is a beautiful lush forest with high elevation, cool air, and beautiful scenery. Because of the elevation and viewpoints at Khoa Yai, the scenery seemed similar to views you would see on a helicopter tour while you were still on the ground. We went on a (stupid) night safari where we all gathered into the back of a pickup truck and a woman who didn’t speak made figure-eights with her flashlight into the trees. Whenever she “found” something she left her flashlight still and spoke no words. I found myself sitting in the back of the truck staring into the darkness with a still flashlight shining at things I couldn’t see pretending that branches were monkeys or jumping snakes. I also dreamed how much more interesting the safari would have been with Steve Erwin commentary. We ended up spotting a few porcupines and deer, which is not the picturesque ideal you have in your head when you envision a night safari. We camped overnight sharing our campground with deer and monkeys (macaques) and woke up in the morning and hiked to Haeo Suwat waterfall. The waterfall we hiked to was featured in Leonardo DiCaprio’s 90s movie “The Beach”. Although I’ve seen much more beautiful waterfalls here in Thailand, it was a nice hike full of sweat, butterflies, and fresh elephant dung.

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Bangkok is a town I have so much love for. It reminds me of San Francisco mixed with New York City. The public transportation system is quite user friendly. San Francisco, closes off a street, and gourmet food trucks invade the city every so often. In Bangkok (and every part of Thailand I’ve been to) every day and every street is a food truck haven. Carts are full of kebabs, fresh fruit, fried chicken, noodles, meat sticks (ew), juices, and fish. One of my favorite nights in Bangkok was spent on a random side street drinking from a food truck that was half kebabs half “jungle juice”. Some friends and I ordered adult smoothies and kebabs for like $5 and spent the night chatting and studying in an amazing hostel that literally was like $8 for the night. The streets of Bangkok are full of tables selling goods. Although I’ve seen similar outdoor “markets” in San Francisco and New York City, in Bangkok it’s EVERYWHERE. One of my favorites is located on the BTS (skytrain) stop at Nana – you can walk for miles and the never-ending tables are set up at around 6pm full of random stuff… toys, guns, knives, black market purses, basketball jerseys, clothes, shoes, pharmaceuticals, rugs, tapestries, backpacks, belts, jewelry…. I think I spent $10 on some fun squishy toys for my cousins, a Spurs basketball jersey, a few books, and probably some food or something. Another highlight to mention is the mall Terminal 21 which is modeled after an Airport. The people working at the information desks wear flight attendant outfits. Each floor of the mall is designed as a major international airport. I feel like in Bangkok the malls are more interesting to observe than to actually shop and feel like museums or art galleries. Next to the Canal Shoppes in Caesar’s Palace Vegas, Siam Center in Bangkok is the coolest mall I’ve ever been to. Although a mall is by definition for shopping, in these Bangkok malls you could spend all day looking at the art and exhibits and not buy a thing! I’ve been told Siam Center is Lady Gaga’s favorite mall – and for damn good reason. I wish words could describe the mall. But I can tell you I spent a few hours inside, fully satisfied, and all I purchased was a coffee. Aside from shopping, Bangkok has wats, Thai massage, live music, international bars, and an interesting adult scene. We spent a few hours in an Aussie bar, listening to a Thai band playing American music, drinking Irish beer, being asked if we were British. Bangkok offers a diversity I can appreciate!

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Kanchanaburi’s Erawan Waterfall is truly extraordinary. I once hiked through a river with a heavy current in Maui, Hawaii only to walk through sharp rocks to get to a beautiful waterfall with a swimming hole – thinking at the time it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen in my life. Although that experience was incredible, Thailand offer’s waterfalls on a larger scale. Erawan features seven waterfalls and swimming holes all layered on top of each other with clear aqua water without sharp rocks and river currents. Perfect waterfalls.

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Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

I’ve been continuing to volunteer with the wildlife foundation about 30 minutes away from where I live. My friend Jenna and I took care of Palin, an older female elephant. The day consisted of taking Palin for a walk for “enrichment”, feeding her snacks, making her food (banana balls = approx. 15 bananas mixed with 32 ounces of vitamin power and 48 ounces of a dog food looking substance mixed together into balls) washing her body, and cleaning the bamboo and dung out of her enclosure. It’s amazing to be given the opportunity to work with elephants, but the end goal is to have a climate where elephants can survive in the wild and not be exploited for tourism. I cannot stress enough that a wild animal should not be rode, forced to paint, dance, or do tricks. An elephant should be allowed to act as an elephant, without the responsibility of learning show tactics to engage humans – especially when you see an Mahoot holding a large metal hook to get the Elephant to “behave”!

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Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a really clean historical town in the North of Thailand. It’s full of national parks, wats, elephant excursions (I do not advocate!!), and a large backpacker scene. A highlight for me was the Buatong Waterfall which was so cool because the earth underneath the waterfall was limestone, and you were able to climb up and down the waterfall without any difficulty!

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My friends and I went on a tour to Chiang Rai to see Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) and it IS one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen in my WHOLE LIFE. It’s definitely something I would put on a bucket list. You can see from pictures how amazing the modern wat is, but once you walk inside your mind is completely blown. Mural upon mural cover the temple walls of spiritual/religious scenes – except the wall where the door is – which is full of paintings of modern media symbols. Inside The White Temple are paintings of Hello Kitty, The Predator, Captain Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones, Disney Minions, Star Wars characters, the Matrix, and more that I can’t remember because photos are strictly prohibited inside! My girlfriends and I drew on spiritual ornaments and hung them around the temple so a part of us will forever be at Wat Rong Khun. After Chiang Rai, we drove to the Golden Triangle, famous for being the biggest spot of international opium trade on a river connecting China, Laos, Burma, and Thailand. We ventured into Laos to be greeted with Whiskeys flavored with snakes, turtles, and other dead animal parts.. which grossed me out (FOR REAL). The most fun about the trip was being in three countries at once – the river where Thailand, Laos, and Burma all connect!

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My least favorite part about Chiang Mai was the amount of child beggars out late at night. Although inhabitants of Asia will tell you it’s prevalent everywhere (not just Thailand), it still sits so uneasy in my stomach. Children will try to arm wrestle you, sell you goods, hit you with sticks to try to make you laugh, sit at your table and fall asleep, look like they are about to cry, or stand next to you for a long time so you feel obligated or guilted into giving them money. When an 8 year old is sitting at your bar table at 1am looking like they are about to cry it is really hard not to give them money. I know logically that the only way to end child begging is to stop acknowledging it all together and not give in to temptation – but it really hurts me inside to watch a child being used in that kind of syndicate. The world is not perfect, Thailand especially, but I do my best not to make moral judgments on other countries, especially when people in my own country take guns and kill children on the streets, but I strive to live in a world where no species are exploited. Especially not children.IMG_5516-001

How can humans survive as a species when we force other species into extinction? I have a special place in my heart for wildlife, and I fear for a future where more animals and environment become extinct because logically it just proves that we will do it to our own race. But I guess that’s just the reality! All I can do is make the decision to try to be a little bit better each day and take responsibility for leaving a positive mark on this planet. I don’t know where I’ll travel, explore, or volunteer next – but I’m inspired to do so – and I hope you are too!

I want to acknowledge, appreciate, and give special thanks to my friend Jenna from St. Louis, who really showed and inspired me how to make the most of every single day and who stayed up late and woke up early just to experience every possible moment. I’m grateful for her, even though at times I wanted to scream at her, because without her I wouldn’t have seen or done half as much. Check out her travel blog at myrestlessroamingspirit.com!

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Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

As humans we exploit everything we can grasp. We exploit ourselves with countless gimmicks and tricks to make money. The sex industry, human trafficking, and the global unequal wealth distribution stick out immediately in my mind when I think of humans in regards to “exploitation”. Aside from exploiting our own species, we as peoples go as far to exploit our environment, and the other species we share the planet with. Us evolution believers, alike, explain our creation from “The Big Bang” in the universe followed by millions of years of mammal transformation.

Aside from my long intro, I find it completely depressing that we are systematically killing off the mammals in which evolved with us, and also the planet which we inhabit.

I spent time today at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. http://wfft.org

Home to over 400 mammals, WFFT features volunteers from all over the world, to care for sick and exploited animals. Although housing many different species, WFFT features different apes, monkeys, and elephants.

As an American – species like apes, monkeys, and elephants are only seen in zoos or at the fair or circus. Paying to see a monkey with an outfit on doing a trick is normal with the ignorant justification that “it’s just a pet” and that anything can be domesticated. Siegfried and Roy’s Las Vegas tiger shows (with frequent billboards in the 1990s and early 2000s everywhere of them sitting in luxury with “pet” tigers) and common places that showcase “swimming with dolphins” prove why the typical mindset doesn’t think twice about a monkey in a hat or an elephant ride.

Did you know only about 2200 elephants currently live in the wild? A documentary (in combination with the Australian program Bondi Vet) was made about WFFT describing how after years of giving “elephant rides” Elephants develop severe spine problems, remain in constant pain, and develop large skin abscesses (just to name a few of the issues)!

Monkeys and apes share a similar fate to the elephant in extinction and exploitation rates. Several different types of Gibbons are on various levels of the endangered species list. Today, while volunteering, we were in charge of cleaning the animals’ food bowls, changing the water dishes, making the meals, and feeding the animals. Working with mainly the primates, each different habitat at the sanctuary, housed a different species. Each individual primate had a different attitude and reaction towards humans (aggressive, gentile, etc.). One of Gibbons, in a habitat alone, swung by every time an interested human walked near her, and hung her large orange arm between the links of her cage sticking out her gentile black hand. She left her hand outside her cage for as long as you wanted to hold her. Assumingly previously exploited as a pet, this gentile Gibbon will never be able to assimilate to wildlife due to explanations only caused by human greed.
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Animals are incredible as are humans as are the planet earth. To put it simply, even if we attempt to end the exploitation of these beautiful creatures with which we share our world, we would also have to learn how to stop exploiting the planet, and ourselves.

Monkeys, Caves, and Boat Rides

The past few weeks have steered me in the direction of kayaking, hiking, and boating.  Although I have spent a lot of time locked in my room [sulking from culture shock] I do also have a highlight reel to display!  A few things I want to describe which I don’t have pictures of are the night markets!  The night markets I’ve been to so far (about 5 or so different ones) have been full of gourmet food, local art, toys, “black market” branded items, pets, live music, costume jewelry, electronics, etc. etc.  The more upscale “Cicada” market (just in case anyone plans on coming to Hua Hin) had such a sultry jazz band playing, romantic lighting, and a very “island” relaxed vibe.  I wandered through Cicada market drinking “Thai orange juice” (it’s made with green mandarins, added sugar I’m sure, and “green lemons” or limes in English) which is the best tasting orange juice I’ve ever had!  I wandered around and browsed through boutique style clothes, accessories, and eventually made my way home.  A few of the other markets around Hua Hin are less expensive, and definitely strike home for a girl like me who is obsessed with trinkets!  My favorite discovery at the night market is the Roti or Rotee (I’ve seen it spelled both ways)!  Rotee is a Thai adapted street food consisting essentially of fried dough with toppings.  I cannot get enough!

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Khao Takiab

After two long hauling days of lectures full accounting and politics I decided to treat myself to a little trip to “Monkey Mountain” Khao Takiab.  I hopped on the city bus and was dropped off at an empty beach with a mountain side temple… full of monkeys!  Although I was warned that the monkey’s steal your stuff – I didn’t realize I had entered monkey territory (yet) – and a big monkey came flying at me trying to steal my coffee!  I’ve never screamed so loud in public before – so startling!  I observed the monkeys for a while and although blogging is meant for words – I believe pictures do this much more justice. The way the babies cling onto their mothers and play….. truly incredible!  This is a species whose absolute main purpose is nurturing one another.  I also hope that, although these photos are beautiful and this is a subjective personal experience, I can portray Thailand as objective as possible, with photos of real people and real living conditions……………  Enjoy!

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