My friend Tamar, whom I met through yoga in California last summer, is also a teacher. She taught at a charter school in San Jose, and now she is moving back to Boulder, CO to teach grade 4 next year. Her friend, Kristin, is a teacher in Thailand this year in the city of Surat, which is in the province of Surat Thani, a 10-hour drive or 1-hour flight from Bangkok. Sean and I flew down to Surat to see Tamar, and we also got to meet Tamar’s friend and travel companion, Megan (a teacher in Boulder), Kristin, and Kristin’s co-worker, Erin. On Saturday morning, Sean and I arrived at the airport in Surat and then took a bus to the main bus station in the city. There we met the four teachers and boarded a bus bound for Khao Sok National Park.
Our bus – ok, actually, it was more like a van – must have held at least 12 people (would have fit 8 comfortably). The ride was bumpy and a little faster than the roads would safely permit, but we eventually made it to a resort near one of the entrances to the national park. After haggling a bit for a better price, the six of us settled down into three adjacent bungalows, which were lined up along a very steep and slippery brick pathway. The natural beauty of the grounds was breathtaking. We were dwarfed by a couple of tall, tree-covered, mist-hidden mountains and surrounded by gorgeous tropical plants. We saw butterflies and birds, and were big fans of the rock-bottom swimming pool. The six of us had considered going for a rainforest trek that afternoon, but the impending storm and the guarantee of being eaten alive by insects kept us poolside, at the restaurant on the grounds, and eventually in our bungalows for naps. The rain was incessant all afternoon and into the evening, but it’s that fun kind of tropical rain that isn’t cold and doesn’t stop you from enjoying your vacation.
Dinner was great – Thai dishes like pad thai, curries, and soups – and our free breakfast the next morning was equally tasty. I cannot say that I slept particularly well. The frog outside our bungalow, the humongous cockroach in our bathroom, and the big ants in our bed gave me the creeps and made sleep intermittent. The rain lulled me to sleep eventually, but once the rain stopped, the rooster began. This particular rooster seemed to have had a case of laryngitis or something because it’s cock-a-doodle-doo was more like a cock-a-doodle-bleck. He chose to begin his serenade at 4AM, and at around 6, Sean and I gave up our battle. We got up early to greet the humid morning, had some breakfast, and found our friends up around the same time.
Fried rice, scrambled eggs, pork congee, weenies, juices, and coffee were served for breakfast, and then around 8 we got a taxi to take us to the national park, where we planned to hike around and possibly go canoeing later on. We paid our 200 baht entry fee and paid a visit to the visitors’ center. The preserved king cobra and warning signs about leopards just about turned me around, but we carried on. Megan read up about this place and in response to the ample literature about the leeches in the Thai rainforest, she and Tamar wore plastic bags around their feet (inside their shoes and up around their pants). The other four of us assumed the danger just couldn’t be that great, so we risked it.
The beginning of our walk was fine. More than fine – it was beautiful. The sights and sounds of the rainforest are incredible. We saw insects and birds of all types; we saw bamboo and tall trees with gargantuan leaves. It was about a half hour into the walk when we started to see the leeches. They look like little black worms, but they move at the speed of light! Those little buggers sense your heat and come chasing after you, in search of your blood. Megan told us that if we kept our pace up, they wouldn’t have a chance to sense us. So we walked FAST.
We got to a swampy area, which would have required us to get our feet quite wet and risk slowing down in leech-infested mud. I am not a brave person, and I finally spoke up (I’d been freaking out since the beginning, but I was trying so hard to just press on). I told Sean, “Nope. That’s it. Can’t do it!” He called to the others, and they happily came trotting back our way, and we all agreed that the fear of leeches was simply not worth seeing the waterfall that may or may not have been a few minutes away. As we back-tracked, Kristin’s other friend and the friend’s boyfriend were randomly on the trail. We stopped to meet them, but were conscious of keeping our feet moving. When a leech ended up on somebody’s leg, we said good-bye quickly and got our pace back up. Sean had to pry a sucking leech off of his own leg, then someone else’s leg, then off his own thumb, then someone’s pant leg, and then finally we reached the beginning of the trail. There we assisted one another in thorough searches of our clothing, bodies, and accessories. We spotted the leech in Megan’s pocket; Sean swiped that one off of her too.
Exhausted, we decided not to stick around for canoeing. We’d been freaked out enough for the day. Erin, however, not done getting her thrills, jumped off of a bridge into the river. Unfortunately, she ended up with a leech on her shoe, which was actually latched on to her skin beneath. She pried it off in the van, leaving a puddle of blood on the floor. We were thoroughly disgusted and ready to be back at our resort. A cold shower and a jump in the pool made everyone feel much better, as did another delicious Thai meal.
Tamar and I spent the trip back to the airport doing one of our favorite things…sharing book recommendations with one another. Of course, the purpose of this trip was to see a good friend, and I am so thankful that I got to spend time with her. Tamar is a great person and great teacher, and it was fun to meet her friends too. Kristin, Erin, and I compared notes on teaching in Thailand. They have had similar experiences adjusting to Thai culture and teaching in a Thai school. We have all found that Thais work very long hours, are not big fans of having school rules, and love their sugary drinks and snacks. Living in Surat sounds very different from living in Bangkok. Bangkok is much more modern, and one can get by speaking English here. Surat is smaller, less developed, and unaccustomed to having Westerners around. This is part of why the school where Kristin and Erin teach has such high turnover, and why my school has 15-year veteran teachers. I’m happy to be teaching where I am, and it was interesting to learn about others’ experiences.
Overall, it was a fun weekend getaway. I look forward to many more in the months to come! (P.S. More photos on Facebook!)