It’s Sunday evening on May 24th. I’ve just watched the season premiere of The Bachelorette and made a comforting box of Annie’s mac & cheese, one of the many gifts my mother brought me from the states when she came to visit. Sitting in my cozy new apartment whilst doing these things makes me forget where I am. Sometimes I like that for a little while.
A lot has happened since I last wrote, and the bad news is if I attempted to recall the details of my earlier trips, I’d be doing them an injustice. I’d probably have to make half of it up and no one wants that. So, I apologize. It’s truly been a whirlwind and I’ve decided to summarize with the following take home points:
Bali is incredible. Ubud in particular. If you ever go, do the sunrise hike of Mount Batur through a company called Bali Ecotours. It will change your life and leave you with an experience you’ll never forget. For a few hours you’ll wonder how life could possibly get any better..
...and then you’ll focus really hard on not killing yourself as you ski back down the mountain on the slippery, gray, volcanic ash. See photos below, they speak volumes.
Also notable- Hillary road a motorbike into a ditch about 10 seconds into her first attempt at driving one. It was horrifying but also worthy of a funniest home videos submission all at the same time. Of course I only say the latter after it was very clear that my dear friend didn’t suffer any injuries. If you intend on riding one and have zero experience like us- go take that thing and ride around a ditch-free parking lot. Do this for many, many hours.
Next stop, Koh Samui. This southern island was the setting for my 28th birthday. The sunset at the W Retreat was well worth the trip and the unlimited mojitos...well, those I could have probably done without. The trip was relatively uneventful compared to most and we finally took a break from our usual fast-paced and touristy agendas. We (Sara, Hillary, and me) stayed in two different spots- 2W Hostel (highly recommend) and Arina Boutique (also awesome). I received the best birthday present ever over breakfast on April 2nd- a video compilation from family and friends back home put together by my best friend Jenn. It was so touching and resulted in a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from my really unattractive cackling laughter to sobbing a river. The biggest downside to living abroad is missing those faces so much it hurts.
Chiang Mai in northern Thailand followed, where I got to spend a solid week with the girls and Carter. This would be our last group trip together. We chose April so as to coincide with Songkran- the Thai New Year. Songkran is essentially a chaotic water fight- and unless you’re an old lady or a baby, no one is spared. In fact, as Westerners, I’d argue that we were specifically targeted. In Chiang Mai the water fights last the longest at 4-5 days. It was an absolute blast running around the city with a giant super soaker…for about 2 days. After that, being soaking wet all day every day became more than slightly annoying. BUT. That’s what we went up for and that’s what we got. The other highlight was bungee jumping- it was my second go around and I was no less scared this time than the last. It was the same height as the jump I’d done in Australia, but this time it was daylight and this time I could not ignore justtt how high up I was. To keep the adrenaline theme going, we also hiked and biked a mountain. The scenery was gorgeous but I had never mountain biked in that capacity before, so I feared for my life just a smidgen as I sped down a windy mountain in sporadic rain showers.
When we returned back to Pathum Thani, I had a week to spare before making the move to my new apartment in Bangkok. During this time the girls and me went into the city and got a little touristy- finally trying a scorpion on Khao San Road. It was not something I ever intended on doing, but with the girls leaving soon I think we all felt a burst of the YOLO attitude and went for the crunchy black creature on a stick. As I say repeatedly on the video we took, “it wasn’t that bad!”
Now is probably a good time to mention that between Bali and Samui I landed myself an interview in Bangkok. I’ve had a pretty successful track record using Craigslist, so I decided to do some job hunting on there. I came across a listing for an international school in Bangkok, and immediately applied. The response I got was unexpected. “You’re in luck Lauren, I’m a big Huskies fan!” And the rest went swimmingly. I talk about things just falling into place, and this was yet another one of those serendipitous events. I was offered the job the same day as my interview and I accepted. I start in a little over a week on June 2nd. This go around, I’ll be teaching little ones, which is both a welcome and significant change from my former position in a government high school. The school is also tiny comparably. My class size will be roughly 1/4th of what I previously taught. Having worked with autistic 3 year olds for a few years, I’m pretty excited to get back to that age group of pure cuteness and unfiltered mouths.
My April 27th move in date came and went- I have to say it’s quite amazing how much a girl can accumulate in the span of 8 months in a foreign country. Luckily, I now have plenty of room for it all. I love my apartment. It’s small, but more than sufficient. The location isn’t ideal, but it’s not far from the sky train, which can get me anywhere I want to go in the city. I have a TV, a stove, a couch…things I took for granted back home are appreciated more than ever here. It took me a little bit to adjust to the new area, and by a little bit I mean I was in a really dark place for a few days. For the first time in 7 months I was completely alone. I’d had my girls by my side or down the hall every day and I quite honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt like the culture shock I was supposed to experience when I first arrived was delayed and it was hitting me like a ton of bricks. Thus far I’d avoided it completely- I had the girls to buffer any and all obstacles I’d been faced with. The realization that they’d soon be leaving me, coupled with a new apartment and a new job, left me feeling completely overwhelmed. My funk was relatively short lived and 3 things ultimately made me regain confidence in the decision I’d made- an oasis of a pizza joint, a local market with bomb smoothies and beer, and a nearby store comparable to Wal-Mart. Finally, a last minute weekend trip to Koh Samet with Christa and Stacey, two girls who also live in my complex, solidified it all.
Cut to May 14th and it’s a historical day in the life of Christine Warner. My mom finally made her first international trip and arrived in Bangkok. 8 months ago I would have bet money that such a trip would never take place. Bangkok is about as different from Mendon, Massachusetts as it gets and for a woman who has never been out of the country, I didn’t think Thailand would ever be the first stop. She did it though, and I’m incredibly grateful that her desire to see me was powerful enough to push her out of her comfort zone and share a once in a lifetime experience with me. I’m INSANELY proud of you, Mom! There’s something inexplicably gratifying about the role reversals we experienced. As a daughter, it’s nice to give something to your parents that they otherwise would not have had- in this case, a 10 day tour of Thailand. She relied on me 100%, and it was really nice to take the reigns and open her eyes to a new country and a new culture. We spent 3 relatively low-key days in Bangkok, managing to fit in some nice meals, a movie, a sky bar (Le Bua- where the Hangover II was filmed), and a unique speakeasy-style bar called Maggie Choo’s (to give credit where credit is due on the selection of that location- thank you, Alex!)
On the 17th we headed down south to West Railay Beach in Krabi. It was STUNNING. Railay Village Resort was an absolutely gorgeous hotel. Railay is not an island but due to the remote location, essentially surrounded by limestone cliffs, it’s only accessible by boat. We spent 4 nights there, spending our days relaxing by the beach or pool and discovering one of my Thailand bucket list items- “The Grotto”. This 5 star resort restaurant is located on Phranang Beach, and is consistently found on lists of top restaurants to see in your lifetime. Tables and chairs are located inside of a grotto, with fine sand covering the ground. Your view is framed by this cave-like opening overlooking the turquoise waters. To make sure eating here was an option, I scouted it out on my own first as it was a bit of a walk from our hotel. I was told non-hotel guests could in fact dine there, and I promised to return the next day. Of course, the employee who greeted us this time was not the same and tried to tell me we could not eat inside the grotto area. The Lauren that lives in Thailand is severely more aggressive than American Lauren ever was, so I wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Let me ask my boss” he said. A few moments later, we were granted access to the completely empty restaurant. I’m glad I pushed the issue because it was more than well worth it.
From Railay we flew back to Bangkok where we had two more full days to spend. I decided the Grand Palace was a must-see, as was Asiatique, an upperscale market also located on the Chao Phraya. We spent our last day together relaxing, and I tried to brace myself for another goodbye. When I left the states 8 months ago, saying goodbye was incredibly difficult. I knew this time wouldn’t be any easier. I took her to the airport around 10:30 pm for her 2:30 am flight (who schedules these things!?) We hung out until about 12:30 am, which seemed about as long as was reasonable, and after some tears and approximately 8 hugs, we went our separate ways. I’m pretty good at holding it together, but as soon as I turned my back and walked away I felt the catch in my throat and the tightening of my chest that come from not knowing when the next time you’ll see somebody is. As I type this, she’s still en route back to Boston. She found a way to squeeze a few more tears out of me this morning. As I went to make my tea, I picked up my mug to find there was a really sweet note inside. Clever move, mama. I’m anticipating a few more tears in a week when Hillary and Sara head out for Europe and the states, respectively. I love me some change, but there are just some things I would really like to keep the same. Having those girls in my life every day is one of those things. If ever a genie comes my way, I’ve got my 3 wishes ready to go. I’d like to travel for the rest of my life, never get old, and carry everyone I love around in my backpack. In the meantime, I’ll work on a back up plan.
So there you have it- the abridged version of the past two months. Until next time…