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Teaching English in Indonesia

My time in Malaysia had finally come to an end and it was time to get out of the country to explore a new one.  I had been wrestling with what to do and where to go for a while and all I really knew was that I wanted to continue to volunteer somewhere, but just didn’t know where.

Tirelessly I researched place after place and continuously ran into programs that allowed volunteers to work with this or that animal, but the cost of doing so was atrocious!  Finally I came across a site called helpstay.com.  After reading reviews about the site as to its validity and exploring the various opportunities they had available in surrounding countries, I decided to take the plunge and join as a member of the site so I could contact one very specific volunteer opportunity.  In all honesty, the second I found the posting to volunteer teaching English at a home site in South Sulawesi, Indonesia that also had an organic farm, I signed up to the site and kept my fingers and toes crossed that they had availability for volunteers.

Within a few hours my inquiry was replied to and a Skype date was set so we could put faces to one another and see if we really were a match for each other, volunteer-wise.  Though part of me was a bit nervous to give away information about myself and Skype a literal stranger in a foreign country, the minute we chatted I knew I’d made the right decision.

The volunteer program organizer is an 18-year-old marvel named Faisal.  He invites people from around the world to stay with him and his family in exchange for volunteers to develop lessons and teach english to local students aged 6 to 18 years.  I was so very impressed with him during our Skype session, that I immediately committed to volunteering for a month with him and couldn’t wait to get there!

Now, all of my volunteering to this point involved animals, because that’s really where my love and strength lies.  I’d never taught English before (and I’d made sure to relate that to Faisal during our chat) but being a native english speaker I thought, how hard could it be? Less than a month after connecting with Faisal I was on a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  I stayed the first night in Makassar (as my flight landed in the late evening) and first thing the next morning made my way to the Terminal Daya bus station for the 8 hour bus ride to Belopa.

Upon arriving at Terminal Daya I noted several men standing in front of the very, VERY basic bus terminal.  I spoke zero Bahasa and no one so far spoke any English (or very limited at best!) but luckily all that was required of me to say was: Belopa?.  That did the trick as they simultaeously all practically cheered “Belopa!” together.  They whisked my bag out of the taxi and walked me over… away from the vehicles that actually looked like busses… to basically a 4 door Ford truck.  Hmmmm…. is this right???  They all had stickers on the front saying “Pelopo” so I pointed to the truck and said again “Belopa?”.  “Ya, ya” was their response as they hauled my bag into the bed of the truck, took out their cell phones and typed in 150,000… the cost of the trip!

Lord knew at that point whether I was getting majorly ripped off or not, but what choice did I have exactly?  As it turned out, that was the correct and normal price 🙂  Happy day!  Moving on, I paid the fee and squished in the back seat with two other females and after a few minutes we were on our way.  There was actually a third line of seats behind my own, so in total we were a team of 7 people trundling along on the journey to Belopa (an hour South of Pelopo as it turns out).

The journey there was visually beautiful.  The mountains and the sea, vast and open rice fields, the endless green and tropical lush surrounding us.  Absolutely stunning!  The one downfall was that the driver smoked the entire way up, which was a bummer, but at least the windows were fully open to allow quick exchanges of air.  We took one break along the way for some food and a bathroom and made it into Belopa just about 8 hours to the dot later.  After a bit of miming and a game of charades with my fellow passengers in the truck, I was able to communicate that I wanted to be dropped off at the nearest ATM as I seriously had zero rupiah on me.  Luckily enough, the ATM I was dropped off at was next to a coffee shop that offered free WiFi.  So while sipping on a cappuccino (made from an instant coffee sachet) I used the WiFi to let Faisal know I’d arrived, and my exact location.

About 5 minutes later, Faisal showed up in his brother’s vehicle and we finally met in person.  Faisal, again only being 18 years of age and having only studied English for about 2 years spoke english brilliantly!  We loaded my stuff into his vehicle and made the 15 minute drive to his town called Bajo.  The town was absolutely adorable!!  When we arrived there was a football (soccer) match at the village field so there were tons of locals gathered for the game.

Just a bit further along the road we came to his lovely and humble home where I met his mom (mama as we called her who spoke zero english) and dad (who spoke a bit of english) and his cousin Irpan (a student in one of the english classes).  His family was lovely and so immediately welcoming that it just made my heart melt.  I was shown to my room and given a tour of the house and the school-house built by Faisal and some of his schoolmates Ucok and Iswan.  We had some dinner together (Faisal whipped up a deliciously spicy nasi goreng if memory serves) and I made my way to bed.

Thus began one of my most memorable months of traveling…

Visit Faisal’s website to find out more about his amazing volunteer program!!

Review of the Our Chance school

On to Favorite Memories from Bajo

Back to Indonesia

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The Beauty of Ko Lipe

Getting to this beautiful and teeny little island in the Andaman Sea was quite treacherous at some points, but very much well worth the trip!!

Really I should (or rather could) simply blame the travel treachery on the fact that I was traveling during low season.  There’s a reason why it’s low season!  Simply stated the seas are unpredictable.  In high season it is relatively easy (due to calm waters) and cheaper to get from island to island via a longtail taxi boat or other ferry boats, however once again because of low season the options were limited.

I left Ko Muk (Mook) easily on the morning ferry (which seemed to not only haul a couple of tourists but also local commuters to the mainland and bundles of rubber ready to be processed into final products) for the mainland where I was met by a mini bus.  Several very rainy hours later, we came upon a stop where I was told to exit the mini bus.  The name of the town, I can’t at this point recall, but it was a good 20 minute motorbike ride to the Pak Bara pier for Ko Lipe.

100 baht and 20-ish minutes later and I was at a teeny tour place near the pier buying my roundtrip (open return!) ticket for Ko Lipe.  As I waited for the powerboat, I encountered my first and only unsettling experience as a solo traveler.  Ladies, if you are traveling solo (or even with people!) to or from this pier, beware of the very large (literally) local.  He’s on the younger side, but you can’t miss which one he is because he really is quite obese.  When I first arrived I thought he was part of the working crew at the pier, but after observing him for a bit, I figured out he wasn’t.  What made him unsettling was he kept trying to get VERY close to me and other female tourists.  He would sit next to you on a bench, then try to shake your hand, then try to hug you, and even tried to lean in to kiss you!

What was more suspicious of his behavior as I watched, was that he would first look around as he tried to sit with a female, and if he didn’t spot any actual workers or security guards, he would sit.  But if he did (even when halfway down) he would immediately jump up and walk away.  With me, he did get as far as sitting next to me and trying for a hug to which I immediately put a very harsh stop to his behavior.  He left me alone for the remainder of my wait, but when coming back to the pier on my way back Ko Lipe, he was there again up to the same antics!  Beware female travelers!

Now the only other unpleasant portion of getting to Ko Lipe was the powerboat ride itself.  Again, it was because of the unpredictable low season seas, but if you are one who gets sea sick easily, I recommend to travel only when the seas are calm!!  The ride was only a couple of hours long but they were very bumpy, and at some points a bit unnerving as the powerboat launched skyward and then slammed down onto an oncoming wave.  Just about everyone on the boat (except the locals chilling all their way in the back smoking away) lost their lunch, and some even lost their breakfast, and perhaps even the meals from the day before!  Yes, it was THAT rough!  I almost lost it at one point smelling all the vomit surrounding me, but thankfully I didn’t… But I won’t share what I kept saying to myself in order to prevent myself from getting sick because it may make some readers lose their lunches just reading it, lol!

When we arrived to Ko Lipe, the seas were calm (protected by beautifully lush surrounding islands) as we disembarked on a floating dock and switched to a longtail taxi boat for the 2 minute transfer to the island.  Once again, I didn’t have a room booked anywhere, so once on land I started my usual walk around to try to find a place.  We were dropped off by the longtail boats on Sunrise beach (beautiful beach along the East side of the island) and it wasn’t until I made it to Pattaya beach along the South side of the island that I was able to find a place.

Again, because of low season, many of the places along Sunrise beach were closed.  In fact, even walking along the walking street in the middle of the day, the island felt relatively deserted, giving the place a slightly spooky feel to it.  As I wandered along Pattaya beach with my backpack and sweating my rear off (despite the cloud cover) I finally spotted a little sign for The Seaside Resort.  For 500 baht a night, I got my own bungalow with a bathroom and lovely porch, only about a 30 second walk from the stunning beach.  The people were very friendly (though they didn’t speak a ton of English) and accommodating for my week stay there.

While at first I wasn’t entirely convinced I liked Ko Lipe (due to the initial spooky vibe I got), after my first full day there I was in love with the place and honestly would never want to go there during high season just because I grew to adore how quiet it was and couldn’t imagine it stuffed to the gills with tourists.

Though it is a teeny island, there was plenty of walking and hiking trails to various areas of the island and the snorkeling on Pattaya beach was stunning!!  I spent hours for days on end watching clown fish nestling against sea anemones (the first in nature I’d ever seen!!  I’d seen plenty of anemones, but never the clown fish with them!!); sea urchins and sea cucumbers chilling on the ocean floor; puffer fish swimming by; angel fish, damsels of all kinds, corals, clams, you name it, they pretty much had it!  I was so enamored with the variety of tropical life just off the shore!  And while there were several times I wished I had a waterproof camera, part of me is thankful that I was actually present for the experience instead of being fussed by getting the perfect shot and looking constantly through a lens.

Seriously, while Ko Lipe does have a couple of shortcomings (revealed in Ko Lipe Trash Hero!) it is NOT an island of Thailand to miss!!

On to Koh Lipe Trash Hero!

Back to Thailand

Night with the Ladies

I have to start this post by pointing out that while traveling it’s hard to find an occasion to really dress up for.  Since being on this particular journey I can only think of a few times that I’d made any real effort in dressing up or even in trying to look good.  Putting on makeup seems ridiculous to me as the heat would just melt it off and even shaving legs or plucking eyebrows sometimes goes longer than needed because there isn’t anyone to impress.  The only times I did make an effort on Koh Tao (i.e. put on some earings or wore a clean top with my jean shorts) was when I went to Fight Nights because it was the only time I ever went out at night on Koh Tao (pre Anna visiting…).

This all changed the night Anna and I went to the Lady Boy Cabaret on the Koh Tao walking street however… It wasn’t just me but Anna as well… For some reason we felt compelled to make an effort to look good at the show knowing full well that just about every (and I mean EVERY) one of Lady Boys in the cabaret show would look a million times better than us!!  And the kicker??  Yes, they are all MEN!!!

Lady boys in Thailand do not carry the stigma as they do in other parts of the world.  It is perfectly accepted by the society that a man would rather be and live his life as a woman.  Of course, while it’s accepted socially there are apparently a few kinks in other ways as I’d recently been told about (lady boys can’t hold certain jobs and in general have difficulty getting hired in “normal” positions and have to be registered as male making it impossible for them to leave the country since their ID says “male” yet they show up as a female, etc).  But in general they at least seem to be more accepted by people of this country and not as people to shame.  Yet another lesson to learn from Thailand!  Alas, baby steps…

Going to the Cabaret was another on my list of things to do when Anna arrived so after our kayak to Koh Nangyuan, several pre-party beers, plucking eyebrows and fussing over the best dress to wear we headed out to the walking street for some Lady Boy entertainment.  Neither of us wore any makeup though because again it’s just too hot, even at night in my opinion, to bother!

From previous walks past the cabaret bar I’d noticed the place was always packed so I rushed us out of the house 40 minutes early to make sure we got a seat.  Turned out we were the first to arrive (go figure) so we had the pick of the place and were seated by one of the staff members (who funnily enough is an awesome Muay Thai fighter!!) in the second row center stage.  The first row was reserved apparently… Drinks were ordered and for the first 20 to 30 minutes it seemed that perhaps I had been a bit too hasty in shuffling us there so early as the crowd really wasn’t gaining in numbers.  However by the time the show was due to begin (about 10:30) the place was absolutely packed!  And the people who had reserved the front row didn’t show, so the staff moved all of us from the second row onto the first!!  Yay!!!

I tell you what, those ladies put on such a fun show and looked amazing doing it!!  They really do put most real women to shame in their beauty and though I know that some are surgically helped along, they still are absolutely stunning!  In fact, there was one Lady who if put next to Ariana Grande, I would seriously have a VERY tough time figuring out which was the real Ariana!!  And I swear that at least two of them could seriously be Victoria Secret models!!  The show was fun and energetic with the crowd getting into each song, singing along, clapping and hootin’ and hollerin’!  The lead ladies in each number were spot on in their performances (especially the “Christina Aguilera” lady who not only “sang” perfectly but had the attitude and moves to match) and it was impressive to watch them dancing their hearts out in 6 inch stiletto heels!!

The show consisted of about a dozen or so songs being “sung” (lip-syncing) by a lead Lady with her accompanying dancers but at one point a brave young man was plucked from the audience, sat on a chair, blindfolded and had some naughty acts “performed” on him.  That act REALLY riled up the audience with laughter and cheers!  It was seriously a great show and honestly better than the show I’d seen in Key West during my time there.

When the show was over the Ladies offered the crowd to take pictures with them for 100 baht a pop (a girl’s gotta make a living!!) so of course Anna and I had to get ours taken with one.  This show is definitely one I would absolutely recommend to attend!  Admission to the show is free but they require one drink purchase per person which is quite a bit more pricey than other places, but then again their pour is nice as well.  I can’t tell you how long the show went, but when we left it was energizing enough that Anna and I ended up staying out till 3am sipping “Pink Ladies” poolside at one of the pool bars called ‘The Office Bar’ (the only one open at that hour in honesty!) not far along the walking path from the club.  Ah, such fun nights!!

On to Through the Looking Glass

Back to Thailand

 

Bang Saphan

On the Gulf coast of Thailand, halfway between Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon (where transfer to Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand can be found) is the beautifully picturesque and quiet town of Bang Saphan.  I had heard of this place as a recommendation from Sai and Charlie in Sangkhlaburi and am so grateful for it!

I will admit right off the bat that I barely spent any real amount of time in the town itself, and well basically the reason for that was because once I had arrived at the bungalows I’d chosen, I simply didn’t want to leave!  That and I was about 4 km south of the actual town, and since I didn’t have a motorbike, there was no real big draw for me to go into town.  But I’m getting ahead.

I took the mini-bus from Prachuap, which was only about 80 baht and an hour and a half or so later was dropped off on the side of the road for Bang Saphan.  The drop off location for the mini-bus was about 4 km west of the town, so I had to get a ride in.  There was a motorbike taxi standing by, so I hopped on and asked to go to Lola’s Bungalows.  I had read up on this guesthouse from a posting on Travelfish and since it said it was their top pick and cheaply priced, I thought why not?  But as the bungalows were 4 km south of town, it ended up being quite an expensive trip there via motorbike!  Frankly there could have been a cheaper way to go, but being in the heat of the day and not very many other options just hanging about, I went ahead with the motorbike.

Once I arrived, I was already in love!  The property didn’t even have a sign up but it was evident how popular it was.  About 20 or so individual bungalows were on the property that were situated only several dozens of feet from a stunning beach!  I was shown to a bungalow and for 300 baht a night, set my things down and got ready for the beach!  What I thought was cute about this place (other than the amazing location) was how when I tried to pay for the bungalow, they simply waved me off and said to do so whenever I decided to leave.  I like that kind of trust in people!

In any event, I had only planned on being there max 5 days, but ended up staying 2 full weeks!  Most of the bungalows were occupied by couples or families that had been staying there already for weeks themselves and or were planning to be there for a month at least.  I guess that’s why the property owners didn’t want money up-front as they were probably used to people coming in and then wanting to stay on!

Along the beach were several eateries, including my personal favorite called Roy Tawan all of a 3 minute walk along the beach south from the bungalows, that had THE BEST chicken club sandwich I’d tasted in a very long time!!  I was seriously addicted to it!!  And for every meal they would start you off with fresh bananas and give sliced mango for dessert!  So for about $1.50 I was very fully and quite healthily satiated!  Another favorite spot I had was the Why Not Bar just a bit further south along the beach where about the only nightlife could be found.  The people there were so friendly and welcoming, I just adored it!

I spent my two weeks at Lola’s getting myself back into an exercise regime, lounging on the many hammocks along the beach reading books, walking daily anywhere from 2-6km through the lush and beautiful land filled with a variety of life to various stores for my food needs (they had a fridge in the room) or to the Thursday and Saturday evening market at the nearby Wat, hanging out at the Why Not Bar, eating a ridiculous amount of Club sandwiches from Roy Tawan, taking brief dips in the ocean (only brief and I will explain why later), gazing at the night sky, eating yet another ridiculous amount of ridiculously fresh and juicy mangos on my front porch, exploring new ways to walk to the neighborhood stores (one dirt path included cutting through a cow pasture), chatting with neighbors and making local friends, enjoying the sights and sounds of approaching storms, listening to some guided meditations on YouTube before falling asleep nightly and generally otherwise relaxing and unwinding.

I saw my first flying squirrels there and though they were impossible to take images of, since they only came out at night and moved too quickly to capture, they were still a delight to watch!  Another thing I’d heard about but had never witnessed before Bang Saphan was coconut collectors using monkeys to cut off and throw down the coconuts!  Some workers also had long bamboo sticks with a knife at the end that they would use to cut off coconuts, but far more had several macaques with them that would easily climb to the top and chuck down several coconuts.  I hope and could only assume the animals were treated well!

I mentioned above that I only spent brief time swimming in the ocean, and the reason for that was first because there were several jellyfish in the area.  Every time I walked out into the ocean I could spot several bobbing along looking harmless enough, yet I wasn’t going to test how much their sting might hurt!  Of course I could have simply walked past the area they were bobbing in as the deeper you got the fewer jellyfish there were, however once getting past the gauntlet of jellyfish, another gauntlet of sorts had to be passed.  See, this particular beach had hundreds upon hundreds of sand dollars in the sand.  You could feel them under your feet as you walked, their little bodies crunching under the weight of my feet and I just couldn’t stomach damaging them just so I could get out deep enough to where I could start to actually swim or float.  So, between the jellyfish and not wanting to potentially kill dozens of sand dollars with each trip in and out of the ocean, I simply opted to hang beside the ocean instead:)

Another first that I witnessed one Saturday when I went for an early lunch at Roy Tawan was a bird singing competition… A bird  singing competition… Yes… Let me set the scene: I arrived at Roy Tawan and sat at a little table awaiting my food when I spotted in the grass section nearby a metal structure with about 12 cages hanging.  Each cage had a bird in it and there was even another bird cage (with a bird inside) hanging in the shade about 20 feet from the other 12 on the metal structure.  One man was sitting under the shade with the bird and he had a cylinder vase filled with water that he would drop the shell of what looked like half of a coconut that had a small hole in the bottom.  Once the coconut shell filled with water and sunk to the bottom, he would blow a whistle and retrieve the coconut.  At this point, two men whom had been standing on opposite sides of the 12 hanging bird cages would approach a cage and make a mark on a piece of paper hanging from the bottom of each cage.  Then they would step back and seemingly watch the next cage.  The whistle was blown again, the coconut shell was dropped (their way of timing!) and the whistle blew again to signal time, the men would make their mark on the next bird cage and move on.

Now, mind you during this entire time all the birds were singing away.  The air was filled with birds singing as well as with some people on the side lines making sounds that sounded like encouragement to one bird or another.  I asked the local woman at Roy Tawan what on earth was going on and she simply said it was a bird singing competition!  The birds in the 12 cages were trying to mimic the song of the single bird in the shade.  The two men making marks were judges and they were scoring which birds sang the best in comparison to the one bird!  Just as I was wondering how in the world these judges could hear only the sound of the one bird they were supposed to be watching for judging and drown out the other 11 birds singing their hearts out, she added “I don’t understand this competition, it seems very silly to me”!  LOL!!

I honestly could have stayed another 2 weeks at Lola’s but alas, it was time to move on!  I think I had gotten my fill of relaxation and was ready to try a new spot.  My next destination was for the island of Koh Tao:)

On To Koh Tao Island

Back to Thailand