An hour waiting in line, two more on a boat, and a final eight on a bus, and I’m finally back in Bangkok. Hard to believe we’re already done with Koh Samui and Koh Tao. Koh Sam (as I keep calling it) was definitely my favourite (hilarious since we initially planned only one night there), but Koh Tao definitely had it’s perks.
We stayed at Coral View Dive Resort, which is on the quieter side of the island. And while the staff was a bit prickly, we couldn’t argue with the beauty of our surroundings. The rooms were 900 baht a night, but worth it for the privacy.
The bungalow next to us housed two more RPCVs (Yata and Zach), who decided to join us for some fun in the sun : ) We spent the first few days relaxing by the water and enjoying the views – and making a run into town for supplies. We were even more secluded than we had imagined and had very little access to anything! The food at the resort was decent, but pricey, so being the cheapskates we all are, we bought cereal and fresh fruit for our breakfasts. Ah, the joys of having 7-Elevens (and fresh markets) around!
After a few whirlwind days in Bangkok, we boarded a bus headed to Chumporn Pier. God only knows why we thought a night bus was a good idea – we had only had one solid night’s rest all week. Luckily, Lomprayah does a great job. The bus was giant and super comfy and had an added bonus of a toilet onboard. I joked with Chandler that the urinal was positioned practically in my face, but really, I was just marveling at the convenience – no bus in Ethiopia has a toilet. And the nice ones – Sky and Selam stop once in the middle of nowhere to let you relieve yourself.
But you don’t read this to hear about my bathroom situations…at 4:30 am we arrived at the pier and spent the morning chatting with some Canadian friends we had met the night before during check-in. The pier didn’t officially open until 6, so we had some time to kill.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, we began boarding the boats. Ours had stops on a snorkeling island, Koh Tao, and Koh Phangan before finally dropping us off at Koh Samui. But really, we didn’t mind the wait, we had gotten our first view of the Gulf of Thailand.
Chandler said our first day of vacation was a success – we visited everywhere we wanted to. I had more mixed feelings…
Doha is hot. 109 degrees Fahrenheit hot. And I don’t do well with heat (understatement). We tried to take the city bus (20 QAR for a day of unlimited rides), but during our whole time waiting, only one passed. And it didn’t stop. Which wouldn’t have been such an issue, but we were trying to get to Souq Waqif, which closes at noon (and it was already 10:30) and doesn’t reopen until four. So we gave up and headed for the taxis (costing considerably more at 41.50 QAR one-way). And then, just a few minutes later, we got rear-ended.
The heat was miserable as we wandered around Souq Waqif and Gold Souq, but all our window shopping made it bearable. I’ve promised myself I’m only going to buy something if I can’t fathom life without it, we’ll see how long that lasts – but today, it was a success. A lot of the fabrics were beautiful, but I don’t want to lug those around for the rest of this trip! And we found tons of antique compasses, but again, it’s too soon for souvenirs.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
This verse got me through a lot of moments in Ethiopia. Never before have I had such a trying experience. Never before have I been adored or hated, based solely on the colour of my skin. Never before have I craved anonymity. Never before have I felt such a need to make a difference.
My time is up; I’ve said my goodbyes. And now I can’t help but contemplate all the things Ethiopia has put me through. The days I couldn’t bring myself to leave my house because I didn’t want to encounter life outside my walls. I look back, assuming I’ll be full of rage, but I’m not. Odd as it may sound, I’m actually glad I went through this. I was tested and learned just how strong I am.
A while back, another volunteer told me that once I leave Ethiopia, the bad things will start to disappear and I’ll only be able to see the positives. Instead, I’m focusing on the positives that came from the bad things.
Never before have I appreciated my friendships as much as I do now – probably because true friendship has been hard to come by here. It’s difficult to have an open and honest relationship with someone when in the back of your mind, you’re dreading the moment when they ask you for something, reveal their true intentions. And while that happened more times than I can count, I am incredibly grateful for the number of true friends I made here, both Peace Corps Volunteers and Ethiopians.
Because my boyfriend and I don’t know how not to plan…and because I knew everyone who reads my blog was dying to know…here’s our SE Asia itinerary. The real itinerary took months to plan…I’ll give you the highlights : )
- Doha – Al-Corniche, Souq Waqif, and the Museum of Islamic Art
- Bangkok – Banglamphu neighborhood, Siam Ocean World (I’m dating a guy obsessed with aquariums – who knew?), and SHOPPING…hey, I’ve spent the last two years in Ethiopia
- Koh Tao – Scuba certification and beaches!
- Phetchaburi – Tham Khao Luang Cave and Tham Khao Bandai-It Monastery aka bats, bats, and more bats
- Kanchanburi – Death Railway Bridge aka Bridge Over the River Kwai (which we all pronounce incorrectly, thanks to Hollywood)
- Bangkok (again) – Ko Ratanakosin and Thonburi neighborhoods for the Grand Palace, National Museum, the Amulet Market, and countless stunning wats (temples)
- Hanoi – Water puppets (can’t wait to find out what exactly this is), Women’s Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake & Temple, Temple of Literature (because how could two people as nerdy as me and Chandler not go?), Old Quarter, and the Perfume Pagoda
- Halong Bay – Kayaking, rock climbing, and island exploration, especially Hang Trong (aka Drum Grotto) and Dao Titop
- Phong Nha-ke Bang National Park – Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Cave, and the Nuoc Mooc Eco Trail (wanted to see Hang Son Doong, the world’s biggest cave, but it costs about $3,000 and only 200 people can enter each year)
- Hue – Imperial Enclosure and the Royal Tombs
- Hoi An – Historical Old Town
- Nha Trang – Louisiane Brewhouse and the Oceanographic Museum. Can you tell which of us chose this town? : )
- Mui Ne – This stop was all me though, motorbiking through sand dunes
- HCMC – Jade Emperor Pagoda, Fine Arts Museum, and the Tao Dan Park
- Can Tho – Phong Dien Floating Market
I’ve done a fair amount of research for my SE Asia trip. I’ve read the Lonely Planet Guidebook for each of the countries I’m traveling to, my boyfriend did the same and then we compared notes, we looked up activity prices, travel routes, hotels, and restaurant options. And all I could think was: Damn, everything looks so nice!
I was shocked, really. The hotels we looked up were all listed as budget options; they were cheaper than the place we stay when we come in to Addis. But they’re so much nicer! I focused on cheap and mid-range food – and there’s so much more variety! Shocked might actually be an understatement to my real reaction.
During my online research, I stumbled upon this blog – “It’s a Real City!”: Hanoi Through Cambodia Goggles – and I couldn’t stop laughing. The blogger was living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and moved to Hanoi, Vietnam and couldn’t get over how developed it was. People would tell her everything that was still wrong with Hanoi and the only thought that came to her mind was “If you think this is underdeveloped, you should check out Cambodia!”
As for me, I’ve seen photo upon photo of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and all I could think was: Damn, everything looks so nice! Clearly, after two years in Ethiopia, I’ve developed Ethiopia goggles. I’m viewing the world through a developing nation in East Africa. I’ve spent the last two years pretending a hole in the floor is a bathroom, thinking a cold shower is normal, living in an uninsulated/unheated/uncooled home, and eating the same food week after week – often with bugs in it. And you know what, I’ve gotten used to it.
Last year, on the first day of camp, I packed my students cold lunches. I introduced them to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, apple juice, complete with a banana. This year, with fewer students, I decided to give them something even more shocking: cheeseburgers. I took them to Tropical Burger and ordered us a few burgers to share (including a veggie burger for myself), and watched their eyes light up as they tried something new. Luckily, they loved it! And then it was off to Wondo Genet.
One of my sessions was Journal Making – and we quickly learned a little more about the campers. Sultan loves to draw and he sketched an image of Jasmine he found on one of the stickers, quite well if I might add. And Michael admitted he wanted to go to Peru of all places, so he drew a ship to sail away on. But my favourite journal cover by far combined America and Ethiopia:
My next session was Reader’s Theater. This year, we used the Eager4English books I helped publish here and we had the campers act out stories from Yirgalem in SNNPR and Gimbi in Oromia. Even some of the shyer students began to come out of their shells.
My final activity was the Camp Olympics, and much like last year, it worked out wonderfully, despite being left to the last minute haha We had a water balloon toss, obstacle course, tank & driver, water challenge, relay races, and puzzles & piggies.