So I'm currently sitting in the bus station in Bangkok, traveling back to Chumphon. One more 6 hour bus ride and I should be home. The 6 hour bus ride doesn't sound too bad though, compared to the overnight ferry and 11 hour bus ride I made a couple days ago! Last week I started my trip by going to one of the islands located about an hour and a half ferry ride from the provincial capital of Chumphon. The island, called Koh Tao (or Turtle Island) is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand, most going there for the scuba diving. The island is filled with shop after shop of scuba companies and is one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified. After trying a couple of hours of scuba diving though, I quickly realized diving is not my cup of tea..
Koh Tao is like a different country all together, filled mostly with tourists and ex-pats, way over priced food and taxis, foreigners sun bathing in bikinis, and a thriving night life with Burmese fire throwers lining the beaches. The energy of the island is freeing and completely relaxed. The typical values that are present throughout the rest of the country are not observed as strictly, many people going in to shops with their shoes still on, an abundance of otherwise obvious signs at restaurants reminding tourists not to put their feet on benches, and English as the seemingly dominant language. For me and the other volunteers it was a very welcomed break from the pressure of everyday life in Thailand; an island culture that more resembled the culture we are used to. At the same time it was a bit disappointing to see all the tourists that see this and think they are experiencing the country as a whole. It was interesting to talk to other travelers who were only visiting this and a couple neighboring islands. When I asked one tourist what he thought of Thailand so far, he said the people didn't seem very friendly and had poor customer service. The sad thing is that one of the greatest things about living in Thailand is how friendly the people really are. Unfortunately when meeting Thais on the island you can see how changed and different they are from the infiltration of western values. That being said, Koh Tao is an absolutely beautiful place with a fun, unique culture of its own. Just don't miss seeing the rest of Thailand if you go!
After only five days there, consisting of lots of beach time, eating farang food, and lots of yoga (if you are interested in doing yoga in Thailand I strongly recommend Ocean Sound Yoga. http://www.oceansoundkohtao.com/yoga.html I loved the studio!), we reluctantly had to leave. I headed up to Suphanburi, the province a bit north of Thailand where I lived for 2 months during training. This would be the first time I have gone back to visit the family I stayed with while I was there. The day traveling up there I was filled with many conflicting emotions, already missing the comfort I felt from being around other foreigners and the culture of Koh Tao, nostalgia for the place I spent my first few months in Thailand, and nervous for what it would feel like being back there. I felt like I was visiting the past and afraid of what I would find.
Once I arrived at the family's house though, all the uncertainties I was feeling were washed away when I saw my mae and sister's faces light up as I got out of the truck, grinning ear to ear with the Thai smile that can easily melt your heart. It was like no time had passed at all, and I felt even more at ease than my first few months there. Even though I had been away from them and their home, I could tell I felt more comfortable now that I understand the culture better. I spent two days at their house, and in those two days we managed to “tam-boon” (give merit) at a neighbors house, go to the “da-lat-nat” (market) 3 times, and visit my pa's father's house just a short drive away through the rice paddies. My family even surprised me by driving 2 hours to see my yaai (grandma) who was away staying with her grandson in the hospital after a car accident. As soon as we walked into the hospital her face lit up and she firmly told me to sit down and eat lunch with her on the hospital floor! It was encouraging to feel more at ease and confident communicating with my family now. Many times she learning a new language it feels like your skills are stagnant, or even worse, decreasing. It was exciting to realize I could actually have a conversation with my grandfather, who before I could never understand, ask more questions using language I didn't have before to learn more about the family, and share with them about my new experiences in Chumphon.
After this brief escape from Thailand and confrontation with my past its now time to head back to reality, back to site. Usually I feel a bit on edge before I go back since it seems to take a few days to adjust back to my Thai life. Right now, I feel pleasantly at ease and excited to be back with my Chumphon family. I miss my real family dearly, and sometimes it feels harder to be away from them than when I lived on my own in the states, maybe because I'm living in a culture where the family unit is so strong. But having a Thai family to visit and another one to return to definitely is a great comfort!