Tips for Traveling In Italy

Traveling in Rome, Florence, Venice and Cinque Terre

Rome: There are many sites to take in as a Teach English in Italy Conversation Coach and I really suggest traveling there more than one weekend. It will be difficult to see everything and you won’t want to feel rushed.

  • The Colosseum and Roman Forum use the same ticket for entrance and cost only 12 Euros. You don’t necessarily need to buy this ticket in advance but do go early since the lines tend to get long.
  • The Vatican City is definitely a must. The Vatican Museum is filled with famous artwork, which includes the Sistine Chapel. This ticket I would recommend buying in advance on the Vatican’s website. It is 20 Euros (16 for the ticket, 4 for presale fees). St. Peter’s Basilica often has a long line but is absolutely worth the wait, and is free to enter. I would set aside several hours for the museum and St. Peter’s.
  • The Borghese Villa is perfect for a sunny day where you can enjoy the park. You can also go to the Borghese Museum for 13 Euros.
  • Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers and the Trevi Fountain are both beautiful and situated in areas where you can sit and enjoy the view. Make sure to do as the Romans do: make a wish and throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain!
  • The Pantheon is also a must-see. Its overwhelming size and structure are truly amazing. You do not need a ticket to enter. While in Rome try the typical Roman dish, Cacio e Pepe. It is spaghetti with parmesan and crushed black pepper.

Florence: Although Florence is a great site seeing city, it is also great for wandering the streets and enjoying all the different streets.

  • You must absolutely go to Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo. As beautiful as it is from the outside, you must climb the bell tower and/or duomo. The view is indescribable and worth the 10 Euros (that will give you access to both the bell tower and duomo). Warning: it is roughly 400 steep steps to the top of each.
  • The Santa Maria Novella is also another beautiful church situated in a huge piazza next to the train station.
  • There are also many museums in Florence. I have only been to the Uffizi Musuem, which has Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and other known paintings. Make sure to make your way over to the river, the view from the bridges and the buildings along the edge are amazing.


Venice: I think it would be impossible to find a street and water way that isn’t beautiful and picturesque in Venice.

  • Make sure to see all the large bridges, such as Ponte dell’Accademia and Ponte Rialto.
  • San Marco’s Basilica is another surreal church. Make sure to go to the top of the Campanile in San Marco to see the views overlooking Venice. The ticket is only 8 Euros, and fortunately comes with an elevator ride.
  • The Northern island of Burano is definitely a must see. It is a hidden treasure of Venice that not many people think to visit. You can take a 40-minute ferry ride each way for less than 20 euros. The small island is made up of short, brightly painted houses.


Cinque Terre:
This was definitely my favorite travel location. It is composed of five cliff side towns. I stayed in the most southern, Riomaggiore. If you want a more nature-filled weekend, Cinque Terre is the place to be. There are hiking trails that connect each town, an easy path along the water, and a more difficult path through the hills. Most likely, some of the easier paths will be closed due to past weather but the difficult paths are not so bad since you stop in each town. These colorful towns are situated on the clear water of the Ligurian Sea. This area is known for its seafood, and after some seafood risotto, I understand why!

Teaching English With a Host Family

Through my Teach English in Italy Conversation Coach program, I’ve had the opportunity of teaching English both in a host family setting and in a local school. Both have taught me important lessons about what types of activities engage children and inspire learning.

My experience living with my host family, two parents with a six-year-old son, has been incredible. Never having traveled abroad on my own before, I had no idea what to expect coming to an entirely new home. Luckily for me, my host family made me extremely comfortable right away. They have included me in their daily activities, showed me around the city, introduced me to friends and family and even taken me to a local volleyball game. For the short time I’ve been here, they have made me feel like part of the family.

My host parents are intermediate English speakers, while their son is just beginning but learning very quickly. I teach their son English for a couple hours each day after he gets home from school. His parents and I agreed that the best way for him to learn and enjoy the language was to introduce English words in fun way, such as playing an educational card or sports game. That way, I can essentially sneak in English without adding too much stress to his already busy school day.

One game that my host brother enjoyed was a basketball game using English words. He has a small basketball hoop in his room that we play with, and we selected several objects words from around the room (e.g. bed, window, floor, dresser, closet, door, curtain) and wrote them on a piece of paper with their Italian translations. We placed this piece of paper in view during the game, and after one of us made a basket, that person would have to yell out an object word (“Window!”) and the other person would have to run and touch the object. We started out with five or six words and added to the list we went along. As simple as the game was, my host brother was quickly comprehending and speaking basic words in English.

Other ideas for activities include scavenger hunts, memory games and word searches. Another fun game to play at the end of the day is Simon Says. When my host brother is “Simon,” he gets practice saying English phrases aloud such as “Touch your head!” or “Clap three times!” Creativity is key in coming up with new games for English learning. With these tools, kids can learn English in a fun and engaging way without even realizing it.

My Arrival in Italy

My arrival to Italy can be summed up in one word: awe. I arrived in Rome with no knowledge of the Italian language or culture. It finally started to hit me that I would be here for three months, living with a family I had never met before, in a country I had never been to. My first moment of panic began when I thought I didn’t go through customs. Luckily, an English-speaking woman informed me that customs in Italy is actually quite simple compared to entering the United States, and that I only needed my passport stamped. Finally it was time to find my bus, and this proved difficult since I could not get specific directions in English of how far the bus stop was. Eventually I boarded the bus and headed to Fermo. Five hours later, my host family greeted me. This is when the second moment of panic hit me; I realized my host mother does not speak English. After a few days I realized she actually knows more English than she was willing to admit. You may find that many people are shy to speak your native language for fear of embarrassing themselves with a mistake.

After taking a day to unpack and explore the town, my panic disappeared and was replaced with amazement. I highly suggest taking a day to explore your town with a paper map and allow yourself to get lost. While trying to find the town center I no doubt took the most difficult and unnecessary path to get there, but I got to explore all alleys, parks and never-ending views. Being able to do this on my own made me realize how the rest of my trip would go. It is actually nice to be by myself and take in my surroundings without having my face in my iPhone waiting for the next direction from Google Maps. Of course, I also suggest stopping for a gelato or two along the way!

I could not believe I was so lucky to be living here. This feeling only grew when I met the children I would be teaching in Italy. Preschoolers learning English is not only adorable but inspiring. Choosing to do this program I was already open to the ideas of a different language and culture, but actually experiencing it has made me want to further my knowledge and experiences. I suggest traveling as often and as soon as you can. I took a few weeks before making my first trip to Rome, and have been traveling every weekend since. Three months may seem like a long time at first, but it goes by so quickly and you won’t want to regret not having the time to visit every place you want to see.

Awesome Student Final Projects in Thailand

Watch Teach English in Thailand participant Hannah showcase the great travel brochures her students created for their final projects!

Weekend in Cinque Terre

Coast of Riomaggiore

I just returned from an amazing trip to Cinque Terre, a region that roughly translates to “Five Cities,” all of which sit on the Ligurian Sea and are connected by a train and hiking trails. I traveled with two other tutors, Katie and Jenn, both of whom I met through my Teach English in Italy Conversation Coach program.

We stayed in the southernmost of the five villages, Riomaggiore. We all immediately fell in love with the city – the perfect weather made the brightly colored buildings and sea cliffs as picturesque as the ones we’d seen online.

Saturday morning, after fueling up on a big breakfast at our hotel, we headed out to the hiking trail and made our way to the second city, Manarola. The easier of the two hiking trails was temporarily closed for renovations, so we started on the more difficult trail. After a long and practically vertical climb to the top (with intermittent rest breaks pretty much every five minutes), we were finally able to relax and enjoy the incredible view.

Cliffs of Manarola

After hiking down the mountain, we arrived in the beautiful city of Manarola. The city was quaint and colorful, with many shops and restaurants overlooking the water. The bright buildings and glittering water made the view look completely surreal. We stopped for a delicious seafood lunch by the water and then headed out on the next hike.

Katie, I and Jenn in Manarola

The next hike led us to the city of Corniglia, which was just as gorgeous as the first two – complete with beautiful architecture and the vivid colors Cinque Terre is famous for. We walked through the village, where we treated ourselves to gelato for finally making it to the third city. By this time, the sun was beginning to set, so we headed to the train station and took the train back to Riomaggiore for dinner.

Sunset in Corniglia

After arriving back in Riomaggiore, we walked through the main street and stopped for dinner at a restaurant called La Lampara. We sat at a table overlooking the main street and each enjoyed a delicious pasta dish. The next morning, we headed back to the main street and shopped for souvenirs and postcards for friends and family before heading to the train station.

On the train ride home, despite agreeing that our legs were numb and/or swollen from the hikes, we were already growing nostalgic for our incredible trip. We all agreed we would love to make another trip back to Cinque Terre in the future.

If you have the chance to visit Cinque Terre, I definitely recommend it! We were only able to visit three cities, but if you have the opportunity to spread out your trip and would like to see all five, one idea would be to stay one night in each city along your hike. Although Cinque Terre is less well known than other popular destinations in Italy, that just adds to its charm – it almost feels like a well kept secret.

Buon Viaggio!

Christine

Pre-Departure Tips

Christine N. is a Teach English in Italy Conversation Coach.

Ciao!

I arrived in Italy two weeks ago and have been having the time of my life so far. After graduating from college in December, I made the decision to travel to abroad and I’m so glad I did. I spent weeks researching and planning prior to my trip, and compiled this quick summary of my findings and suggestions. Here are several useful pre-departure tips and items I brought on my trip, as well as a few I wish I had.

Packing Basics:

Luggage:
This one seems obvious, but make sure you have a suitable suitcase (or two) that will be appropriate for your trip. I brought a large checked bag, a small carry-on bag, a backpack and a small purse. The small bag and backpack have been perfect for shorter trips, and the purse is great for day trips and nights out. Make sure to check with your airline to see what its size requirements are for checked and carry-on bags, as well as potential fees.

Clothes:
Try to pack as light as you can, but bring the essentials appropriate for your season. For my February-through-April trip, I brought one heavy jacket, a few pairs of jeans, a couple casual tops, one dressy outfit, comfy pajamas and a few accessories, including scarves and jewelry. As for shoes, I’d recommend a pair of boots, a pair of sneakers, a pair of dressy shoes and slippers for lounging around at home. If you won’t have access to laundry facilities abroad, make sure to bring extra clothes.

Toiletries:
Make sure to bring all the basics: toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, soap, shampoo, conditioner, makeup etc. If you are particular about your products, bring extras - I haven’t been able to find many of my favorite American brands here in Italy, and it’s very expensive to ship them from home. If you are less picky about products, pack light and buy replacements in your host country. One item I would recommend bringing is a nail kit and/or polish. It can be hard to find nail salons abroad and they can be expensive.

Electronics:

Cell Phone:
There are a few options for using a cell phone abroad, which all seem equally confusing at first, but make sense once you finally arrive. These options may vary from country to country, but here in Italy and in many other countries, there are three main options:

1. International Plan with your current phone and provider. Call your provider to find out your options – many times you can get an international plan for a reasonable rate.

2. SIM Card for your current phone. This is also a good option, but you need to get your current phone unlocked to be able to use the foreign SIM card. First, call your provider to find out if you are eligible for an unlock. Then, buy a SIM card for your phone online or in your host country. One website that you can use to order a SIM card is www.ekit.com.

3. Prepaid Phone with SIM Card. This is a good option if you can’t get your current phone unlocked. You can purchase a small phone for a fee and buy a foreign SIM card to go with it. Again, you can purchase these online or once you arrive to your host country.

Laptop:
I brought my laptop and it has come in very handy here (how else would I write this blog post?). However, if your host family or school has an accessible computer or your laptop is too bulky to lug around, you may want to leave it at home.

Backing-Up:
I highly recommend backing up your phone and computer before you leave. I wish I had backed up my computer beforehand so I could delete files to free up space. Also, once I arrived in Italy, my phone quickly ran out of photo storage. I recently backed up all of my photos to www.dropbox.com, which offers a cloud-based service for free! Losing your phone or laptop in a foreign country is bad enough – you don’t want to lose all your contacts, photos etc. too.

Adapter/Converter:
An adapter and converter for electrical appliances is a must-have when traveling abroad. Adapters merely allow you to plug your U.S. appliance into a foreign electrical wall socket, while converters actually change the electrical outlet voltage from one level to another. Converters are necessary for single-voltage appliances. Check beforehand to see what type of electrical outlet your host country uses and what type of device you need for your appliances. Be prepared, however, to encounter electrical problems even when using these devices. I learned the hard way that cheap U.S. hair straighteners are NOT Europe-friendly. Sidenote: Apple iPhone and MacBook chargers are dual voltage – meaning all you need in order to use them abroad is an adapter.

Smartphone Apps:
To save money on cellular data, or if you’re like me and will be turning off data abroad, download useful apps on your phone prior to leaving. Some applications that have come in handy for me include an offline map of Italy, an offline Euro-to-Dollar converter, an offline reading app such as Nook, an offline Italian/English dictionary and a few communication apps like Viber, Whatsapp and Skype for use in Wi-Fi areas.

Planning Your Budget:

Budgeting beforehand is essential in order to make sure you are able to do everything you want to do in the limited time you have. After I arrived to Italy and started spending all my pocket money on gelato, I soon realized I had to be extremely conscious of my spending if I wanted to do all the things I had planned. Try to research before you leave to find out how much money you’ll need per week in terms of:

  • Transportation – Bus prices vary, and in my experience, trains to cities such as Rome and Venice can cost anywhere from 50-100 euros round-trip.
  • Hotels – Nightly rates are great to split with two or three friends when traveling on weekends. So far, my share of the hotel room has ranged from 25-40 euros per night.
  • Food – Find out beforehand how many meals your host family or school will provide and how much you will be eating out. After arriving in Italy I quickly became a cappuccino addict, which unfortunately was reflected in my bank account.
  • Other Expenses – Set aside some money for shopping, sightseeing and social events.

Gifts for Your Host Family:

This is optional, but I think it is a nice gesture to bring something to represent your hometown or state. I brought my host family chocolates, a coffee table book of California and a Cars toy for my host brother. Other ideas are wine (if they drink alcohol), signature foods from home (e.g. maple syrup, toffee), souvenirs (e.g. mugs, picture frames) or decorative objects for their home.

Teaching Materials:

As recommended by InterExchange, I brought several teaching materials to Italy, which have been extremely useful during home lessons. I brought a book of English grammar, a picture dictionary and a book of educational games. If you have time, try to pick a few up before you leave.

Other Suggestions:

  • Start learning the language early. If I could go back in time, I would have started learning Italian months before my trip so I could communicate easier in my first several days. However, you will quickly pick up a foreign language by listening to it 24/7. Now after my second week, I am able to get around and communicate without any problems, but a head start would have definitely been nice.
  • Get in touch. Contact your host family prior to your visit and develop a relationship. I kept in touch with my host family via Skype and email, which made for an easy transition and transport from the airport.
  • Notify your bank of your upcoming trip. Sometimes, banks will see foreign charges and shut down your credit card. To avoid that from happening, call your bank and notify them of your travel itinerary. I use Wells Fargo, and was able to create a travel itinerary with them using a completely automated service.
  • Make sure that your credit/debit card will be functional abroad. Some banks have small service charges for credit/debit card usage or ATM withdrawals abroad, so be aware. If you can’t use your cards abroad, make sure you bring enough cash on hand or make sure there is an ATM nearby.
  • Bring cash! Even if your credit/debit card works abroad, bring some spending money in the currency of the country you’ll be living in. This will come in handy when you first arrive, and some smaller stores don’t take credit or debit cards.
  • Buy a travel book. I bought a small Italy travel book from Lonely Planet that has been extremely useful so far on my trip. Look for one with information about your country as well as a dictionary and list of phrases. If your electronics die or you can’t find Wi-Fi, a book is always a safe backup.
  • Register your travel itinerary with the U.S. Department of State. Enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a way for embassy and consulate employees to find you in case of a disaster.
  • Bring photocopies of important documents. Bring photocopies of your passport, immunization records and proof of insurance and keep them with you during travel.

That’s all for now! Try to make a packing list of your own and check off each item as you pack. And don’t forget your passport!

Buon Viaggio!

Christine

The Best Breakfast in Thailand

The best breakfast here is actually not breakfast at all. There are no places to go for breakfast in Chiang Kham that would have what you would call “breakfast food.” So what you have to do is adapt and embrace the fact that some mornings you might just have some bright green dumplings for breakfast!

I occasionally have a strong yearning for a good “American breakfast.” But I am in Thailand and every morning is an adventure…especially when it comes to food. So without any more delay, here is a look into my favorite place to go for breakfast, and in my opinion the best place for breakfast in Thailand: The morning market.

Chiang Kham morning market starts bright and early around 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. I don’t go this early! I try to leave around 6:50 a.m. from my apartment to bicycle there and then to school by 7:30 a.m. Skipping the morning market usually means skipping breakfast unless I bring a banana or piece of toast with me. And more than ever in my life now, I feel that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially when that day consists of teaching 150 kids!

So what are your options for breakfast from the morning market?

If you are looking for something like oatmeal then “Joke” is for you! A thick rice porridge-type dish filled with pork, ginger, herbs and spices. Halfway into filling the bag, the lady will stop and crack a fresh egg into the joke and then continue filling up the bag. The egg cooks in the hot porridge so when you get to your destination and pour it into the bowl you have a bright orange egg yolk to break and it makes it that much better.

Feeling something a little savory and exciting for breakfast? Then why not some dumplings. They are not your boring old dumplings like at home! Here they are bright yellow and green, come with a helping of dried ginger sprinkled on top and a nice addition of a soy sauce. Not exactly your typical breakfast and not something to have every day. But hey, why not wake up some mornings and treat yourself to some dumplings!!??

Having a morning where you are missing pancakes? I have the food for you! They are almost like pancakes! Tiny, tiny, tiny pancakes! Made with coconut milk, rice and coconut and the options of sesame, ginger or corn, these are the perfect little bite-size treats to allow yourself every so often when you get that pancake craving! For some reason Thailand is also big on waffles, so there is always the option for a slightly cold waffle that can satisfy a breakfast craving should you find yourself having one.

If you are looking for salad then look no further than the salad lady! I have come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to eat salad here any time of the day, so naturally this has turned into a breakfast item several days a week. The salad lady can be found at the morning and evening markets and is always smiling and so kind! I love her salads to go and all they need from me is a pinch of salt and a little olive oil and they are ready to go!

Finally, in Chiang Kham we have the juice lady. Every morning she is at the market with a real juice machine. Coming from America where I used to work in a store that sold fresh juices for $6 a pop I was surprised to find here that a carrot, apple, beet, ginger and pineapple juice will only set you back $.90!!!

There is nothing I love more than waking up each morning and heading to the morning market. You can practice your Thai speaking skills there. Everyone is friendly and smiley no matter what and you can try something new every day! I love buying my fruits and vegetables at the market too, as they are always fresh and I never spend more than $5 on things that will get me through a few days. Take a look at the video below to see the juice lady, pancake lady and dumpling man and get a better view of the Chiang Kham morning market!

 

Chiang Rai Has My Heart

I am having a love affair with Chiang Rai. This city has my heart and it can keep it for as long as it likes.

The beautiful Chiang Rai Clock Tower

Where I live in Thailand is wonderful. I love waking up in Chiang Kham, hopping onto my bright pink bicycle and biking to the morning market, which, in my opinion, is the only way to eat breakfast in Thailand. Chiang Kham is my home, but every now and then when I am up for some adventure and excitement I treat myself to a weekend away in Chiang Rai. Why Chiang Rai? It’s quite simple: for a small city, it is full of adventures, amazing food and I never get bored of exploring when I am there.

Chiang Rai provides you with many options for food. Thai food and what I like to call “farang food.” A “farang” is a foreigner and often in my town when you walk by the local people you will hear them go “farang, farang.” Well, Chiang Rai is home to many a farang and with that has come the opportunity to eat farang food. Pizza, sandwiches and even EGGS BENEDICT can be found in Chiang Rai. My favorite place to go eat in Chiang Rai? The Saturday walking street. This is a wonderful gathering of street food and local Thai products that come together every Saturday night in Chiang Rai. Yes, it’s a big tourist attraction but sometimes you just need to get touristy and enjoy yourself.

A man making delicious food at the Saturday Walking Street

So what do I do when I want to get touristy? I throw on my stretchy elephant pants that only tourists would wear and get my camera and go to the walking street. I have no shame when there, I often spend far too much money and eat too much food but the only part that matters to me is that every time I am there I leave with a huge smile on my face.

elephant pants

One of the things I do every time I visit Chiang Rai is visit my favorite cafe. It is the first place I ever went to in Chiang Rai and I have made it a habit to go there every time I am in town. Without fail, every time I go, there is a small dog dressed up in a different outfit every day. When I arrive at the cafe it comes over and waits for me to give it some attention. My mother has now started sending me emails when I go to Chiang Rai asking for a picture of the dog in its outfit!
On my most recent trip to Chiang Rai I went away for a weekend with another teacher. She had not spent much time in Chiang Rai and I was so excited to show her my favorite places and go exploring for some new ones! We spent all day on Saturday walking and walking, visiting temples, going to the back streets of Chiang Rai and trying new foods. That night we went to the Saturday Walking Street. I was happy to see she loved the food and atmosphere as much as me and we had a wonderful time.
On Sunday it was time for something new. Being so into photography, I had often noticed these beautiful pictures of a place called Boonrawd Farm just about eight kilometers out of the city center of Chiang Rai. Kim and I hopped onto a TukTuk and our driver took us to our destination. The strange and wonderful thing about Boonrawd is that we were the only foreigners there all day! The rest of the people visiting were all Thai and just wanted to have a nice day out in the sun. Boonrawd Farm is a tea plantation, but it is also home to some very happy giraffes and zebras who roam around on a large area of the farm and I had a lot of fun photographing them.
I spent a wonderful Sunday mountain biking around this beautiful tea plantation and taking some great pictures and hanging out with giraffes and zebras! What could be better? I left to go back to Chiang Kham very, very sunburnt, but smiling and full of excitement for my next trip to Chiang Rai. Until then I will dream of all that might happen on my next adventure there!

Is This Real Life?

Wow, has it been over two months in Thailand already? I do not know where the time goes here! Every day I am in this country I fall more in love with it. The balance of teaching and exploring is perfect and though that leaves little downtime I am OK with it.

My first month in my new home, Chiang Kham, was a challenging one. Moving anywhere new is a stressful and tiring experience. Moving 8,000 miles away is something else. My first week I suffered The Cockroach Incident of 2013, which tested me in every single way. Since my room was invaded by 30 cockroaches, it did not feel like much could challenge me more than that. However, this journey so far has challenged me in every single way possible and I am grateful for every moment of it.

I have been teaching primary school for over two months  now and am currently winding down my second month teaching secondary school. Primary school is crazy, exhilarating and exasperating all at the same time. The students are incredibly cute and when they see you, they without fail, every single time, come running at you saying “Helllllooooooooo, teaccchhhhaaaaa!”

The language barrier takes some getting used to. Every student seems to be at a different level and trying to cohesively teach a class and make sure everyone understands it is a challenge every day. However, I can already tell the students are starting to adjust to having me as a teacher. They are asking questions and starting to participate more. There is nothing better than the feeling that you are in fact teaching the students something and they are catching on. As for me, I feel my confidence in teaching growing and I start to enjoy teaching more and more every day. I am so out of my comfort zone and I would not trade that feeling for anything.

Exploring Thailand is such an incredible thing. I feel so lucky to be here and this country has so much to offer. The people are always smiling, and though we might not speak the same language, we all know how to smile. Smiling is universal and I have learned quickly here even the smallest smile is a wonderful way to communicate with others.

I left Chiang Kham a few weeks ago with my fellow teacher and friend, Olivia. We took a two-hour scenic bus to Chiang Rai for a day trip. This trip made me realize what an authentic and rural part of Thailand I have been placed in and how much I appreciate my placement in Chiang Kham. Chiang Rai was incredible. Olivia and I visited the White Temple, which is like nothing I have ever seen before. I felt like I was in another world when I was there. I also got to experience my first Tuk Tuk ride in Thailand and cannot wait for my next one.

Every week I have been here I like to think back on my favorite moment of the week. Things are so different and surprising here that sometimes it is hard to choose just one moment. This week it was easy though. I was very sick and missed school one day to stay home and try to get better. All of a sudden five men came into my room unannounced. Without saying anything to me, they took off their shoes and started to weigh themselves on my scale. They seemed very excited to see a scale and then spent a few minutes laughing and repeatedly weighing themselves. I sat in my bed confused and wondering if this was a fever-induced hallucination. After a few more minutes of confusion the men brought in a ladder and started to take apart my air conditioner.

I cannot believe how quickly 2014 is approaching. This year has been crazy and wonderful in so many ways. I am excited to start the new year with a mini vacation from school. I will be traveling for a few days and ending my vacation with a New Year’s celebration on a huge lake in Phayao with a fellow teacher. Every day I pinch myself and remind myself how lucky I am to have this opportunity and be on the amazing adventure that is teaching in Thailand. Want to see what it’s been like the past few months? Take a look below!!

All of the Lights – Loi Krathong

Imagine thousands of these lighting up the sky

A few weeks ago I traveled to Chiang Mai to celebrate the Thai New Year, Loi Krathong. For a few years now this is an event I have dreamed of going to and the fact that I got to go and experience it has taken a few weeks to process. As a photographer, you can not imagine anything more thrilling than thousands of people packed into a university field releasing thousands of lanterns. As a person, gathering with thousands of other strangers to celebrate and join together for something as magical as this was life changing.

A close-up of the torch used to light the lanterns

Loi Krathong/Yi Peng is a celebration of the Thai New Year. Every year the entire country celebrates by releasing lanterns called “lanna” into the sky and floating krathongs into the water. The sky lights up with lanterns and the rivers and lakes are illuminated by the floating krathongs. There is nothing else like it in the world.

My view for the event

I left Chiang Mai four hours before the event was supposed to begin. New Year’s celebrations take place all over Thailand, but, every year there is a huge gathering at the Mae Jo University in Chiang Mai. If you Google “Loi Krathong/Yi Peng” a lot of pictures that come up are from the event at the university. I wanted a great place to sit and be able to take pictures, so I left earlier than most people. Maybe, if I were really lucky, I would find a place that would not get too crowded. I was lucky with the place I got. I ended up next to the red carpet where the monks would walk right past me! I set up camp and got ready to sit in the blazing sun for the next few hours. I had a lot of fun people-watching and going through a roller coaster of emotions about how excited I was that this day was finally here.

The monks passing by

Before I knew it, it was time! It was getting dark and there were SO MANY PEOPLE. I was SO EXCITED! I got my camera ready and for the next two hours I felt like I was on another planet. Imagine almost 10,000 people all packed together in a small space, and then all of a sudden it gets quiet – really, really quiet. You cannot even hear people breathing. That is what it was like the second the thousands of lanterns took off into the night sky. Then came the joy-filled gasps. If you have ever seen the movie “Tangled” then you know the lantern scene in the movie – it was literally like I was in a Disney movie that night. I was so taken by the magic of the night that what happened next did not even bother me very much. It took two hours to walk what had taken five minutes earlier that day because so many people were trying to leave the university at the same time. Nothing could take away the magic that night.

Right after all the lanterns were released

Every day is full of adventures and more challenges than I have ever faced before. If you ever have a chance to do something new and terrifying, please take it. I can write the words and show you the pictures, but experiencing it firsthand is indescribable.