10 Ways to Get Around Bangkok

Getting around Bangkok can sometimes be extremely frustrating, as you can often find yourself slowly inching forward in what seems like a never ending traffic jam. However, there are several ways you can travel around the wonderful city, sometimes without having to see a single car.

Getting around Bangkok can sometimes be extremely frustrating, as you can often find yourself slowly inching forward in what seems like a never ending traffic.

However, there are many alternative ways to getting around the city. Check them out –

1) Bus

Taking the bus around the city will definitely not help in avoiding those traffic jams, but it will cost you next to nothing.  Some of the red buses are actually free, and some of the orange ones have AC!

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2) Tuk-Tuk

Ohh the good old ‘tuk-tuk’. The most touristy and fun way to see the city, but also the most expensive. Be warned – over recent years, Tuk-Tuk drivers offer to take you anywhere in the Bangkok for only a few baht. Sounds too good to be true? it is! These drivers will take you to a tailor, travel agent or jewelry shop to get a ‘petrol stamp’. If you don’t buy anything from these stores, the owners can get very aggressive and forceful.

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3) Bangkok MRT

Many people are unaware Bangkok actually has a subway system, as it doesn’t cover the more popular tourist areas of the city. However, if you plan on going anywhere in the Bangkok Metropolitan region then this an effective, cheap and reliable way of getting there.  It is also worth noting that the MRT connects to the Bangkok BTS train route.

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4) Taxi

A taxi will take you anywhere you want to go. They are cheap enough, just make sure you ask to use the meter. Upon seeing a foreigner, some taxi drivers will try to overcharge, sometimes 10x what the journey should cost.

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5) BTS

My personal favourite. The Bangkok Mass Transit System, or BTS Sky Train, is exactly that: a train that is elevated above the city’s roads. The BTS is not expensive to use and covers some of Bangkok’s most popular areas. The air-conditioned cabins provide great views of the city as you travel from station to station.

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6) Boat

The river Choa Phraya runs throughout Bangkok and out into the Gulf of Thailand. Travelling up and down the river by boat is easy and affordable.

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7) Canal Boat

Hundreds of little canals stream off from the Choa Phraya river and into the city. Local boats run regularly up and down these routes and take you to places that the big river boats cannot reach.

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8) Motor-taxi

If you’re alone and don’t have much luggage, it might be more cost effective for you to travel by motor-taxi instead of an actual taxi. This tends to be a little more dangerous, so make sure you ask for a helmet and hold on tight!

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9) Foot

The heat puts the majority of people off from walking around the city, but apart from being free, exploring by foot can give you a unique perspective of the Thai capital. Bangkok is rammed with narrow Soi’s (Thai for street/alleyway) which are brimming with character that is not visible from a taxi or bus.

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10) Bicycle

Another very cheap way of seeing the city is by bicycle. If you are brave enough to face the humidity and the Thai roads, then give this a try!

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If you’re going to Thailand, don’t forget your travel guide:

– Liam

#TRAVEL – SOUTH KOREA: THE DMZ

The North Korean way of life is perceived negatively throughout most of the western world, but many of us are equally fascinated by it. North Korea is located north of South Korea (SHOCK); the two countries have been separated since the 1950’s, and now a 150 mile long & 2 1/2 mile wide barrier runs between them. This barrier is known as the DMZ or the Demilitarized Zone.

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Anybody visiting or living in South Korea (it’s highly unlikely you’ll see many South Koreans there though) can visit the DMZ as part of a tour. The majority of the tours depart from Seoul and most companies offer both morning and afternoon options.

When I visited in 2015, I used a company called VIP Tours. They were very helpful and provided a great service. I’d recommend them!

You can check them out here VIP TRAVEL

VIP Tours and most other DMZ Tour operators offer several different options, two of the most popular being:

1) DMZ TOUR

The cheapest and most common option allows you to visit several interesting places –

The Bridge of Freedom – A park full of statues and monuments, built to console the families of both the North and South Korean people.

Dora Observatory – From here you can look into North Korea. On a clear day, it’s very impressive.

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Dorasan Station – A brand new railway station built to connect South Korea and North Korea. However, in 2008 the North Korean government stopped the service accusing South Korean government of a confrontational policy. So now it stands empty.

DMZ Theater & Exhibition Hall – Full of artifacts and information on the Korean war and the DMZ itself.

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The Third Infiltration Tunnel – My favourite part of the tour! In 1978 a tunnel was uncovered. The tunnel was built by North Koreans trying to pass under the border. The tour allows you to travel deep underground and see for yourself.

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2) DMZ & JSA TOUR

The second option allows you to visit all of the above AND the JSA or the Joint Security Area. The JSA is where North and South Koreans discuss diplomatic engagements and negotiate.  This option does cost a bit more and require a but more time, but a good experience for those who are interested.

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If you are interested in the Korean war and/or are curious about mysterious North Korea, or maybe you just have some time to kill in Seoul, I’d definitely recommend checking this tour out!

If you’re going to South Korea, make sure you take your guide to ensure you don’t miss anything –

#TRAVEL – Indonesia: Peace in Ubud

I’ve never read the book Eat, Pray, Love, nor have I watched the movie. But, nonetheless, I heard Ubud, Bali was an interesting place to visit for reasons other than “It’s where that really good book/ film is set”.

I was right.

Ubud is located about an hour north of Bali’s main airport and is easily accessed by bus, van, car, and bike. If you are visiting after spending a few days in Kuta, the tranquil and relaxing atmosphere will be a welcome breath of fresh air. Many visitors go there to practice yoga, meditation and detox. Ubud boasts many health-orientated stores and calming areas, making it the perfect place to unwind and get back in touch with yourself.

That said, despite being a peaceful and chilled setting, there are actually quite a few things to do:

Monkey Forest

The most popular tourist attraction in Ubud is the monkey forest. For a small price, you can enter a reasonably large area of temples, trees and wilderness to observe wild macaque monkeys run around and interact with each other and their paying visitors (hold onto your camera with a strong grip).

Rice Fields

Turn left, turn right, go north, go south…Ubud has no shortage of rice paddies! I would definitely recommend renting a scooter and driving out of the town center to check out some of these beauties. They are oddly fascinating and undeniably beautiful.

Pools

Just because you’re away from the coast, don’t think that you’re going to miss out on some great waters (you are in Bali after all). The majority of hotels and homestays in Ubud boast spectacular swimming pools, many with infinity pools looking out into stunning green scenery.

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The Streets

Ubud’s streets are full of quirky cafes, homestays and old buildings. Hours can be spent walking around marveling at the various types of architecture and having a browse at what interesting products are for sale.

Chill Nights

The nightlife in Ubud is a world apart from Kuta. I love to party, but visiting Ubud allowed me to experience a more relaxed and cultural vibe. Whether you see a puppet show, walk the beautiful streets or have a cold beer at the jazz bar, you’ll always be wearing a smile across your face.

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If you’re in Bali, don’t skip over Ubud.

.. and don’t forget your guide!

Don’t teach in Thailand if…

Don’t teach in Thailand if…

Every year hundreds of people fly to the “Land of Smiles” to teach English. The list of benefits this choice offers is so large that instead of focusing on them, I have compiled a list of reasons it may not be the best option for everyone. You may want to reconsider if…

You Want to Make A Lot of Money

If you’re reading this, then you probably already know the teaching salary in Thailand isn’t the best. In comparison to the cost of living, you can live very well—but when it comes to making those international bank transfers every month, it can be a bit painful. That said, jobs at international schools tend to offer more money and there is no shortage of private tutoring opportunities throughout the country. Many teachers, myself included, survive from their tutoring money and transfer their salaries home each month. You can save, but it definitely takes commitment.

You Want to Party 24/7

The Full Moon Party, Khaosan Road – YES, Thailand is a fun place to party. Alcohol is cheap and there is never a shortage of events to attend. However, if this is your primary reason for visiting Thailand, I think backpacking or a holiday would be a better option. Don’t get me wrong, over the course of my 18 months there I had an endless amount of raging weekends all over the country, but the focus during the week should be the job.

You Aren’t Willing to Embrace a New Culture

This is similar to the previous. Many people assume life in Thailand is like the travel brochures and the backpacking blogs. Of course, it can be, but the reality is that the majority of schools are positioned away from the ‘tourist hot spots’ of the country and in my opinion allow for a more authentic cultural experience. I think it’s important to note that in many locations you could be the only English speaker for miles and find it impossible to buy those branded goods you love so much back home. Personally, I see this one as a positive, a chance to challenge myself and grow—but many are not prepared for the cultural shift and start to feel isolated.

You Don’t Like Kids/Want to Teach

The heading of this may make you think ‘OBVIOUSLY DUR’ but unfortunately there are a few too many teachers in Thailand who not only hate teaching but dislike children. I understand a lot of people choose to teach in Thailand to see the country or for a gap year etc., but I think a little interest in teaching and not a dislike of the age group you’re going to teach should be a minimal requirement. You’re going to be in the classroom the majority of the week—taking a job you don’t care about just so you can party and see the sites will only make the kids miserable and the workweek seem like a chore. Care about what you do.

You Don’t Like Spicy Food

Ok, this one is a bit of a joke. Of course, you don’t need to like spicy food to teach in Thailand, but be warned – it’s everywhere. The words ‘mai pet’ (Thai for not spicy) can save your life!

This list is basically a compilation of the various complaints I would hear from fellow teachers around the country. Maybe if people knew what they were getting themselves in for before going, there would be a lot less critical and negative stuff written about teaching in Thailand online. Do your research, and try to find a place that is not only suited to your interests and strengths, but also consider your weaknesses.

#TRAVEL Cambodia: The Killing Fields

Disclaimer: In case the title didn’t tip you off, this article is going to be a real bummer.

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One of the most amazing things about traveling is how much you learn along the way—about people, about culture, and about the world itself. Reading about something in a book is a far cry from seeing the remnants of history with your own eyes, and as we explore we uncover parts of the past that are often fascinating, sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally downright horrifying.

However, knowing the misdeeds of the past teaches us what to avoid in the future and so there is no history that should be forgotten. No place is this more true than in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

A Bit of History

The Killing Fields are a dark vestige of the Khmer Rouge Regime, which took power in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 – 1979. During that time, nearly 3 million people were executed in a country of only 8 million total. The cities were emptied and those who weren’t arrested were sent to agricultural projects as the government sought to both “purify” the population and bring the country back to a simpler time. Much of this was accomplished through the use of crude prisons and mass graves, which still exist today as a haunting reminder.

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek was originally an orchard that was turned into arguably the most notorious extermination camp in Cambodia, containing thousands upon thousands of bodies. Located outside Phnom Penh, there is an entrance fee of $6 and includes an audio tour which guides you through the site providing the grim details of the events that took place—many patrons are moved to tears while listening as they solemnly walk the grounds.

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You’re continually reminded to watch your step, as teeth and bone fragments still regularly make their way to the surface. Upon arrival your eye is immediately drawn to the memorial stupa, a Buddhist monument with towering windows displaying more than 5,000 human skulls that have been recovered from the site.

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Those carrying out the executions were not well-equipped with weapons or ammunition, so executions were to be done quickly and cheaply often through barbaric means. For this reason, you will immediately notice how many of the skulls on display are cracked or smashed in.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of the site is known as the “Children’s Tree,” against which the youngest victims were beaten. Today the tree continues to grow and is covered in bracelets and ribbons visitors have left in memoriam to those lost.

Tuol Sleng

Within the city limits sits the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The classrooms were divided into crude, tiny cells; the windows were barred and the grounds surrounded by electric fences & barbed wire. Inmates here were each photographed and ordered to provide the details of their life, only to be tortured into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. Wall upon wall of prisoner photos line parts of the museum, with gaunt faces of men, women, and children staring back at you. This prison was a true house of horrors, the site of everything from waterboarding to medical experimentation. Many of those not executed at the prison itself were eventually marched 15 kilometers to Choeung Ek, where they ultimately met their demise.

It’s baffling to think something so horrific had taken place in such recent history, but a truly eye-opening experience for those visiting Cambodia.

-Ashley

If you’re going to Cambodia, don’t forget your Lonely Planet travel guide –

#TRAVEL China: The Best of Beijing

As the capital of China, Beijing seems to have it all—history, art, culture, entertainment, innovation. While I’ve been a few times, I was always just passing through or filing paperwork somewhere.

At long last, my most recent trip through the city gave me a few days to actually experience the wonders it has to offer and I was determined to fit into 3 days as much as humanly possible:

Day One: The Great Wall

After arriving late at night on a long-haul train, I snagged a few hours sleep and immediately took off for the Great Wall. Having been to the tourist hotspots of Badaling and Mutianyu in the past and battling the crowds of locals, I finally had the time for a proper Great Wall experience. Many hostels and tour groups offer transport to more remote sections of the wall that are totally worth it. This was by far my favorite Great Wall visit to an unnamed section roughly 2 hours from the city.

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No Guides, No Guards, Not a Soul in Sight

In a group of 9 people, we were dropped off at an access point and given 3 hours to hike 7 towers to the edge of Mongolia and back. Being mid-August, we were lugging jugs of water in temperatures of 102°. The hike itself was beyond difficult—the wall is steep, the steps countless, the towers deceptively far apart. The thing is, it’s not supposed to be easy. There is a saying in China that “One isn’t a true man or a hero until he has climbed the Great Wall.” Truly experiencing the Great Wall means putting your heart and soul into it, and in this case pushing your body as well. By the time we were making our way back, whenever anyone stood still you could see their legs involuntarily quaking—a sensation that lets you know you’re giving it your all.

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The Turning Point, Peering into Mongolia

It really was the perfect day, too. The views were stellar, the people were amazing, and we ended the trip exhausted feeling as if we’d truly achieved something in our time there.

Day Two: Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square/Night Markets

The next day I woke up so sore that climbing out of my bunk made me audibly groan in pain but I was determined to beat the lines at the Forbidden City, so an early start was a must. Popping a few aspirin, I headed out only to find lines already forming at security. Not security at the Forbidden City, mind you, but on the sidewalks leading to the area, because just entering different parts of the city means bag checks and body scans in Beijing. Following the crowds of thousands, I eventually found my way. The City has a cap of 80,000 tickets a day and they do occasionally sell out in the summer (it is, after all, the most visited museum in the world), but once beyond the gates it’s easy to break away from the sea of people. The city itself is truly massive covering 180 acres with 980 buildings. The courtyards are huge and the architecture breathtaking, though I’ll admit that after an hour or so it just seems like more of the same at every turn.

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A Guardian at the Forbidden City

Leaving around noon, I headed back through Tiananmen Square to take in the monuments, then spent the evening wandering through some local walking streets. Like everything in Beijing, they looked small on the map but turned out to be enormous and had so much to take in!

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Follow the crowd in; Follow the crowd out.

Day Three: Summer Palace/Lama Temple

The next morning I hopped on the subway and took the hour-long trip out to the Summer Palace, nearly 750 acres of gardens, lakes, and temples. Dating back to the Jin Dynasty, winding trails snake their way through the trees leading to distinct temples hidden in the valleys while towering pagodas sit atop the highest hills. Truly the most serene place I’ve been in China, each turn reveals rippling koi ponds, footbridges rising over lotus leaves, or pebble-strewn paths to nowhere.

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There are worse places to get lost, for sure.

The Buddhist Incense Tower, the most distinct pagoda of the complex, formerly offered awe-inspiring views of Kunming Lake & Nanhu Island, but the air quality in and around Beijing has all but made that a thing of the past. Still, the Summer Palace holds treasures like the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures, which is just as relaxing as it sounds.

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Finally–a shady spot to relax.

After a good three hours of exploring, I headed back into the city for a late lunch before exploring the Lama Temple. While one would expect me to be templed-out by now, I can’t resist a temple that’s actually active rather than a simple relic of the past. Hearing the drums & the calls to prayer, breezing through drifting clouds of incense—it’s a whole different experience. My visit was unfortunately quite short, as I was soon headed off for another long-haul train.

The train itself was a welcome relief, because after 3 days of non-stop walking, my legs had turned to jelly and needed the entirety of the 22-hour journey to even begin recuperating. If you have a chance to visit Beijing, try and give yourself at least 5 days so you can pace yourself and see a bit more of the city, but know that you can certainly power through it on a tight schedule as well!

-Ashley

Check out this Bejing Travel Guide –

TEFL TIPS #10 – THE ALMIGHTY FLASHCARD (2)

For this TEFL Tip, I’m going to write another post on flashcard activities.

You can find my first post here

Activity – Run to the ______ (Listening)

Age – Pre-K, K, Primary

Level – Beginner

This activity mainly focuses on listening and is one of the most simple but effective listening games you can play.

You start by teaching new vocabulary to your class using a selection of flashcards. Spend some time making sure the children understand what exactly the pictures are and ensure they pronounce the words correctly.

Then, check how much they have learned!

Scatter the flashcards throughout the classroom, stick them to walls, chairs, or if you’re a giant goofball like me, even your forehead.

SHOUT a word and the students need to listen and run to the flashcard of that word. Kids love it!

As time goes on, use more flashcards to ensure some of the children aren’t just having lucky guesses.  Also, giving a few students the chance to play one by one, maybe even against the clock to see how many they can get in time helps strengthen each child individually. And why only run? You could ask the class to skip, hop, crawl, etc. each time.

Give it a go &have fun!

-Liam

3 Myths About Niagara Falls

So I recently took a trip out to Niagara Falls, something I’ve been wanting to see for years. When I mentioned my plan to friends, the general reaction was always, “Why?”. Their opinions ranged from indifferent to overly negative whether they’d been there before or not. Undeterred, I hopped a 7-hour bus from Chinatown up to Niagara to see for myself. So did any of those negative insights hold true? Let’s see…

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“You’re gunna get soaked!”

The highlight of any trip to the falls is a boat ride out into the mist. These boats run from both the Canadian and American sides, with the American Maid of the Mist boats beginning operation in 1846 and Hornblower Cruises operating the boat tours from the Canadian side since 2012. Now, it’s true that it’s cold, windy, and wet…but this is why they provide you with the biggest ponchos I’ve ever seen in my life. Americans get blue while Canadians get red and believe me, they’re gigantic. Definitely longer than I am tall, with long sleeves and drawstring hoods. You can barely tell there are people on the boats rather than giant walking garbage bags. You’d have to put in serious effort to get yourself soaked.

“Eck…it’s SO commercialized…”

Niagara Falls are arguably some of the most famous waterfalls in the world, and definitely the most famous in North America. Yeah, it’s true that the name and image is plastered on everything from t-shirts to shot glasses, but ya know what? So is Angkor Wat. So is Mt. Everest. So are the pyramids at Giza.

Passing by souvenir shops or paying admission doesn’t mean the falls have lost any of their power or presence.

“It’s boring…once you’ve seen it you just turn around and go home.”

This was the most common complaint I heard and I’m convinced that people who believe this never took a whole 2 seconds to look around. While it’s true that the Niagara, New York is a somewhat empty town, it does boast historical Fort Niagara, a remnant of New France built in 1726. For those with an interest in history, architecture, or photography, it’s an incredible must-see. Beyond that, Niagara, Canada has casinos, museums, waterparks, arcades…it’s seriously like a tiny Vegas.

This was one of those trips that revived my conviction to always make my own opinions. Don’t let naysayers discourage you from getting out there and experiencing new things…it’s all about perspective. Yeah, sometimes you’ll be disappointed, but more often than not you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

-Ashley

TEFL TIPS #9 – CLASS THEMES

Class Themes

When you peek inside the classrooms around you, chances are you find a lot of the same, especially in elementary schools—bright colors, number lines, and those same “motivational” banners that lose their appeal by day three. It can be hard to make your classroom stand out and to avoid having your space become completely mundane year to year. One way to spruce things up is to choose a class theme and to change it with either each semester or each new school year.

Adding a theme to a class can really help get students involved in their environment—it gets their imaginations turning and inspires them to create a whole world within the classroom. A theme also gives a sense of belonging and creates the mentality that the class is a team—“We’re all Tigers and Tigers are the best!”.

Of course, try not to get stuck in the rut of animals & fantasy creatures. Get creative and try out different professions (astronauts, sailors), environments (allow the class to create their own city or country), or even authors (Shel Silverstein & Dr. Seuss are always great choices!).

When cleverly executed, a class mascot can also be used to encourage positive behavior: “Ninjas are very quiet!” “Let’s go! Trains are super-speedy!”

You can also use that theme as a jumping-off point for arts & crafts, stories, and activities throughout the year. You can have class projects that revolve around creating a giant image of whatever your theme is (a class train or snake that gets longer with each completed unit; a giraffe or cheetah with increasing spots; a pirate with a growing crew or ninja with increasing shuriken, depending on the age group) as you complete different units or learn new facts.

Lastly, having a changing theme is a great mental break for you as a teacher—it inspires you to get more creative and motivates you to have a fresh outlook for a new class. It can help make the passage of time more visible too, and you realize how many subjects you’ve gone through or how far back a certain class was. When a new topic is one that really excites or motivates you it is bound to have a positive effect on your students as well.

-Ashley

TEFL TIPS #6 – Increase your cash: Start Tutoring

So you’ve taken the leap and decided to teach abroad: you found a great job, set up your apartment, and found the means to keep yourself fed, washed, and comfortable. Like many TEFL teachers you’ll discover rent, food, and utilities always run a bit higher than you expected and you’re itching for some spending cash. If you truly enjoy teaching, private tutoring can be a fantastic way to supplement your income while gaining experience with a wider range of ages and ability levels. Tutoring jobs are generally easy to secure—a flyer on a telephone pole is often enough to get a few students, while in some areas you may be approached randomly on the street just for being a foreigner. However, it is essential to realize teaching and tutoring are very different things, so before you start filling up your schedule, keep in mind:

 Know the Purpose

Those seeking out tutors each have unique reasons and goals. Make sure you thoroughly understand what each student is looking for. A middle-aged family man planning to relocate abroad doesn’t need to know the difference between past progressive and past perfect tenses, nor will a high school student studying for college entrance exams be all that concerned with how to order food in a restaurant.

Take Advantage of the Flexibility 

Your first tutoring job will no doubt be challenging—a one-on-one session with no coursebook, no lesson plans, and no classroom is a daunting scenario. Your first session with a new student can certainly be used to get a better handle on their current ability level, but be prepared to provide your students with some sort of practice material or key phrases/vocabulary to practice. Don’t be afraid to assign homework or give short quizzes—they’re paying you to both support and challenge them. Use the freedom from structure to challenge yourself as well by testing your creativity—develop new activities or generate original material you can use in the future.

Know What You’re Worth

One of the most awkward things TEFL teachers need to learn to do is set their tutoring fee—having some idea of what to charge is important to know before you get caught off guard by the question. In countries like Korea where English education is a huge industry and cost of living is high, tutoring fees generally start around 40,000 Won / hour (roughly $33), while in countries like Cambodia where cost of living is lower and English is already widely spoken, one can expect to make only about $10 / hour. In other countries it can vary greatly from city to city and grade to grade—and payment doesn’t necessarily need to be in cash. In more rural areas I’ve been paid in honey, oranges, kale, and whiskey. One generous woman even paid me with a live chicken intended for dinner—I’d like to believe she’s still living a full life clucking around in the hills of Thailand.

Tutoring may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely an easy way to make ends meet in a pinch or gain some spending money for those long weekends.

-Ashley