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

Village Life in China – Brain Scans & Bamboo Weevils

Traveling Tales: Village Life in China—Brain Scans & Bamboo Weevils

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I first met Ting selling fruit along a busy highway in Leshan. Streetwise with a slight build and dark eyes, she’s a jack-of-all trades: a receptionist by day, fruit stall worker by night who also sells plants online, educates on winemaking and collects lamps from around the world. At this point I’ve been in Leshan a few days and quickly found myself running out of things to do, so when Ting invites me to spend the day with her family I jump at the opportunity.

The next morning I meet with Ting, her aunt, her cousins, and her grandfather—a gaunt man with paper-like skin, who seemed so fragile even the wind could make him crumble. In his quaking hands he carries recent scans of his brain to deliver at our first stop, a village hospital an hour away. We somehow manage to squeeze 8 adults into a car meant for 5 and we take off. Once past the highways of Leshan we find ourselves on narrow winding dirt roads which had been previously closed and blocked off by concrete barriers, many of which had been crudely deconstructed by locals leaving behind piles of rubble and broken hammers. Expertly navigating the maze of roads she’d grown up on, Ting gets us to our destination with relative ease.

The hospital itself is a depressing site—the entrance is devoid of doors and visitors ride their motorbikes and scooters directly into the dark, somber hallways. It’s here that the family works to settle their patriarch into a stained bed to receive an intense-looking cocktail of IV drugs. It all seems so routine to them, as it turns out they make this trip fairly often for treatment. Though he lives in the city now, he is only insured at the hospital nearest the company he worked for years before.

After ensuring he’s fully prepared for his hospital stay, the family meander through the nearby market greeting old friends and doing some light shopping. Resting along a curb with bowls of sweetened douhua, the cousins are getting a bit giddy recalling their childhoods while watching the local kids run through the streets. A few feet away a pair of toddlers in kaidangku chase a rooster among the food stalls while their mothers have their nails painted. Behind them, a man works to jerry-rig an outdoor kitchen with a few car batteries. At first glance it seems like we’ve stepped back in time a ways, an illusion quickly shattered by the persistent ringing of message tones and snapping of phone cameras. Our douhua quickly turning soupy in the summer heat, the group decides it’s time to head out to the countryside and so we pile back into Ting’s car for another trip through the serpentine roads.

In a matter of minutes we’re deep into the surrounding farmland, arriving at the farm that supplies their fruit stall in the city. The farmers greet them like family before immediately entering negotiations for bushels of limes. The business side of things concludes almost as quickly as it began and the women of the house begin to prepare dinner while the guests pitch in on the field work. The afternoon is spent harvesting jujubes and grapes. Our baskets full and the sun sinking lower in the sky, the cousins decide enough work has been done and that we’ve earned ourselves some playtime.

The whole group—aging aunt included—take off for the dense trees and bamboo surrounding the area. As I’m unsure of what we’re doing, Ting hands me an empty water bottle and informs me we’re going to make fans with giant bugs (none of which made any sense to me). Following them through woods filled with massive spiders and occasional snakes, I watch in awe as they spot bamboo weevils from 10 yards away. We spend nearly an hour tearing the beetles from their hideouts and slipping them into the bottles.

Back near the farmhouse, we plop down in the middle of the road next to a pile of sticks and proceed to make strange, bug-powered hand fans often constructed by children as a summer pastime. In the simplest terms, this involves:

  • Connecting two very thin, light sticks into a cross
  • Removing the bottom half of the legs on two bamboo weevils
  • Inserting one arm of the cross into the front right leg of one, and the other into the front left leg of the other.
  • Placing the long end of the cross into a hollow piece of bamboo

As the panicked insects fly in opposite directions, the cross spins like a helicopter creating a fairly strong breeze. If you can get big enough bugs and light enough sticks, they can sometimes lift out of the bamboo like a chopper. I realize many people will find this practice cruel, and while I’m apt to agree I’ll admit I did learn a great deal from the experience and that the overall vibe was light-hearted and playful. Still, there’s something surreal about seeing a little old lady in a pristine dress, hair done up just so, squatting in the middle of a dirt road ripping the legs off bugs.

The sun setting and our fans beginning to slow down, we headed into the house for dinner. The homes, while spacious and clean, are essentially bare. Often one finds a large open room with a table for eating, and unfurnished bedrooms with sleeping cots and a pile of clothing. If not for the food in the kitchen, were someone to stumble upon such a house they would assume it unoccupied. The lack of belongings and creature comforts is a strong testament to the hardworking nature of the countryside—they have little need to furnish their homes because they are rarely inside, spending their days in the fields.

Following a hearty meal of duck and eggplant, they load the trunk with limes they intend to sell and we head back to the city. A day of nostalgia for them was rife with new experiences for me. Seeing one day in the life of a single fruit-stall worker from a city of millions reminds me that the world is filled with an unfathomable number of stories and experiences, each rich & complex in its own way.

-Ashley

Everything You Need To Know About Teaching in Hong Kong

By Livvy Hill

 

TEFL Life in the “Pearl of the Orient”

After two years of living and working abroad, it only took a few weeks of being back home unemployed that I got my usual itchy feet and started looking at moving away again. Having taught English in Thailand before, I decided that teaching somewhere in Asia again was a good option as there are plenty of opportunities. This time though, I was taking my boyfriend along for the ride!

So we started looking at the best options for ‘TEFL couples’ and originally, South Korea was our choice. Plenty of ‘couples’ opportunities, good money and of course, a new exciting experience. However, I then received an email for an opportunity in Hong Kong and it seemed like an awesome deal. We hadn’t even considered Hong Kong, and if I’m honest, I barely knew anything about it beforehand! I got straight online and did more research into the city and other teaching opportunities on offer. After reading plenty of blogs that sold Hong Kong to me and my boyfriend, we jazzed up our CV’s and emailed lots of language schools. One week later, we landed jobs with Hong Kong’s largest English language center and had 1 month to get everything organized and begin our new life chapter.

TEFLing in Hong Kong

          Like most places in Asia, when it comes to teaching English you have two choices here. You can work in a local, private or an International school, or you can work in English language centers. I can only really offer advice on the latter, as this is the route my boyfriend and I chose. However, if you hold a PGCE or equivalent, I highly recommend looking into the first options or the NET scheme, as there are some pretty incredible opportunities to be had. I had my TEFL certificate and one years experience and my boyfriend had only recently just gained his TEFL, so English language centers were much more likely to hire us.

We both landed jobs with Monkey Tree English Learning Center, Hong Kong’s largest English language school with over 40 centers. We work at separate centers (which we like…living AND working AND traveling together is a little intense) and we currently live on Hong Kong Island.

Our experience so far is very positive. However it is VERY different from what I was used to in Thailand. Creating my own lessons, teaching 18 hours a week to the same homeroom kindergarten class of 30…oh no. This is nothing like it. The work ethic in Hong Kong is extremely high, and even as a TEFL teacher, our hours are long. We work 9.30-6.30 3 days a week, and until 7.30 2 days a week, teaching a maximum of 30 hours. However, the center we work for provides everything for us. There is no lesson planning involved, all materials are provided and classes are small. I teach a maximum of 8 children at a time, and the ages range from 2 years old to 12 years old. The center offers a variety of classes too, so I might teach a kindergarten style lesson in the morning, with some phonic lessons in the afternoon and then reading or grammar in the evening.

There are pros and cons to this style of teaching, as in Thailand it was slightly more relaxed and I had the chance to be super creative with my lesson planning. However, sometimes I would be up until 2am designing worksheets or preparing crafts. Whereas now, I turn up to work and everything I need is there, and I can come home and not even think about work. Work stays at work. Nevertheless, sometimes I miss the mental challenge and creative side of things.

If you think an English language center could be the route for you, I just recommend researching the company and other teachers experiences there. However, always read a variety of opinions, as one persons experience can be very different from another. We are over 6 months into our contract now and have had a very good experience so far. Monkey Tree is a well known language school here, other centers I have heard of are Excel English and Jolly Kingdom. Many companies interview over Skype, so if you wanted to secure a job before you landed here like we did, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

The pay as a TEFL teacher here is good and most companies will offer a bonus on completion of your contract. Contracts are usually 12+ months and if you are looking at saving money like we were, it can be done!

Bijou Living

         In Thailand, I had my own studio apartment with a huge double bed, and then in Sydney my boyfriend and I had a master bedroom with plenty of space. So moving to Hong Kong was a little shock to the system as living spaces here are TINY.

There are two options when it comes to where one lives in Hong Kong: on the island or off. Living on the island means easy access to the centre and all its bars, restaurants and entertainment, but living off the island generally means getting more value for money from one’s accommodation.

We live on the Island, in a very small 3 bedroom apartment and share what can only be described as a miniature double bed (it is not a regular size double bed). We live with 2 other teachers from Monkey Tree, and it has definitely been a challenge living in such a confined space. However, we are in such a good location and we live above the food markets, it has so much character and the apartment itself is fairly modern.

Property prices in Hong Kong are among the highest in the world, and to rent you usually need to be able to afford 3 months up front for your deposit, and the size you get for your money can be a little sickening. However, our company actually organizes housing for those who want it and you just have to pay 1 months deposit. We took this option as it was much more financially doable for us. You can of course, find your own apartment to rent and have the choice to not have housemates and there are plenty of really fancy places you can live, but a BIG price tag will be attached. Our main goal is to save to travel here, so staying in Monkey Tree accommodation and apartment sharing, plus being a couple, makes it a lot cheaper for us and easier to save!

Hong Kong Lifestyle

         Life in Hong Kong is really what you make it. People working in Hong Kong often live their social lives with the same speed and efficiency expected of them in the business world. After long, demanding days at the office, locals and foreigners alike have a bewildering array of opportunities to enjoy ostentatious luxury or to absorb the city’s natural splendor and cultural allure.

A lot of expats here seem to “work hard, play hard”, however for us it’s more like “work hard, save hard”. This isn’t to say that we have not made the most of our time here! Hong Kong has stunning mountains with plenty of beautiful hiking trails and pretty beaches to see, and all of this is free, so we like to get outdoors on our days off and explore outside of the city. It isn’t always necessary to pay top dollar to enjoy yourself. We have sought out some great cheap eats and we know what bars offer happy hours and what cinemas offer cheap tickets on certain days. So it really is just finding out about all the little deals that can save you a fortune.

Exercise and gyms are such a luxury here too. If you want to join a gym or yoga club, expect to pay at least 700HKD (70GBP) a month for a basic gym with an attached hefty joining fee. Or you can pay up to 1500HKD but the facilities of the health club will be outstanding and you will get an incredible view too. For me, this just was not in my budget. So I have taken up running. We live very close to the harbor where there is a fantastic 3km promenade that overlooks the Kowloon Island with the mountains in the background, it is truly stunning. I can do my own circuit training exercises in the local park and as a yoga addict, who cannot afford the price tag attached to the yoga clubs here, I have managed to always find out about charity classes and free events and I even found a yoga teacher who offers a pay as you go scheme with no contract, which is perfect (and the classes are great!) I am probably the most physically fit I have ever been and it is the first time I haven’t paid to be a member of a gym, so I am saving a ton of money and keeping in shape! So I suggest people looking to save here but who like to workout, just head outside!

Eating

         Eating in Hong Kong has not really been a challenge. Hong Kong is the perfect mix of East meets West, and you can get all the western treats here if you want, or you can head to the local markets to eat some chicken feet soup if that’s your thing. For us, personally, Chinese food does not hit the spot, and we are not huge meat eaters, so we were a little apprehensive about what we were going to be eating out here. However, it has been fine, we occasionally buy chicken from the supermarkets, but we get all of our fruit and veggies form the food market below us, we have nutella in the cupboard, cereals, you can buy all the normal crisps and chocolate if you wanted. I can’t have dairy, so I was worried about finding other alternatives but it has not been difficult at all. I have access to soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, dairy free ice creams and yogurts, so food shopping really isn’t that different from the UK. It’s just a lot more expensive! So when we do go shopping in the supermarkets we usually just get essentials like bread and butter, but occasionally we like to treat ourselves. The food markets are very cheap to buy fruit and vegetables, and rice and noodles are of course very cheap and easy to come by. As I said before, we have found lots of great cheap restaurants, so we actually eat out about 2-3 times a week, as it can work out as the same price as cooking your own food.

Getting around Asia’s World City

         Transport in Hong Kong is incredibly efficient and cheap. The MTR system is fantastic, the buses are pretty good and you can even get the ferries between the islands which offer incredible views. Rarely have I ever had to get taxis, but when I have done, it’s been easy and reasonably priced. Hong Kong is also a great location to be visit other parts of Asia. We have already been to Taiwan, and have booked to go to Borneo over Christmas and to the Philippines in the New Year. You can get very good deals on flights here.

Hong Kong has the nickname “Pearl of the Orient”, which is a reflection of the impressive night-view of the city’s light decorations on the skyscrapers along both sides of the Victoria Harbour, and if you come here it’s easy to understand why it has this name. It’s a bustling city built on a stunning island, and it’s a very cool place to live and work! If you are considering teaching English here, I 100% recommend it.

 

TEFL TIPS #8 – PLAYDOUGH

In order to inspire creative thinking and maintain active engagement in the classroom, teachers need to sustain a dynamic environment. One great way to get kids involved is to involve more tactile activities and there are so many fun ways to include playdough in an ESL classroom! Not just for kids, either—even my adult learners have enjoyed some of the more challenging activities and welcome the break from books & paper. Below are some of my favorite activities:

Younger Learners:

Letters & Numbers: Definitely the most simple activity, having your smallest students practice their letters and numbers in clay is a fun way to help them focus on the shapes while also benefiting their developing motor skills. Offering them free time to create whatever they want afterward is also a great reward and as their skills grow you can challenge them to first spell out what they want to make afterward.

Footprints & Textures: For this activity, you’ll need small toy animals or hard, textured items like brushes, legos, & coins. Spread the playdough out on the table and make impressions while one or all students close their eyes, then have them try to guess what made the marks. This is great with toy dinosaurs or other plastic animals that can make different footprints and gives the opportunity to practice phrases like “I think”, “I see”, and “Is it…?”. Afterward, let the kids experiment with making their own impressions and see what pictures and stories they can create.

Intermediate to Adult:

Storytelling: In this activity, allow the students roughly 5-10 minutes to create anything they want, then have them present it to the class by telling a story about it. For those with lower speaking skills, ask questions (What is it? What is its name? Where does it live? What does it do?). It is a great way to maintain students’ attention as well, as they always seem interested to see what their classmates were able to create.

Pictionary: In this version of the game, a student randomly draws an English word or simple sentence and must create it out of playdough for their classmates to guess. This can be done in teams (with two students sculpting for their teams at the same time and the first team to guess wins the point) or individually (where a point will be awarded to both the guesser and sculptor if someone gets it right). However, this is best done in small classes—in larger classes being able to see what is being made quickly becomes a struggle.

This is just one of many ways to get students away from their books and into a more colorful lesson!

– Ashley