• Escaping to the Beach by Emily Nass 2010

    Living in Surat allows teachers to enjoy several beautiful beaches hidden form the tourist eye. On a recent girls weekend, several Super teachers stumbled across the well-kept secret of Chumpon. Since it is a few hours further than Khanom, a popular teacher destination, it stays extremely quiet and relaxing. The city of Chumpon is around three hours train ride from Surat Thani. The train is extremely convenient since you can leave Friday night after teaching, unlike most bus schedules. Since the trip is so short the second class “seater” is more then adequate and immensely cheaper then a sleeper car. After a short taxi ride to the station be prepared to wait a bit for a train, since they are seldom on time. Not to worry however since the station is well equipped with places to sit as well as food and drink stands. Once on the train sit back and relax.

    If you opt for a late night train staying in Chumpon for the night is a good idea. The Foreign Bar offers twin bed rooms for two hundred baht a night and is a short motorbike taxi ride from the station. The next day the beach is only a shuttle ride away. The town of Chumpon resembles Surat in many ways, minus the close proximity to the beach. For girls weekend we stayed at the MT RESORT. It was wonderful! The resort has it’s own stretch of beach next to the pier heading out to Kho Tao. Even though the resort is right next to the pier the beach stays surprisingly isolated, a wonderful bonus for any teacher. The bungalows are small but have their own bathroom. The restaurant opens right up to the beach showing off an impressive sunset. The best part of the resort has to be the free kayaks. There are several small islands out in the bay that can be kayaked to. If you are ready to spend a few hours in the sun, it is beyond enjoyable.

    If you wish to venture past the beach and kayaks you can rent one of the resorts motorbikes and head into town. The road into town holds a feast for the eyes as you travel down empty roads through jungle and beach side paths. When you live in Surat there is a joy when you find little gems of beaches and parks. Chumpon is such a place. It is well worth the extra travel from Khanom when you are wanted something affordable but different from the usual escape. Without a doubt this small stretch of beach will satisfy any want for a relaxing weekend getaway.

  • One Day in Macau by Peter C. Meltzer 2010

    I’ve wanted to go to Macau for a long time. I went to Vegas when I was 17 and it left quite an impression on me. Even though I couldn’t gamble I still thought the place was great fun. And steak dinners for $2.99??? I was ready to move there. Macau is supposed to be the Vegas of the East, so perhaps my expectations were too high. I had heard good things about Macau. I was expecting something similar to Vegas. I went into several hotel/casinos and what I found is that Macau is not Vegas. Not at all. Here are some the main reasons why:

    The Fun Factor: Vegas is designed to be fun. More than the ostentatious design of many of the hotels, there are public attractions all along the Strip. It’s colorful, lively, and different. Macau has none of that. The hotels are just hotels. They sit close to one another, but they are simply cool looking buildings. Very few people are walking around. It feels like an industrial zone. There are no colorful signs, no neon lights, no charisma, and no feeling. It is not a “fun” place.

    The Gambling: If you walk into a Vegas casino you are greeted with a gigantic room of lights, sounds, music, friendly waitresses and dealers, etc. More than that, you have a plethora of gambling options to choose from. Slot machines, poker, blackjack, and the list goes on. It feels like an adventure. You walk into a casino in Macau and it’s more or less the opposite. The room is sort of small, silent and kind of dark. It does not have flashing lights or any music or any waitresses. I found baccarat, poker (no one was playing), slots (all digital and complicated – I played and somehow managed to break even although I have no idea how or why), and blackjack (I was the only one playing) and that was all. Nearly every table there was dedicated to baccarat. I knew baccarat was the game of choice in Macau prior to going but I was still surprised that the entire place was more or less devoted to just that. And it certainly was. Tables were filled with Chinese people smoking and playing baccarat. No talking, no smiling, no drinking, no distractions. Just baccarat at several hundred dollars per hand. It’s not for the part-time gambler. As far as I could tell, the Chinese approach gambling as a way to make money, not to have fun. That attitude permeated the whole place. Everyone was there to try to make money and nothing else.

    The Dealers: I didn’t gamble in Vegas but my general impression of the dealers there was that they were human beings. I am not sure about the dealers in Macau. They rotated dealers every 10 minutes and not a single one of them ever smiled, ever showed surprise, ever made a comment, or did anything besides stand there and deal out cards. It was unnerving. It wasn’t just because they didn’t speak English. They didn’t interact with the Chinese people there either. The dealers in Macau are the closest thing to zombies I have ever seen. I even had a Joe Pesci “Casino” moment when they switched dealers and the new one was even more lifeless than the last one. I actually said, “Where did they find this (expletive) beauty?” before I could stop myself.

    Did I win? At one point I was up a little bit in blackjack, but it was such a small amount that I figured I’d keep going. And that’s how they get you. Eventually it was all gone, although it wasn’t very much to begin with. On the plus side, I certainly got any interest in gambling out of my system. Macau is so bleak, so not fun, so serious, that you eventually sit there thinking “I already feel like I am losing just by sitting here.” There is nothing to distract, which is perhaps the secret of Vegas. You can sit there for hours because it feels like minutes. They’re peppering you with free drinks, snacks, flashing lights, and the cheers of people winning. In Macau they came around with a cart offering small paper cups of stale tea. Nobody smiled, nobody cheered. Nobody was having fun.
    In short, it was the anti-Vegas.

    Anything else? Once you leave the casinos and walk a bit you get into the center of Macau, which is Old Portuguese style architecture. It’s interesting to walk around there with the other several thousand Chinese people and look at the shops. You can cover all of it in a few hours. There are little shops everywhere selling Macau’s specialty, the pork chop sandwich. Now, I didn’t try it but all it looked like was a grilled pork chop in a bun. There wasn’t any sauce, cheese or vegetables. Just a pork chop and bread. People were lined up in droves to buy them. To me, that kind of sums up Macau: it’s crowded and may be alright, but in comparison to most other things it’s actually pretty
    boring and kind of disappointing.

    The Final Say: Unless you’re a millionaire who loves to gamble in a very serious way, in which case I’m sure Macau can roll out some serious red carpets, I don’t see the place as being that exciting. It’s a hassle to get there, expensive to stay, and there’s little to do besides sit around a table with gloomy people and try to make money. Go to Vegas instead and enjoy yourself.

  • October Break: Malaysia to Ireland and Back by John Phelps 2009

    A hot bowl of rice with a cold glass of water for dipping. That is what I thought an unpaid, month
    long vacation would mean for me in Surat Thani. In the States, I had the luxury of two whopping
    weeks off, paid. Of course, I had to buy the tickets for the guilt trip from my employer and do all my
    work in advance first, and probably not end up taking all the time I would have taken off. Many
    language schools in Thailand give you a contract that includes paid time off, but it is nowhere near the
    amount of time you get with Super English. So, does it turn out to be an experiment in asceticism?
    Or, can you actually vacation the whole month, given the salary you have earned? Drop that hot
    dipped rice, kids, and pack your bags! You have plenty of time and cash to travel.

    This October will be the end of our first year-long contract, for my wife and I. So, we each get our
    25,000 baht bonus. On that 50,000 baht alone, we just bought tickets on Air Asia to fly to Kuala
    Limpur and then to Ireland, round trip. But suppose your contract doesn't end in October, so you
    don't have the bonus cash. That leaves you with what you have saved from working the
    May-September term. If I subtract that sum from our savings, we will have saved about 75,000 baht.
    This is from a living-it-up to a modest degree lifestyle. Janet and I go out every weekend to
    restaurants and bars, and eat just about every meal during the week from a food stall, the night
    market, or a cheap rice and noodle shop. We pay for yoga lessons, gas for the motorbike, and utilities
    and rent for our home (we are not in Super housing). We get a two hour massage every two to three
    weeks, and buy an enormous amount of cappucinos and iced coffee from a variety of fine coffee shops
    in town. We are penny-pinchers like Madonna is a nun. And still we are able to save money.

    Surat Thani is a great place to be, when it comes to cheap flights. We can take a night train to the
    Malaysian border, then a six to eight hour bus ride to Kuala Limpur from here. However, Janet and I
    are flying, because it is just slightly more expensive and much more comfortable. When it comes to
    international flights, we did our research for a few weeks. Flying out of Kuala Limpur is 15,000-20,000 baht cheaper than the cheapest flights out of Bangkok, to Europe. Our direct flight, round trip, from Kuala Limpur to London Stansted was 42,000 baht. Of course, Thai money has a sad exchange rate once you are there, so we have to be pretty cheap travelers. No two hour massages until we get back.

    Question: Why would we fly to Europe for our vacation when we live in South East Asia?

    Answer: (guess before you read the answer, written backwards)
    .nac ew esuaceB

    Not to be sassy, but it's true. There are so many places to see here, and we have enjoyed only some
    of Thailand and Cambodia to this point. We will see a bit of Malaysia on our way out and back, but
    not as much as we plan to see in the next year. We are in no rush, because we have decided to stay
    and work here another year. Janet and I plan on seeing Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and more
    in the next year's vacation time. Meanwhile, we've got a wedding to go to in Belfast and parents to
    buy us a Guinness in Dublin.

  • Gili Islands Indonesia by Chris Ansell 2009

    Another month, another break. Well, this break was actually spread over two months (the end of December and the beginning of January) but you get the point. Working for Super these past fifteen months I feel like I’ve been on as many holidays as all my friends back home put together…which may actually be about fifteen! Our final break before the two-month sprint to the end of the semester took place as the sun was setting on 2010. Eleven days to venture as far and wide as we desired….

    I have always spent New Years Eve on an island. Most have been spent on a medium sized island called United Kingdom. One was spent on a super big island on the other side of the world from my home but not too dissimilar nonetheless; Australia. Last year was spent on a pretty small island in the shape of Ko Lanta just off the west coast of Thailand. This years was spent on by far the smallest island to date however when I found myself on Gili Meno. (The name Gili even translates as “Small Island”). Meno is one of three islands just off the coast of a slightly larger island, Lombock, which itself is off the coast of an even larger and well-known island called Bali (it is to here which you would fly into from Thailand to reach the Gili’).

    The transport system on the Gili’ is reasonably simple to understand and negotiate. There are no traffic lights, round-a-bouts or even tarmac roads for that matter. Indeed, you will find no cars or motorbikes. Even police are absent! Instead horse-drawn carts line the side of a sandy track under the shade of palm trees close to where the long-boat arrives and departs with it’s twice daily hoard of people sporting Deuter and The North Face backpacks (or little pink handbags in the case of one unlucky passenger cruelly made to carry his girlfriends Christmas present for the entire trip). Not that transport is required at all. By foot (minus the bags) it is possible to stroll the circumference of each of the islands in less than two hours. And dependant upon which of the three islands you find yourself, you will discover a varying number of little cafés/restaurants/bars and bungalow accommodation. Gili Air is the closest island to Lombock and the smallest too. Here you will be met by only a handful of locals trying to persuade you to spend your time in their bungalows. Mr. Lucky of Lucky’s Bungalows will suggest coming with him as “you will be able to watch the sun set every evening in the cool breeze that you don’t feel on the east side. Do you like to smoke? We have if you like!”. “But his are 150,000 per night. I give you 80,000 with breakfast” counteracts Mr. Mussan of Mussan bungalows. Our budget makes our choice for us and after satisfying Mr.Lucky with a promise to head over to watch the sunset on the west side with him later we set off to lay our heavy bags down(and of course our not so heavy little pink ones).

    As with a lot of the small islands found off of the Thai coast, accommodation on the Gili’ is rather basic. The electricity doesn’t function the full 24 hours of the day and you must get used to brushing your teeth and showering using salt water (fresh water accommodation can be found but obviously at a higher price). For New Years Eve we decided to change islands having spent two days on Gili Air already and with a flight back to reality quickly approaching. John and Janet took the early morning long-boat (a fifteen minute voyage) across to the middle of the three islands Gili Meno. Brittney and I failed to make the crossing without getting a little wet though. We found ourselves 20m under the oceans surface with flippers on our feet and tanks on our torsos! Scuba diving here is world-renowned and at $35 a dive, is an opportunity tough to pass on. I was down for just fifteen minutes because of equalizing problems but saw some stunning coral in this short time. Brittney got full use of her tank and saw some giant turtles along with a plethora of other fascinating looking fish. We made a quick detour to the largest island Gili Trawangan (known as the party island) as this is the only one with an atm machine. After paying the scuba people (who very kindly wavered my payment due to the problems I experienced) we were dropped off on Gili Meno to join up with John and Janet who we found gazing out to sea sipping on Avocado shakes. After some great seafood “Nasi Chumpor” for lunch we set out in search of a bar to sink some happy hour beers and watch 2010 come to a close. Our last supper of the year was a healthy affair and consisted of some nutritious vegetables such as onions, peppers and mushrooms. A tropical storm created some epic scenes on our walk home where pitch-blackness suddenly changed to bright whiteness with everything becoming illuminated. On those sporadic occasions the place appeared as a Tim Burton film set. Lightening crashed down, fireworks shot up and thunder deafened us all. A monumental end to a holiday and a magnificent beginning to a new year.

  • Train Travel from Surat the Rules by Chris Ansell 2009

    The first rule of traveling in Surat by train is that you do not talk about traveling in Surat by train…

    Okay, my name’s not Tyler, and I guess it would be a rather short and useless article if this really were the first rule, so…

    The first rule of travelling in Surat by train is: bring a book!

    The trains in Thailand are late 99.9% of the time: Enough to send the most patient of people off the rails. They will then invariably take longer than the suggested time shown on the timetable. Surat to Bangkok, for example, is a journey that according to the people who produce the timetables should take about 9 hours. In my experience it has always taken closer to 12 hours. Mitch and I were left to wait 3 hours at Surat’s station (Phunpin) on one trip to Bangkok. There is no entertainment at the train stations or on the trains so be sure to bring some. A book is perfect. Easy to pack, not expensive (so no fear of it getting stolen) and will probably help you get to sleep, which leads me to rule number two…

    The second rule of travelling in Surat by train is: pack a blindfold and earplugs!

    These are not to be used as part of a sexual game (you will be removed from the train by a mean looking inspector whether you are at a station or in the middle of nowhere) but instead to block out undesirable light and noise. No stay in Thailand is quite complete without a journey upon a night train and the journey to Bangkok from Surat is one that just about every teacher will (and should) do at least once. A sleeper class ticket is the only option as sitting in a seat all night next to a snoring old Thai man isn’t really an option at all at only a couple of hundred baht cheaper. All you will have to decide upon is whether you would like an air con carriage or one with fans. I have always gone for the cheaper fan option and temperature wise it has always been fine. The upper bunk is for some reason usually a little cheaper than the lower bunk but size wise (which is certainly an issue to consider for a 6ft5 guy like me) they are the same.

    So why do you need a blindfold and earplugs? Well, the lights are left on the whole night and although there is a sheet/curtain you can pull across your bunk it certainly doesn’t cut out all light. People get on and off the train throughout the night and the guard will walk up and down the train too so if you are a light sleeper then this is why earplugs may be a wise addition. It is also rather likely that in a carriage of 30 people at least 4 or 5 of them will be heavy snorers!

    The third rule of travelling by train in Surat is: keep your valuables close by!

    I am not saying this from personal experience but feel like I should mention it because I am supposed to. It is sensible. There are racks for luggage on the outside of the bunk beds right next to the walkway. Easy pickings when your curtain is pulled shut. Phones, wallets, passports, cameras and laptops should be kept inside your cabin bed.

    The fourth rule of travelling by train in Surat is: bring snacks and water!

    No food is included in the price of the ticket although there is usually an option to order food from the restaurant carriage when you are purchasing your ticket. The last thing you want to be is sitting on a train travelling wanting something to wet your mouth or tie you over until you can get a proper feed at your destination. People do come on at all the stations selling small snacks (usually fried rice / fresh fruit / crisps) and drinks (tea / coffee / water / beer) but at obviously inflated prices and questionable quality. Bring stuff you know you like: Problem solved.

    Day train v Night train

    The night train is the obvious choice most of the time as it saves wasting a day sitting uncomfortably wishing you were just about anywhere else (other than in the back row of a minibus – see Tristan’s article!). The advantage of the day train is that the scenery along the way is attimes stunning and you will miss it all on the night train. If you end up taking the day train at any point in your stay be sure to have your camera by your side!

  • Kuala Lumpur in Our Backyard by John Phelps 2009

    Though once in Thailand you may not want to leave, Kuala Lumpur is a cheap travel hub and well worth a visit. I recently passed through for just two days. I left with a fascination that will bring me back soon. It resembles a Western European and an Asian city at the same time. With bakeries and flower shops, sidewalk cafes and chic restaurants, street dogs and friendly police, you may get confused about what continent you are visiting.

    Air Asia's super cheap flights to Europe are what brought my wife and I to KL. I figured we would break up our travel time after a train trip from Surat to Had Yai and another flight to KL by resting a night and seeing a few things before taking a fourteen hour plane ride to London. Once in the airport, it's only a few dollars to take a bus into the city central station (KL Sentral). Most of the cheap places to stay are in the hip China Town, just a few metro stops away (Pasar Seni). Getting off of the metro here, we called Wheeler's Guest House to get directions. In a grand gesture of hospitality, they sent a staffperson to the metro station to meet us. And this is a cheap backpacker's hostel! He greeted us and we walked through the aromas of roasting chicken, bouquets of flowers, and fresh bread that emanated from all the small shops in the bazaar area. My wife and I had been exhausted after our long day of travel, but were reinvigorated by the plethora of different people to watch, foods to taste, and other-worldly sites to see. The National Mosque loomed across the metro tracks as we headed across town to see the Petronas Towers. The largest mosque I have ever seen, it is so solemn it makes you pause in the middle of all the bustle.

    Arriving at the Petronas Tower's Metro Station, we pop out of the narrow corridors into an ultramodern shopping mall. If the Jettson's go shopping, this is the place. We walk into the Prada store just to be posh. We assumed a posture of affluence and examine several keychains that cost about a hundred dollars. Since we didn't come to add to our complete fall selection of teacher clothes, we walk out of the mall in search of one of the highest skyscrapers in the world. We scan the skyline, but can't seem to see them anywhere. Turning around, I see that we have just been standing underneath them. These towers are one of the top must-sees in South East Asia. You have to see both sides of the spectrum, the crumbling towers of Angkor Wat and the impossibly climbing Petronas Towers. Thailand is an amazing place as a base to travel from, to be awed by the ancient and the cutting edge of the modern.

    We were not able to visit the Sky Bridge (the highest point you can go in the Towers) because we missed the last tour. You have to get to the visitor's office around 7:00 AM to sign up for a tour, as they have a huge line all day after that. We made a note to allow time for that next time. We walked towards the walking streets around Times Square. Escalators lifted us over busy intersections. Smiling policemen approached us to ask if we needed directions. We were starving as we headed towards China Town again, so we sought out a place that looked to have the most typical Malaysian food.

    We were seated behind a large pack of businessmen smoking clove cigarettes. The waiter came and I asked for what the businessmen were eating and drinking. The waiter brought us two plates of fluffy rice with chicken and two glasses of te tarik. Eating the fluffy rice was like eating confection-ized air, and chicken was amazing. Te tarik is a bubbly milk tea that made everything go down well. We resumed our walk with full stomachs until we got to another approximately six by six city block walking street area in China Town.

    Huge paper lanterns of every color announced the main drag of the area, along with the everthickening throng of shoppers and party-goers. We walked into the center of it and sat at a sidewalk cafe to do some people watching. Stalls along the walkway selling every type of shoe, knife, and electronic gadget were doing a booming business. After sitting awhile, we walked and browsed until our feet were weary. Eventually we made our way to bed and left much of the city unexplored, knowing that KL is just in our backyard, waiting for us to come back.

  • Traveling in Southern Thailand by Tristan Rentos 2009

    Let’s call a spade a spade here – we’ve all come to Thailand to do a bit of traveling (when we’re not doing our very best teaching English, that is). What’s the best way to go about this? In my two years of living here I’ve picked up more than a few tips, here’s what I’ve learnt.

    Note: If you are interested in train travel, have a read of Chris’s article - I’m sure it’s on the SE website in the travel section. I will be focusing on buses and boats.

    OK, firstly the basics. Surat has two main bus stations, they are called Talad Kaset 1 and 2. They are located on Talad Mai Rd, which is the road that Suratpittaya and Thidamaepra schools are on. Talad Kaset 1 is for local travel around Surat only, so you won’t be catching the bus from there. Talad Kaset
    2 is where to get the bus to the main tourist haunts, namely Krabi, Khanom, Khao Sok National Park, Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, *Phuket (more on Phuket later), Hat Yai etc. You have two choices – the public bus (big bus) or a minibus. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH – DO NOT TAKE A PUBLIC BUS UNLESS YOU HAVE TO! Public buses stop every 5 minutes to pick up or drop off a local, they are always dirty, overcrowded and the air con/ventilation system is always inadequate. Also, because they go through the towns they never take the most direct route! I have calculated that a public bus is almost always 2 hours behind a minibus. Yes, a minibus is around 100 – 350 baht more expensive but unless you have a car then this is the best option. When you do get in the minibus, sit in the seat next to the door as it has the most legroom. Yes, you will have to get out
    when a person gets off but it’s worth it, trust me.

    If you do get travel sickness, buy some Dimin tablets from 7/11. They are in a small blue packet, and cost 10 baht for two tablets. Only take one tablet 30 minutes before you travel, don’t take both unless you want to end up like Jessica on the boat to Samui. Tickets for minibuses can be bought at any of the tourist outlets at Talad Kaset 2, the more Thai you can speak the better because they have made more than a few mistakes on my tickets over the years (e.g. wrong time or date).

    Phuket deserves a paragraph of its own, because this place is another world compared to Surat. Firstly, never take the public bus to Phuket unless you have an iron stomach, because it goes over the mountains near Khao Sok and it gets a bit twisty in the corners. When you get there you will be swamped with offers from tourist touts. All I can say is do your research before you go because unless you have a Thai person with you these touts will try every trick in the book to rid you of your hard earned cash. Most prices in Thailand can be negotiated in half, even in Bangkok, but in Phuket these guys are steadfast and expensive. Even tuk tuk drivers will charge you a flat rate and stop at their cousin’s jewellery shop to ‘say hello’ and try to make a few baht commission along the way. If you
    want to make them go away, here’s what to say:

    - Pom/chan mai nak tong tiao ka/kap (I am not a tourist)
    - Pom/chan mai son jai ka/kap (I’m not interested/don’t care)
    - Mee rong raaam layo ka/kap (I already have a hotel)
    - Mai ow ka/kap (no thank you)

    If you go any stronger than the above then you are being very rude and I wouldn’t recommend it. Most tourist touts and tuk tuk drivers are honest people just trying to feed the family, but it’s the bad apples you have to worry about.

    Now, what about the islands? You have a few options here. The night boat goes to Koh Samui/Phangan/Tao, you can catch it from the pier opposite Milano’s Pizza. This is the cheapest option, but true to its name the night boat takes all night, so if you don’t like boats you will need a better option.

    In my opinion, the best option to get to Samui is on the Seatran Ferry. This is a huge boat that leaves from Don Sak pier, which is around one hour out of Surat. You can buy tickets from the PC Service Station, which is 2 doors down from Suratpittaya school. The ticket costs 230 baht and includes a bus ticket to Don Sak and the boat to Samui. When you get to Samui, you will land in Nathon. Walk to the end of the pier and catch a tuk tuk to wherever you want to go (probably Chaweng if you’re a bit of a tourist) – it should cost you around 60 baht. If you want to go on Phangan (where the full moon party is held) or Koh Tao then you can catch the Lomprayah Ferry from a pier near Big Budda on Samui, it’s easy to find.

    Final comment – if you want to escape the tourist touts and the crowds that come with them (as well as the ridiculous prices), go to these places: Khanom, Railay (in Krabi), Khao Sok National Park, Songkla, Koh Lanta Noi, PhangNa and Chumpon.

    Enjoy your holiday!

  • Soaring About the Treetops by Erica Ambrose 2008

    Last weekend I had the amazing opportunity to fly through the treetops of the Thai jungle on Koh Samui. It was one of the most exhilarating, and slightly frightening experiences, of my life. A company called Canopy Adventures offers the ride of a lifetime on a series of 6 zip lines running through the jungle. This excursion is not for the faint of heart. The ride up to the site was almost more dangerous than the zip lines were! They run 4 trips a day that last about 3 hours in total. The cost is 1700 baht.

    Our trip began at 2:00 p.m. which was a lovely time for an excursion for those of you not interested in dragging yourself out of bed for a 9 a.m. day trip. The first half of the journey was run of the mill. Then things changed as the roads became half paved but mostly gravel and fairly rough. We all had to keep alert to avoid getting whipped in the face by tree branches. As we continued our ascent the road became more and more bumpy and we were all holding on to whatever bars were available. It was a rocky ride most of the way up. Then we passed a sign that read “No vehicles beyond this point”. The road was essentially straight up and covered in boulders and decidedly not flat. This did not stop our driver from forging ahead. Thankfully we all arrived unscathed if only slightly jittery.

    We were then suited up with our equipment. We each received a harness with numerous carabiners and clips, as well as a pair of work gloves that had seen better days. We were told they were for braking. Braking? We have to brake? We then marched up a mountain in the boiling heat for about 15 minutes and past a gorgeous waterfall. When we got to the 1st platform we stopped to rest and did some basic zip line training. We all got instructed on how to brake so we would not come slamming into the platform after the first zip line.

    Reaching the top of the platform was exciting and slightly unsettling, looking down we realized we were about 200 meters above the ground, and the platform was none too steady! We also discovered we were above the tops of many trees, above the canopy indeed! Our guides assured us it was safe and away we went one by one jumping off the platform and zipping through the trees. The first jump was the toughest because I was concerned about actually braking and not screwing up! All went smoothly. By the second jump I was able to relax and enjoy watching the jungle fly by. The third platform was very steep and fast and was the most fun, but also the most frightening for those wary of speed. When we reached the fourth platform our guides said if we were brave enough we could jump without holding onto the zip line and experience a second of free fall. I leaped at the opportunity, and it was well worth it. The feeling of throwing yourself into the abyss if only for a moment is amazing!

    Our Thai guides were very comfortable on the zip line and put on a show by zipping upside down and braking with their feet. Knowing a few things about high ropes safety, this is very dangerous. Our guides also enjoyed scaring us by jumping off the platform before we were unclipped, thus shaking the zip line, which made the entire platform shake and sway. It was crazy! “Safety First” is not the motto of Thailand. All in all it was a great trip, and an experience I will not soon forget. I would recommend it to anyone with an adventurous spirit.

  • Travel Plans by Brittney Johnson 2008

    I am so excited for the upcoming vacation. We have all of October off. A full month to do whatever we want….so many possibilities. I’m on a budget. In fact, when I travel, I’m always on a budget. I don’t like paying a lot for a room when I’m never there. I like to get out and see where I am and eat the local cheap food.

    I traveled to Thailand November of 2009. I was here for 2 weeks. Thailand had been my top destination to travel to for years. However, I ended up being disappointed. I was with two friends and they wanted to go the easy, hassle-free way to travel. So, we purchased a tourist package. We hit the hot spots. Transportation and accommodation were all included in the package. We went to all of the most traveled places. We went to some beautiful places, I didn’t see any of the authentic Thailand. We mostly saw westerners acting crazy.

    So, I’m excited to see a different side of Thailand this time. I’ve been living in Surat Thani for almost three months now. I feel at ease getting around and with the people, so I hope that will help while I travel throughout the country.

    My roommate, Amy, and I plan on going up to Chang Mai and Pai for at least 1 week. We are going to travel by train up north. It’s going to be a long trip. We’ve heard amazing things about both places. Mountains, cooler weather, hiking, trekking, and being outside, surrounded by nature. There are several teachers from Surat that plan on making it up to Thailand. So we are planning on meeting up dates.

    We then plan on staying a few nights in Bangkok. Amy has some friends from England coming so we figured that is a good place for them to start. I look forward to doing some shopping, eating, and getting some cheap dental work done.

    After Bangkok, I hope to go to Kho Tao to get my Advanced PADI certificate. I’ve heard mixed reviews about diving in Kho Tao, so I think I better see it for myself.

    Once I have my advanced certificate I want to go to The Similian Islands. I’ve read that it is the best diving in Thailand and in the top 10 best diving locations in the world. You can only go to the islands certain times of the year. It’s not cheap, but I always find a way to travel cheaply so I’m sure there is a way.

    I am also dying to go rock climbing and Krabi & Railay are famous for their rock-climbing activities. I went to Railay about one month ago and it was absolutely gorgeous! You have to take a 15 minute boat ride from Krabi. It’s not nearly as touristy as Krabi. There are no chains or fast food. I can’t wait to go back there!

    I also have a friend coming to Thailand in October so I will meet up with her at some point. I’ve never been to Kho Samui so that is an option for us. I’m looking forward to relaxing, sleeping in a bit, exploring, reading, diving, swimming, eating good food, being active, meeting new people, and so much more. I’m excited to see how different parts of Thailand are. Now that I live here, I think I will appreciate Thailand much more than when I visited the first time. Thailand is really starting to feel like home and I’m really falling in love with the country and its people. There is so much to look forward to! What an incredible job I have!