I spent my first week in Thailand going through the Overseas Education Group (OEG) Orientation for English teachers. Cheesy ice-breakers and drawn-out info sessions are hard enough– but add in jet-lag, 70 20-something strangers, and Thai language classes, and you have a really overwhelming six days. Despite the frustrations of being trapped in hotel conference rooms when I wanted to explore a new city, the orientation was pretty helpful. We learned about the Thai education system (no one is allowed to fail a student?), health and safety (don’t ride a motorbike if you like your appendages), and got tips from past teachers. We were left to explore the city at night. Some new teacher friends and I sampled seafood in Chinatown, hunted for mango sticky rice, and sampled tons of street food for dinner.
OEG got us out of the hotel conference rooms for a day trip to the Grand Palace. I lucked out with a knowledgeable and adorable tour guide named Song. We spent a few hours wandering/ sweating through glimmering buildings and shrines in the complex and learned a lot about the Thai monarchy. We also got to explore the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (which is actually made of jade), one of the holiest temples for Thai Buddhists. Although it was swarming with tourists, the Palace was stunning—a definite must-see for anyone in Bangkok.
The highlight of orientation was an overnight trip to Kanchanburi. After a three-hour bus ride from Bangkok, we headed to the Bridge on the River Kwai (pronounced kway). Thousands of Allied POW’s and other laborers died building the Bridge, which was used to connect Thailand to Burma. Despite its tragic history, the area surrounding the Bridge was beautiful.
We then headed to dinner on a riverboat, which was later converted into a dance party. Sitting on the edge of the boat and watching the sunset over the river as Jack Johnson played was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Thailand so far. Kanchanaburi was exactly what I had imagined Thailand would look like—mountains, rivers, and deep green flora.
After staying the night at a gorgeous resort by the river, we woke up early to complete the quintessential Thailand tourist activity: riding elephants! Surprisingly enough, though, the high point of this trip was a pre-elephant ride rafting trip down the river. We all jumped in the river with our life jackets after our Thai orientation leaders splashed in the water and encouraged us to do the same. What followed was one of the most surreal experiences of my life: floating down a real lazy river, surrounded by mountains and palm trees on either side.
Elephant riding was next. My elephant riding partner Julia and I had a hilarious beret-clad elephant driver(?) who hopped off the elephant mid-ride and insisted on having an America’s Next Top Model-style photo shoot lasting about 10 minutes.
After six days of orientation, it was finally time to head to my new home in Samut Prakan province. More info on my town and life as “Teecha Jenna” coming soon!