But first we welcomed Mrs. Van Cauteren and her husband in the country of the eternal smile. They arrived on Saturday (7th of April) and we showed them around in Surin on Sunday. We had a lot to talk about regarding our project and progress here and it was nice to share this with our teacher.
On Monday we took a trip to Buriram. These are remnants of Khmer temples and look like they ran away from Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’. After a steep climb on a volcanic plateau, we arrived at the top of the temple and were able to witness a beautiful temple on top of a big valley. After we descended in the blistering heat, we hogged back in the van to visit another temple, this one surrounded by artificial ponds decorated with Nagas (five-headed snake creatures).
In the afternoon we took another trip to Elephant Village, being our second visit there. As you most likely will have read in one of my former entries, Nele got a massage from an elephant there. Well, let’s say me and Mrs. Van Cauteren’s husband had higher hopes of our first Thai massage… We explored the grounds of the village while watching the elephants and their trainers doing the same thing. Meanwhile, we talked and talked and talked some more. (I bet you don’t have any difficulties believing this if you know Mrs. Van Cauteren and Nele).
On Wednesday we arranged a van to take us to the ferry to Koh Chang, a 7 hour drive from Surin. When we arrived here we split ways with Mrs. Van Cauteren and her husband and we took off to our hotel. The manager of the hotel and the other staff) greeted us with a warm welcome (and some orange juice) and were shown to our rooms. They were nice, clean and cozy and the best part was that we had a hot shower! Once we unpacked we took off toward the beach only to find that our hotel was quite secluded from taxis… So the manager brought us to the beach without even charging us a single Baht! We dove headlong in the warm ocean and enjoyed the fresh sea breeze. Once in the water, we looked back and saw that most of the island is covered in rainforests and tropical trees.
The first day we just decided to take it slow and relax on the beach. However on the second day we felt adventurous and went for a hiking trip to Klong Plu, a beautiful waterfall with a natural swimming pool in front of it. (Plu Waterfall, please tell Peter Aimé about this) After 30 minutes of climbing and walking through a dense forest, it was quite refreshing to jump in those waters. And of course, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t climb the rocks and jumped in from every angle that was possible. When we got back to the beach we ate a lovely dinner on the beach while the sun was setting on the horizon.
Because the beaches and places of interest of the island are quite scattered we often had to take a taxi to reach those places. And since Songkran was coming up, the taxis were quite expensive. In case you didn’t know, Songkran is the Thai equivalent of celebrating the start of the New Year. They celebrate this by throwing water at every person they come across so it isn’t really that surprising we were soaking wet wherever we went. This event lasts for three days and they do this to please Buddha so he will bring prosperity to the next harvest. A nice tradition and very fun to participate in, although it was very one sided: Thai people throwing water and we getting wet. And when you do get a bucket of cold water thrown in your face, it’s hard to be mad at those grinning faces, waving and yelling: “Happy New Year!”
The only thing that was rather disturbing was that the women were dancing quite ‘exotic’ in the middle of the street and the western tourists looking at them as if they were browsing for furniture. It just doesn’t feel right when you see an overweight fifty year old man walking hand in hand with a Thai girl about 15 years old. This sight reminded me of why I was here in the first place, trying to provide a better education for some pupils so they don’t end up being someone’s sex slave. Harsh words, I know, but the truth nonetheless.On our last day on the island we bought a book, rented a nice lawn chair and enjoyed the good life. We went for a last swim in the ocean, had lunch in a shack on the beach under the palm trees and went back to the hotel to pick up our bags. We needed to get to the ferry but this was very much like ‘Mission Impossible’ because everyone seemed to have the same idea. Traffic jams, rain showers and a lot of Thai people made our trip to the ferry rather unpleasant. Luckily we were rescued by three guys on scooters who were willing to take us to the ferry free of charge.
8 hours, 3 stops, 2 naps and a couple of cookies later (it is now 1 AM) I was glad I felt a pillow under my head and I dozed off instantly.