When I was a child growing up in the rolling mountains of Vermont, I loved to explore the forests, streams, and fields around my house. I thrived on that feeling of adventure, on the idea that anything could be around the next corner. When I flew into Krabi, Thailand, I felt the child within me surge with excitement—a whole new country to explore! I felt like anything was possible in these jungle forests and jagged limestone cliffs.During my six weeks in a small village in southern Thailand, I was able to see a good amount of the country. I experimented with various forms of transportation including kayaking, canoeing, taking long-tail boats, getting sick on larger sea vessels, snorkeling, and elephant trekking. The south has so much to offer anyone who loves the outdoors.
During one of my last weekends, I visited the Ratchaprapha dam. Created in 1982, this dam was soon incorporated into the national park. The limestone cliffs are about 3 times as high as the ones in Phang Nga and the surrounding jungle is dense. One of the best things about this place was that I left the tourists behind. Here was a little secret of Thailand.
We took a longboat to the far end of the lake and stayed in some floating huts. The sounds of the jungle were my lullaby that night. Although I certainly didn't see any, apparently the owner of the huts has been having trouble with tigers eating his chickens. When I woke up in the morning to the creaking of the huts, I imagined that a tiger was walking along the wooden bridge, slowly looking in each hut for a morsel to devour. It was only the wind, of course, but it was kind of fun to let my imagination go crazy for a bit.
The next day the owner of the huts took us on a longboat tour of the lake. It was a gorgeous ride, and I was glad that this tour came at the end of my travels. The mountains and wildlife elsewhere would have been pale in comparison. As we headed back to the pier, ominous looking clouds approached us on three sides. (How is this possible?!) I was sure we would not beat the storms, but we made bets as to which one would reach us first. In the end, it was hard to tell through the downpour. But I didn't mind--I love the rain here that comes in exciting waves but is warm and lets up shortly.
On our way home, we were just in time to catch the sunset at my favorite restaurant--The Top of the Tree Restaurant that hangs over the ocean cliffs and is nestled in the Khao Lak National Park. This is just one narrative from my exploration of Thailand’s southern country. There are many places that I will need to visit later, because my time was too short.
I came to Thailand to get out of my comfort zone, but I'll be the first to admit that I felt quite at home. I must attribute much of my happiness to my caretaker teacher, Sommai. From the first day he was a vigilant protector. As is typical of Thai people, he was extremely sensitive to our needs. (One day, a seven-year-old brought me a chair when she saw me kneeling by the desk of another student. When can I brag that my 15-year-old, American students are that considerate!) When we were eating, I could feel Sommai watching as I ate my food, and it was not uncommon for him to put a few more pieces of meat on my plate if he thought I hadn't had enough.
The last week at the Ban Tha Din Dang School was lovely, but there were many loose ends when I left. This wasn't my fault or anyone's fault, as you will see. On Wednesday, I was in the middle of my second class of the day, when I glanced out the door to see one of the students from the 6th grade class being carried out of the classroom by a group of women. Sommai had mentioned that someone had been ill yesterday, and I was worried that this same girl might have become sick again.
Then during my next class, I saw the 5th and 6th grade classes, which take place across the soccer field in a different building, run outside and to the road. There was a large group of people gathering, and my students in the 2nd grade class rushed outside to see. After a few minutes, I started to usher them back inside to their work, but then the first grade teacher motioned for them to come. I took this as an indication that something major was happening and walked over to ask. The first grade teacher said that she did not know what was going on. I was confused, but it was clear that there were no classes going on so I let my class go. I took the opportunity to go back to my house and wash my face and hands thoroughly--my first class had been grade 6!
After lunch, the headmaster told me that there would be no students this afternoon. He explained that five students in the 6th grade class and one in the 5th grade class had become ill, and the villagers believed that there was a ghost in the school. Sommai was at a meeting that day, but when he came home I asked if the students would be back the next day. He said that he didn't know. This had happened once before more than ten years ago.
The next morning I woke up at 6:30 to an eerie quiet. The usual morning sounds of people talking along the road, music playing, and children laughing were nonexistent. Even the roosters seemed hushed, although not silent. No students came to school on Thursday or Friday, and apparently the villagers were going to bring in someone to get rid of the ghost on Friday afternoon. I left before he/she arrived, however, and without saying goodbye to any of my students or two of the teachers. To make myself feel better, however, I drew a picture of myself saying “Goodbye! I will miss you,” and asked Sommai to present it to the students on the next day of school. You never know what will happen in Thailand, so you’ve got to make do with what you’re presented with and enjoy the ride. I certainly did.