Month 5 (January) Ayutthaya, Birthdays, Family Holiday, School Trip and PT Visit
January kick started with an almighty bang. Spending New Years Eve with my family was great. I was able to tell them all the exciting adventures and experiences I have had thus far in Thailand while showing them a small portion of the culture from my perspective. We brought in the bells in the centre of Bangkok with the usual countdown and fireworks bursting overhead in all directions and so began 2014.
New Years Day was a quiet affair although both Kevin and I had arranged to meet my family for an evening meal on the 83rd floor of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel (the highest restaurant in Thailand). The meal was another chance to catch up while Kevin and I gorged ourselves on western food that we had craved since arriving. Afterwards we went a further 2 floors up to the 85th where there was rotating platform for a 360 degree view of Bangkoks nightscape! The following day Kevin and I visited the ancient ruins city of Ayutthaya a few hours north of Bangkok. We spent the day walking around the smallish city, visiting the old tombs of Kings and ruined temples. It was also the first time we experienced the old rickety trains that snake through the Thai landscape, It was great fun but we returned in the evening thoroughly worn out.
Our holiday in Bangkok was over so we travelled back to Phana and began teaching again while my family stayed in the nearby city of Ubon Ratchathani. The 7th of January is always a special day in my family but this year was even bigger. I was turning 18 and Sarah my sister 21. We had planned to have a large party for this day since we were very young. I was awoken by Kevin knocking at my door holding a cake he had bought for me which had my Thai name iced on the top. I was then frog marched to one of our primary schools where all the children sang happy birthday to me at their assembly. I also received a gigantic birthday card that Kevin had got some of his older pupils to make for me with Thai messages inside and an embarrassing photo on the front. Both Kevin and I then got picked up by my family and we went to Ubon. My room at the hotel we were staying at had been covered with banners and balloons which was a great surprise. We all spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool, opening our presents and cards which was great to hear from all my friends and family back home. To round off a spectacular day we all went out for a meal and a few drinks, it was definitely a day to remember for both Sarah and myself.
My family also arranged for me to join them for the remaining 6 days of their holiday, so I got the few days off work that was needed and away we went. We stayed in a lovely resort next to the Mekong River which separates the border between Laos and Thailand. It was very surreal but amazing to spend a few days with my family and get a break from the brilliant but hectic lifestyle I have at my project. We relaxed, visited the national park I had been to in September, kayaked in the river and mostly just spent quality family time together. It was over far too soon but this time goodbye seemed a lot easier than it had 4 months ago, I think it showed me how much I have matured that this time I no longer felt nervous as I have a home here in Thailand.
The week after my parents left was a busy one with lots of events day after day. First off was teachers day which we attended but were not properly part of as we are only volunteers. The next day was Scouts Day at Samakki primary school. Every primary school child has to be a scout at school which we found rather strange as it is a voluntary activity back in Britain. Kevin and I helped out for the whole day as two other primary schools from nearby had also come to join in the celebration. The teachers had set up various stations such as a tunnel crawl and zip line which we got to watch over as well as the occasional go ourselves! The kids set up tents and made fires to cook dinner on and at night there was a big show put on by the pupils with dances, singing and chanting. The following day was the beginning of the weekend and two other volunteers (Cissy and Ocean) came to visit and stay in Phana from their project in Kutchum. The Saturday was the 3rd Amnatcharoen International Folklore Festival. People from 10 other countries such as India, Ukraine, Latvia and Cambodia came to spend the day learning about traditional Isaan ways and to see Phana before a massive show at night. We four volunteers got to tag along with the groups who were shown the most famous parts of Phana (The Monkey Forest, Thai Massage Centre and one of the temples). At night a giant stage was set up and each country had performers who showcased their traditional dances. It was an incredible spectacle and we gave a rating on the best performances. In our eyes the winners were India and Bangladesh as their performances were full of energy and vibrant colours with upbeat music.
The following week we got asked to go on a school trip with Samakki schools eldest pupils to the cities of Chonburi and Rayong which are on the coast close to Bangkok. We left at night on yet another karaoke bus and arrived in Chonburi early the next morning. That day was very busy as we visited the institute of sports as there was a massive sports event being held there that month. We also went to a tiger zoo where we got to see tiger, elephant and crocodile shows which we didnt like very much but I did get a terrifying photo on the back of a giant croc! That night we went to a housing park where the school had rented 6 houses for everyone to stay in. Kevin and I were left in charge of the youngest group of boys which was great fun. We were like older brothers to them however they fully respected that we were in control and had authority despite our age. The maturity of Thai kids takes me surprise at times as everyone was included and the kids all chipped in to buy some snacks for one of the kids who is rather poor. It is weird to think that these kids are only 12 or 13 with behavior like that however it is great to see. We spent the night watching a horror film and relaxing and both of us loved the responsibility we had been given to look after the kids. The next day we went to Rayong where I got my first glimpse of the beautiful Thai coastline. We visited a giant turtle sanctuary and also a navy ship however Kevin and I were not allowed on as we were not Thai citizens and then it was back to Phana. The 2 days we spent with the kids was fantastic as we got to spend time with them out of a classroom environment and they had as much fun getting to know us better as we did with them.
To round off January we had our visit from our Desk Officer from Project Trust (Dave). He visits every project in Thailand to see how the volunteers are getting on, the project itself and how well we are integrating ourselves into the community. It is Daves first year as a Desk Officer for Thailand and this meant he did not know what Phana is like so we got to show him around and share our knowledge of this unbelievable town we call home. He watched us teach a lesson each which he said went really well and we even got to show him our ceilidh. For the few days leading up to his visit we had been teaching some of the kids 2 Scottish dances so that they could put on a show. This was not only great fun for the students but also meant we could use it as evidence for our global citizenship award. It is the first year PT has been able to use this scheme and one of the requirements is that you mark a national day from your host country to celebrate. We chose Burns night as it had just passed and with me being Scottish I knew a lot about the topic and Kevin is very fascinated about the Scottish culture. So for the ceilidh (large Scottish party with dancing) Kevin and I made some makeshift kilts and led the way for a successful recreation of a Scottish tradition. In addition to the ceilidh I plan on teaching the kids a little about Scotland as it ties into the topic. It was a great success and the final part of Daves visit was to have a meeting with us and the Tessoban (local council) to see what they think of how we are getting on. There was only raving reviews about us to be heard from all the important people in Phana and it was great to receive such positive feedback about our volunteering as it means we know we are doing all the right things here.