I have three months to go. When did this happen?
These are fine times in Peace Corps Thailand. I know the country and its people well. I can get around without a second thought. I know what to expect from my neighbors and the same with them. I know my PCV friends very well and I’m even managing to make a few more after almost two years.
Now it’s time to enjoy all of the above while I can. Now it’s time to realize I’m about to exit the best two years of my life. It will be sad, but for the most part I’ll be proud, satisfied and happy. I did it.
As for the last month or so, here’s a rundown on my activities with pictures at the end.
It began in my own province of Surin. The annual elephant festival was being held, something I avoided last year because I didn’t want to see tamed elephants as well as large crowds of people who want to see tamed elephants. Sonya and I showed up halfway through the show and got in for half the price and it worked out perfectly as we later heard the first half was boring. We saw elephants drawing pictures (better than I can do), playing basketball and soccer, throwing darts, dancing and even faking injuries on the football field.
I spent a few more nights in Surin with Sonya and it was a blast.
Then I met my Minnesota twin, Mark, in Bangkok. We had five days before the Continuation of Service Conference in Petchaburi (just south of Bangkok on the beach) and headed to Kanchanaburi to enjoy some time together. Mark lives in Phattalung and is one of the most southern volunteers in Thailand. For this reason, this was our first get together outside of Peace Corps conferences. We visited Erewan Falls National Park for a morning. We saw what we had to and then got away before the large crowds of half-naked Russians and Germans got too out of control. Some bodies were not meant for small bikinis and Speedos.
Continuation of Service (COS) Conference in Cha-am, Phetchaburi
The conference started in Bangkok where everyone had to take a Thai language test to see how well we improved over the last two years. I was a bit worried my Thai would be worse than what it was after training, but I did manage to improve. Not everyone’s score increased.
After the test we went to a panel with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) to learn about possible careers and opportunities when we close our service in March. It was interesting to hear different viewpoints from successful RPCVs. I was happy to hear they all encouraged us to travel if we could (I plan to) and not to be afraid to take risks when we return to the U.S.
Then it was time for Thanksgiving dinner (it was the Monday after) at the home of the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney. After a great speech from Mark (he worked on it all weekend in Kanchanaburi), we had a real turkey dinner with mashed potatoes.
Peace Corps was kind enough to put all 54 remaining volunteers (we started with 66) in a classy hotel overlooking the Gulf of Thailand in Cha-am. A two-hour bus ride with all the volunteers got us there and it was a perfect foreshadowing for the next three days. I sat at the front with Joe, Josh, Mark, Ashley & Elliott and Dev. Elliott had downloaded some 90s music so we spent the majority of the ride trying to think of great one-hit-wonders of the 90s (“Stay Tonight”, “Closing Time”, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “The Way”, “Bitch”).
Once we got to Cha-am, I was rooming with my friend Paul, as always. Everyone stayed up late despite the 8 a.m. start time. The sessions were a lot of reflection with some ideas for how to handle our returns home. Personally, I think I might have a harder time adjusting to life in America again than I did with life in Thailand.
On the evening of the first day a group of 12 guys played a game of capture-the-flag on the beach and it was a blast. I probably hadn’t played CTF in 20 years. It was quite the show for the Thais to see 12 white guys playing this strange game on their beach.
On the final night of the conference all of the volunteers gathered for dinner at the hotel followed by the Sparkle Pants Variety Show hosted by my friends Christine and Ashley. They’d already hosted a beauty contest July of last year during the reconnect conference and a talent show in April during the midservice conference. This show was the best of them all with slideshows with every volunteer along with songs, dances and a slideshow made by Michelle representing the last two years of Peace Corps fun.
After the party the after-party began on the beach. There was alcohol involved this time and things got a little, as Christine likes to say, “cray-cray”. I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, but I didn’t care as I was enjoying my time with all the volunteers I spent the last two years with for the last time.
After a few hours of sleep I headed off with Joe and Mark to see Mark’s site for a few nights. After three van rides we spent one night in Surat Thani before getting to Phattalung. Mark and his counterpart, Lek, were incredibly welcoming and great hosts. We visited the largest fresh-water lake in Thailand, a very impressive waterfall (more so than the national park), a hot springs and concluded our visit watching football games at Mark’s place.
After 23 months in Thailand, I finally got to see where all the postcard photos are taken: Krabi. A 30-minute truck-taxi ride to the city of Ao Nang followed by a 20-minute boat ride to a beach inaccessible to cars and motorcycles due to the mountains surrounding it, Joe and I landed on Raleigh Beach (not how it’s spelled, but it is kind of pronounced like the city in North Carolina). It is the general area the James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun was filmed.
Joe and I eventually found a cheap hostel where our room consisted of a thin wood floor and a mattress on the floor with a community bathroom for 300 baht a night ($10). It had a cheap restaurant attached as well where we had most of our meals. It was great.
Our three days consisted of very little activity except sitting on the beach, enjoying the views (nature and women), climbing a small mountain and watching movies projected on a white sheet at an Indian restaurant at night. We were still in Thailand, but it hardly felt like it as there weren’t many Thais with exception to the workers. It was great, but three days was just enough.
After an overnight bus, we arrived in Bangkok early Thursday morning. It was our friend Josh’s birthday and we celebrated at a fantastic Middle Eastern restaurant. The food was great and I smoked my first hookah. Afterward we saw the new James Bond film, Skyfall. Great movie.
After despising Bangkok my first year, I’ve grown to truly enjoy it in my second.
I returned to my site over three weeks after leaving. After the 20th I’m no longer allowed to use vacation days, but I can still travel on weekends and holidays. This means my long trips are over in Thailand. That’s okay. I have a lot of books to read and only three months to do it.