Back in 2009, having landed back in my beloved Thailand after three months at home, and spending a few silly drunken nights with a friend, I took a flight to Phnom Penh. I was spending the next two weeks in Cambodia’s capital city, as part of a month long TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).
I was told to meet the director of the course at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, so I went to the designated meeting point, and spent the next few hours feeling on edge, not really knowing what was going on. He wasn’t exactly the most talkative fellow I have ever come across, and he didn’t seem to want to engage in conversation. But I arrived in Phnom Penh later that afternoon and met the other people that were doing the same course. I was slightly perturbed at the seemingly lack of organisation, and basically being left on our own not really knowing what was going on until the tour of the city and welcome dinner the next day.
The people were nice and hailed mostly from America. There was Lucie, who I am still friends with, from Czechoslovakia, and Bradley from England. Maybe it was because we were both British but Bradley followed me around a lot, which I didn’t mind too much. I think he was just a bit nervous to meet new people, which we all can be in certain situations. But being the social butterfly that I am, I made him have lunch with everyone one day, just so he would mix with the others a bit more. I remember one afternoon I wanted to get out and just have time to myself, so I went to a nearby bar and not long after I heard rustling in the bushes, and before you knew it Bradley had appeared and was asking if it was ok if he joined me. I couldn’t say no, so we sat there discussing our common love of Thailand.
The accommodation was, in name, grander than it actually was. It was called a villa. What do you normally think off when you hear the word “villa?”- Luxurious? Private pool? It was sadly neither luxurious, nor did it have a private pool. Granted, it was big and had enough bedrooms for most of the group- the rest were in a smaller place down the road. The villa was a little dated to say the least, and it was located in an area of Phnom Penh where all the street lights were turned off after 8pm. Not exactly party central.
After two days of classes I found it was going OK but it was very tiring. Strangely, I kept wanting to burst into tears- part excitement at the prospect of working in Thailand, and part scared at how the hell I was going to be a teacher. So those first few days were a little up and down. We did activities together that were quite nerve wracking- we practised teaching exercises, and teaching classes using drama (I am no drama queen), but we were all in the same boat, so we just kind of got on with it and did what we had to do to pass the course.
Finally made it to the end of the first week. It was really tough going in parts but, after a long time off work, it was good to get my brain thinking again.
On one of our weekends off we went to Siem Reap. Lucie and I decided that we were going to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, so when we got to the hotel we went straight to bed and got up at 4am. We had arranged for a tuk-tuk to pick us up and, as you usually find in Asian countries, everyone is on a different time schedule that you. Eventually, he picked us up some thirty minutes later and off we went. When we arrived it was still pitch black. We had to stumble our way to the temple not knowing what was around us or indeed if we were going the right way. We just followed the crowd of people that had all had the same idea as us.
Slowly but surely the sun began to rise lightening the day with its rays. There are no words to describe just how amazing it was. Although, we didn’t have to get up quite as early as 4am, I was so glad I was able to experience this. The sun came up behind Angkor Wat and it was just stunning. We had a laugh at ourselves because we both, seemingly smart girls, had thought a giant yellow balloon in the distance was actually the sun.
We weren’t sure where the sun would appear and eventually we saw it……..
Later on that day we went back again with the whole group and visited a few more temples. It is really nice to wander around the grounds seeing the different buildings. There are a few temples where the jungle has grown up and around it, and you can scramble over the ruined buildings exploring them to your heart’s content. One of the temples was called Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed. We finished the day sitting on top of a temple to watch the sun set. It was a very serene experience as long as you ignore the hundreds of other people doing the same thing. I really need to go back to Cambodia and visit these temples again and then do some proper research about them.
Back in Siam Reap we went from culture to debauchery- we went out for pizza at a place called Ecstatic Pizza, where you can get “happy” pizza. Yup, your normal margherita or pepperoni sprinkled with a dash of marijuana. Just to point out I didn’t indulge, when I eat pizza I am as happy as I need to be, but in Cambodia you can get high whilst eating if that’s what floats your boat.
Afterwards we had a couple of drinks in a bar listening to a band, which were actually really good, and then….. My fun was coming to an end because the others wanted to go to a karaoke bar. At the time I was very much into my clubbing and we actually had to by-pass a club to get to the karaoke place. Thinking back I don’t know why I even went, I hate karaoke. Although, I have since been known to belt out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” a few times, but that was in someone’s house, not out in public. Anyway, this karaoke bar… you get escorted to what looks like a padded cell, they provide you with drinks and snacks, and a microphone and choice of songs and away you go. I tried to get into the party spirit of things but you can imagine my face in that padded cell.
After two weeks in Cambodia I was back in Thailand to complete two weeks of teaching practise and Thai lessons. I had my first class proper teaching with a group of 25-50 year old men and women at the local church. The classes lasted for two hours a day and, at first, I wasn’t sure whether I would have enough material. I needed have worried though, we kept going off on tangents here and there, even going into maths for a while, so in the end I had plenty of stuff to teach them. My students were so nice and they made me feel very relaxed. They said “thank you teacher, see you tomorrow.” So I left that first day hoping that they had enjoyed it, and that they liked me. In fact, after two weeks I loved it so much I stayed on for an extra week.
My first experience of teaching made me realise just how generous and appreciative the Thais are. At the end of my third week teaching, my students gave me some gifts. I was overwhelmed. I had bought them all bracelets but that didn’t compare to what I received. I got a t shirt, bracelet, diary, home-made beer mats, a key ring, and necklaces. They also bought food and we had a little farewell party. I cried afterwards saying goodbye. I will always remember those lovely students. They made my first days of teaching in Thailand very enjoyable.