Archive for September, 2013

List 39/52 – Things Lillian Can Say In Thai

Lillian’s Thai skills are now better than mine. After a month playing with our host family’s son, and talking with students at school, these are the things she can say:


Thank you




Numbers 1 – 10



I’m full


And the list is growing!

Lillian's school photo tour 6

Self-portrait in mirror


How We Arranged Our Family Volunteering Placement in Thailand (and how volunteering with kids worked.)

We’re coming to the end of our month long volunteer teaching placement here in Sisaket Province. This post will give an overview of how we organised the placement and how it worked out volunteering with the kids (aged 6 and almost 3.)

rooster and temple

Our Local Temple (and alarm clock)

In 2004 we stayed at a resort on Koh Lanta and there we met Michael and Ae who are the founders of an organisation called Volunthai. At that time, Volunthai was placing college students but when we started thinking about doing some kind of volunteering as part of this trip I remembered them and looked them up. I was thinking they might be able to suggest a more suitable organisation for us, but I discovered that they were now placing more than just college students and had even placed families. I emailed Michael and asked if it would be an option for us and how it might work with the kids.

another class

Ed chills on the couch during a class

Michael’s response was encouraging and we went about submitting a formal application form. Once we were officially accepted we paid the fee and Volunthai started looking for a host for us. For our family of four it cost $USD930 for a one month placement. This fee covered our accommodation, all meals at home and school (we split bills if eating out), and Volunthai’s administration costs. It works out at about $30 a day.

We were in Malaysia when we got the exciting email from Volunthai telling us where we would be going and a bit about our host family. We then corresponded directly with our host by email to arrange our arrival. Before we went to the placement we met up with Oh from Volunthai (Ae’s sister) in Bangkok. Volunthai is a family business. Michael and Ae now live in the US and handle the application and initial liaison. Ae’s family in Thailand look after things here. Oh was able to give us a bit more of an idea of what to expect on our placement and some handy tips.

Lillian's school photo tour 12

Afternoon Assembly

If you’re interested in doing something like this it’d be a good idea to have a thorough read through the Volunthai website. They have a blog with lots of first hand accounts of people’s experiences which gave us a good idea of what we would be doing. You don’t need to be a teacher (although I’m sure it would help!) or have a tefl/tesol qualification. I think the most important quality to have is the ability to go with the flow. To be comfortable not always knowing what’s going on or what exactly you’ll be doing from one day to the next, or hour to the next! (Eg. Dave being led off to teach a class that turned out to be 100 kids in an open air auditorium.) For an over-planner like me it’s probably been a good learning experience! We began to call it our magical mystery tour. You also need to be comfortable giving up your independence to an extent. We relied on our hosts to drive us to and from school, order food for us, take us to the supermarket etc.

I would recommend using Volunthai if you’re comfortable with not a lot of hand-holding (we were here for two weeks before they emailed to check everything was ok. It was.) I’m sure there are more expensive organisations out there who might provide more by way of training but Volunthai has been great for what we were looking for. Our host family also take people directly through word of mouth (friends of local westerners or friends of previous volunteers).

How has it worked with the kids?

We spend all day at school, leaving home by 8am and returning around 5pm or later. Before we got here I was imagining that we might be able to duck home with the kids during the day if they needed a rest but it hasn’t worked out that way. The schools we have been teaching at are both a good 15-20 minute drive from the house so it’s just not possible to go back and forth, especially as we rely on others for lifts. This is a long day for the kids, but on the whole they’ve handled it well.

playing a game

Lil joins in with a game

After the first week here our host teacher organised our teaching schedule so that all our classes are in the mornings. It was pretty much impossible for me to help teach in the afternoons because when Ed gets tired all he wants is to be on me. So now after lunch Ed has a nap on his mat in the office while I sit next to him. We also use that time to lesson plan or help students with things like spelling practice. Dave and Lil usually go out and play or chat to students in the playground too.

Our kids are mostly in the classroom with us when we’re teaching. Sometimes Lil joins in with the lesson, sometimes they play quietly together, sometimes they beg for food every five minutes or want to be held (Ed), sometimes Lil reads a book, or they play on the ipod or one of our phones. It’s not always smooth, but team teaching comes into play when one of us has to focus on our kids for a bit.

view from our room

The view from our bedroom

The home stay side of things has been great with the kids. It helps that our hosts have a five year old boy. It also helps that Thai people seem to have a fairly relaxed approach to parenting. The kids were both very comfortable at home very quickly. Lil helps herself to food from the fridge and will happily go off to grandma’s house with our hosts’ son. Maybe one day in the future Lil or Ed can come back and visit by themselves, or we can host their son in Australia.

bell ringing

Bell ringing at a temple

All in all this has been an amazing experience for our family. At times it was exhausting and difficult, but always worth it. I know we will be talking about our time here for a long time to come.

Here is a little video I made for our host.

List 38/52 – The Sights We Saw Around Sisaket Province

1. Sisaket Aquarium. In Sisaket city itself the aquarium is small but enjoyable and cheap at 20-30B entry. There is a small tunnel with the main attraction being giant Mekong catfish. We got to see a diver feeding the catfish and stingrays.

aquarium tunnel

Sisaket Aquarium

2. Wat Lan Khuat ‘The Million Bottle Temple’ – a temple covered in bottles with decorations and mosaics made out of bottle tops. The bottles symbolise the need for clarity of purpose in one’s life. Even the water tanks were covered in bottles. The temple is in Khun Han.

many bottles

Wat Lan Khuat

3. Namtok Huai Chan waterfall. We went on a drizzly Saturday and the place was packed so I’d imagine it gets very busy on sunny days. Thai people swim fully clothed, jeans and all. We also enjoyed a yummy lunch here of sticky rice, fish, papaya salad and grilled chicken.

fairy floss

Fairy floss for sale at the waterfall


4. Wat Prathat Ruang, near Sisaket. With giant buffalo at the entrance and kitsch garden decorations and animal statues. There was also a museum showing how the different ethnic groups of the area dress and live. The kids had a great time ringing bells and gongs.

Thai temple kitsch. Chickens, mushrooms and a squirrel tied to a tree.

Thai temple kitsch

List 37/52 – What to wear when teaching in Thailand

Thai schools are quite formal. The student uniforms are very smart and the teachers dress smartly too. There is a teacher uniform that they wear on Mondays, the scout uniform that both students and teachers wear on Wednesdays, and pink shirt day for the King. So what should a farang teacher wear?

1. Dress modestly. Women should wear knee-length skirts. Men should wear long pants.

2. Sleeves should cover the shoulders. No singlet tops. For women, a short sleeve or 3/4 length sleeve is good. Short sleeved shirts are probably ok for men (and have been fine for Dave here) but if the school is more strict a long sleeved shirt will be needed.

3. Shoes should be closed. No thongs/flip-flops! (Thai female teachers are supposed to wear black heels. I have been wearing black leather flats.) Remove your shoes outside the classrooms and office buildings.

4. Simple colours and patterns are best. eg. A black skirt, a plain coloured shirt.

5. Clothes are usually only worn once before washing.

So, what have I been wearing, considering we’re on an extended trip and didn’t have a lot of room in the bags.

– Two black skirts – one straight and one flowy, both come to below the knee. I will abandon the straight one here when we move on.

– A 3/4 sleeve length blue shirt (I also came with a 3/4 length khaki shirt but only wore it once because I discovered it shows up sweat too much in this heat! Not a good look.)

– A navy knee length button down dress (that I also wore to the wedding.)

– In Bangkok I bought some flat black shoes. I’ll donate them here when we leave.

– At the Tesco Lotus here I bought two extra tops for teaching that I’ll also leave here – a short sleeved shirt and a cowl neck top.

With a midweek wash that has been enough to get me by. Apparently I am the first foreigner our host has had who dresses like an actual teacher!


List 36/52 – 2 Months of Travel Stats

(Blogging from iPhone today so please excuse any wonkiness.)

We’ve now been traveling for just over two months. Each month I update these stats.

– Days traveling: 63
– Places stayed overnight: 13
– Modes of transport: 7
– Total hours actually traveling between places: 48hrs 4mins
– Hours on planes: 9
– Hours on trains: 16hrs 50mins
– Hours on buses: 9hrs 15mins
– Hours on minibuses: 8.5
– Hours on boats: 5
– Hours on sangthaew: 20mins

Family Volunteer English Teaching in Rural Thailand

We’ve been here for just over a week now and have settled into a bit of a routine. Very different to our beach routine! ‘Here’ is Sisaket Province in North East Thailand. We’re not far from both the Laos and Cambodian borders and we see road signs to Angkor Wat. We’re living in a small village with a wonderful host family and teaching at a small high school in a nearby village.


Village sunset view

Our hosts are two teachers, Tae, the English teacher at our school, and her husband Jun, who teaches Social Studies at the big high school in a nearby town. They also have a son, A-Tong, who is almost 5 and goes to school in the big town too. They have all been very welcoming and understanding of our farang ways. On the weekend they took us on a day trip to Sisaket and they plan to show us other local sights while we’re here. Lillian and A-Tong have bonded over Star Wars Angry Birds and line up the same level on each of their devices to play together.

upstairs into bedroom

Our upstairs area looking through to the bedroom

Our day starts at about 6am when the village loudspeaker starts broadcasting the local news. There are also roosters to help with the wake-up. We emerge from under our mosquito nets and have a refreshing cold shower. We have our own upstairs area in the house with a private bedroom, bathroom and living area. Lil is relieved that the toilet is not a squat one, but you do need to flush it with a bucket scoop. We head downstairs for breakfast which is usually quick and easy toast and cereal and by 7:40am we’re ready to head to school with Tae, while Jun takes A-Tong in another car.

On the drive to school we pass through small villages, we see buffalo, dogs, roosters, chicks, cows, rice fields, tractors (tak-taks), temples and people going about their daily lives.

First day of school for us!

Our high school

The school has 400 students from years 7 to 12. Every morning the students have assembly and flag raising and then classes start at 8:40am. We’re teaching about three or four classes a day. There are four lessons before lunch and three after lunch. If we’re not teaching we hang out in the administration area, and work on lesson ideas, keep the kids occupied (usually only Edward is an issue, and Lil takes herself off to hang out with groups of students), use the computer etc.

This week is our first week of classes so we’re teaching introductions and family words. We’re teaching all levels from 1-6 (years 7-12) and each year is divided into three ability levels. Within each class the English understanding varies widely. The students can be quite shy with speaking so Tae has told us to focus on practising this and pronunciation. Even if they already know the content, hearing us speak it and practising helps.


Teaching with Lillian

So far we have taught only as a family. From the beginning of our volunteering application I asked that we be considered one teacher, not two, so that one of us can be free to handle Edward if needed. Team teaching works well though. Dave has been leading the lessons and I write on the board and help out with group stuff and wrangle Edward as needed. We finish each lesson with a game which is the best part!

At lunch time we go to the canteen with Tae and she chooses us something to eat. The canteen is an open air building through a little forest. They have ready made food or made to order food and everything we’ve had there has been delicious. The kids eat plain rice.


Canteen Menu

After lunch it’s either teaching or hanging out again until 4pm when school finishes. Ed has a nap at some point, usually after going crazy beforehand and then crashing. Tae gave us a little mat and pillow for him to nap on.

When school is over we get back in the car with Tae (ahhhh brief air-conditioned respite!) and head home. Jun and A-Tong arrive home soon after us. Tae cooks or we eat food her mother has already cooked for us. Her mother lives just down the street. Again, most everything is delicious. We eat sitting on the floor with shared food in the middle.

dinner with grandma and friends

Dinner at Grandma’s with her friends

After dinner we might have a selection of fruit – mango, mangosteen, custard apple, apple. They grow some of the fruit in their garden and some on a family farm nearby. Lil has discovered a love of mangosteen and ate six yesterday. I wash the dishes with cold water and it’s soon time for A-Tong to do homework and for us to head upstairs for more cold showers and bedtime. I find the cold showers very refreshing in the heat but the kids have found it harder to get used to.

We sleep under mosquito nets with fans blowing and the window shutters open. The windows have no glass or screens so the air flows through. Some nights it’s very hot, but if it has rained it’s not so bad. We’re here at the end of the rainy season and have had some rain most days. I love the rain and the cooling effect it has. More rain!

So that’s a typical day here. On Thursdays and Fridays we’re at a different school that has both primary and middle school ages. Today is our first time teaching here and we’ve been treated like royalty! We’re teaching in the office/library area and the director has offered his air-conditioned office for Ed to sleep in which is where I’m writing this from with his head on my lap. They brought us a yummy lunch with way too much food to eat in the library and snacks and coffee and water throughout the day. Teaching primary age kids has been fun and Lil and Ed are enjoying the toys around the library.

Other things we’ll be helping with over the month include the assessment of the conversational English skills of all teachers and an English ‘camp’ at the high school. Even though we’re now in a bit of a routine each day still holds an element of magical mystery tour!

walking to grandma's for dinner

Walking to grandma’s for dinner

Time is zooming by. We’re here until the 28th when we head back to Bangkok to extend our Thai tourist visas for another 30 days and carry on traveling from there.

List 35/52 – The Places Ed Napped Last Week

1. Mon: Our Bangkok apartment


Bangkok nap.

2. Tue: The car from Ubon Ratchathani to the village

3. Wed: My lap, and

4. The director’s office couch at the school

Yesterday's nap in the principal's office.

Principal’s Office Nap

5. Thur: A mat on the floor of the school administration office, and

6. My lap.

7. Fri: My lap, and

8. A couch in a Thai festival planning meeting.

9. Sat: Our bed.

10. Sun: The car on the way home from our Sisaket day trip.