With a surprising turn of events, Sydney and I attended the AFS optional camp to Krabi from March 8-11th. Our German friends (Alice, Emil, and Fenja), as well as Luke from YES Abroad were also going.
On March 7th, my advisor picked Sydney and I up early to take a bus from Kamphaengphet to Bangkok. We left the house at around 7 am and raced to get to an ATM. Unfortunately, there was an issue with my bank and I couldn’t take out the money I needed to both pay for my bus and the camp. Sydney kindly lent me the money to get a bus ticket and we narrowly got there in time. I proceeded to cry from frustration on the bus and this was an ongoing issue until the next day, while I had to call my parents multiple times to sort out the problem. Future exchange students! Learn from my mistakes and take out any money you need at least a week before! This was very unexpected and definitely put a huge damper on my mood the first two days of camp. Luckily, I managed to get some sleep on our seven hour journey, though Sydney jokingly pointed out how weird my travel sleep position is (curled up into a little ball facing the window). The ride wasn’t bad and we had lots of legroom and gorgeous views.
We arrived in the early evening at around 4 or 5. Sydney and I poorly navigated around the huge bus station for about twenty minutes until I unexpectedly ran into Luke while Sydney was in the bathroom. I shouted his name and ran over to give him a big hug. We waited for Sydney and then hung out with Luke and our friend Alice from Germany in a KFC while they ate. I, a vegetarian, snacked on some fries until Emil, my friend from Germany, texted me that he arrived. I then went on a search for him for about twenty minutes, which was further confused by the difference between what is considered floor one and the ground floor in Germany and America. What a silly misunderstanding! I eventually found him and by the time I had, Fenja (a German girl I briefly met in Chiang Mai) had arrived as well. We relocated to a cafe a few stores down to charge our phones and catch up.
After the whole gang was reunited, we chatted for about twenty minutes about our higher education systems in our respective countries before we had to meet with P’Bia from the AFS staff & the other AFS-ers, who also had trouble locating us with the floor labelling. Our group consisted of seventeen people: seven Italians, three Germans, a Spanish girl, a Russian girl, Lele from Brazil, Alice from France, and us three Americans. I didn’t really know Alice from Germany or Fenja very well before this but we got very close over the course of the camp. I regret to say that we didn’t really talk with the other AFS kids very much, which is very disappointing considering some of them became some of my best friends at later camps.
I picked up some Mama (the Thai ramen) and we sat in a common area for a while eating our dinners until Emil and I made a futile trip to the ATM very quickly. Because of this, we nearly missed our bus, which was rather stressful. However, P’Bia got us all to our terminal safe and sound and we said goodbye to her. We took an overnight bus because of the distance, which was very spacious and nice except freezing cold. I sat by Emil and we talked for a few hours about just everything, in both our Thai lives and at home. I was starting to feel a bit sleepy when we had our only rest stop. We all got out of the bus to stretch our legs, clean up in the bathroom, and get some snacks for the road. My mood quickly shifted to very energetic from excitement so I was dancing around a bit. In Thailand, a common pose for photos is a “mini heart,” which is made by crossing your thumb and pointer finger. I realized that if you snap your fingers, you can end in a mini-heart position and I started doing that to absolutely everyone. When I first did this to French Alice (though I hadn’t spoken to her since our brief exchange at Chiang Mai camp), her eyes lit up and she laughed a little before reciprocating. I was pleased to start camp on a friendly note as I really wanted to get to know her better. Sydney and I picked up some rice cakes and we snacked a bit outside. When we hopped back on the bus, the shift in temperature was jarring. I had to borrow a sweater from Sydney, who was sitting across from me by Luke. Sydney and I listened to the same party songs in our headphones and lip-sync-ed to them for a while before eventually falling asleep like everyone else on the bus.
I was one of the first people to wake up the next day, perhaps around 7 am, as I found the bus completely silent and sunlight streaming through the curtains. I felt a bit gross as I hadn’t had the opportunity to shower the night before but I was quickly distracted when I peered over Emil to look out the window. I was astounded by the view of palm trees and scenery similar to how Thailand is portrayed in movies, clearly showing we were not in the north anymore. This was a whole new side of Thailand I had never seen, and I couldn’t be more excited to explore it. Slowly but surely, people started waking up and admiring the view as I had done. Most everyone had never been this far south before, as AFS students are typically hosted above or in Bangkok (with the exception of Surat Thani.) We finally arrived to the station in Krabi at about 8 am. We retrieved our luggage from the bus and then awkwardly waited around cluelessly until P’ Vicky, our AFS guide arrived. She was very friendly and outgoing right from the start, making everyone’s spirits higher. P’ Vicky took us to book Sydney’s and my tickets to Phattalung (as we were the outliers of the group moving further south) and to collect everyone’s payment for camp. I tried the ATM yet again, expecting my issues with my bank to have been sorted since I last contacted my parents, with no luck. This made me extremely anxious but P’ Vicky was completely understanding, as apparently this was not an unusual incident for exchange students. I ended up paying her later that day and all was fine.
We loaded our luggage into P’ Vicky’s pick-up truck and vans, which served as our main cars for the duration of the trip. This time, we all sat in vans and reached downtown Krabi in no more than twenty minutes. We stayed at Srisuksant Square, a very clean, nice hostel right next to the Krabi night market and alongside the Krabi river. We checked in and broke into groups, with most of the boys in one room and the girls into two other rooms. Because of the uneven number of people and other guests at the hostel, my small group (Fenja, Alice, Sydney, and I) lucked out into a third spacious and private dorm room. The walls were orange and we had little lamps by our beds. We had two bunk beds, putting me on the top bunk and Sydney on the bottom with Fenja across from me and Alice below. We even had a small balcony to hang our clothes from. The greatest benefit of all was that we had our own bathroom and shower, whereas the other rooms had to use the shared ones. The only thing was that the glass separating the bathroom from the mirror and sink area was completely clear, so you had to give advance notice if you went in so the others didn’t accidentally stumble upon you. However, when we first arrived, our room wasn’t ready yet so we had to leave our luggage outside and wash up in the community bathrooms. I was a bit nervous about leaving my belongings unattended but I dismissed it because I had to. We all cleaned up, put on sunscreen, changed clothes, and headed next door to a restaurant to get breakfast. At breakfast, I was pleased to find P’ Vicky had a vegetarian fried rice already prepared for me, French Alice, and Lele. I grabbed my plate to sit by my other friends and waited until Lele and French Alice arrived so I could tell them. After I showed them their plates, French Alice noticed the bamboo straw attached to my bag (that I got from Chiang Mai) and I had a really interesting conversation with her and her Italian friends for a while about going zero waste. Sadly, my straw was broken later in the camp by accident. :”( P’ Vicky sat by me too and we chatted for a while. I asked her if it would be alright for me to meet my new host sister, Nice (pronounced the same as in English), and her family for dinner while I was in Krabi, as I knew it could be a safety concern in her eyes. While I was with Chloe in February for week exchange, my parents and I finalized our decision to host yet again and picked the Thai girl we would be hosting in the upcoming school year. Days prior to my trip, my parents received her information and we discovered that she lived in Krabi! I was elated and we got in contact with one another to arrange to meet. As it turned out, P’ Vicky was Nice’s English teacher! She was so excited to meet me that she announced to the restaurant staff that I would be hosting a Thai girl and took lots of photos of me to send to Nice’s parents.
After a delicious breakfast, half of us piled into a van (including Emil and I) and the others in the back of a pick up truck. In the forty minute van ride, I looked out the window and talked to Emil about how we each got to Thailand, even showing him the video of my mother telling me I received the YES Abroad scholarship.
We arrived at the Emerald Pool, the day’s swimming activity. The rest of the group from the truck came shortly after, with absolutely destroyed and knotted hair from the wind. I hoped I could do the same after swimming as they all raved about the views. We joined a long line with our tickets and P’ Vicky managed to cut our entrance fee significantly.
We began our trek through the jungle on a boardwalk, with trees and bamboo creating a bridge over our heads and bird calls whistling through the wind. I didn’t know just how long the walk there would be but it seemed never-ending. The path diverged at multiple points where us and a few other tourists just had to make our best guess as to where we were, choosing the wrong path a few times. We eventually knew we were in the right when we heard the sounds of waves and children laughing. I turned to find that only our small group was with us and the rest of our group was nowhere to be seen in the pool. I wondered if they had also got lost. The Germans and Luke went to put on swimsuits in a public bathroom while Sydney and I took off our layers and applied sunscreen generously underneath a pavillion. We surveyed the scenery and wondered where we were supposed to put our clothes and things, as nobody would be there to guard them and the pool was crawling with people. Sydney and I wandered around a little bit, eventually spotting a woman on the AFS staff sitting on a little log with the other AFS-ers trailing behind her. As the woman opted not to go swimming, we asked if we could leave our things with her and she obliged. We hid them under the log and the tree trunks and then stumbled into the pool, as it wasn’t quite deep enough to jump in and the sides of the pool were slippery and mossy, which later cut some people up a little who tried to climb out. We were all burning up from the blazing sun and our long hike there so the water was refreshing though not really cold. I had never seen water that colour before– completely aquamarine and clear. It was remarkable. I hung out with Fenja, Alice, Emil, Luke, Sydney, and the Russian girl Alina. I knew her from our North camp and she was the only Russian on our program. Her English was limited but she had advanced a lot since I saw her in September. She seemed like she was always smiling and she was very fun to be around. Our group swam around and played little games like monkey in the middle. Most people relaxed by the beginning and sides of the pool so we spread out and hung out near the opposite side, where the cool stream filtered into the pool. We chatted, made silly nicknames for each other, pushed each other underwater, and just enjoyed the beautiful day. We accidentally found ourselves in plenty of group photos with Thai people, which is a classic farang move. We spent about two hours or so at the Emerald Pool before heading back up to the edge, where P’ Vicky took this photo of us.
All of us dried off, slipped our clothes back on, and embarked on our path back yet again. My group picked up the pace a little as we hoped to sit in the back of the truck home. This time we took a different path back that we were told would be faster, probably the one the Europeans used to get to the pool in the first place, though the road was now gravelly and got in our sandals. The American in Sydney and I jumped out apparently as we unintentionally walked significantly faster than everyone, which made my friends laugh as they could see my wet swimsuit lines on my pants from behind us. I thought it was pretty hilarious too and it was not that embarrassing as the fiery sun dried us off for the most part before we reached the public area again. We met the AFS staff in the front and they directed us to the truck. We climbed in and immediately spread our towels underneath us to protect from the burning ground. I felt a bit guilty as I realized some of the other kids hadn’t had a chance to ride in the back of the truck though some of my friends had already been. I suggested maybe my group split up a little to no avail. I didn’t take it too seriously as we still had several days left and I knew that I personally had been fair. The rest of the group arrived about fifteen minutes later and we were on our way. The views truly were astounding. The mountainside was in the distance and palm trees towered over us. I could see through lines and lines of tall trees into fields.
The wind was intense, making my adrenaline spike, and I attempted to tie my short hair up to avoid that chaos later. The humidity eventually put us all into a deep trance of either silence or just sleep until we arrived at the restaurant stop at around 3:30 pm.
Where did I sit at lunch? You guessed it! The standard vegetarian table with Lele and French Alice. My meat-eating friends were separated from me yet again, though I understood why as in Thailand, most meals are shared onto smaller plates. In any event, I liked Lele & Alice and we made more polite conversation while devouring as much som tam (spicy unripened papaya salad) as we could so not to waste the massive serving we’d been given. We started talking about more personal things and I really enjoyed hearing about their experiences in Thailand and their summer plans. Sadly, our conversation ended as soon as lunch did and we returned to our respective split friend groups. P’ Vicky seemed to still be in awe that I would be hosting Nice and put the two of us in the center of many more photos.
We hopped back in the truck and the vibe was vastly different after we had some food in our stomachs. Sydney and I blared our American and Spanish pop music, our entire group laughing and singing as loud as we could as we whipped through the long stretches of hilly roads. Our favourite song to sing was “Lo Mismo,” by Gims and Alvaro Soler. I absolutely love Alvaro Soler and I found out about him through songs of the day in my Spanish class. When Sydney and I realized we had no common interests in songs besides 2014 top hits (she being a country fan and I, a fan of indie), I showed her Alvaro Soler and he became our go-to listen. Emil happened to know the French part in Lo Mismo so he could jam out too and the rest of the Germans quickly caught on. We were a sight to see for all the motorcycles going by and even the AFS vans had their windows open, waving at us and chuckling at the scene we were making.
We arrived at the hostel, ecstatic from our crazy ride. We climbed up the long, black stairs to our room. Our private bathroom came in handy and we all took nice, warm showers. The lot of us hung out in our room, showing each other music from our countries and explaining common sayings. Fenja and Alice told us about a German children’s saying when someone does something silly and it went along the lines of that “the entire farm is laughing at you, all the cows are laughing at you, and by the way, you’re stupid.” Sydney and I had no idea what to make of that and didn’t understand it at all but we found it hilarious. For the rest of the camp, we all said the English version of that so much, even randomly just to say it. We had about an hour and a half before our next activity.
We took a twenty-minute van ride to the beautiful Ao Nang beach! This was my first southern beach experience and I was loving it. I even wore a dress Sofia and I bought in Nan thrift-shopping, one I had saved for this special beach experience. We threw off our sandals and bags by a tree and took loads of photos together before the sun started to set. It was a serene environment, with tourists mostly higher up in the sand getting Thai massages. We dipped our feet in the water too, walking so far out into the distance but only having the water graze our shins.
Here are photos of Sydney, Fenja, and I by the cliffside taken by Alice.
Sydney and I had our own little photoshoot.
Here’s a photo of the entire group.
We were all blown away by the view and couldn’t stop laughing or dancing at the sight of it. I was in such awe and started thinking about how far I’d come to see this. This was another special moment of gratitude, where I knew all the hard work was worth it for me to be there, in that exact moment, standing with my best friends, the waves washing over my feet, and the sky melting into pinks, oranges, and reds in far away Thailand.
Here are some photos of the beach and cliffside right when we arrived.
It was the most amazing sunset I’d ever seen, especially with the colours reflecting on the water. In Thailand, everyone considers the sun to be the colour red as opposed to yellow. This absolutely blew my mind when I found out this fun fact, especially seeing children’s drawings with a red sun in the corner. I finally understood why when I saw the sun that night, very clearly red.
Here are some dramatic photos my friends took of me on the shore.
At the end, Luke and Sydney danced around while Alice took some adorable photos of them. Fenja and I stood together in silence, admiring the view for a few last seconds.
As we were all heading back, I had two anxiety-provoking realizations. 1) My sandals, one of two pairs of shoes I owned, were not where I had left them. 2) Emil was nowhere to be found. We had met up with the other group a little while into the allotted time so I guess we just figured he had gone off with them. The sun was almost gone and P’ Vicky seemed pretty stressed. Luke and I searched for my sandals. I called and texted Emil to no response. I eventually found one of my sandals by a tree far away from our meeting space and Luke found another in the sand (though I distinctly remembered putting them together…oh well though). I guessed that when we arrived, we spread out from all the wandering and I got confused by my surroundings. I thanked Luke for helping me and we met up with the people on the other side of the beach. It was now dark and P’ Vicky instructed us to get in the van. Seconds after we did, Emil wandered over to our group casually. We all breathed a sigh of relief and asked where he was, and he replied that he got a Thai massage on the beach. We laughed and got in the van, excited for dinner.
I felt bad as I had arranged to meet my host sister and her family at the market at 6:30 pm and I would be arriving around 7 pm. However, “Thai time” worked in my favour this one time as Thai people are very forgiving when it comes to being late. Plus, my host sister and her family knew I was at the mercy of the AFS schedule & P’ Vicky so it wasn’t an issue. I was also a little nervous about my dress, which was certainly not appropriate in any circumstance in Thailand except the beach with my Western friends. The AFS staff dropped us off at the market and I began my frantic search around. Emil and German Alice decided to come with me so they followed me around as I direct messaged Nice, trying to ascertain her location in such a huge marketplace. After fifteen minutes of us running around and two video calls, we found her in the middle of the main street, surrounded by the instrument shops (thus generating even more noise) and throngs of people. We stepped to the side and I wai-ed at her entire family. Her grandmother smiled very bright at me and gave me a huge hug, which is very uncommon in Thailand.
I gave Nice a little hug too and she gave me a beautiful Krabi tote bag (my now go-to purse as it had a zipper) with some Thai snacks inside.
It turns out I had nothing to worry about with my dress, as Nice’s mother complimented it within minutes of us meeting. I guessed living in a beach town full of tourists had them accustomed to seeing people with less conservative clothes. I introduced my friends, who wai-ed as well, and we tried to make dinner plans. They explained there probably wouldn’t be any vegetarian options at the market there so we started walking down the street to a restaurant. I quickly reconvened with Emil and Alice and we decided they should stay at the market as it would probably be less expensive and they would have more things to do. I gave them a big hug and we separated, though Nice’s family was very welcoming and invited them nevertheless.
We arrived at a restaurant, more Western than most Thai restaurants. It had white tiled floors, golden walls, and a little private corner that we sat in at a long wooden table. When sitting down, I made the mistake of putting my new tote bag on the floor for a second before Nice’s grandmother, sitting at my right grabbed it and pulled over a chair to put it on. In Thai culture, the head is sacred and the floor and feet are the opposite. In many parts of Asia, there are superstitions that if you put your purse on the floor, you will lose all the money in it or similar sentiments. This aspect of Thai culture I never really had to deal with and I only knew about it from a very brief story Brandon from PDO told me. I was kicking myself under the table that I forgot and put their lovely gift on the floor. I thanked her very much and hoped my culture mishap could be forgiven. Nice’s family spoke English to varying degrees. Nice was rather good at it, as was her mother and presumably her father though he didn’t talk very much (I am pretty sure he understood everything). Her grandmother didn’t really speak English so I made sure to try and speak some Thai though I was pretty nervous and probably didn’t do a very good job with my grammar. At one point, they asked me what the weather was like now but paused for a second before saying now. I, thinking in Thai where the word for cold is pronounced the same as “now,” said, “yes, it is very cold,” in Thai, making everyone laugh when they clarified that they meant now as in the time in English. Nice’s mother is one of the most joyous people I’ve ever met and she was clearly absolutely thrilled that her daughter had this opportunity. She led the conversation and asked me plenty of questions. I answered, showed her photos of my school and family, and sometimes she would chime in with a fact about my life that she memorized from our AFS profile. I thought she was very sweet and she reminded me of my own mother, who reacts the same way about my experience in Thailand. Not to mention, both my mother and hers are nurses so yet another similarity. I got along really well with her and we still message on Facebook quite a bit. Her dad was quiet but friendly, as was her grandmother. Nice seemed a bit shy but perhaps overwhelmed too. She didn’t have many questions because she said it didn’t seem real yet, as she would be leaving in August and it was March at the time. We ate dinner, mine being a fried rice with vegetables and egg. Unfortunately, it made me feel a bit nauseous for some reason so I ate enough to be polite as they were kindly paying for me. As we were leaving, Nice’s mother asked me if I wanted to see Krabi’s town statue, aptly a crab. I agreed and we walked a few streets down, with Nice ushering me to walk with her in front of her family. I felt a bit weird as I knew I wasn’t quite showing my personality to her, trying to both be extremely polite and respectful to her family, maintaining the standards of Thai culture. However, as we talked, I felt more relaxed and I had a feeling we would get along well when she was in America.
We reached the giant crab, which was lit up in the center of a common space right next to the lake. There were a few people out enjoying the nightlife too and we waited to get photos (though I sadly can’t find them now.) Krabi is a very creative town, as I learned from the statues and posters promoting their local art week. Nice also is passionate about painting and drawing. I am excited to take her to Chicago’s Art Institute.
We then made our way back to the night market. We entered the opposite end from my hostel, near where the stage was. One of the first stalls we passed by was a clothing shop run by Nice’s aunt. I wai-ed to her and we chatted for a bit before she and Nice’s family insisted I pick out a shirt. We browsed for a bit and I tried to guess what they thought would be nice and what would be the least expensive, as they had already been so generous with me. Her mother touched one of the shirts and I immediately went to that section, picking out the same shirt but in white and blue. It was a long sleeved shirt with stripes and a V-neck. I thought it was pretty and I wore it many times after that, as you will see in the photos from my last day in Krabi. We said goodbye to her aunt, walked over to the main stage, and then I said goodbye too. I loved meeting Nice and her family and it was such a unique experience. I thought they were amazing people and I hope I can visit them again one day when I return to Thailand.
I texted my friends, who met me where I had left Nice’s family. A few stalls down, we found some noodles and clearly marked vegetarian curries and I picked out a peanut one, which was delicious. We sat at a very small table in between some stalls and ate our dinner. As we sat, we overheard some conversations and decided to play a game. We split into our two teams of three people: the Americans vs. the Germans. This game is actually pretty fair, as there are definitely more German tourists and residents in Thailand than Americans. Whenever we heard an American speak, we would get a point and whenever they heard a German speak, they would. We played all night long, spotting people who looked vaguely like they could be from our country and listening in to hear our languages. It was the silliest when we swore someone was one of us and then they spoke the other team’s language. The Americans ended up winning night one just by a few points. We explored the marketplace, got delicious (but expensive) mango smoothies, and I bought an inexpensive really cute blue Krabi shirt with a motorcycle on it. We got some really good 10 baht (33 cents USD) waffles to go and sat in the hostel’s kitchen to eat. We played a few games of Jenga, finished eating, and then went upstairs to our room with Luke and Emil too. We all sat on the top of the bunks and played truth or truth though I fell asleep sometime in that. Someone woke me up gently at one point to tell me that someone asked Emil who he thought was the cutest and he said me because I give lots of compliments to people! That was so sweet and I went back to sleep with my heart full.
We began our day at around 8 am, this time having a less formal breakfast at the hostel. There were bread and jams out so we made ourselves some toast. We all sat at one long table in the kitchen and talked for a little while. At the end, I washed up other people’s plates and German Alice washed their cups. Some of the Italians like Elio wanted to wash their own to be polite but we insisted. The environment was very friendly and I liked everyone there.
We took our vans to a different beach and met our guide, P’Best, for our Phi Phi islands tour day. We had a bit of spare time so we went to buy water and ate some bananas the tour group provided us. Then, P’ Best told us our itinerary and gave us safety instructions, but was very light-hearted and cracking jokes left and right. He made us all put our shoes in a big garbage bag that would be left on the boat, as we wouldn’t be needing them with all our swimming. Plus, wearing shoes inside somewhere isn’t customary in Thailand anyway. The tourists joining our group looked shocked when they heard us joking around in Thai. We chatted with them, specifically two American twin sisters in their early twenties, throughout our day and everyone was very friendly. I was grateful when we left our shady meeting place and onto the beach, as fire ants had found us and were biting our feet and legs to pieces.
Our first stop was at a small cove to go snorkelling. I had never been snorkelling before, and to be honest, I was a bit nervous to swim in the Andaman Sea. I don’t consider myself to be the best swimmer and I was very cautious going into this. However, I was really excited to try it, especially as the YES Thailand alumni said it was fantastic. Our boat stopped and we put on lifejackets (if we wanted them, which I did) and masks. I got some help tightening my goggles and mask, as the snorkelling equipment was not the most reliable. We jumped in the water from a ladder, careful not to mess up our snorkelling gear. As it turned out, the lifejacket ended up being a nuisance weighing me down as it was far easier for me to swim in this water than I thought. The boat was pretty far and I didn’t want to waste any time so I made a mental note not to wear it next time. My gear was also unfortunately mostly faulty so my goggles filled up every few minutes with water and I had to mess with them to tighten them. However, the hassle was well worth it. As I swam, I was taken aback by the swarms of fish gliding past us that you couldn’t even see from the surface of the water. The blue and yellow medium-sized fish were the most beautiful to me and I saw plenty of incredible stones and coral reefs as well. Our group all split up exploring but every now and again, I would spot one of my friends and we would direct each other to the beautiful things we’d seen or jump underwater together and wave hello or do a funny handshake. We spent about forty-five minutes there and I was exhausted by the time I’d finished.
We stopped at a beach to swim, relax, and take photos. I love the Thai beaches, especially how incredibly soft the white, warm sand is underneath your feet.
At one point, we viewed Maya Bay at Phi Phi Leh, the site of Leonardo Dicaprio’s The Beach, from the boat. Maya Bay is closed indefinitely as the ecosystem and physical beach are severely damaged from tourism, which I think is very tragic. While disappointing to fans, I think closing the beach is the best move Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation could have made.
As we had some spare time in our schedule, we took an unexpected stop to a little cove with the most astounding views. We passed by a very few other boats but it was rather secluded.
The water was glimmering in the sunlight and the colour was a vibrant mixture of blue and green.
P’ Best gave us twenty five minutes to swim, right in the middle of all the mountains. We all headed to the very front of the boat and started jumping off. It was a pretty big leap but everyone came up from the water laughing or shouting with joy. Sydney, our Italian friend Beatrice, and I counted to three and then plunged into the crystal clear and warm water. I felt like it was pretty deep but I quickly floated back up to the top, feeling very invigorated and giggling like everyone else. Fenja and Emil joined us shortly after. Alice, who works as a lifeguard, convinced Luke, who doesn’t know how to swim, to come in the water with a lifejacket. We all stretched out, soaking in the sunshine and gorgeous views.
My small group ventured out near the opening of the cove. It seemed like all of us were wind-up dolls– the only thing we could manage to talk about was how beautiful the scenery was and how lucky we were to be there together before getting very quiet to be present in the moment and then start the same conversation back up again. We also dove underwater every now and again to feel re-energized.
When P’Best called us back to the boat, we were all a bit disappointed to go and also in a daze from the experience. I definitely considered that to be one of, if not the, most beautiful things I ever saw in Thailand. Everyone was bursting with contagious happiness and the nature was remarkable and undisturbed. I hope one day I can go back with my family or friends again and spend more time there.
After the brief swimming interlude, we went back to snorkelling just outside the top of a limestone cave. The water here was dark blue and even a bit cold. This time, my goggles worked a bit better but my mouthpiece was broken so it wasn’t ideal conditions. Sydney and I explored together mostly and there were much less things to see than our first location, though it was still beautiful. We finished up faster and Sydney and I raced to the boat with our equipment. We decided to sit in the very front of the boat this time to get a better view. We jammed out to our Alvaro Soler beach playlist and re-applied very necessary sunscreen, though Luke needed some help (as pictured below).
After about fifteen minutes, we reached the restaurant at Tonsai Bay on Phi Phi Don for our late lunch, though we’d been snacking on fresh fruit and orange juice provided by the tour group throughout the day. There were some really good vegetarian options of pasta, fried rice, vegetables, and more. Our group sat in a little corner away from the tourists from all the tour groups in order to charge our phones and get a bit of quiet. After lunch, I was feeling so drowsy from the heat and all the swimming so I took a little nap on the table until it was time for us to go.
We called it a day shortly after that, with maybe one more stop to swim. I was honestly drained by the time we docked back in Krabi. We grabbed our shoes and personal belongings and then took the van back to our hostel. I took a quick shower, nap, and the four of us girls hung out for a while before we met up with Emil and Luke to explore the marketplace. There, we got some food and smoothies and accidentally split up (par for the course). Sydney and I went on a little shopping spree, exploring all of the stands there and eventually walking away with a few inexpensive shirts, necklaces, and souvenirs. The night was fun and I enjoyed the lively environment Krabi’s market had.
We came downstairs to the hostel kitchen to a pleasant surprise from P’ Vicky in the form of Thai breakfast. She got the three of us vegetarians some delicious Pad Thai and everyone else had noodles too. Unfortunately, we found that tons of people were horribly burned the day before, leaving bright red marks on their skin in the shape of their swimsuits. I remember almost everyone applying sunscreen after every stop but the sun proved a formidable adversary. I was burned a little but it was nothing in comparison to some other kids. Nevertheless, everyone was still in a good mood and much more prepared for this second day of island activities with lots of sunscreen.
We came a little closer to our tour time the next day so we just jumped into the orientation, sadly without P’ Best. This guide did almost exactly the same spiel, including the jokes, but perhaps putting a little less heart into it, earning him the nickname “P’ Second Best”. We hopped on the boat, this time everyone selecting spots in the shade.
Our first stop was a small island and the tour guide told us it was known because when the tide was low, you can walk on the sandbank in between the nearby islands. We took some photos before heading into the water.
There were also the iconic wooden longboats with gorgeous fabrics or flowers tied to the front.
Alice, Sydney, Emil, Fenja, Sydney, Luke, and I all dove into the water and started swimming in the cold but light water. At first, we tried to help Luke learn how before letting Alice take the lead. Then, we swam as far as the eye could see, just floating in the water and relaxing. We went back to the island part, wondering how much time we had left. As it turns out, we had a good amount of time left and we all somehow split up. Alice, Fenja, and I walked to a different side of the beach and swam close to the shore. We realized the three of us watched the same mermaid show as kids, H2O: Just Add Water, though they knew it by the German name. We joked we were like the three girls who starred in it, living our island dreams. We all were smarter this day, wearing our swimsuits almost exclusively when we were swimming and putting our shirts on when we weren’t.
Our next stop was to Phra Nang Cave Beach on the mainland of Krabi. We walked along the shoreline for a bit, seeing some large jellyfish washed up, before getting to the cave, which is just a small opening in a cliff that you can’t really enter.
There are many legends about the temple there, specifically that it was dedicated to either an Indian princess or wife of a fisherman lost at sea named Phra Nang. There are many offerings there made by locals and tourists.
The cliffs around were huge and many people were climbing it, which looked insanely difficult. As we had some spare time, my friends and I decided to swim in the shady area near the cave. Hardly anyone else was there, though we didn’t realize why until later.
We were in the water not even for five minutes when Sydney yelped and said she thought she’d been bit by something and we should go back. Sydney was seemed hesitant to swim in the first place so we foolishly took her words with a grain of salt. A little bit later, she said she might’ve been stung by something again, maybe even a jellyfish. I, an absolute idiot, responded with, “I think you’d know for sure if you were stung by a jellyfish,” and swam further in the shade. Seconds after, I felt a jellyfish wrap tightly around my right arm and I shouted in pain. I struggled to get out of its grip, getting my fingers stung in the process too. I raced back to the shore in unbelievable pain and Sydney naturally said, “I told you so.” We went back to the boat and sadly, I couldn’t find any lotion or aloe vera so I just sat there feeling it sting for a few hours. I still have a long mark wrapping around my arm with little spots where the stingers were from that day, about five months later. It isn’t very noticeable luckily unless I am in water.
Our next stop was snorkelling again, though we really only did that for a few minutes before abandoning our equipment in the boat to swim instead.
P’ Vicky even joined us!
Our last stop of the day was our picnic lunch on an island. We stayed on a less populated side of the beach so we had the view to ourselves. The only ones around besides us were monkeys! Luke hadn’t seen any yet, as he lived just outside of Bangkok, so he made fast friends with them.
For lunch, I had vegetarian noodles with tofu and some fresh fruit. We played Alvaro Soler while we ate and the Italians complimented our music and Irene from Spain smiled as we sang along in her native language. The sand was burning hot so we sat under a pavillion instead.
After lunch, we sat on towels looking into the distance, admiring where a single mountainous rock stood in the center of the ocean.
We, of course, took tons of photos too. Luke’s portrait mode came in clutch.
We returned to the beach after that and the followed the same routine as the day before: happy but exhausted, van ride home, fun and sleeping in the hostel until dinner. P’ Vicky made dinner a special occasion, as it was our very last night in Krabi. She took us all to a buffet-style restaurant. There weren’t many options but the restaurant made sure there was a vegetarian pot of water for our หมูกระทะ (or Mu Kratha) so I was happy with some ramen. Before everyone really got to eating, Fenja also took out a ramen pack, crushed it up, and ate it raw. I was shocked, wondering if that was even safe. I asked her what she was doing and she said that raw ramen is a classic snack for German kids, which blew my mind. We all tried it and I have to say, it lived up to the hype. During dinner, we reminisced on the camp memories, talked about visiting each other over the summer, and tried not to get bit to pieces by mosquitoes (thank you Fenja for lending me your jacket!).
P’ Vicky approached me the day before, knowing I was vegetarian and having heard I took a som tam class at school, and asked if she could videotape me making it for AFS. I, not really thinking about it too much, agreed. She spontaneously came to our table at the end of dinner and asked me if I was ready to go and then invited everyone in our camp to watch! I was a bit flustered as everyone gathered around and all the supplies were brought to our table. My movement disorder, which makes me blink more often and other small tics, was even acting up from the nervousness. I begged Sydney to come join me and she eventually gave in. Then, we asked if any of the Europeans also wanted to make it with us and Irene came up. We started making our first batch, with everyone videotaping around us.
P’ Vicky kept starting and stopping the videos so our routine was pretty improvised. It was a bit of a trainwreck to be honest but we were all laughing hysterically. The ingredients were a bit different from what I was used to in my class and it required a bit more preparation, making P’ Vicky take the lead instructing us on what to do. We made a lot of mistakes (including me dropping the spoon right into the lime juice) and to be honest, our end results almost always came out terrible. We made about three batches and this video is from the second batch I believe.
All in all, it was a fun experience and only moderately embarrassing. Our curfew was extended to later that night so we spent our time in the night market (Fenja and I even buying new striped shirts!) and then all hung out in my room again.
Day five was our only day completely on land and it went much slower than the rest. We woke up later, packed up all of our things, ate breakfast, and had free time. My small group decided to explore Krabi town a bit more and our first stop was to Wat Kaew Korawaram, at the end of the street our hostel was on. The walk up to the entrance was beautiful, especially how the white glistened under the light early morning sun. As this was a bit spontaneous, I was wearing shorts instead of long pants so I sadly couldn’t go inside. I waited outside with Emil and played with some cats we found outside. The girls later told us that the temple inside was just like any other, which made me feel a bit better for missing out.
Next, we walked around the blocks for a while looking into antique stores and thrift shops, though none of us bought anything as it was rather pricey. We stumbled upon a cafe and a bookstore with books in all different languages. I got a chocolate & banana smoothie and we went to the upstairs level, where nobody was around. We talked about our upcoming school schedules and college exams, among other things.
After we finished our drinks, our group walked back to the hostel just in time to do a last check of our rooms and haul our things to the vans. As everyone but Sydney and I’s bus was leaving at around 5 pm, P’ Vicky had some activities planned for us. Our first stop was to get lunch at a buffet style restaurant, which unfortunately didn’t have vegetarian food. I ate plain rice and drank a lot of water. Sadly, this is where we recieved the heartbreaking news that a number of small explosions occurred in Satun City and Phattalung province (both also in the south) that day, presumably sparked by the upcoming Thai elections which were the first since 2014. We spent most of lunch scanning news articles for more information but found little.
Next, we toured a ceramics museum for a little over an hour, which to be honest, was rather boring and the exhibits didn’t really make sense. However, we still had fun hanging out and were grateful not to be in the sun.
We hopped in the vans to our final activity of the day: the Tiger Cave temple, named after tiger paw prints inside. It took us about half an hour to get there and we arrived at approximately 3 pm. We walked up to a shady portion around the temple entrance (surrounded by monkeys!) and everyone waited there. As we were sitting, we realized German Alice was nowhere to be found. We checked the bathrooms and then debated about which van she got in, and therefore who saw her last. A few of us texted her and she finally picked up my call. I asked where she was and she responded, “In the lobby, where are you?” I gasped and put my hands over my mouth, laughing but also freaked out, making all of my friends look at me quizzically. I revealed that we accidentally left Alice at the museum and we all stood there in shock while laughing a little. We immediately alerted P’Vicky and the AFS staff, who breathed a sigh of relief but also raced back the half hour to pick Alice up.
As we were waiting, we glanced up to the top of the mountain. We knew the Tiger Cave Temple was actually an incredibly challenging hike up 1,237 stairs and thought we would try getting maybe up to 500 steps. Fenja, Sydney, and I made a pact to go as far up as we could. We prepared by getting waters and Gatorades and started up. I already had a nice view at not even 50 steps up and we kept going. At some point, Sydney took the lead as she is a fitness goddess and Fenja and I followed. The stairs twisted and turned upwards, with hand railings for support and wooden markers on your step count. At around 300 measly steps, I took a little break and Fenja went ahead. I was sweating so much from the afternoon heat wave and I was wearing longer clothes (including my new shirt from Nice’s family) as I didn’t want to make the same mistake with the temple I had that morning. I sipped my drink and took a few deep breaths before continuing my ascent. When I hit around 550 steps, I was beyond proud and called Fenja, who was now approaching 700 steps on a bigger landing. I could just about see her and we decided to meet there. We high-fived and started walking down the mountain when some Italian and Spanish tourists who had already climbed to the top urged us to keep going and that the view was worth it, no matter what the cost. Fenja and I looked at each other skeptically, knowing we didn’t really have time for that, but we called P’ Vicky nevertheless asking when we absolutely had to be back. P’ Vicky was very encouraging, asking us to please take photos since she herself had never seen the top of the mountain despite living in Krabi and was just as curious as us. She extended the time we had to be back to 4:45 and it was just turning 4 pm then. Fenja and I steeled ourselves and made the decision to carry on, picking up the pace so as not to hold up the group. We climbed as fast as we possibly could. All the while, everyone coming down from the top was incredibly supportive of us climbing up it, cheering us on in their various languages and offering incentives like the fact that there were water fountains and bathrooms at the top. Fenja’s and my drinks were long gone at that point so we were dying to get some water. It was a really sweet and special experience, as we encountered people from all around the world all trying to conquer the same goal. As we got higher up, the steps got steeper until they were about a foot high each, making the climb that much harder. My mind was completely clear the whole time, focusing only on my next step and checking on how Fenja was. It was an incredibly intense experience and it really tested my mental and physical capacity. At around 900 steps, we saw Sydney, who looked completely energized and had already been to the top. She asked us what we were doing still going up and we explained to her our extension on time. She looked at us in disbelief and frustration, and explained she had also been climbing as fast as possible and barely acknowledged the temple out of awareness of the time limit. We parted ways again, as Fenja and I were still on the clock. The steps started getting dangerously shorter right at the top and I was even nervous of falling. The climb seemed never-ending but eventually we reached the lookout that had the bathrooms, with the top in sight. Fenja beat me up by about twenty steps and I followed behind, completely out of breath and exhausted. As I reached the top, Fenja’s head peered over the ledge to see me finish and three American girls behind me were playing “Fergalicious,” which was the most empowering way to finish climbing a mountain. I collapsed onto the ground, laughing and smiling from my accomplishment, and someone pointed me towards the water fountain. The water was a slow drip of very warm water but I drank more than I ever have in one sitting. Fenja and I hugged each other, despite both being literally disgusting, and took photos.
We took some photos of the stunning view and looked at the Buddha statue very briefly. Unfortunately, we don’t have any photos or videos of the climb up as we were going incredibly fast but I will link here a vlog I found that captures the essence of the hike in my opinion and can show more of the scenery.
As we were prepping for our climb down, I checked my phone to see multiple calls from Luke and Sydney. I called Sydney back, who was absolutely frantic. She said that P’ Vicky thought I was only asking for an extension on time for Sydney and I, who had different travel arrangements than everyone else. In short, Fenja and all the other AFS students were about to miss their bus. We grabbed our stuff and absolutely booked it down the mountain, which was much faster and easier than the hike up. The only issue was that the steps while going down appeared to blur into each other, making us dizzy, which was a bit dangerous. Fenja and I cheered on those going up, as the people before had done for us, while still powering our way down. We made good time, maybe taking about twenty minutes. Alice met us at the bottom with waters (what an angel) and we ran to the parking lot, where Sydney was. Everyone else had left in vans for the station so the four of us piled in P’ Vicky’s car for a very cramped and gross ride to the bus station, as we questioned Sydney and Alice on how mad everyone else was. The answer was not in our favour. We knew it probably came across that we had no regard for the other’s travel plans, as we had been given the time to come back right when we arrived, and were worried that nobody knew we were given an extension. It was a huge misunderstanding and we felt terrible for holding everyone up. Meanwhile, P’ Vicky, albeit stressed, was excited to hear about our experience going up to the temple. We gave her our short summary of it and by the time we finished, we arrived at the station. The buses hadn’t arrived yet luckily, so all was okay. We caught our breath for about ten minutes until P’ Vicky told Sydney and I that we had to go to a van station instead of the bus one. We hugged all of our friends goodbye and promised to stay in touch, hopefully seeing each other at future camps.
Krabi was definitely a highlight of my year abroad, as it was my first time truly down south seeing the gorgeous nature that makes Thailand so famous. I made very close friends with the other AFS-ers as well as getting the chance to see my host sister and her family in their hometown. I saw some of the most beautiful sights in my entire life, like the cove or the top of the Tiger Cave Temple. It was truly a magical camp and I will cherish those memories forever.