Why you should buy bread krathongs at Loi Krathong in Thailand

Choose bread this Loi Krathong!

Buy bread krathongs like these beauties.

The aftermath of Loi Krathong's beauty is an ugly mess.

File:Loy Krathong the morning after P1010830a.jpg
Krathong pollution.
Photo from Wikipedia commons
The photographs released of thousands of krathongs polluting the rivers of Thailand the morning after Loi Krathong are pretty shocking.

People release krathongs to symbolically 'let go' of pent up negativity from the previous year and to worship the river goddess Phra Mae Kong Kah.

You can buy krathongs crafted out of banana trunks, leaves and flowers; out of styrofoam; out of beer and soda cans and out of bread or ice cream cones. You can see how popular krathongs made using non-environmentally friendly materials have become here.

I don't understand why people equate polluting the river with styrofoam and metal to paying respect to it. 

Thankfully, I'm not alone. Everyone can choose to release a more environmentally friendly krathong:


Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want. If customers refuse to buy the styrofoam or metal krathongs; sellers won't make them any more.

The bread and ice cream cone krathongs are just as pretty and almost all of it will dissolve away into nothingness or be eaten by river creatures - which is surely even better from a 'letting go of bad stuff' point of view than it simply floating away but still being in existence. This is an easy way to make a less harmful impact on the environment.

Proudly holding a green bread krathong!
You could also buy ones made with all-natural materials (banana trunks, leaves and flowers) that will rot away over a longer period of time; but be aware that these are still usually full of wires, pins and staples to hold everything in place. I still think bread or ice cream cones are the better choice from an environmental perspective.

Be sure to check your bread krathong for wires and only buy ones without. A lot of the bread krathongs have pretty sparkly dangley things hung on a wire poked into the base. Obviously, wire doesn't dissolve and if a river creature tries to eat it after being attracted to the sparklyness, it may end up severely unhappy or dead.

I read that in some places in Thailand, officials have workers collect the krathongs from the river and turn them into compost. Make sure that the krathongs you send out onto the river can be composted!

Photo from siamsouth.com
Enjoy Loi Krathong!
Wednesday, 12 November 2014
Posted by Amy Lou

The most baffling student I ever met: Chicken-Bean

I teach English to a boy I've nicknamed Chicken-Bean.

Photo: Ady Negrean
I really like him. He's a happy boy, friendly and super-talkative. He's good at English and usually gets great grades.

He is the strangest student I've ever taught.

The word 'chicken' spills out of his mouth at any given opportunity, and occasionally he'll say the word 'bean' a few hundred times too. He says it in sentences, so I don't think that it's uncontrollable. I don't *think* it's tourettes. I don't tell him off. I either ignore it, or try to change the topic, but he's pretty determined to speak about chickens whenever he can.

What's your favourite food? - Chicken!
What did you do yesterday? - I ate a chicken!
What is this huge blue thing swimming in the sea? - It's a chicken!

The poor girl sat next to him ignored it at first.

After a while, she started to giggle at it. I asked her not to, so as not to encourage the chicken/bean obsession. Now, she sits, quietly giggling under her breath, and he continues talking about chickens and beans, oblivious. I'm expecting her to start rocking back and forth soon.

The following classroom conversation happened today. It's far from an isolated incident; Chicken-Bean can turn any topic back to chickens or beans. Halloween? "Chicken ghosts." Past continuous tense? "The chicken was eating a bean." Titanic? "Chicken ships." (I laughed at that one, regrettably!)

My students have been learning about The Day of the Dead, and to help them to remember it they made a poster of a sugar skull with key words about the festival all around it. Before they began, we brainstormed on the board. The students called out key words, and I wrote them:

Me:    "So what are some things you see at The Day of the Dead?"
C-B:   "Chicken!"
*purposely ignore Chicken-Bean*
Ploy:  "Orange marigold flowers!"
Me:    "Excellent! What else?"
C-B:   "Chiiiiiiiicken!"
*ignore, ignore, ignore...!*
Ball:   "Visiting graves!"
Me:    "Yes! Graves!"
Ice:     "Bread of the living!"
Me:    "No! Not chicken!"
C-B:   "But I saw a chicken!"
Me:    "There was no chicken! Chickens are NOT A KEY PART OF THIS FESTIVAL!"
C-B:   "I SAW the Day of the Dead chicken!"

Later, he called me over, and told me that his skull was not a skull, it was a chicken.

I asked him if he thought about chickens all day.

He confirmed that he did, so I asked him why. He really liked chickens. I looked over to another student and asked what it was all about. She shrugged, and said that it had come from a TV advert. I suggested that he think about something different, just to try it, and he happily refused.

What can we learn from Chicken-Bean?

Persistence. He never gives up. Every day is an earnest, completely malice-free attempt to say the word chicken as many times as possible. Perhaps he has a daily goal: 'I will say the word 'chicken' in a sentence 624 times today'. Perhaps it's as addictive to him as Candy Crush Saga is to the other students. People give up on stuff all the time, but not Chicken-Bean. I think we can all take a valuable lesson away from that.
Wednesday, 5 November 2014
Posted by Amy Lou

Friends on the road: saying goodbye too soon

“It was really great meeting you. Have a safe flight!”

Photo: OFU
Meeting people is an awesome part of living in a busy city like Chiang Mai. But I've lost count of how many times I've said goodbye to people, because Chiang Mai is also a very transient city. Saying farewell becomes inevitable when you're living for a while in a city full of travelers just passing through.

‘Goodbye’ takes on a different dynamic when you're settled somewhere rather than travelling. You've got adventuring to take the edge off leaving new friends when you’re on the move. Because I'm living here, I've got work and a crappy deflated feeling the next day. There's still wine to take the edge off and no doubt I'm learning valuable life lessons about letting go, but, bleh!

Usually it's fine; that short-lived travel-friendship. 

It's fun, we explore new stuff together and even adventures that I've been on a hundred times seem fresher when seen through the eyes of someone who's doing it for the first time. I've experienced some of the highlights of my life with travel friends. When it's time for them to leave, you part ways and know that you'll remember time spent together fondly. The goodbye is sad, but you’re both content with knowing that maybe you'll bump into one another again somewhere in the world.

But did you ever make friends with or meet someone who you really wanted to know for more than a fleeting while? 

Sometimes people just connect. You're living here for now, and, fuck. They're only staying for a couple of months, two weeks, a day, with no real plan except one to leave soon.

That goodbye sucks.

Photo: Nick Kenrick

Posted by Amy Lou

Seven things ESL and TEFL teachers have to pay for

Teaching in Thailand? Don't expect to be showered with resources.

Unless you're lucky, you won't be given anything much once you arrive at your new school. You will have to dish out some dollar to buy stuff to teach with, or make do without.

Injured Piggy Bank WIth Crutches
Photo from Ken Teegardin of seniorliving.org

A computer

I would argue that every English teacher needs access to a computer to find invaluable teaching ideas and resources online, keep up with education research, plan lessons, create resources and project lessons from (and look at funny cat pictures between classes, of course).

If you're lucky, your school will have projectors in all of the classrooms that you use. PowerPoint presentations (the interesting, visually stimulating kind) can make teaching a whole lot more efficient and can be used again and again. If you don't know how to make fantastic PowerPoint presentations; why not see what you can do by learning how, or download and edit existing presentations.

You'll probably have to buy a bunch of cables and cable-end-converters to hook up your computer to the audio and projection equipment, though!

Printing and photocopying

Some schools pay for this, and some don't. If your school printer spits out your carefully crafted worksheet like it's poison, guess who has to dash to the print shop and pay out of their own pocket. That's right; you, the farang teacher rolling around in banknotes.

I'm certainly guilty of over-printing sometimes, but I actually believe it's best to print as little as possible anyway, even if you're not the one paying for it. Your students (hopefully) have notebooks; have them write in there and project the work in front of them. I've been working at converting my worksheets into on-screen versions, which has been going down really well with my students.

If you must print, use both sides ;)

Markers, pens, pencils, paper, staples, stamps, bluetack, folders and sticky notes

All that marking requires a steady stream of red ink and possibly 'awesome work!' stamps. Those games where they run up and write stuff on the board? REGULARLY RUINED MARKERS BABY. Even if you use PowerPoint for almost everything, you'll be writing on the board pretty often. Want to give your students something that's more than two sides of a page? Better buy a stapler and some staplers. You'll be needing sticky notes and folders too if you plan to keep track of all those assignments, projects, notebooks and paperwork. Naturally, you'll be wanting a big sturdy pencil case to keep everything in.

My cost-cutting advice is again, to use your computer and projector if you can. Whiteboard markers last about five minutes and re-fill ink is expensive and messy. You don't really need a stamp; draw a smiley face instead.

A microphone

Not everyone wants to use a microphone, but sometimes teachers with huge class sizes need one. Even with the best voice projection it can be hard for the kids at the back to hear. Guess who buys it ;)


Laminated resources are durable - the kids can't easily rip them, or disintegrate them with their slobber, and you can keep them for years if there's enough room under your desk. Lamination is almost essential for many ESL games that involve the students handling flashcards. It isn't cheap, though. My advice is to (you guessed it) use the projector to show them stuff.

Safe scissors

If you teach kindergarten and don't want them using normal scissors, you'll probably have to buy some for them to use. Try not to cry when you don't get all of them back at the end of the class.


Last but not least; you'll have to spend some money on your ESL Teacher Wardrobe. Shirts, trousers, skirts, dresses and shoes that fit well, are cool enough for the heat and modest enough for the Thai classroom. Ladies, remember to cover those sexy shoulders of yours!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014
Posted by Amy Lou

Cinemas in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Want to see a movie in Chiang Mai?

I go to the cinema more than anyone else I know in Chiang Mai. I love watching films, and happily Chiang Mai has plenty of great cinemas to choose from. I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy on Saturday... it was (surprisingly) amazing!

Cinemas in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Bautista as Drax was excellent, and hilarious.

The only cinema I wouldn't go to in Chiang Mai is the one at Kad Suan Kaew shopping mall. Now that the Maya shopping mall has been built, go to the cinema there instead - it's much better, and cleaner, and not far from Kad Suan Kaew at all.

Your choice is out of SF Cinemas and Major Cineplex. They're both pretty much the same, but the popcorn is better at Major Cineplex ;)

Here is a map of cinemas in Chiang Mai.

Cinemas in Chiang Mai, Thailand
SFX Cinema at Maya is the easiest to get to from the Old City and Nimmanhemin

SF Cinema City Promenda, Chiang Mai

New and shiny, never crowded, and I met Kickass there once (no, really). There are often promotions; right now there is a cheap price for any early or late movie showing, any day of the week. Has an i-max screen.

Normal internet ticket price for a standard seat at a 2D movie is 120 baht. Reserve or buy tickets here.

To get there, tell your driver: Bai Promenada, khaa / khrab.

Cinemas in Chiang Mai, Thailand
photo from Promenada's Facebook page

Major Cineplex Central Festival, Chiang Mai

Also new and shiny. Has an i-max, Ultra Screens and 4D Screens.

Normal internet ticket price for a standard seat at a 2D movie is 130 baht. Reserve or buy tickets here.

Standard i-max tickets are 250 baht. Reserve or buy i-max tickets here.

To get there, tell your driver: Bai Centran Festival, khaa / khrab.

Cinemas in Chiang Mai, Thailand
photo from Central Festival's Facebook page

Major Cineplex Central Airport Plaza, Chiang Mai

Not so new, or so shiny, but still all good. Shows 2D and 3D movies only. Can get busy.

Normal internet ticket price for a standard seat at a 2D movie is 130 baht. Reserve or buy tickets here.

To get there, tell your driver: Bai Lobinsons, khaa / khrab.

Cinemas in Chiang Mai, Thailand
photo from Wikipedia

SFX Cinema Maya, Chiang Mai

Brand new and close to Nimmanhemin; a great location for those staying in the Old City and Nimman area.

Normal internet ticket price for a standard seat at a 2D movie is 120 baht. Reserve or buy tickets here.

To get there, tell your driver: Bai Mayaa, khaa / khrab.

Cinemas in Chiang Mai, Thailand
photo from Maya's Facebook page
Monday, 4 August 2014
Posted by Amy Lou

ESL Games in the Classroom: Hot Potato

Do your students need to review stuff you've taught them?

Play 'Review Hot Potato' - my favourite (and students favourite) in-class game.

I'm hesitant to share this game with the world, because it's that good. My students ask for it pretty much every day. I don't play it every day (makes it even more desirable, you see!), but I do use it often.

But, being a good teacher is all about sharing what works right? Maybe you can share your best ever game with me in the comments section ;)

Hot Potato is great for getting individual students to ask and answer questions, and it's a good way for them to practice being quiet when you countdown: 3, 2, 1, shwoop! *silence*. I also find that it's a useful way to encourage students to give creative answers and have fun with the English language.

You'll need a small ball, music and questions. It helps if they like the music that you play. Simply ask them what they like, but usually anything in the charts is a good choice (sadly). They do seem to love some Greenday, No Doubt and Horrorpops songs though! Choose happy, faster, upbeat ones for a nice atmosphere.

I usually have something on PowerPoint slides to prompt them, e.g....

"What is Mr Fluffy doing?"
"He's ruminating about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire."

... or you can ask them questions on the fly as a very handy filler.

Have your students sit in a big circle on their chairs. On the floor works too, but on chairs keeps them from going crazy. Hold up a ball and ask them to suggest what it is.

"A ball?" - "Nope."
"A yellow ball?" - "No."

Tell them that this is actually a potato. It's a very hot potato. It's so hot, that you can't hold on to it for very long at all. Ouch! Ouch!

Explain that when the music stops, the potato is magically cold. The person holding the cold potato must stand up. Everyone else must be silent. If they speak, they too will stand. Be very firm about this. There is one other, very important, rule, which you must say in a very serious voice:

"Do not throw the potato. If I see you throw the potato, I will throw you... out of the window!"

Give the potato to a student. Play the music. Students pass the potato in one direction. If they start changing directions, stop them straight away, even if it's funny at first, because it can get out of hand and quickly becomes extremely not funny. 

Stop the music at random (or at least pretend that it's random!). The person holding the ball stands up. If it's between two students, quickly have them do rock-paper-scissors to decide who stands. Don't let them take forever, because some students will really milk it.

If you need more than one person standing (maybe one to ask, and one to answer), have the stood up student remain standing and play the music again to find the next victim player. You can have as many students standing as you want - but I'd recommend having more sitting than standing for chaos-avoidance-reasons.

Once you have the students standing, countdown: three, two, one, shwoop! Any students that are still talking stand up too.

Teacher: *points at the talking student* "Talking! Up!*

Have one standing student ask, and one standing student answer:

Teacher: *points at picture* "Ploy, please ask the question; present continuous. Gun, please answer."
Ploy: *looks at picture* "What is Mr Fluffy doing?"
Gun: *looks at picture* "He's sitting in a boat."
Teacher: "Excellent! Everyone?"
Class: "He's sitting in a boat."

If you have extra students standing up because they were talking, get them to give a different answer:

Teacher: *points at picture* "Beam, a different answer please."
Beam: *looks at picture* "He's rowing to Brazil."
Teacher: "Lovely! Everyone!"
Class: "He's rowing to Brazil."

Students love love love this game. Only a few don't like it, but if you find out why you can usually get them involved. Perhaps the bored boy in the corner is obsessed with Minecraft? Put a few Minecraft-themed questions in there to keep his interest!

"What did Mr Fluffy do last night?"
"He cried and wondered why he was stuck at home playing Minecraft while all his pug-"friends" were partying at the club."

Teacher: *points at picture* "Baitong, please ask the question, past simple."
Baitong: *looks at picture* "What did Mr Fluffy do last night?"
Khota: *looks at picture* "He played Minecraft."
Teacher: "Perfect! Everyone?"
Class: "He played Minecraft."

Let me know how it goes!
Wednesday, 30 July 2014
Posted by Amy Lou

Kayaking in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I recently started doing something I've loved doing for ages, but hardly ever actually did: kayaking. It turns out that Northern Thailand is a pretty sweet place for kayaking of all kinds. There's slow and easy, swift and wide, and rapid and bamboo-death-trappy.

Kayaking in Mae Tang, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Easy kayaking on the river in Mae Tang

Last weekend, I went on the river in Mae Tang. I hadn't been kayaking for ages, and it seemed like a good place to start up again. Paddling began at about 10am, and about twenty eight lazy kilometres later, it was over. Kayaking seems to come easily to me; I love the easy motion of cutting through the water, gliding past life on the river banks in silence, zero pollution. It was a relaxing, lovely day. But I wanted more. I wanted challenge! I got it last Saturday.

Aidan, the owner of the kayaking company I went with, recommended that I try to conquer the Mae Ping River, starting in Chiang Dao. The river runs all the way to Chiang Mai. He painted a romantic picture of adventure; a fast-flowing jungle river, where you'd have to quickly duck under bamboo and pick a way through hanging vines without hesitation. We'd fly past temple ruins and remote monasteries in the Chiang Dao mountains. Exciting!

I met Daphne and Iris from The Netherlands in Chiang Mai at the kayaking centre. After a quick how-to-kayak lesson, our Thai guide Baigun drove us two hours north to Chiang Dao, with a brief stop to buy fresh rambutans from the side of the road. Have you ever tried this red and green spikey fruit? It’s kind of like a lychee. Particularly big and juicy rambutans are a real treat in Thailand.

Rainy season has recently descended upon Thailand, and the river was brown and swollen. We looked at it from the bank, a little nervous, trying to remember how to eddy out and where to lean and what to avoid. I tied my Converse tightly; there was a very definite chance of losing your shoes in this river. Daphne and Iris were wearing flip flops... oops. They tied them to their kayaks.

Kayaking in Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
It's all smiles before the bamboo spider death...

Straight away, I realised that this river was going to test me a lot more than the Mae Tang one. It wasn't easy, and it didn't feel like it came so naturally this time! After I'd pushed out into the river, I was supposed to paddle upstream to wait for the others to get in. I just wasn't strong enough, and was feeling a bit nervous! So I eddied out – went to the edge of the river where there’s no current. That’s when I first saw the spiders. If a spider is near me, that’s OK, though not desirable. But if one plops on my arm or head? I hate it.

River spiders are big, fast and scuttle-y. One was dangling off a twig over my kayak. I tried to brush it away with the oar, but these spiders are sticky. It ran up my oar, and I frantically splashed it away into the water. But a crazy thing I never knew about spiders? They can walk on water. It ran across the river, back onto its twig. Errgh. It was the first of many.

Kayaking in Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
kayak crash
When everyone was in, we turned to face downstream and began tackling the river. It was hard going. The water was fast and it was difficult to avoid the bamboo hanging down over the water. I crashed into it nearly every time. I realised why a helmet was so important. The bamboo scratched my arms and tried to pull my oar from me. Spiders apparently like to chill out on bamboo, and as I scraped through it loads fell into my boat. I didn't love it. Daphne got caught in some bamboo, and leaned the wrong way. Her kayak filled with water and she went over! She was fine, and laughing, but lost a flip flop.

I didn't take any photos for this part of the river - I was far too busy trying (and failing) to steer around bamboo. I think I glimpsed an impressive monastery during a quiet part.

It was certainly adventurous.

We stopped for lunch: fried rice, spicy pad kapow and a lot of water. Kayaking in this river was hard work! At lunch a super-fluffy black and white caterpillar joined us. It looked cute, but was dangerous, so I didn't stroke it. Baigun said that there was hardly any bamboo in the second half of our trip. Thai guides are notorious teasers, though, so I wasn't sure if he was telling porkies or not. I was pleased to find that it was the truth!

Kayaking in Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
view from the calmer river section

After lunch, we soon broke out of the bamboo-death part of the river, and it became wider, and a lot easier to avoid the obstacles. We relaxed; it was easy again! We played about, splashed each other and raced. It was fun, and there was plenty to look at: mountains, river-side-life and temples.

Is it crazy to want to go again?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014
Posted by Amy Lou

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