Classroom Control Tactic | Teaching English

Maintaining classroom control is difficult, it can be especially difficult as a TEFL teacher when the children barely even speak your language.

After my first stint with teaching I learned of a game that I really liked using to help me gain classroom control.

Here is how it goes:

Gaining Classroom Control: “The Discipline Game”

At the beginning of each class session that I have, I start my lesson by writing in the left hand corner of my board. It reads:

“Game Time:

I begin by counting the tallies loudly “one, two, three.” I count all ten tally marks, grabbing the students attention. Then I demonstrate what this means. I tell them they will get 10 minutes of game time at the end of class. All the students are ecstatic and cheer (my students are absolutely obsessed with games or anything that slightly resembles a game.) But I stop them mid cheer and explain that if you are not quiet or listening to “Teacha Jessica” then I will erase one tally (minute) off of the board and off of their game time.

I show this by the actual demonstration of erasing a tally. I continue erasing until the class is completely quiet. I will hold the eraser over the tally mark and all the students beg me “no, no, no” and I demonstrate that they need to be quiet in order to stop me from erasing. Soon the whole class catches on and becomes completely silent. Even if there are some stragglers not paying attention, the other students bring it to their attention and shush them since they don’t want them messing up their precious game time. It’s awesome.

Then at anytime during the lesson the class starts to get out of hand, I grab the eraser and head over to the tallies and hover my eraser over them. The class starts shushing each other, not wanting to lose any minutes of game time, and you are able to gain classroom control once again. Ahhh, happy day.

Classroom Control Teaching English

This is the only picture I have of me in front of my classroom. Don’t judge the santa hat.

Things to take into consideration when using this tactic

  • The one problem I have with this game is time management. You have to leave 10 minutes open at the end of your lesson in case the students do well and you don’t have to erase any tallies. This seems simple enough, right? Just plan your lesson 10 minutes shorter and have a game to play at the end?  Except one little problem, if the students are horrible and lose half (or all) of their game time, then your lesson is 10 minutes too short. After you do this a few times, you’ll get the hang of it. However, if you try this tactic be sure to plan and be prepared for either scenario.

One year of teaching obviously doesn’t make me an expert, I’m still learning. But I’ve really enjoyed using this tactic and hope you find it helpful.

What do you guys do to gain classroom control? I’d love to hear any other games, tips or advice in the comments below! 

Phong Nha Ke Day 3: Tu Lan Cave

It’s time for our final day in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, day 3 exploring Tu Lan Cave. As I mentioned this cave was my favorite day of exploring.

Tu Lan cave was discovered just a few of years ago by tourists visiting the National Park, awesome right? Can you imagine stumbling upon this?

Tu Lan Cave Vietnam

“Hey look up there, is that a cave?”

We started our trek early in the morning. It is about an hour hike to get to Tu Lan Cave. When you first start the hike, you notice water buffalo basking themselves in mud to stay cool. This is a pretty good indicator that we are going to be hot on this hike.
Tu Lan Cave Vietnam

We were also advised to wear long pants and long sleeves, even though we would be swimming for about 2 hours through the cave. My guess is that this is to protect you from the leeches in the cave’s lakes (I tried to push this from my mind when I was swimming.) Anyways, my point being, this was going to be a really hot hike.

And hot it was, but the beauty of the hike made it more than worth it.Tu Lan Cave VietnamTu Lan Cave VietnamCrossing this river was not only beautiful, it cooled us off as well. Win, win.

Then at last, we see the mouth of Tu Lan.

Tu Lan Cave Vietnam

Do you see the mouth of the cave? (bottom left corner)

Tu Lan Cave VietnamWe had reached the entrance and now it was time to descend down into the 1st cave. Tu Lan has multiple caves throughout its system. We did the one day exploration and explored 2 caves (Porcupine Cave and Kim Cave.)

In order to enter the 1st cave, you have to tie in and descend down a long ladder. When you get to the bottom, you look up and see the only remaining light high above you at the entrance.

Once everyone was down, we turned on our headlamps and ventured deeper into the dark cave, checking out the awesome formations. We were lucky to see some rare cave formations, like cave pearls (made when water drips into a cave pool and the calcite forms around a grain of sand or dirt) and soda straws (basically hollow stalactites, that look like straws.) Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the soda straws, but here are the awesome cave pearls.
Tu Lan Cave Vietnam

Along with these unique formations we saw the more common, stalactites, stalagmites and columns. There was one section in the cave that had a bunch of columns (where stalactites and stalagmites meet together.) It felt like you were in a maze of columns, it was so neat and so much fun to explore.

Next up we had a bit of swimming to do to reach the exit of the 1st cave. We swam through the water and came to a small waterfall that emerged out of the cave and into a gorgeous area where we’d be having lunch.
Tu Lan Cave Vietnam
Tu Lan Cave Vietnam

After lunch, we headed for the 2nd cave. This is the cave where we did the majority of our swimming. Swimming through a cave with only your headlamp to guide you is an experience I will never forget.

At one point we all turned off our headlamps and we were in swimming in complete darkness. It was similar to the feeling I had at Dark Cave except this time we were submerged in water. Your eyes never seemed to adjust to the blackness. You relied on your other senses to guide you. All you could hear were the bats screeching in the cave and a waterfall in the distance. As the waterfall sound drew closer, I opted to turn my light back on. You know, simply because I didn’t want to plummet down a waterfall deep in a caving system…minor thing.

After swimming through Kim’s Cave, we reached the end and it was time to turn back. We took a break here for a minute and took in everything the day had offered us.
Tu Lan Cave Vietnam

We made the long trek back through both caves and finally surfaced from the inside of the cave. After a full day of descending, swimming, trekking and exploring this amazing caving system, this is what we came out to…

Tu Lan Cave Vietnam
Tu Lan Cave Vietnam
Tu Lan Cave Vietnam

It was one of the neatest experiences in my life and I will never forget it.

Like this post? Check out Day 1 and Day 2 exploring Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.

Images by: Jessica Chindgren, Ben Perkins, Kipp Martin

Demo Lessons: The Dos and Don’ts

Demo lessons, ah sweet, sweet demo lessons. I hate you. I hate demo lessons.

For those of you who are wondering, what the hell is a demo lesson? Let me break it down for you.

Finding a job as an ESL/TEFL teacher will typically consist of a demo lesson. Basically it is part of the interview process where you teach a class and your interviewee is watching you and seeing your skills as a teacher. Talk about intimidating.

My First Demo Lesson, the Lesson from Hell
After taking my 4 week intensive training course to get certified as a TEFL teacher, I was ready to start job hunting.

I had secured myself an apartment in Thailand, got myself a motorbike and scrambled up my best interview attire from my backpack. Now all that was left was to secure a job as a teacher.

I was smart enough to start my job hunt right in the middle of rainy season in Thailand. Doesn’t sound like a big deal right? Wrong. There is that one tiny detail that an umbrella cant help you with—driving a motorbike.
Demo Lesson Interview in the rain
At least we got to rock awesome panchos and look incredibly cool.

But really, driving on a motorbike when it is raining SUCKS. It sucks so bad. Especially when you are in interview attire and trying to stay looking nice. While also sitting on a manila envelope with your resume enclosed, trying to not let it get wet. Not fun.

Anyway, I had lined myself up with one of my first interviews requiring a demo lesson. I spent the entire evening beforehand preparing for my demo lesson and praying that it wouldn’t rain the next day.

The next day was clear skies, hallelujah. Now I just needed to nail my interview and demo lesson.

First was the interview, which went well. I feel that I’ve gotten better at interviewing over the years. I somehow was able to relate my un-related previous work to make it sound like I’m a kick ass teacher. I was feeling proud and happy with how the interview had gone.

Then came the demo lesson. This is where they get to put your skills to the real test. Instead of just answering how you’d react to a stressful situation, you are put in one. Instead of answering how you’d handle if a student did this or that, you have to handle it, right then and there in front of your interviewee.

I was so nervous. The only previous teaching experience I’d ever had was in my 4 week intensive course. In this 4 week intensive course I taught class sizes of no more than 8 students, all of which were adults. Now, for my demo lesson, I found myself for the first time EVER teaching children. Forty children to be exact.
Demo Lesson TEFL Teacher
If you are thinking to yourself, “so what?” My guess is that you’ve never taught children before. Let me reiterate, I WAS TEACHING 40 CHILDREN AGE 9 FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.

I was so, so nervous. Not to mention, the lesson I had worked so hard to prepare was almost identical to a lesson that I taught to adults. What was I thinking?

I started in with a quick engagement activity, asking the students to roll a dice and tell me something about themselves depending on the number on the dice. Simple things like, “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” etc..

This engage activity had worked for me previously when there were 8 students in my classroom. When there were 40 students in the classroom, um, didn’t work quite as well. This warm up activity also worked well with adults who chose and wanted to learn English. These kids were being forced to learn and I was the only thing holding them back from their lunch hour.

The very first student I called on rolled the dice, then just sat there in silence. I kept repeating the question and giving personal examples but the child sat there in complete silence. Classroom laughter and chatter started.

This was about 1 minute into my lesson.

I watched my interviewee in the back of the classroom jot something down on his notebook. The sweat started forming on my forehead. “Ok, quiet down everyone,” I said nervously. I asked the student again and nothing, so I called on someone else. However, by this point the students had sensed my nerves and captivated on them immediately.

I lost classroom control about 90 seconds into my lesson.

Losing classroom control happens when you teach, this I’m now well aware of. The key is learning to gain it back or key moves to not lose it in the first place. During my demo lesson I had absolutely no idea how to gain classroom control back. I had one of those “please stop crying little baby” moments. You know, the one where you’re holding someone else’s baby and they start crying and you bounce them sort of awkwardly while hoping they magically stop crying.
Yeah, one of those moments, except I couldn’t just hand them back to their mother.

After a few more VERY LONG minutes, my interviewee waved at me from the back of the classroom. He had seen enough. I clearly needed more experience. It was incredibly embarrassing. I felt like going and hiding in a closet and crying.

I had a lot of improvement to be done and now that I have some experience doing demo lessons, I’d like to think I’m much better at them. Here are a few of my key dos and don’ts:


1. Prepare yourself, physically and mentally.

  • Make sure to plan a good, well thought out lesson. Make sure to ask how many students you will be teaching, their age group and their English level. Know these things beforehand and plan your lesson accordingly.

2. Set ground rules at the beginning of your demo lesson.

  • Typically on the first day of class as a teacher you would set rules for your classroom. Just because you are only doing a demo doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lay down some rules. The next demo lesson I did, I started with a “game” a.k.a. a way to gain classroom control back when it gets out of hand.  It wasn’t even really a game, but since I titled it that, it grabbed the students attention and they were more than willing to participate. It is called “Quiet Coyote.” (Which is a hand gesture that the kids follow when they see me doing it and it means “mouths closed and ears listening.”)Demo Lesson quiet coyote

3. Be silly, quirky and fun.

  • Just because you’re in an interview doesn’t mean you have to stay so strict. Especially if you are teaching kids. They are kids for goodness sake! Be silly, entertaining and fun while you teach them. It will help you maintain better classroom control. If the kids think what you’re doing is silly, their attention will be focused on you.


1. [Don’t] Create a boring lesson plan.

  • The demo lesson is more to show how you teach, not what concepts you know. Keep your topic simple and fun. The more entertaining it is, the more it will keep the students interested. It is still important to show you know English concepts but don’t make it your only focus.

2.  [Don’t] Have a lot of board-work.

  • I prepared how my entire board would look beforehand, color coordinated and all. However, in a lot of cases you won’t have prep time to write things on your board beforehand. When you start your lesson, you don’t want to start by turning your back on the class to write.

3. [Don’t] Act like you are someone applying for the position.  [Do] Act as if you are their new teacher already.

  • You need to act like you’re boss. They will have more respect for you. Don’t show fear, as hard as that may seem, try your very best to at least hide your fear.

Have fun, try not to be so nervous and good luck! You can do it!

Demo Lesson Teaching English
Image Credit

2014, You Devil You…

Where has 2014 gone? 2014 was one of the craziest years of my life. It was a whirlwind year with a lot of new adventures and a lot of firsts, including:

-7 new countries traveled
-Amazing new friends a.k.a. life-long partners in travel crime
-My first time ever traveling completely all alone
-Being robbed (which happened to be in the safe US of A, not a dangerous foreign country)
-My first time trying scuba diving
-Crashed my motorbike while driving in Thailand
-My first year never experiencing the 4 seasons
-Had my first ever real panic attack after teaching 50 screaming 8 year old children
-The first time I’ve ever missed a flight due to fault of my own (damn you Singapore airport movie theater for being so dark, comfy and cozy)
-My first time living alone without any roommates
-My first experience living on an island and being surrounded by tropical beaches

And this list is just naming a few, the list could go on and on. 2014 taught me more than any other year of my entire life and I’m so grateful to have had this neurotically fun, adventurous year.

2014 Rang in with a Bang…Bangkok that is

Last year I was lucky enough to get to spend New Years Eve in one very cool city, Bangkok. Talk about bucket list check.

I spent the holiday with my sister, my boyfriend and one of my best friends that I had met in Thailand. Since it was the holiday we had some time off of teaching and decided to go up to Bangkok for a few days and spend New Years there. We took the night bus from Phuket to Bangkok (my favorite thing in the world….not.) This was my second time taking the glorious 12 hour night bus to Bangkok and lets just say it isn’t the most pleasant. However it is much cheaper than flying.

We stayed on Khao San Road in Bangkok, which I would typically never recommend to anyone. It is a pretty seedy place but the hotel we stayed at had a rooftop bar and pool which was incredibly fun on New Years Eve. It is also prime location, located just across from the Grand Palace, which made it a spectacular view of fireworks and lanterns being sent off at midnight.

We had some pre-drinks up on the rooftop, then wandered down to the street for some monkeying around (ba-dum-bum-CHING.)

Ok, ok bad joke. But hey, I think the dirty monkey mascots give you an idea of what I was talking about when I say “seedy Khao San Road.” Anyways we wandered the streets taking in Khao San in all of its seediness glory. We got some yummy street food because what is Bangkok without their delicious street food? This is completely serious, don’t be afraid to try street food. It will be some of the best Thai food you eat!
And of course we tried scorpions, because, well, 2014 baby. Ringing it in with a bang.
It was rather crunchy and had a bbq type flavor. Probably not my new favorite food, but hey, at least I tried it.

We proceeded the night with our “monkeying around” and had a blast, dancing the night away.
When it drew closer to the New Year we went and bought some fireworks and headed up to our hotel rooftop. Since we were only going to see the Grand Palace fireworks and loads of other firework shows all around the city, we thought we needed these too. Ringing it in with a bang right?
It was a spectacular night with a grand countdown, loads of fireworks, crazy shenanigans and paper lanterns filling the night’s sky.

You’ve been good to me 2014.
Bring on 2015…


Category: Travel

Phong Nha Ke Day 2: Dark Cave

Now it’s time to get dirty. Dirtier than darkness in the darkest cave of them all—the Dark Cave.

The Dark Cave is polar opposite from the cave we explored on day 1, Paradise Cave. As the name suggests Paradise Cave is well, a paradise, with its lit walkways and stunning golden stalagmites. Dark Cave is also as the name suggests, dark and dirty.

We hopped on our motorbikes and took off for the national park. Again the drive filled with lush green hills and beautiful white butterflies.
Scooter Clan

For the Dark Cave we decided to hire a local guide to take us through the cave as we needed headlamps, helmets and, oh yeah, someone to tell us which direction was up.

In order to reach the Dark Cave you have to go by water. We took kayaks through the pristine blue water. A short paddle later and you see it, the mouth of Dark Cave. As you enter the cave you get this eery, excited feeling of what is to come. When you look behind you, you see the opening of the cave which also happens to be the only remaining light source (minus your headlamps.)
Dark Cave Mouth

You take in the last remaining bits of sunlight, turn on your headlamps and head for the darkness. As the sunlight becomes more distant you start to feel thick, squishy mud between your toes (we were advised to go barefoot and in bathing suits.) The cave is completely dark now, minus the lights on your headlamps, and the mud is about ankle deep. The mud feels foreign and cold on your feet. I tried my hardest to push aside the thought of what creatures live in the mud or anywhere in the cave for that matter. The cave has now narrowed and you can stretch your arms far enough to touch both sides of the cave wall. Every time I grab for the wall, I pray that I don’t find one of those horrifically large cave spiders. I take another step and fall knee deep into the slimy mud.

“Watch your head,” I hear the tour guide say.

I look up, shining my light in that direction and see stalactites hanging from the cave’s ceiling. As I’m ducking through the stalactites, trudging through mud and gripping the cave walls, I start to feel the adventure kick in. The cool, slimy mud starts to feel more familiar and I actually start enjoying the feeling on my legs and feet. We all start to become more comfortable and begin playing in the mud, enjoying the touch and feel. A few “mudballs” were thrown and everyone was enjoying themselves.

“Now, turn off your headlamps and remain completely still and quiet” the tour guide says to my friends and I.

We all turn off our headlamps and stand in complete darkness. It’s a very strange feeling. Typically when you turn off the lights your eyes slowly start to adjust to the darker room, but in the cave it is complete blackness. You keep waiting for your eyes to adjust, but they never do. You start to feel somewhat disoriented with your sight completely taken from you. You rely on the feeling of the mud beneath your toes, the texture of the cool cave walls against your hands and the sound of slow water drips from the cave’s ceiling.

Then suddenly there is a loud “smack” breaking the silence. I feel cool mud dripping from my stomach. Yes, I have been hit with a “mudball.” I reach down and grab a glob of mud throwing it into the air in retaliation. I hear more mud balls flying through the air and see headlamps turning back on. Next thing I know, we are all in a full blown mud war.

We were having so much fun! We were all throwing mud, rolling in it, laughing and having a blast! By the end of it we were all covered head to toe. As we were hiking back out of the cave we looked like complete mud monsters. It looked like something you’d see out of a horror film. I would look in front of me and see one of my friends in the distance through the slight shine of my headlamp. They were completely brown from the mud and had big chunks and globs falling from their body. We looked like some sort of mud creatures born in the cave.
Dark Cave

In the Dark Cave you have to exit the same way that you entered. As we were on our way back we stopped off at the lake inside of the cave. We all jumped in and rinsed some of the mud from our bodies. My talented friend Kipp Martin was able to capture some good shots of us here. It was still dark as we were inside the cave but with our headlamps, and the right exposure he was able to capture these cool shots.
Dark Cave Swimming
Dark Cave Flashlights

As you come back out of the cave you’re greeted with the shining sun, deep green lush hills and that pristine blue water. Talk about paradise. We all jumped in the water, rinsing the remaining mud from our bodies. We kayaked back, cracked some beers and spent some more time swimming and playing.
Phong Nha
Dark Cave aftermath

Another great day of exploring Phong Nha-Ke Bang in Vietnam. Man I love this place…

Images by: Jessica Chindgren, Ben Perkins, Kipp Martin

How I Spent Last Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! For this glorious day I thought I’d reflect back to last year’s Christmas in Thailand.

I was one lucky girl last Christmas. Sure, I worked on the holiday but the day was filled with festive fun. At my school Christmas day was called “English Day” and all the students at the school performed plays and Christmas carols they had been working hard all month to prepare. My students put on the play Snow White and sang We Wish You A Merry Christmas (random combo, I know.) They did such a good job and made me so proud. At the end of the play they threw in a surprise and thanked “Teacha Jesseeca” for helping them with the play, talk about making your heart melt.
Snow White
I loved hearing their little accented voices singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Here is a small video of them singing after performing their play. The quality of the video is pretty terrible so I just trimmed it to the end so you can get the idea.

After all the performances, every classroom had parties. The rest of the day I got to play with all of my students and watch them open gifts. I love the magic of Christmas through a child’s eye. You can just see and feel the excitement and fun they are having.

After an exciting day at school I headed back home to be with my family. Yes, my amazing family came all the way from the US to spend 2 weeks with me and have a Thai Christmas. To express how happy this made me is near impossible. I was filled with so much love and happiness.

I went back to the hotel my family was staying at and we got in our bathing suits, put on our santa hats and headed to the beach!

As we were walking down to the beach, we spotted a random guy dressed up as Santa Claus. Of course my parents insisted on a picture with Santa. This was a common theme of the trip, any random person with a Santa beard (drunk, homeless, creeper) my parents insisted getting pictures with. I had surrendered my there is no need to get pictures with creepy dudes dressed as Santa argument with my parents a while ago, so I obliged and got a picture with the random, creepy Santa man. But come to find out this Santa wasn’t so random—it was my boyfriend! He had flown all the way to Thailand from the US on Christmas day to surprise me!

And what an amazing surprise it was. I mentioned how I was filled with so much love and happiness earlier in the day and now I was purely on cloud nine.

My family, myself and my boyfriend all proceeded down to the beach and spent an amazing evening on the beach drinking Changs and watching the beautiful sunset.

After the sun set we headed up to one of my favorite restaurants right on the beach, the Ska Bar. It is a reggae bar directly on the ocean, with delicious Thai food. We filled up on massaman curry, fresh fish, spring rolls, pad thai and of course, booze.
Christmas Dinner
Then concluding the night we went back down to the beach and released red lanterns into the sky, sending off well wishes into the starry night. It was one of the most memorable Christmases I’ve ever had…

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday!

Phong Nha-Ke Day 1: Paradise Cave

The first day we arrived in Phong Nha-Ke we visited Paradise Cave. We took the night train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi, where we then took a van to our hostel. We arrived at our hostel, Easy Tiger, and got our day started right away renting some motorbikes from across the street then heading to the national park. We anticipated doing a couple of caves this day, however we ended up only having time for Paradise.

To get to Paradise Cave, you have to hike up about 500 meters. As you hike up to the cave, you feel the humidity and hot air. It’s painfully hot and you are working up a sweat. Then suddenly you feel an intense cool breeze and you know you’ve hit the cave. You can’t quite see where the cave entrance is but you feel the cold air pouring out from beneath the ground.

Then you see it, the mouth of the cave. As you enter you descend down a long flight of stairs into a relief of cool air. It is as if you’ve walked into a well air conditioned home on a hot summers day. The decor of the home filled with nature’s finest stalactites and stalagmites, all beautifully lit in shades of bronze and gold.
Paradise Cave 2
Paradise Cave

Paradise Cave is stunning. Although this was one of my least favorite caves that we visited, it was simply because I enjoyed the untouched caves a bit more. Paradise Cave is lit and has a wooden walkway, so you will find more tourists but it is still a cave that is definitely worth a visit.

The cave is nature at its finest. Everywhere you look you are in awe. If you didn’t before, you will suddenly have a new found interest in geology. I think there is something about caves that does this to you.
Paradise Cave
Paradise Cave
Paradise Cave

We spent a couple hours playing in the cave, taking in all of its beauty. Naturally, my friends and I did our best stalagmite poses (how I don’t have this picture is beyond me) One of my friends must have it and I’m sure it is amazing.
Since I don’t have it, this picture will have to suffice.
Paradise Cave

After Paradise Cave we hopped on our motorbikes and did some more exploring of the park. We stopped off at a place called the Blue Lagoon. You hike through some dense trees on bamboo bridges and arrive at a pristine blue lake engulfed by massive, lush, green mountains. They even have some kayaks for you to play around in the water with.
Blue Lagoon

We ended up having a little too much fun and stayed a little too long at Blue Lagoon. We wanted to make it back to the hostel before dark as we were still rather unfamiliar with the park and exactly how to get back. So we headed back racing the sun going down, trying to beat the darkness. Of course, the darkness won. And did I mention our motorbikes were rather unreliable and broke down on occasion? Oh and that one of my friends was almost out of gas? This wasn’t recipe for disaster or anything.

So as you might have guessed, we got lost, in the dark, on our sketchy motorbikes, low on gas. Fabulous right? After one break down and a few wrong turns we managed to make it back on the right path.

Just in time to get rained on.

Oh also this “rain” I mention wasn’t actual rain, it was bugs. Yes, you read that correctly, we were getting pelted in the face continuously like you would in a rainstorm except it wasn’t rain, it was bugs. Luckily, I wasn’t the one driving on my motorbike so I could duck behind the driver but all my friends driving could barely even open their eyes. They had to stop and pull bugs out of there eyes at times, it was awful. But on a more positive note no one ran out of gas so there was one bullet dodged!

After the “bugstorm” we made it back to our hostel, showered and had a couple beers before crashing. One day was all it took for me to fall in love with Phong Nha-Ke and there were even better days to come…

Images by: Jessica Chindgren, Ben Perkins, Kipp Martin

Leave Comment

Category: Travel

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam

phong nha-ke bang national park

Ok, I had to write about this place. This is probably one of the best places I’ve been since I’ve started traveling—Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2003 and a definite must see if you are traveling to Vietnam.

Phong Nha is most well known for its caves. Boasting over 300 caves including the world’s largest cave, the world’s second largest cave and caves still being discovered to this day (some have even been found by tourists.) This place is seriously unreal, you have to go.

We spent three full days here and explored three different caves. If you are planning a trip here, my recommendation would be to stay a bit longer as there are so many caves and so much beautiful landscape to be seen. Although, note that there is hardly any nightlife here. This is a place where you explore all day and take it easier in the evenings.

The town is very, very small with one main hostel (which is where we stayed) called Easy Tiger. Most everyone visiting the town stays at this hostel or at the Farmstay. The Farmstay is more of a homey/ local feel owned by a Vietnamese lady and her Australian husband. The Farmstay books up quickly. We didn’t stay there because they didn’t have availability, so be sure to book in advance.

Rent a motorbike and GO! Sure, sure you can sign up for a tour and have a van full of other tourists or you can adventure with just you and your friends. The latter is my preference…
phong nha-ke bang national park We even sported the Louis Vuitton face masks. We wore these just to be cool, ya know, look like local Vietnamese. Bad ass, I know. (But seriously, after residing in Southeast Asia for a significant period of time and driving a motorbike, you’ll start to understand why they wear these bad boys.)

My friends and I rented motorbikes and took off exploring. Simply driving around is a blast! This spot hasn’t been completely overtaken with tourists yet, so as you drive all the little Vietnamese children chase after your motorbikes and wave. Everyone here is so friendly.
phong nha-ke bang national park
Then when you hit the National park it’s as if you’ve stepped into the classic movie Jurassic Park—minus the dinosaurs. The plush green forest and hills surround you. As you coast through the winding roads you are followed by lines of whites butterflies. Not kidding, it’s seriously that perfect. I’m not trying to paint you some fairytale, there is literally all white butterflies that fly in perfect single file lines. That’s just how unreal this place is.
phong nha-ke bang national park

phong nha-ke bang national park
phong nha-ke bang national park
Here are the 3 caves we explored:

1. Paradise Cave
Click here to read more about Day 1, Paradise Cave
Paradise Cave
2. Dark Cave
Click here to read about Day 2, exploring Dark Cave
phong nha-ke bang national park
3. Tu Lan Cave (this was my favorite cave)
Click here to read about day 3, exploring Tu Lan Cave
phong nha-ke bang national park

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is truly a treasure. If you have the chance to go, go there as soon as you can. Once tourism really takes off in the area you won’t get the authentic experience of going through a cave with just your friends, like I did. As I was there talking to the guy who owned the hostel, he said that the tourism has doubled in the past year and there was still hardly anyone there. Go now.
phong nha-ke bang national park

Images by: Jessica Chindgren, Ben Perkins, Kipp Martin

Leave Comment

Category: Travel

The Teaching Chronicles…

I stood in my 3rd floor classroom. The fans twirling the hot, humid, stagnant air around. For those of you that have visited Thailand in February, you know it is anything but cool.

I could feel the moist sweat on my forehead as I poured all of my exhausted energy into getting these eight year olds to try to ask/answer the question in English, “where are you going?” Did I mention I have fifty students? That’s right, I was keeping (well rather attempting to keep) fifty children age eight interested in the conversation dialect “where are you going?” for an entire class, 50 minutes to be exact.

“Where are you going?” I asked my student Ice.
“I go to the library” replied Ice.

“Ok, good” I reply as I stroll the aisles of the desks looking for another student. Until I stop dead in my tracks. My nostrils suddenly burn with a foul feces type smell. I hold my breath and swallow holding back my uneasy stomach.

I quickly call on another student, choking back the foul odor “Meen, where are you going?”
Meen pulls his handkerchief out of his pocket and covers it over his nose “Teacha!” he whines in reply waving his hand back and forth by his nose to cover the stench in the classroom.

I look around and many of my students are giggling, some plugging their noses, making disgusted faces. I start to lose classroom control as the giggles, talk and smell become more vibrant. At this point I’m fairly certain that one of my students has fallen into a sewage grate or has had an accident. Lucky me.

I think to myself, what do I do now? Should I just ignore it? Do I ask the class who pooped their pants? What the hell am I supposed to do here?

“Teachaaaaa” the students are calling at me, urging me to do something.

Okay, yep, definitely can’t ignore it. I need to figure out where the stench is coming from. Now how do I phrase this to a group of beginning level English learners in a way that they will understand? This is one of the many times as a TEFL teacher you will wish you spoke your students native language and vise versa. Luckily for me, my Thai co-teacher saw my struggle and came to the front of the classroom pardoning me. She barked some orders at them in Thai. Suddenly all the boys got up and made a single file line outside the classroom and the girls did the same inside the classroom.

My co-teacher chose one boy and one girl randomly. My students erupted in laughter, pointing at the two students. The chosen girl rolled her eyes and the chosen boy smacked his forehead, both of them turning red. I had no idea what was going on. Until I saw both the chosen boy and the chosen girl going behind every student and sniffing their bottoms. The sight of this made me hold back laughter myself. These poor little kids had to go and smell each kids butt to determine the culprit. Then I started feeling nervous and sad for whichever student it was. My emotions were torn, feeling sad for the culprit yet half of me couldn’t help but want to burst into laughter at the situation at hand.

Ultimately all the students returned to their seats. I still wasn’t sure who the culprit was and I don’t think many of the students knew either. Discreetly in the back I saw my co-teacher assisting a little girl out of the classroom, bless her heart.

Have you ever had anything crazy happen to you while teaching? I’d love to hear your stories.

Nervous About Moving Abroad?

Nervous about moving abroad? I know the feeling, trust me. Check out my story below of when I first moved abroad followed by one of biggest tips on how to shake the nerves.

Leaving for Thailand:

I still remember the day I left for Thailand. I remember it so vividly, so clear. I was terrified. I’d like to be all high and mighty and tell you how I wasn’t nervous at all, simply excited, but that would be a lie. I was very nervous about moving abroad.

I had traveled many of times before, all alone too, but this time felt different. It was my first time actually moving abroad all alone for a significant period of time.

I remember my friends taking me to the airport, three amazing people that I love. I don’t know what I would have done if they hadn’t been there with me. Of course, just to ease my nerves even more, my first flight had been delayed which caused me to miss my connecting flight. Did I mention my connecting flight was the one taking me all the way across the Pacific Ocean? This posed some problems for me as it messed up my arrangement I had for a pick-up when I arrived in Thailand and made me stuck at my layover destination overnight.

After a rough ordeal of flying, I arrived in Phuket Thailand around midnight. To say I was nervous before I left is an understatement to the anxiety I felt arriving alone in Phuket. I look back on that day now and smile at how vulnerable and naïve I must have looked. I walked out of the airport with my ginormous purple suitcase and I was immediately a target. The taxi guys came running up to me,

“Where you go?” they said to me in heavily accented English.

I told them the name of the hotel, which I completely mutilated (I know this for a fact now).

“1600 Baht” he replied.

From previous research I knew that a cab to where I was going should have only been about 600 Baht. They saw my vulnerability and jumped on the opportunity to try and scam me. However, I held my ground and was able to get the fare for 600 Baht.

When I arrived at the hotel it was in the middle of the night. I was escorted up to my room. As I entered the room that I would be living in for at least the next month, I was awoken with an oh so lovely smell of sewage. “Awesome” I thought to myself. Then as I turned on the lights, something scurried behind the mirror (I know now that it was a lizard, as they are everywhere in Thailand) But at the time I was a little uneasy as to what creature I was sharing my bedroom with. I popped a sleeping pill to try and fight the jet lag and crawled into bed—I knew I was in for an adventure.

And an adventure it was. An adventure that I would never take back. An adventure that I would have never had if I let my nerves get to me. It’s perfectly okay to be nervous about moving abroad, but never let your nerves get the best of you.

One of my greatest pieces advice I can give to you is this..

Take everything you hear with a grain of salt. Don’t let others damper your dream or make you second guess yourself. Once you make the decision to move everyone will be giving you their two cents,
“Be careful over there, that place is very dangerous!”
“Make sure to get 100% DEET or you’ll contract malaria.”
“You are so brave to go all by yourself, are you nervous?”

It’s important to be prepared and to listen to others, but don’t let anyone plant the seed of fear into your mind. Most of the time the people that will plant the most worry in your mind, haven’t even traveled to the country you are going. Hell, they’ve probably never even left the country because they were too scared to. Don’t let nerves, worry or fear drive you away from something great. Traveling is a lot less scary than people make it out to be, don’t be nervous. You are brave, you are courageous and you are more than capable.

Nervous About Moving Abroad