Travel Diary: When In Thailand…Do as the Thais Do

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

My first week in Thailand held many learning curves for me. It was all “Sawadee ka” (which is used interchangeably the way Hawaiians use aloha) and remembering to wai. I can’t say my second week has been anything less than educational.

After settling in and getting to know the girls living at my volunteer residence, we made many plans for upcoming weekend trips and created lists of places we wanted to see in Bangkok. Being the loner I can be, I of course made a point to make some plans of my own without consulting anyone else (which can be really liberating – not having to worry about anything other than yourself).


Bangkok

On Thursday, September 8th, we decided to go visit one of Bangkok’s famous sky bars for one of the girl’s birthday. Feeling a bit restless, I decided to take off on my own to roam around our neighborhood and see a few places on my bucketlist. I needed to get away to clear my head. I forgot what’s it’s like to live with a group of people that happen to spend a lot of time together and it can get under my skin if I’m not participating in my own self care.

So I took a walk. 

Twenty minutes walk to the BTS (Sky Train) station, ten minutes to Asok station, and another lovely 15 walk later, I was at Cheap Charlie’s bar. It was everything I love about bars. Old country music. Odd decorations. Open air. Cheap drinks. Dark beer.

Needless to say, I was in heaven. 

The area around Cheap Charlie’s was also super cool. There were all kinds of restaurants and street food vendors. Yet, craving cheese and an American burger (that was not McDonald’s) I went back to a restaurant about five minutes away that happened to also serve horchata. My heart was aflutter (even though the horchata was topped with whipped cream and that was so strange).

Since the plan was to meet the girls at the sky bar, Cloud 47, I found the best route there and took the underground. Stopped at a coffee shop, and then eventually found the building the bar happened to be in.

It only took me circling around the building several times, riding an elevator to three different floors, stalking what looked like tourists, and asking a security guard to find the place. 

Because it’s rainy season in Thailand, I was running around in the rain most of the evening (apparently it only really rains in the evening or night). The biggest storm we had seen so far had blown in, and the girls were concerned about the bar being rained out. After checking the place out and realizing there’s a roof over most of the bar, I told them to come anyways. All the headache was worth it.

You never really know a city until you’ve seen it and felt it at night. When the worst and the best come out. When the rain falls on the streets and wash away all of the dirt. You’ll never see a city for what it’s worth until you’ve seen what’s underneath it’s skin. It’s like getting to know someone you’ve only just met. These are the times when I fall madly and deeply in love with a place: when you see it for all that it really is and why the locals call such a place home. 


Kanchanaburi

Friday we left on a van for Kanchanaburi. It’s a town of roughly 30,000 people with around 200,000 in the whole province.

The plan consisted of catching a van at victory monument, and cruising our way over to Kanchanaburi. I went straight from my project site to the station, and was still nearly late. We were hoping for a van to ourselves, but instead were squeezed so tightly every one of our legs were cramped up. I was squirming so much out of discomfort the girl next to me couldn’t sleep. To be honest, I wasn’t in a mood for sleeping. Instead, I was wide awake watching as we left city to enter country. Watched every shop and motorcycle along the way, continuously discovering this land of Thais visually.

The van driver went as far as to deliver a package to a lady on the side of the road. When everyone on the van doesn’t find this odd, II figured I shouldn’t question it too much.

Once in Kanchanaburi, we were mildly harassed about needing a taxi or ride to our hotel. We nearly escaped the hoards of drivers lurking around us. We stood next to a bakery discussing our next move and the location of our hotel when shortly after we met whom would soon to be our favorite man of the weekend.

Just doing what people do in the back of taxi trucks

He offered us a pretty okay deal for a ride in the back of his truck (a legitimate taxi service in Thailand, mom) And we figured this would be the last we saw of this ordinary working man.

So let me tell you about Kanchanaburi.

The view of the river from our hotel resort. Doesn’t it just take your breath away?

The town itself is simple, with its laid back shops and bars. You can walk the length of the town in a couple of hours. Besides it’s location between two great rivers with mountains encompassing the land, the city has an bears an awful past.

It is one of the cities the Burma Railway or Death Railway was built through. Death Railway was a 258-mile-long project led by the Japanese military in 1942. The railway was to connect Bangkok, Thailand with now Yangon, Myanmar. It took roughly 13 months to complete.

Source

Death Railway was an extraordinary feat. It’s length in miles, the number of bridges built to support it, and the extreme conditions workers had to endure contribute to the magnitude of the project. Why call it Death Railway? Well, considering it was built during World War II and over 150,000 of the 330,000 workers died constructing it, you can paint a clearer picture.

The workers were only given basic tools to use such as hammers and spades and were expected to work in the extreme heat and humidity this area has to offer. Many died from starvation or lack of medication.

In Kanchanaburi, the bridge over the river Kwai crosses the Mae Kong River. Today the only part of the railroad still in use is the lowest part of the railway to Nam Tok.

We met a sassy motorbike driver on the road who offered to give us a ride to the bridge over the river Kwai. But our negotiations ran too low and she waved us away and said very matter of factly we could walk our own damn selves to the bridge.

So we did.

Bridge at the River Kwai

The walk wasn’t unpleasant but a ride would have been nice. On our way back, each of our tummies were rumbling.  We decided walking back was no good. So when a taxi truck honked at us we were almost too eager to hop in. And who would it be to our surprise? Mr. Ordinary working man. He gave us the low low price of 10 baht per person to drop us at a restaurant. We also made a deal with him for a ride to Erawan National Park the next day. There and back 200 baht each.

After a nice dinner at a strange German/Italian/Thai restaurant, we checked out the small night market and grab some drinks to take with us to the pool at our hotel. It was a pleasantly calm and cool evening.


Erawan National Park

Besides the historic tragedies and their memorials, there are many things to see and hike throughout the beautiful landscape. One of the things we planned on visiting was the Erawan National Park which features a waterfall with seven different layers. Erawan Falls is named after the three-headed elephant of Hindu mythology, erawan. It wasn’t founded until 1975.

Artistic interpretation of the god Erawan.
Artistic interpretation of the god Erawan.

Early the next morning, coffees in hand (well, for me at least), we hoped in the back of Mr. Ordinary’s truck for the the third time. He had become somewhat of a personal driver for us.

He happily drove us to the national park, waited five hours for us to hike and return, then drove us back to the hotel. All for what was roughly $30 USD divided between 5 people (about $6 each).

The view of the hills from the road.

Erawan national park is a park to be reckoned with. It’s sprawling hiking trails, superb swimming holes, and then the surrounding nature made the park such a pleasant getaway from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. We thought we would only be there for three hours tops, but we could have probably stayed longer than five if we weren’t feeling quite so famished.

Just taking a swim with the fishes that will come up and nibble at you.

That night we danced the night away at one of the local pubs.

The next morning was more coffee (on my part) and a very long walk to the bus station where my compadres and I were stopped by a group of Chinese tourists to take a photo with them. I honestly feel like a celebrity in Asia *excessive hair flip*.

There’s so much to be said about the place I’m currently staying and the villages surrounding it. There’s so much to be said about throwing yourself into a whole new culture and learning to embrace all of it’s highlights and shortcomings. So I leave you with this piece of advice:

Any time you travel somewhere new:  Learn it’s language. Taste it’s food. Dance it’s dances. And walk it’s streets at night.

 

Until next week, sawadee ka!

JOIN IN ON THE ADVENTURES!

Comments

  1. I am more than excited to read about your fascinating journey. Can’t wait for your next post!
    Take care and good luck Katie! 🙂

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