I’ve peed on my feet three times so far. My flow control whilst squatting needs some work. Apart from that, and a small incident on a scooter that left me with grazes on a fair few body parts, Thailand has been treating me well. As I browse through my photos it seems that prominent features have been temples (or wats, as they’re called in Thai), amazing (and crazy and disgusting) food, coffee, and a fair amount of wandering. A brief rundown of each Thai destination is below for those who are interested.
This was destination number one, and the location of aforementioned scooter incident (I’m blaming jet lag). Thomas and I headed there from Bangkok in a mini-van. It was very important not to look at the road ahead during this trip. It seemed we were competing for the title of most aggressive driver on the road, with very few rivals.
On arrival we visited the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, fully decorated for Valentine’s day and the “Love on the River Kwai” festival.
The next day, already grazed but feeling brave, we took our rented scooters 75km up to Hellfire Pass for a look. Hellfire Pass is a section of the Death Railway – a railway between Burma and Thailand, built by POWs under appalling conditions that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths – where the POWs had to clear a huge amount of rock by hand in order to build the railway. It was pretty hard to imagine the enormous rock being cut by hand.
Thomas raced back to Bangkok to (just) catch a flight for Japan that same day, but I thought I could do with another night of relaxation in the slower-paced Kanchanaburi before heading back to Bangkok.
I went for a wander around the old part of town the next day, accompanied by Stella the sewing machine – it’s her first trip to Thailand too – and finished up with perhaps the most unappetising breakfast I’ve ever had. Liver, kidneys, intestines, heart, brains … who knows?
Just one night here, but I made a friend. I was having trouble communicating with the stall owners when ordering dinner so Janie, a local girl helped me out. (Papaya salad for those interested – please hold the crushed crab). We ate dinner together and then decided to go to The Grand Palace together the next day. A personal tour guide – yes!! It turns out she is actually from the north-east of Thailand but lives in Bangkok for work. She has two daughters; one lives with Janie’s parents and the other with the girl’s father so she rarely sees them. From the way she was talking, this situation is not too abnormal.
The Grand Palace was predictably sparkling. Gold everywhere. It was interesting to get an insight into what the practising Buddhists do at the temples as Janie walked me through it – flowers for this altar, a scarf for the next, incense here, oil in there …
After a good look around and some Asian-style posed photos, she took me down to a newly opened floating market in the city. We basically just ate our way through the market, me trying all of the things Janie recommended. Our main meal was prepared by first putting a tablespoon of blood into the bowl. This realisation came too late to retract my order. The hot broth, along with noodles, vegies and meat, was added to the blood – hot enough to cook the blood, or so I’m believing.
My bed for the night here was a tiled floor, with a thin duvet for a mattress, my shower was a bowl of cold water chucked over my head, the water having been fetched from a well around the road, and the Burmese migrants living there inform me that life is soooo much easier in Mae Sot than Burma. Good good. You want me to go to Burma right? To live? Volunteer? Luckily I’d had a nap at the primary school earlier in the day on a softish mattress so recovered a little from my night bus journey from Bangkok.
All of my easily accessible clothes were put on within a few minutes of arriving at the Mae Sot bus station as I had a while to wait for a reasonable hour to call Ko Myo (my contact person). Man it was cold first thing in the morning! Ko Myo picked me up and took me to the primary school where he teaches for the day. On arrival they fed me some delicious stir-fry rice for breakfast, and proceeded to feed me twice more within the next few hours with some very tasty dishes – at least the food side of things is looking good!
It was interesting to observe the lessons – well, the overwhelming noise of many children reciting aloud. Memorisation and recitation appears to be how they’re taught. The classrooms all open onto a central hallway so there was no privacy (or peace) for the teachers. The school itself was set up by a lovely old lady who had observed that Burmese migrant children in Mae Sot were not getting an education because their parents either could not afford to send them to school or the families lived too far away to get there. Several of the students live in a boarding house on site.
Ko Myo’s sister (in-law?) showed me around her college later in the day. The students are 18 – 24yr old but the science curriculum they were being taught was similar to our Year 10 content – plant and animal cells, series and parallel circuits etc. using some pretty basic facilities. Very interesting.
I’ll return to Mae Sot for a week of curriculum planning towards the end of March so further details to come.
Next stop was Chiang Mai – a busy, tourist-focused city in the north of Thailand. This place is full of wats. It’s interesting to see both ancient and newer looking wats in amongst the coffee shops, guest houses and market stalls. They’re super impressive buildings but, to be honest, I didn’t deliberately seek out any to look at beyond about day two. There’s definitely a limit.
Other notable highlights here include a wee jaunt on a hired bicycle out to a water reservoir surrounded by walking and biking tracks. It is contrastingly quiet and peaceful, well during the week it is – the number of bamboo eating/reclining huts present suggest the situation changes on weekends and holidays. The freedom of getting out of the city and the respite from walking for my blistered feet were much needed and appreciated.
The following day I participated in a cooking course run by Sammy – a giggly Thai guy who was all about the “sanook” (or “fun”). It started with a trip to the market and an education on rice and coconut, followed by food preparation at his organic rice farm where we created a five course meal including a curry (paste and all), a soup, a stir-fry, a snack and a dessert. I loved this day, not least for the chance to talk to some new people!! Traveling alone can get a bit same samey.
For the next few days I traveled west of Chiang Mai with some of Mum’s friends who run a boarding hostel for teenagers (whose parents can’t afford to pay for one) to enable them to go to the local school. This was fairly low key involving a few English lessons and a bit of a look around town. The students were approaching the end of the school year so it was spring cleaning time, and we had a barbecue-style noodle soup meal to farewell the leavers. The preparations for this began with the slaughter of two pigs. I hate that noise.