finishing the TEFL course, leaving Chiang Mai, overnight train, Bangkok
25.03.2013 - 04.04.2013 38 °C
When through Thai Immigration I could go straight to my bike and onto the Chinese Embassy, just south of the moat, seeing as didn’t have a bag to collect off the carousel. Having already prepared my papers I passed the other people busy filling out forms and once had explained to the lady behind the window what each confirmation was about (flights and hostels) got given a receipt and told to come back in three days; easy peasy. I rode all the way to the railway station to the east to book my train to Bangkok on Sunday (<600 baht as second class non a/c) then went home to my apartment, via Tanin Market for an early lunch; called the destination station ‘Hump-along’ by accident much to the attendants amusement. I had two hours to finalise a plan for today which was fine as I spend almost all the lesson at The Loft having the guys read out their various homework to each other then asking questions about it meaning it was a guaranteed STT lesson from the get go- just one more left! We evaluated (still flies going for my feet- pests!) then I bought spring rolls, fries, a shake and a big water and chilled at my desk on the internet for a while after unpacking my minimal amount of stuff. Being way more tired than initially thought I could barely keep my eyes open writing at 8.30pm so turned the light off and lay down not even waking for my 11pm alarm so besides turning the computer off at 1am slept right through till morning- can’t remember the last time I had half a day’s rest!
Re-energised I was heavily distracted trying to do my journal (people speaking to me and news articles were main culprits) I didn’t leave the seat till my stomach gargled at 2pm; green curry time! I adapted an old lesson plan, printed it then rode my semi flat bike (front wheel slow puncture) to the rental shop to get shouted at because I should of known to come in morning time (really?- no small print saying that buster). I sped south all the way to the end of the airport boundary and to Big C Supermarket about 9km from my place in total so Hugh could pick me up on his 135cc scooter and go into the cool, green valley’s (first time out of an urban environment in weeks) to Baan Pong and his house that he rents by rice fields and a temple; area felt like Pi but with zero tourism. Mati and Margit were already there taking photos and at 7pm the four ‘new’ ladies arrived for the one off lesson we would each give them; Sutin (Hugh’s cleaner), Dau, Nong and Gerd.
Being on his patio in the evening with everything so still and free of noise was such a change to where we usually do this so we all felt more at ease and relaxed. Going last, I started by having them tell me things about themselves and their likes/dislikes then went over opposites with two pairs saying sentences to each other which went well considering there is no intermediate’s about helping to explain in Thai what I want them to do. They were fun to work with and I was very appreciative that they got me over the final hurdle- 5/5 done! The four of us stayed about an hour longer then Hugh took me to my bike with us talking all the way about Thailand and how I should seriously consider coming back to work. I bought a celebratory Chang on the way home and sat on my balcony sipping it with a grin on my face as listened to the pop music being played at the nearby bars then Skyped Anya and watched half of Ang Lee’s visually awesome and spellbinding Life of Pi; too tired to finish it.
When up I did some journal then went to Nokpochana’s mid morning for a bowl of spicy green curry with chicken in coconut sauce with two portions of rice. Before I even tried to see how hot it was I added chili’s to it and the cook must of been laughing her head off watching me do that as it almost blew me away by the time I reached the bottom as my mouth was on fire; Mati happened to be there and she saw me unable to function at the metal table besides repeatedly filling up my cup of water; main thing is I forced myself to finish every drop but fair play she got me finally! Full to the brim I somehow did my back in (just beneath shoulder blades) doing nothing in my room, worrying me slightly as I went through the Formula 1 photos lying on my front till 6pm. I headed to the market stalls for some good banter with the girls I deal with and their better speaking friends and was up late making sure the latest blog was posted before speaking to Amy at 1am for an hour; her last days on ‘the rock’.
I was at the Chinese Embassy bright and early to pay 1100 baht and collect my passport (sticker on an odd page- wanted it to follow on!) then went onto the somewhat dusty walking street (taken up all the stones for drainage reasons) to pick out a massage place seeing as leaving the country soon and my back is no better. Unable to find the one Margit spoke of I walked over stepping stones to C & R Thai Massage (180 baht for back, shoulder and neck) where my feet were washed in warm water and lime almost the moment I opened the door- sweet. Upstairs I put on loose cotton clothes and sat by the fan till the masseuse came. Unlike Pai she did a good job for over an hour without making me feel like I was being tortured and did pay particular attention to the area where I said it hurt; seriously though my shoulders do not feel or even sound normal- might need to see a professional if causes me problems in future. It was midday so went over to Prego’s to catch them just as they were opening but my order was simple- Khoa Soi and rice...that is all; very pleased I had another opportunity to try that sensational local crispy noodle dish! I gave myself just enough time to think of a game for my last class (basically a volunteer now) and although it was something as easy as Hangman they loved playing it, especially when made two teams and there was an air of competition about which Thai’s no doubt love- Panya secured the last word ‘waterfall’ and so won it. That evening Margit came to get me and we both thoroughly enjoyed a meal at Why Not with some good red wine and chat to go with it; going to miss the big pizza there (just had rocket on this time). Before bed I commenced the arduous process of copying over my blogs from Wordpress to Travellerspoint (pictures and placing them in order are what take a while) because that is the site I used last year and although you are reading this now I am only getting perhaps 10-20% of the ‘views’ as used to so going to run both simultaneously from now on to improve exposure.
On Friday I continued the transfer then at 11.15 rode my now completely flat bike (I know it does it no good but its old and not really mine) to the closest garage and left it there for a new inner tube. It was possibly the warmest day so far here in Thailand and now I was made to use my two legs to buy snacks and meet the others at Loft so that Pear and Nuan could take us over under umbrellas (sun protection- remember here people want to be white not brown which is opposite to our way of thinking) to the Wat Ku Tao for the annual Boys Rite of Passage Buddhist ceremony; everyone dressed appropriately except guess who- me! (at least wearing a black singlet and not usual white).
Amongst a party atmosphere each family had a designated area to dress up their young son/s, put colourful costumes on and draw make-up on their faces so that they could be a part of the monks for a few days for initiation; already shaved heads. In front of each were tables and as Nuan’s friend was a part of the ceremony we sat and got given an absolute feast that was completely free- crispy pork, rice/gelatine thing, spicy stuff, vegetables and many litres of artificial soft drinks with ice.
Intrigued as to what was taking place I went around with my camera and even had the privilege of having the father take his son from his shoulders (they all do this as shouldn’t be touching the floor when ready) and place him on mine which I certainly didn’t see coming; I think he requested it to show off to his friends that he knew a tall white man.
Now free from the burden of potentially ruining the kids life (imagine if I dropped him?) we wondered around, prayed in the temple (shoulders uncovered but Pear insisted), looked at the various things for sale both edible and non edible then at 2pm left; damn good time and pleased done something cultural in Chiang Mai.
With the other students about (minus Ampai as she is on a pilgrimage to the top of a mountain- poor girl) Hugh got us all to participate in Boggle with myself embarrassingly being the worst out of the English and non English speaker’s because didn’t get the rules and didn’t know you could make up words in diagonals (haha); gained back some pride by making up a well put together sentence using all my team’s words. Although a mass of food was now put on the table I really didn’t feel massively hungry as still digesting the last lot so much chicken was leftover for little Harry and hungry Nanchok to eat as I took a video of his ‘bark’. We received some lovely gifts and sadly said goodbye to the people I have grown quite fond of over the past few weeks; felt like just got going and turned a corner in terms of learning but now no one will teach them till May so start from scratch I suppose.
In the classroom Mati gave us an advanced debate lesson on wealth vs happiness and gone 6pm we felt a beer was in order. At Nabe Bar right by my apartment block we congratulated each other on finishing the TEFL Course and besides that didn’t approach the subject again as we relaxed and talked about other things. Upon seeing the 169 baht deal for 3 Chang’s I opted for a couple more then gave hugs all round as we parted ways. I raced to my room, messaged Carlos (met him in KL) and within twenty minutes was out the door again to Deejai Backpackers via 7/11 to meet him and then walk to Zoe’s. Not learning from the past I sunk an entire small bottle of Sangsom beforehand and so barely remember anything between ordering a bucket and being in my room plastered (how did I cycle??) stupidly having conversations online that I would inevitably regret in one way shape or form till near 5am!
Feeling wired from all the red bull I handed a bag of dirty clothes to the lady down the road, ate sweet and sour pork and spent hours on Travellerspoint formatting the second Nepal blog and uploading all the photos since then so easy to do the rest hopefully quite soon. After Skyping Mum, Dad and Max (skin infection again so was on his way to the vets) I collected my 50 baht laundry (can’t fault it), had a bowl of spicy seafood soup (get a lot for what you pay) and went over the China plan for most of the evening, deciding how long to spend in each town in Yunnan, booking a couple more places and creating a document for all the hostel reservations with maps and directions to make life simple and efficient (almost sound German). I finished off Life of Pi, downloaded the latest Archer Episode (worse one yet I have to say but still good) and left the computer running as the first two seasons of Boardwalk Empire will be complete soon.
As if straight out of a dream I woke up so naturally it almost felt like I never went to sleep in the first place- weird sensation. I Skped my brother Nick asking him about his budgets, places and dates he will be in each country (in Playa Del Carmen, going to Cuba shortly and seeing as I will be in China it is unlikely there will be much communication between us for a while) then briefly spoke to other, more drunk, Nick in Syracuse as their college basketball team (Go Orange!) are in the last 4 of the NCAA. I emptied the draws and cupboard so could pack all my belongings from scratch (still enjoy doing it), bid my farewells to the girls at Tanin Market by buying food from each of them and taking their photos and did research for the TEFL Advanced papers for a couple of hours.
At 3.30pm I showered and had manager Naan look at the water and electricity metres but as the latter was still saying zero for my room she had to phone the boss and try and guesstimate a total which I of course managed to lower by 150 baht seeing as was away for half a week and leaving half a week prior to my month ending- still got a good deal as played down how much used the a/c! Winning again. With my 5000 baht deposit safely in my pocket I just about rode with my 30kg of stuff to the bike shop for another 2000 baht then hopped in a Songthaew to Chiang Mai Railway Station where bought more water and used my wide angle lens to take some sick photos of my 17.30 Express Train.
In Coach 5 Seat 18 I sat on the wide seat and listened to my IPod for a couple of hours as we progressed South out of the city- my time there was very good and so no regets! About 8pm the ‘changer’ started setting up the coach for sleep time and I was very glad to have the bottom bunk where the window is and far more room; full set of sheets and a curtain- I expected to have to use my sleeping bag and jumper for a pillow! As everyone else presumably slept I organised all photos and wrote up blog right up to 11.51pm when protected my backpacker with the rain cover, was careful in the toilet (if bumps or sudden stops could be midly embarrassing) and lay down on my front trying to get to sleep with all the noises and lights going past. Taking far longer than expected I kept moving about and even resorted to my eye covers before finally shutting my brain down about 2am.
Initially up at 6am I rested a further hour then stayed behind the curtain peering out the window as could hear everyone putting their beds away- was reluctant as the breeze was nice and liked being in my own little bubble. Just like we were almost forced to go to sleep the guy came around and informed me I was the last one so waited until I exited so he could make it into two seats again. When at Don Mueng Station I knew we were on the outskirts of Bangkok so patiently saw us ever so slowly move into the city proper stopping multiple times at stations and at busy road crossings where I’m guessing most cars ignored the signs and were not meant to be blocking the way.
As we inched every closer to Hualumphong I took more photos as several people left the train early to go across to their respective homes then once under the roof of the mini Gare Du Nord style station I unnecessarily power walked to the taxi rank to find there was no officials and it was accustom to a free-for-all with no one caring who was in front of who and the tuk tuk drivers picking up the pieces and charging the earth for small journeys. Not to be a part of this charade I stood under the sun on the road and when the taxi drivers either said no or instead picked up Thai’s I accepted the offer of a 50 baht motorcycle ride. It was nerve wracking as he made shortcuts going through alleyways and along lanes full of people, stalls and other forms of transport and before I knew it was at New Road Guest House at 10.20am (train only an hour late) to meet Fanny who had been around for a few hours seeing as her bus arrived from Suratthani at 5.30am to the Northern Bus Station. Not happy to hear that we couldn’t check in till alot later and they were reluctant to let us rest in free dorm beds the two of us put bags in storage and I showered and changed before joining her in hammocks up on the roof of the second building- place much bigger than the net photos suggested.
With no fans and only limited breeze we talked and looked at the view to take our mind of the ensuing heat. At about midday we walked out onto Charoen Krung (New Road) so I could have a small but tasty beef curry, enquire about exchange rates for China and buy water and ice cream at 7/11.
The lady in the ice cold reception handed us the keys to room 201 but seeing as the fan was unable to move and only covered the top left quarter of the bed making me no less hot whatsoever I made the decision to spent the equivalent of an extra tenner (450 baht) to upgrade to an air conditioned room above on the third floor. We lucked out as was airy, spacious and through the window an uninterrupted view of the skyscraper from Hangover 2 so stayed there for a few hours away from the uninspiring climate before dressing up and going about two minutes away to Tongue Thai Restaurant which was good but way overpriced because in the expensive hotel area of Bangkok; added 17% tax and gratuity so just left money on table and walked out. We thought about going to a bar but instead bought three beers from 7/11 so could enjoy them in our room as we talked and chilled together having a pretty amazing time. Both really tired we somehow kept ourselves awake till about 1am then drifted off in controlled 27c a/c which was just right.
Fanny was up in a flash at the first of my two preset alarms at 5.09am and I just about kept my eyes open and brain awake so could put on some clothes and walk her to the street and easily flag down a meter taxi. Although brief it was a very memorable encounter and am sure to see the intelligent German again even if starting her second Master’s degree in Sweden later in the year! Whereas she had two long haul flights and a 14 hour layover in Abu Dhabi to look forward to I just had to climb three flights of stairs and went back to bed for the next couple of hours. Even though the internet was down the entire morning I found enough things to get on with and had just enough water to get me through till the 12pm checkout as just wanted to be ‘cool’ as long as I could. I paid the near 900 baht bill (worth it) and walked to Charoen Krung Soi 40 and to the Oriental Pier Water Taxi on the Chao Phraya River where only waited ten minutes until a heavily laden boat with an orange flag came along. I wisely stood with rucksack on at the back holding the railing and facing the water so no matter how many more people they tried putting on (too many) I just sweated it out with no interference or having to move. I watched all the river activity, tugboats, ‘floating’ JCB’s, skyscrapers, Wat Arun, bridges, stilted wooden houses and people on every pier until disembarking at Phra Athit near the big Rama VII Bridge.
I walked a few minutes to Phra Sumen Fort and over a small road bridge across a canal unable to find the hostel until asked a white couple by some over accommodations who told me the way. Back tracking slightly I entered Santichaiprakam Park and over a footbridge by some food stalls was Flapping Duck Guesthouse which appeared really chilled and laid back- exactly what I wanted.
The Thai guy showed me to my four bed dorm on the first floor where I hung up my soaking top and sat by a fan for a number of minutes then put things in a locker and wandered about the Khoa San Road area. I knew I would hate the majority of my excursion so not sure why I put myself through seeing all the irritating first time backpackers, ignorant holiday makers, annoying tuk tuk drivers and expectant sellers but I think I enjoy it! Ironically I chose not to eat at the local places as thought costs were too high but still had an 89 baht sub of the day with drink at Subway because not sure if going to see one again until reaching Australia and it was really good with all the toppings and sauces I had the girl put on.
Via the supermarket for water, market for bananas and a shop for some hotdog bread loaf (45 baht) I was back at the Guest House so I could spend the next couple of hours on the sofa using Travellerspoint once again seeing all the old and new age hippies about. When the mosquitoes became too much at 5.30pm as evening approached I continued in the room then spoke with a middle aged Italian outside about finding the little spots of land that are beautiful but still undeveloped- he’s been travelling around Asia every year since I was 2 years old and remembers places like Koh Samui when there was just the odd beach bungalow about! As him and some loud Spaniards went for dinner I drank a beer and realised no one was really doing anything so went on the laptop again to make a go at bringing both blogs in line with each other which I achieved about 11pm feeling relieved as something wanted to do for weeks and took much less time than anticipated. Now with the main doors closed and only one other person seemingly up I walked to 7/11 for more H20 in still 30c temperature then watched Skyfall using my headphones till gone 2am when gradually fell asleep despite the guy above moving monotonously.
Ignoring my alarm I awoke from an unknown awesome dream at half 9 and stayed on the bed gradually getting warmer and warmer looking up random things, writing and typing knowing my good friend Tracy was due to arrive very shortly...or so I hoped. I lingered about the place not really achieving very much because of the climate even if should of been getting on with my Advanced TEFL modules or doing something with my photographs; no energy or patience. By 2pm I feared something may of happened to her bus or at the border but just as was getting a mixed fruit shake I saw her coming across the park with a gigantic rucksack tired from barely sleeping the near 12 hours it took to reach here. Once she showered and settled in we sat talking about our respective whereabouts the past 2.5 years and potential future plans with her flying home to Ireland the next day not knowing how good the job situation is over there or how long she will last. We did a repeat of my walk around the area just chatting for the entirety and only buying some spring rolls and water before sitting outside 7/11 waiting for 5pm so we could get some beer to sneakily drink at Flapping Duck.
Once progressed onto our amazing African adventures and the whereabouts of our old expedition buddies we both changed and had to use ice to chill the next drinks as watched two Dutch girls achieve the remarkable feat of getting to 31 levels on Jenga- we all knew that was not something that could be done twice but didn’t stop them from trying.
We ended up sitting with them and the four of us went onto Rammbutri to the bar myself and Nienke avoided paying for our bucket last year. I had a big green curry as two watered down 160 baht Sansgom and coke buckets were drunk then we hung about on the chaotic Khoa San Road Chang’s and Siamsato’s in hand seeing all the naive first timer's party in the middle of the street with some Thai’s; with a bar playing loud music either side we moved positions depending how good the song’s were. Tracy bought a clingy blue monkey and at ‘only’ 2/2.30am we had had more than enough so slowly made our way back not being anywhere near as drunk as thought I would be.
As if I knew what the time was I opened my eyes the moment my watch said 8am and went the long way about uploading photos to facebook as the normal way didn’t appear to work on either Firefox or Chrome; very tedious. I unwisely gave up on the idea of posting my latest blog (turns out China blocks Wordpress- wish I knew at the time!) and instead got Tracy moving so we could go to a nice little Belgian Cafe for Cappuccino’s, fruit, tiny salad and a baguette using homemade bread; good but not worth the money. Forgetting that checkout was 12 we rushed back after using a net cafe (most of the computers had one issue or another) to pack making sure the fan was facing me the whole time. I had a not so fruity banana shake (practically nothing) then at 12.45pm we got in a taxi thinking it would take about half an hour maximum to MBK then Phaya Thai Airport Link station but the traffic was horrendous and at points didn’t move for long periods of time. I was always thinking I had nothing to worry about even when gave her a hug goodbye by the big shopping mall but when did some calculations in my head started to get a little edgy.
This turned into full blown panic when the train sat on the platform for what felt like an eternity and I genuinely believed my chances were slim of making my flight. The 25 minutes above the streets of Bangkok going at speed east towards Suvarnabhumi were not good for my sanity and we arrived 65 minutes prior to my departure time! Seeing a guy wearing flip flops carrying roughly 30kg on his back and right shoulder trying to run on a polished stone floor and up three flights of escalators was probably rather funny to a passersby and typically China Eastern Airlines check in was at the far end of the terminal so when saw red writing on the electronic board and no other passengers about I feared the worse! Straight away the staff said I was ok, leaving me enormously relieved and able to concentrate. Cutting it fine isn’t the word and I can’t believe how blasé I was- only told Fanny the other day the story of how I missed two flights between Berlin and Edinburgh in 2008 being rather happy it had not occurred again! I was still all over the place as looked for a money exchange, got my exit stamp and put my bag in the x-ray then walked to gate F4 to be the last one in the waiting area.
My seat number was 33F and on any normal aircraft that would be towards the rear of the cabin but when I was halfway and saw I was already at 48 I knew an error had occurred and so the biggest person on the plane had to go against the flow to find his seat which was technically in row 3! At 15.50 the 737 took off bringing my Thailand experience to an end and so it was time to go to a country I had not been in 24 years and knew very little about...CHINA!