…is so I can go to other places. But seriously – when I was picking a city to live in in Thailand, I chose BKK because it would be easy to travel to other places from here. And sure enough, after about 5 weeks of living in the city, I was itching to get out and see something green.
My little trip to Pattaya a few weeks ago was technically my first time out of the city. It was so kind of Rudy to invite me along to stay in his family’s condo on the beach for the night. I got to eat some delicious food, relax, and swim in the bathwater-warm (and admittedly somewhat polluted) ocean.
Then last weekend, Ellie and I ventured out to Nonthaburi to Koh Kret, a man-made island in the middle of the Chao Praya River. This doesn’t really count as leaving Bangkok, but it felt like a very different place. We walked the 6 km around the whole island, working off the AMAZING khao soi we had had for lunch. (Khao soi is a traditional northern Thai soup/curry you can find in places like Chang Mai made of chicken, two types of noodles, and peanuts. You can taste lime and coconut milk in there as well.) After Koh Kret, Ellie and I shared an icy beer (and by icy I of course mean the beer itself had ice in it) and some khao mun gai (chicken and rice) at a street stall in Pinklao.
But back to the real reason I’m writing this post: I just got back from Kanchanaburi and it’s like OH YEAH – THIS IS WHY I’M IN THAILAND.
You guys. Traveling is so much fun!
I know you’re probably thinking, “But you’ve been traveling this whole time…” And yes, technically, you’re right. But I live and work here in Bangkok. Pinklao is my home, and it doesn’t feel like I’m on holiday most of the time.
So on Friday afternoon, the school van dropped me at the southern bus terminal on its way into Pinklao. Well, it actually dropped me about a ten minute march away through the pouring rain from the southern bus terminal, so I rode that air-conditioned, 2-and-a-half hour bus ride in my cold and damp cotton dress.
Liz and I arrived at our hostel in Kanchanaburi and spent a frustrating twenty minutes searching for our room “along the river.” We found it. Not along the river as the lady at the front desk had mentioned but literally on the river. Our room was a floating dock on The River Kwai surrounded by floating sea roses. Liquid poetry, yall.
Kanchanaburi is a small town on the banks of The River Kwai, just west of Bangkok near the Myanmar border. It’s surrounded by the craggly, forested limestone mountains of neighboring national parks and of course features the historically significant Bridge on the River Kwai. Billy Joel was the only reason I had ever heard of the bridge. Which brings me to a very important point:
If you’ve heard of the Bridge on the River Kwai, you probably have heard it pronounced “kwai” as in “quiet”. The river is actually called “khwae” like “square”. “Kwai” in Thai means buffalo and can be used as an insult (or something like that). It is for this reason that yelling “quiet!!” in a classroom full of Thai ten-year-olds doesn’t exactly work the way you want it to…
But back to the hostel on the river: The rain was still going as we waited for Nick. A group hanging out around a table on the dock next door invited us over for a beer. What began as the customary where-are-you-from/where-are-you-headed conversation one so often finds in backpacker accommodations quickly evolved into a guitar-accompanied sing-a-long session. Nick showed up at some point and eventually we all headed off to bed.
After a Western breakfast reminiscent of Waffle House (scrambled eggs, hot buttered rolls and all), we took a bus to Erawan Falls. We hiked – or, rather, scrambled over and around puddles, tree roots, and boulders – to the top tier of the falls, trying to escape the liberated Russian tourists in their upper-thigh-exposing swimming trunks. The water cascaded down limestone shelves, round and smooth from the falling sediment-laden water. The water itself glowed a soft blue from the sediments, a phenomenon I imagine is similar to that of the bright blue glacial lakes of New Zealand.
During my first attempt at getting in, I quickly became aware of the little fishies just waiting for the chance to suck off the dead skin on my feet. What a unusual sensation! I spent a good ten minutes sitting on a rock with my feet dipped under the water, paralyzed by wonderment at how strangely ticklish it felt to have my feet sucked on by little fish. People pay for this kind of thing! I finally just got in with the fish and swam around. Mmm, sweet freedom.
We had dinner at the hostel then followed the laughter and American accents back to our floating dock, where we made friends with a big group of American teachers. More singing (the weekend was so full of singing! I think this is part of why I enjoyed it so much!) except this time in the form of a drinking game, then we walked up to the main street and checked out the bar scene. Many a 10 baht shot later and after witnessing a mindblowing impromptu lead guitar performance by one of the teachers, the three of us snuggled back into what was supposed to be a double bed in our room on the water.
On Sunday we walked to the bridge. Almost immediately, a Thai family began taking individual pictures with us in front of the bridge. This wasn’t the first time we had been immortalized on film by Thais; the night before as we were grabbing a few things at 7-11, I did my usual “do-you-have-karaoke?” to a group of promoters with a microphone and a guitar. They didn’t have karaoke but they emphatically handed me the microphone and proceeded to videotape me on their i-Pad’s singing along with a Thai man with a harmonica and a cowboy hat. Video coming soon.
Anyways, after we took photos with each individual member of this particular Thai family, we were free to walk across the bridge and take some photos ourselves. I was disappointed with the lack of signage (so, uh, why is this bridge historically significant again??) but I guess that’s what Lonely Plant is for, right?
Such a wonderful weekend. No harm done except maybe a massive bruise on my shin from slipping on a rock and also a really atrocious sunburn from walking around in my v-neck dress. Oh and my purse finally broke! I say finally because I knew the $3 thrift-store gem wouldn’t make it much longer. And who could forget the time my favorite brown, faux-leather bag broke right off my shoulder while walking across the Harbor Bridge with Jordan late at night? There’s something about traveling I guess…Good thing it will be super cheap and easy to find a new bag in Bangkok. Finally I have a good reason to go shopping!
It’s amazing I’ve survived this long without buying an umbrella. The rain this weekend was relentless, even up until the moment I got out of the van at Central Pinklao to head home. One of the girls from the van got off at my stop as well and quickly ushered me under her umbrella. She spoke fantastic English and told me about how she had lived in LA and Miami before, working as a cashier in a Wynn Dixie. I told her she should go ahead and go home – I would go look for an umbrella in Central (the mall). No, no – she insisted on coming with me to help. They were fresh out of umbrellas in the mall and the rain was still coming down in buckets.
“You must take my umbrella because my mother just called me and I need to hurry. I will take a cab.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes!! It will be no problem. My grandfather will just get me a new one.” Well in that case…
“Oh thank you so much! That’s so nice of you but please let me wait with you until you get the cab.”
We stood under an awning and I pulled out my teacher pen to give her my name so she could find me on Facebook. No new friend requests yet but my goodness she was adorable and I would super duper LOVE to be here friend!
In short, I no longer need to buy an umbrella. Which is great, because this is the height of the rainy season it seems.
I can’t wait to go back to Kanchanaburi. I loved feeling like I was traveling – getting to meet people and explore new places and see nature…that’s why I came here, after all. Being in a hostel again and parsing the different European accents of nameless, 24-hour friends got me thinking about the meaning of impermanence, the purpose of loneliness, and the process of human connection, but this post is getting a bit too long so I’ll save all of that for another day. Mostly, though, I just had a really fun weekend!