Resuming the Journey

It’s beginning to look a lot like winter here today. After a few very emotional and tiring weeks, what better time to resume my trip down memory lane and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, in Thailand?

The next couple of days in Bangkok were quiet. I experienced the first torrential rain since my arrival, which kept us inside one afternoon. We waded through some flooded streets that evening on our way to dinner at the home of the parents of another of Sarah’s students.

On our final day before heading out to experience more of the country, we roamed around the city. We visited the Isaan Village that had been set up around Government House by people protesting the building of a dam that had destroyed their fishing and their rice paddies. We had a ride in one of the Khlong* boats which carry passengers and floating markets up and down the polluted canals that wander throughout the city. Then we boarded an evening train for Chiang Mai.

boats on Khlongs

boats on Khlong

Passengers disembark

Passengers disembark


At 5:15 am I wrote in my journal:

“We have been travelling all night on the train to Chiang Mai.  It has been reasonably comfortable with the seats folded out into beds.  I think I went to sleep at about 9:00 pm, exhausted after our day of roaming the city.

The train isn’t air-conditioned, but there are ceiling fans and open windows. At night screens and shutters cover the windows.  I haven’t tried the toilets yet, after Kendrick’s negative description.  I’m hoping I can hold off until we arrive in Chiang Mai. Even then I’ll have to use the squat type, which I find hard to get used to.  I thought Sarah had said we’d arrive at 5:00 am, but everyone is still sleeping. A shower and some breakfast would be nice. Some people are starting to stir now.”

I soon discovered that in Thailand, scheduled time has little meaning. We were still on the train at 7:30.

“We’re still on the train but everyone is awake. The seats are back and the windows are open to a beautiful, sunny day.  The country is gorgeous – tree covered mountains, lotus growing in the ponds, and a little cooler temperatures. Our new arrival time was supposed to be 7:30 so we should be in Chiang Mai soon.”

We arrived in Chiang Mai at around 8:00 am and had just enough time to grab some breakfast at an outdoor café, where a roll of “toilet” paper set in the centre of the table served as napkins, before catching a tuktuk to the airport. Chiang Mai was not our destination that day.  We boarded a plane for Maehongson, which cost only ten baht more than my room at the Atlantis!

*The Thai capital Bangkok was crisscrossed by khlong and so gained the name Venice of the East.[1] The khlongs were used for transportation and for floating markets, but also for sewage. Today, most of the khlongs of Bangkok have been filled in and converted into streets, although the Thonburi side of Bangkok (covering areas west of Chao Phraya River) still retains several of its larger khlongs.

Central Bangkok has the Khlong Saen Saeb, which is a route for a boat service that remains a vital public transportation function in the traffic-congested capital. (Wikipedia)


Experiencing a City of Contrasts

The change in time zones got me confused and I was up out of bed way too early.  While waiting for Sarah and Kendrick to appear, I took in the cityscape from my bedroom window. It was difficult to fathom the contrasting sights that I saw. There were freshly painted large apartment buildings and hotels towering over unpainted and forlorn looking buildings that families called home. Even the two sides of a duplex were different as night and day – one side painted and tidy and boasting new windows, the other very much in need of some TLC. Our day was to be much the same.

After a late breakfast in the hotel dining room, I got my money exchanged and then we went to see the school where Sarah and Kendrick taught. It’s a school for the young children of international dignitaries or wealthy business men, but it’s also an “alternative” school. The classrooms are unstructured – no desks in tidy rows or teachers standing at a black board lecturing.  Instead, the children are encouraged to participate and learn by doing, with the teachers’ guidance. An annual group building project teaches research, logistics, math skills, and craft skills.

Boat House

One project, an outdoor boat house.

Children working together

Children working together


Another project – a colourful dragon dominates the school lobby

The children all seem to be happy to learn.  I couldn’t help but think that I might have done better in a school like this! I’m sure many others can relate.

When we left the school, we made our way through the streets that were crowded with street vendors, and into the neighbourhood where Sarah and Kendrick had lived until a few days before. This was an area of small wooden structures, some houses, some shops. We met up with good Thai friends of Sarah and Kendrick, Fatima and Daeng. They lived with their five-year-old daughter in one room in the back of a noodle shop. There older son lived many hours away with Fatima’s parents where he could attend the schooling that could not be afforded in Bangkok. Fortunately Sarah and Kendrick had become quite fluent in Thai during their years there. None of their former neighbours spoke English so I was at a loss to participate in the conversations. Daeng’s only source of income was driving a song thaew, which is the most common type of public transportation in Thailand. Named for the two benches found in the rear passenger area, the song thaew is a pickup truck converted for carrying passengers and some cargo. These vehicles are regulated and licensed by the government.

song thaew

Sarah and Fatima wait in the song thaew for Bea

The four of us drove in it to pick up Bea, Fatima & Daeng’s daughter, from public school and then had lunch at “The Mall”, the first North American style structure I’d seen so far. I ordered “ice milk” expecting plain, cold milk.  What I got was more like a pink milkshake with indiscernible flavours, possibly strawberry and mint.

Ice milk

Traditional Thai lunch, including “ice milk”

The traffic in the city was crazy. There were way too many cars, very few traffic lights or stop signs. The many motorcycles, sometimes carrying whole families, drove two or three abreast, darted between and around cars and even drove on the sidewalks to get through traffic. Some drivers wore helmets; some didn’t. Courtesy was not practised; it was every driver for himself.

At six o’clock we were once more picked up by Mrs. T’s car and driver, this time to be taken to a very fancy, modern hotel on the Chao Phraya River, for an elegant and delicious dinner. We were also adorned with gifts; a beautiful diamond necklace for Sarah as a thank you gift for the teacher, and a gorgeous piece of pink silk fabric for me!

Bangkok, Day 1


By the time I arrived in Bangkok at 3:30 pm, I was really too tired to take it all in.  I looked anxiously around for Sarah and Kendrick, but I seemed to be alone. Just  as a friendly face at an airport kiosk asked me, in English, if I needed help, I saw the smacked-against-the-glass face of Kendrick staring at me from another area, and Sarah’s smiling face appeared over his shoulder. Oh, what joy and relief that brought! Since I had no baggage to collect (at Sarah’s directions, I’d squeezed everything I needed for a month into a large back-pack that I was able to carry-on), I was soon on the other side of the glass, embracing them. I was quickly relieved of my bag by a handsome young Thai, and Sarah explained that the mother of one of her students had insisted on sending them to the airport in her car, with a driver! He delivered us to the Atlanta Hotel, which at one time was “the” hotel in Bangkok, having the only indoor pool to boast about. The lobby was ornately decorated with colourful tiles accenting darkly stained tongue and grooved walls. A large circular red leather (or faux?) bench sat in the middle. The same fabric covered a centre columned back rest, at the top of which sat a brass pot of what appeared to be poinsettias. On either side of the doorway leading to the pool, I could see the spiral staircase that would take us to our rooms.

I dreamed of a nice hot bath or at least a shower, and a cozy bed to rest my weary body after my thirty hours of traveling in the same clothes. I was, however, on a tight budget and worried some about what such luxury might cost.  I needn’t have. It turned out that we had budget rooms, at only 390 baht, the Canadian equivalent of about $18.00, per night.  But, you get what you pay for. Our room was nine floors up, by stairs! It seemed the higher we got, the more narrow the staircases and halls became. When I opened my door and took a look around, all dreams of luxuriating in hot soapy water were dashed. The “bathroom” consisted of a small, floor-to-ceiling, no-longer-white, tiled room off the bedroom, with no door. There was a mirror on the wall, a pedestal sink with a single tap and already opened bar of soap in one corner, and a toilet in the other.  Above the toilet was a shower head and taps, cold water only! No towels or face clothes could be found. Sarah had forgotten to tell me to pack my own. Fortunately she and Kendrick had extras so were able to lend me one. My shower was quick, but refreshing and clean clothes felt good. However, in order to keep my feet clean, at least until I got my sandals on, I had to walk on the towel to get to the bed.  The floors were filthy and the paint was peeling from the bedroom walls. I had a lot of adjusting to do!

We went out to dinner with a couple of friends of Sarah and Kendrick – I have no idea what I ate. I guess I was too tired to write that in my journal. After sending some quick emails at the local Cybercafé, we were all ready to hit the sac. The hard, narrow bed with nothing but a couple of thin white sheets and two firm pillows didn’t look very inviting. The night was hot, but the whirl of the dusty overhead fan purred me to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Tomorrow would be a better day.


Notes: When checking online today for the Atlanta Hotel, I found many good reviews and it has been refurbished.

I will include some pictures, but unfortunately at that time I had only an old-fashioned 35 mm film camera, the latch of which eventually broke and had to be taped closed! J