By Sally Stephenson
When I first arrived into Bangkok airport I was quickly whisked away to the city of Pattaya so my first proper experience of Bangkok wasn’t until on a long weekend in which the AYC teachers reunited.
Bangkok exists in a paradox of itself, it is a large bustling Thai town that has a plethora of travelers weaving through the streets as they experience the sights, sounds and tastes of one of South East Asia’s biggest bustling cities.
I had recently finished teaching and ventured to the train station in Chachoengsao. I purchased a third class ticket for 12 baht (24p) and waited anxiously on the platform, nervous of catching the wrong train and ending up in a very random place in northern Thailand. Through broken English with other Thai travelers, they let me know when the train had arrived and even remembered two hours later to come find me to let me know I was at Bangkok Station.
There’s something about the attitude in Thailand. while it may be a country that is confined in its knowledge of the west and historical events of other countries, the people will genuinely try to help you. One man on the station was even concerned that I had paid too much for my ticket. Even though I tried to tell him it was okay, he was adamant that he didn’t want me to be overcharged compared to the Thai’s. Considering I didn’t know the man, nor did we speak the same language, this was incredibly humbling.
I arrived in Bangkok, nervous that I didn’t belong there. I wandered out to the main exit, and using broken English and an address I had in Thai for my hotel, I got a tuk tuk and thought I was on my way. It turned out, however, that the tuk tuk driver that I had felt lucky to find couldn’t take me all the way to the hotel. Instead of leaving me on the side of the road, he found another driver, transferred me over, I made my way round the streets until I found the hotel as monsoon rain poured down and night descended on Bangkok.
Thailand is known to tourists for its cheap accommodation. It’s also known for hard beds that will challenge any westerner’s vision of comfort. I had been lucky to check into a nice serviced apartment with a friend for £11p/n. We each had a lovely soft bed, a large sized apartment that could easily fit more in. On our first night as we caught up on the balcony, we had a good giggle as we tried to order McDonald’s over the phone. This was an amazing concept to both of us that McDonald’s in Thailand deliver, a shame to both of us that we ate western fast food in one of the top cuisine cities in the world (hey we were tired after a day of teaching and travelling okay!)
Our fellow teacher friends were staying on Khao San Road. Neither of us had been to the famous road that divides South East Asia from the west before, and I think part of me had been suspecting something different to what we saw. Khao San exists as a backpacker’s paradise and introduction to Thai life. There’s an abundance of market stalls, food carts, clubs, hostels, tuk tuk drivers trying to overcharge you, massage parlours out on the street and if you’re in need of one, you can even buy a degree from Oxford there.
We soon found our friends and the collective feeling was that we wanted to embrace the Thai version of our own countries. We were all based in small Thai towns and spent much of our time immersed in the culture and lifestyle so it was nice to experience something of the familiar while still being amongst the foreign.
We headed to Siam Paragon, and ate lunch at Nando’s. I experienced my first Krispy Kreme doughnuts and we went to watch a movie. After a few hours, we walked back out to Bangkok and became enveloped back into the Thai surroundings of market sellers and bustling crowds.
Our second day was much more touristy. We ventured to local restaurants, and browsed the market stalls where a friend and I were told we were a little too round for any of the ladies t-shirts (I’m still not sure if the stall holders know quite how to make sales to foreign buyers). We spent a little while in a tattoo shop as a friend asked for a quote. In the evening, I tried my first sampling of Pad Thai and we rolled back to Khao San Road to spend the night in an underground bar.
The weekend soon drew to a close. I was a little sad I hadn’t spent time seeing more of the temples, the statues, and/or the museums, but knowing that they will always be there upon a return visit, it was nice to spend time amongst friends and have a break from being ‘Teacher Sally’.
My departure from the weekend in Bangkok brought on a round of sadness, but no sooner did I see the smiling faces of my students on Monday morning did I remember why I had been given the chance to have that weekend in the first place. Teaching can connect you to a range of people from a range of cultures. It is truly one of the best benefits of teaching abroad.
Since 2007, Sally has lived in Australia, America, Thailand and New Zealand. She currently writes fiction and non-fiction while training for a career in Project Management. Her tales span the course of all of her travels and more information and blogs can be found at her personal site: http://www.sallystephenson.com/.