On my first week and a half in Thailand. I didn’t do too much posting in Thailand, whereas I had expected to jump in full force on arrival. In a way I did…my WordPress Dashboard is full of unpublished/unfinished blog entries, but the fact is that Thailand wasn’t the inspiring and exciting experience that I thought it was going to be. I recognize that this is in part to external factors and rushing my goal of one day visiting Thailand. I was rereading this incredibly detailed account of my first week and a half in Bangkok and it’s worth sharing. My time in Thailand did certainly have entertaining, lucky and interesting moments that should be put out there.
Getting to Thailand:
I flew for 12 hours from LAX to Beijing on Air China, the most budget of budget airlines. The flight itself was quite an adventure. At the check in counter I asked if they had a window seat available, they didn’t, but they had an seat in the emergency exit row, which always means extra leg room, so I was happy. Extra leg room was an understatement, you could have fit my entire bathroom in Seoul in the space between me and the seat in front of me. I’m not exaggerating. As far as the other parts of the flight go however – the plane was super old, the food was white rice and questionable fried meat in airplane food form and the flight attendants spoke limited English (my problem, not theirs). There was free beer on the flight, although the older woman stewardess shamed me for asking for one and then on my second (5 hours later) she took it away when I was only half finished.
There was no beginning of the flight instructions and most of the movies were in Chinese. I spent most of the flight listening to my list of backlogged podcasts including the highly recommended episode of This American Life called Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory. It was a really unsettling to be sitting on a flight to China, listening to this podcast on my iPod while the Chinese man to my right was playing with his iPad and the Chinese man to my left was listening to something on his iPhone 4s and reading the biography of Steve Jobs in Chinese (no joke).
After we landed I had two hours to get through the transit customs (which included a red stamp in my passport) and find my terminal. This process took about 45 minutes which meant that I had time to kill. Naturally, I was inclined to use this time to check various social networking sites. This of course was a problem as I was in China and they were blocked. Eventually we loaded the plane and arrived in Bangkok 5 hours later – at 2:00am.
Arrival in Thailand:
The customs line was full of Koreans escaping winter. It didn’t take long to get through. I was mildly worried because although I had a 60-day tourist visa, I had no return ticket. From what I had read [online] an onward ticket is required, but it wasn’t a problem (also read [online]).
Thailand really had been the smoothest travel experience I have ever had.
After getting through customs I arrived at the luggage conveyer just in time to grab my bag and head out to the taxi line outside. While waiting in line I asked the Swiss kid in front of my if he was going to Khao San Rd. He was super friendly, but said that he was going to a different part of town. After being approached by a French man (going to Khao San) he agreed to share a cab with us. This is the best way it could have worked out. We split the 300 baht cab ride (plus two 45 baht tolls) among three people.
After getting to the infamous Khao San Rd. at about 3:00am, I quickly found a room, dropped my bag and went out for a beer. This is when everything hit me. Within seconds of walking out onto the street I watched a ladyboy push a very drunk Westerner so hard that he tumbled down and the hit the concrete hard and tried not to watch a very drunk Thai woman strip down to nothing before the cops got her to cover herself. I saw a group of Americans dance together in the street to some cheesy mix of one of those songs that are played everywhere at that point, “Move like Jagger” or “Sexy and I Know It”. This is when I had my first “WTF?!” moment.
Makin’ it Happen in Thailand:
Fan, Closet, Key, Water
Khao San Rd in the Day Light
The next day, Tuesday, I woke up and felt encouraged and ready again. I had come to Bangkok to get a teaching job and spend some time and I was gonna make that happen. I took my Macbook to a cafe with WiFi got some muesli and yogurt and emailed my CV to all the schools I could find via popular teaching job websites. I also walked around the neighborhood trying to get my bearings. That afternoon I went to the Amulet Market, the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
Wednesday, my second day, I found a new guesthouse on Phra Athit, a quieter area across the street from the river, but still very close to Khao San.
I got a sim card (after seeing how easy it was I should have done this day one). I just walked into 7-Eleven and got a DTAC sim card for my unlocked iPhone and was set with minimal data, but a good amount of minutes. After spending an hour at a market near by, I spent time at a cafe sending emails and calling schools.
What Happened Here?
Dragon Fruit and Mango
Tangerines and Greens
Mangoes and Tangerines
Mangoes and Rose Apples,
Kung Haeng and Chili Sauce
I braved the Bangkok bus system in the afternoon and headed to Siam Square, an area of Bangkok with a high concentration of language schools and handing out my CV.
Bridges and Traffic
As I sat down with a Thai Iced Tea I got a call about working at a camp for a few days starting Thursday. That night I headed out to Ramkhamhaeng, for a job interview. The interview never happened as the school was in the middle of nowhere. Although the person with whom I had scheduled the interview was very, very friendly and helpful I never did find the school and none of the people around that I asked knew of the place, so I eventually was so frustrated that I wrote it off pretty sure that I didn’t want to work in the middle of nowhere. To add to my frustration I hopped in a cab that smelled like it had been washed in whiskey, more likely sangsom. and the young greasy haired driver continued to talk about how he was new and didn’t make a lot of money as a cab driver. I decided rather quickly that I did not want to be in that cab and when he finally pulled over (after I had asked him a number of times) he quickly stated that he didn’t have any change, luckily for me I had exact change. I walked the two kilometers back to the bus stop and eventually caught the bus back to my guesthouse.
Thursday, day 4, I woke up at 5am, packed up my backpack, checked out and grabbed a cab which I took to a school/meeting point for the camp. Before getting the courage to go inside the wat at the 7:00am meeting time.
Good Morning, Bangkok
I stopped for a can of coffee at a street vendor. A very nice man immediately started asking me friendly questions about where I was from and what I was doing. As I asked how much the canned coffee would be the vendor told me 20 baht the friendly guy said something to the vendor and then turned to me and said that it was 15 baht for locals, so I paid 15 baht. It made my day.
The camp was supposed to be 3 days, but they liked me so I was offered a spot for the next camp starting on Sunday. Before the end of that camp I was offered a job substitute teaching starting Wednesday. When I got back to Bangkok one of the other farang teachers from the camp helped me get a place at his guesthouse for 200 baht a night, again near Khao San and showed me the bus I would need.
Wednesday, day 9, I started the subbing job.
Parking Lot and Wat
After school I went to visit the apartment of another one of the farang teachers, so see about renting a place. It wasn’t really what I was looking for so I hopped on the BTS to the MRT to On Nut to look at places there. I walked around for about an hour before finding exactly what I was looking for. I found an inexpensive studio apartment with character not far from the On Nut MRT and the On Nut market down a road that looks like a little village in a huge concrete city. The owner speaks very limited English, but she agreed to rent to me regardless. The building was right next to a yard with about 6 roosters and a rowdy, hilarious bunch of motorcycle taxi drivers.
On Nut Market
Motorcycle Taxi and Street Vendor
Thursday, day 10, I subbed again then headed to the apartment to get my key and sign the contact.
Under the Tents at the On Nut Market
Friday, day 11, I packed up, checked out, hopped on the 2 bus and essentially moved into my apartment before work. The school that I have been subbing at is two MRT stops away from my new apartment.
After work I went to the office of the company that runs the camps to pick up my salary and was informed that they had a contract job for me starting in May. That evening I got some apartment stuff from the Tesco across the street from my place. Places like Tesco are always such a weird experience. Just like E-Mart or Homeplus (owned by Tesco) in South Korea, once I walk into one I feel like I might as well be in a Target back home in the States. Everything is sterile and prices are markets on little printed tags. The air conditioning is always full blast, the employees wear name tags and there are familiar brands. Meanwhile, as soon as I walked outside, I was back in Bangkok, it was very hot, crowded, there was traffic, I didn’t understand the chatting around me and there were new, nonstop, overwhelming smells.
This was my first week and a half in Thailand.