As we made our way through the network of sprawling freeways, we began to take in our first views of Bangkok.  It was late in the afternoon and yet the time of day seemed irrelevant as the sun lay shrouded beneath a veil of thick,  yellowing clouds. Countless skyscrapers, all in varying states of completion emerged from the ground, each competing to dominate the skyline. Billboards the size of shops loomed down at us, calling at us to buy smartphones, energy drinks and skin lightening products.

I couldn’t get over the sheer size of the city.  After an hour of driving, we seemed to be making very little progress, and I got the distinct impression that we were only touching the tip of a very large iceberg.  I must have dozed off somewhere along the way, only to wake two hours later still driving through the city’s suburbs.  Eventually, we pulled into a quiet street and stopped outside a large, gated property.

“Home,” said Wan, turning off the ignition.

We had reached the Volunteers House, where the next twenty-four hours were to be spent in orientation.  Not knowing exactly what this involved, the same nervous feeling I had experienced on the plane began to creep back into my consciousness.
“Please don’t be mafia…please don’t be mafia…”
Thankfully we were met by the lovely Dennis, who alongside his wife, Suvannah, organised the Thailand volunteer programme.  He welcomed us in to the house, and after giving us the chance to grab a shower and have some food, we sat down and got straight to business.

Surprisingly, we had not yet been allocated a school.  Instead, we were talked through various options and given the choice to ‘taylor’ our experience.  We hadn’t really been expecting to be given so much choice from the start, but it was a pleasant surprise.  In the end, we decided that in order to see a bit more of the real Thailand, we would prefer to teach at a rural location, and so we were recommended to try a school in the district of Ang Thong, a couple of hours north of Bangkok.

Twenty-four hours later, after some basic – and I mean basic – advice on teaching in Thailand, we were bundled into the car once again to begin our journey to the school.  Left in the hands of the affable Wan, we were driven to the city’s bus station, where again, the language barrier became increasingly evident; trying to explain to someone who doesn’t speak a word of English that you need to buy a sim card for your phone is no easy feat, believe me…

I mentioned earlier that we had hoped to see the real Thailand.  Ten minutes in Mo Chit station was all it took to have me biting my tongue.  Getting inside the station was a task in itself, and involved navigating ourselves – backpacks and all – through a busy, sprawling market place, which sold everything from barbequed cockroaches to knock-off ipads.

It was hard to distinguish the interior of the building from the exterior; for as far as the eye could see, lines of people snaked through the main hall.  Countless ticket stalls lined the walls, very few of which actually looked official.  Illegible, hand-written signs offered the only sense of navigation, though even Wan seemed to struggle with these.  Eventually, we joined the relevant queue, where the next thirty minutes were spent combatting the urge to run away and find some fresh air.

After finally purchasing our tickets, we were led through the bustling market again to a bus stance, where we were surprised to find that our vehicle was not so much a bus, but rather a converted people carrier, already occupied by at least three Thai families.  Apologetically, we clambered into our seats, an act which involved considerable negotiation of the bags and limbs.

As the engine roared into life, there was a moment of panic as we realised that not only would Wan not be coming with us, but he had also failed to mention the name of the town we would be getting off in.  We gestured frantically through the window, but to no avail.  As we pulled out of the station, the realisation began to sink in that we were well and truly on our own, heading off into the abyss of an unknown country…

 

About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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