Picture the scene.  It’s hot.  You’re crammed into the back of a stuffy people carrier.  The space where your legs should be is occupied by several oversized backpacks. You’ve been sitting far too close to your fellow passengers for the last four hours, none of whom speak English or understand the concept of personal space.  The worst part?  You’re in a foreign country and you have absolutely no idea where you’re going.

 This is the scenario I found myself to be in three summers ago, as I headed into the heart of rural Thailand.
It was 2011 and my friend Ciara and I were about to embark on a month long teaching experience, organised by Original Volunteers.  The previous 48 hours had gone by in a complete blur, and had seen us travel from London to Bangkok, from the airport to the Volunteers house, and then through the sprawling chaos that was Mo Chit bus station.

We had been looked after by our guide, Wan, who had been very kind, but had somehow failed to tell us the name of the town we would be teaching in before offloading us onto our bus and waving as it tore away from the station.  This being Thailand, our ticket contained nothing other than a handwritten scrawl; our driver, similarly, did not speak or understand English, which was probably a good thing, considering the expletives that were muttered under my breath as I negotiated my way into my seat.

After much fretting, it became evident that there was nothing we could do but sit back and hope for the best – we had, after all, set out looking for an adventure.

As I stared hopelessly out of the window, I watched as the world around me transformed from the choked streets of Bangkok and its industrial wastelands to the open, rolling hills of agricultural Thailand – a land of mango tree forests, rice paddies and vast, lily ponds.   It didn’t take long for the excitement to eclipse the nerves.  It almost didn’t matter where we ended up; this was exactly the Thailand I had hoped to find.

Eventually, we became aware that we were passing through a township, and the bus came to an abrupt halt.

“Wiset Chai Chan.” Said the driver.  The passengers sat motionless, each waiting to see who would be leaving the bus, and which lucky sod would soon be able to stretch their legs.  Again, the driver called out.

 “Wiset Chai Chan?”

The words meant nothing to us. We exchanged glances, uncertain, before catching the driver’s eye in the rear view mirror.

“What…us?”

He nodded, before gesturing frantically to the road and repeating the words;

“WISET CHAI CHAN!”

“Okay, okay!” We cried, gathering our belongings and climbing clumsily over the other passengers.  The old lady, who had been contently listening in to our chatter throughout the journey reached out and shook my hand, before flashing me a big, toothless grin.  It was hard to tell whether that smile was menacing or well-meaning, but I took it to be the latter and returned the favour.

As the bus sped away, we were left by the side of a busy road, contemplating the situation we had now found ourselves in.  This was the first time we had even heard the name of the town – how on earth were we supposed to find our way around?  Where were we staying?  Were we just to go straight to the school?

All around us, trucks and mopeds whizzed by at lightening speed, occasionally doubling back so that the drivers could take another look at us.  I suppose we must have made quite a sight. Before we knew it, we had become a bit of an attraction, and every car that passed came precariously closer to the pavement.

“Hello teacher!”  They called.  Although it was all very confusing, the fact that the townspeople were expecting us was somewhat of a relief.

Somehow, word must have got round to the school that we had arrived, as we were soon met by a man who, despite the language barrier, managed to persuade us that he worked as a representative of the volunteer organisation, and was there to look after us over the next few weeks.  By this point, we were so weary and bemused that we were in little position to argue, and so we followed him into the back of a songthaew, where we traveled the short distance to the volunteers house.

The house, which was to be our home for the next four weeks, was a surprisingly vast, gated property located at the end of a short, dirt track.  It was surrounded by a cluster of traditional, rural bungalows where children played in the street, where chickens had free reign of the land, and where groups of women sat cross legged on the grass, preparing food for their families and having, by the looks of things, a good old natter.
The house was gorgeous, with whitewashed walls and a blue tiled floor.  In contrast to everything I had envisioned, it was positively palatial, with several spacious rooms and large windows letting in the afternoon sun.  I think we were both in awe as we plonked our shabby backpacks down on the ground and took in our new surroundings.

However grand, I couldn’t help but notice how empty the house was, not just of furniture, but people.  I had half-expected, half-hoped, that it would be full of other volunteers but as it turned out, we would be spending the first few days alone.  We didn’t have long to reflect on this, however; almost as soon as we had entered the house, we were to leave it again.  Our guide wanted to show us the town, and as he revved the engine on the truck, it seemed that there was no better time than the present.

Wiset Chai Chan (which we took to be the name of the town, rather than the Thai for ‘get the hell out of my bus’) was a sleepy little place, with a humble charm.  It lay in the heart of the Ang Thong district, known as part of the ‘Golden Bowl’, an area renowned for its agricultural importance. There was evidence of this as far as the eye could see, as fields of cattle patterned the landscape and the smell of farm life lingered in the air.  It felt a million miles from Bangkok.

Thai people, by custom, eat out a lot, and we were blown away by the number of cafes and food stalls which could be found around the market place.   After meandering through the stalls, taking in all the new and wonderful smells, we were positively ravenous and decided to treat ourselves to our first proper meal in days. Deciding to play it safe, I decided to go for a traditional green curry, though of course to my delicate Scottish palette, the word ‘safe’ seems a little irrelevant.  Our guide might not have spoken English, but it seems that ‘my mouth is on fire!’ is something which transcends language barriers.  Much hilarity was had at my expense, as I tried desperately to control my watering eyes and nose.

After finally getting my sniffles under control, we resumed our tour of the town, taking in the many Buddhist temples, a network of beautifully sculpted gardens and the stunning views by the bank of the Chao Phraya river.  This river, our guide pointed out, was integral to the farming communities of rural Thailand.  It would also be our lifeline, as it marked the route we would take to the school every morning.

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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