Bags collected, throngs of sweaty, disoriented Farang stumbled through Suvarnabhumi International Airport desperately looking for someone to herd us safely to our orientation hotel. Before too long, one of the CIEEers spotted the bright orange shirts and English signs of the OEG (overseas education group) staff. While we were all making our way, zombie like, to our English speaking Thai contacts, that I realized this was no different from the many times I have been in a domestic airport and have seen this exact situation. And look at me now, the foreigner with no idea how to speak the native language staying close to my fellow travelers, hoping that my quick trip to find a bathroom won’t result in Mikey Arsnow starring in Home Alone Lost in Bangkok.
The buses dropped off the soon to be teachers at Ebina House Hotel, and once we began to get situated, the scene in the hotel started to feel a lot like the first days of freshman year. Exchanging names only to forget them moments later, wondering if the people we are meeting now will be our friends forever and ever!
After the initial hub bub died down, I made my way with some CIEEers I met in Boston to explore the small street markets and restaurants surrounding our hotel. Hungry, and so ready to try my first Thai street food, I drifted from the group for a second to pop my head into the food tent next door to the cafe where my crew was sipping coffee. With my Thai to English iPhone dictionary/ phrase book in hand, I fumbled, gestured, and pointed my way to my first meal. A gamey looking whole chicken that might have been fighting in the ring the night before was unhooked from its roasty little nest,chopped in half length wise, and hacked into horizontal strips. Despite the rapidity with which she worked, her blade danced precisely and quickly around the wooden block carving the chicken with the experience of someone who had clearly performed this task thousands of times. The woman preparing my food worked under the close supervision of a hunched older woman sitting on a stool nearby, whose unchanging eyes gave the slightest hint of approval as my meal was completed. The older woman snatched up the food and delivered the chicken, rice and broth to a very hungry young man waiting patiently and eagerly for his food. “Aroi! aroi!” I said, using all the Thai I knew, rubbing my stomach and smiling happily I took my first bite of moist fatty chicken and sip of hot salty broth. My first taste of Thailand was delicious and the steamy broth and rice were remarkably refreshing despite the heat and humidity Bangkok’s late morning provided.
Satiated and no doubt smelly, I returned to Ebina House Hotel, and Charlie, Kaleb, Anabel, Chris, and I made moves to downtown Bangkok. Taking our first Thai taxi, which, for a 20 minute ride cost only 100 Baht, or about 3 USD (Uber aint got nothin’ on these Thai prices!), we arrived at Chatuchak park. After stumbling upon a Rotary Club Monument and orating the Rotary Club guiding principles (which I had on a printed card in my wallet. Thanks Dawn!) to the few vagrants and tarot card readers located in the general area, we hopped on the Bangkok Metro (MRT) and continued our adventure.
After walking the crowded streets for a bit we decided to wander down a narrow alley, always a good idea right? Instantly the volume that our ears had grown accustomed to vanished, and was replaced with the chatter of families outside prepping for dinner cooking sausages and fish on small wood burning grills. The smell of the delicious food mixed with the occasional whiff of trash, and filled my nose and body with conflicting feelings of hunger and disgust. With help from one of the shirtless flip-flopped men, we were directed back to the main street via a narrow canal from which the smells of trash that we detected earlier were coming. As I was soon to discover while traveling in Thailand, you can never guess where you will stumble upon a temple. Trash and standing water to our right, concrete and barbed wire to our left, we came across the chants of monks and a beautiful temple directly ahead of us. A lovely end to our little back alley excursion.
After exiting to the main streets and purchasing a handsome woman’s blouse from a wildly effeminate street vendor, three sleepy travelers made our way home. Upon our return, the sleepless days and travel bonked me straight on the noggin and I fell fast asleep in my comfy hotel bed.