Just about two weeks ago, I learned I do not in any sense of the phrase “go with the flow.” (Yet.) I had considered myself pretty easy going before this weekend, but wherever the flow was going… I was not on board. You could even say I was paddling against the flow.
Dan and I headed to Kanchanaburi Friday afternoon. Five hour bus ride to Bangkok, then catch another two hour bus to our final destination. We arrived at the bus station and this was all very time sensitive. If we missed the bus here, we would run the possibility of missing the next. Dan asked the main bus company and it turned out they were all full. Next we paraded around smaller companies lining the outdoor waiting area, searching for another to take us where we needed to go. We lucked out with a bus that had two seats left and was leaving right then, which was good because we were dangerously close to missing the next bus as it was.
So we began. Snacks packed (cucumber, snap peas, and peanut butter protein balls), books, and a great Thai karaoke band playing on repeat would be our entertainment for the next five hours. THANK GOD they had the entire CD, music videos included. I would have just died had I not heard and seen what seemed to be the Thai version of LMFAO. Dan actually became a huge fan and is looking forward to creating his own album following in his new idols’ footsteps; big afro, tight pants, glasses, and a quirky Thai beat in his step.
We arrived in Bangkok
and … we arrived in Bangkok. Now what.
After finding out all the connecting buses from that station to Kanchanaburi had left for the day, we took a cab to the Southern end of Bangkok and arrived at another bus terminal. Again, here we were..
made it to Bangkok.. now what.
Looking around we weren’t not really sure where the other bus was. Everything was pretty much shut down and I was starving. On our first bus, snap peas were the first to go, then the protein balls, and I have to say I still can’t even look at a cucumber. (We bought some at the market and I decided to cut all of them up for our trip so they wouldn’t go to waste. Too many cucumbers. Just too many.) But we had to find the bus first and make sure we didn’t have to spend the night in some seedy Bangkok hostel. Dan had read sources that detailed a bus number, so we headed in what we thought was the right direction. Once we reached the bus ticket booth, it appeared pretty closed. There was a hand written sign in the window, but unfortunately in my three weeks here I have yet to pick up reading Thai. Two Thai teens, one who seemed to work at the terminal, noticed us staring at the sign. The girl pushed what seemed to be the terminal security guy in our direction. Reluctantly, he came over and pointed to the sign and attempted explanation. This would have been wonderful had he not explained in Thai. Frustrated with our blank stares, he took off and motioned us to follow. He brought us to the giant windows overlooking the boarding area, pointed to the sign and number, and pointed to the escalator we had just gone up and down, twice. We thank him and head off, practically running now (we had been wandering around the bus terminal for quite awhile and the bus was surely leaving soon). Two tickets to Kanchanaburi in hand, we had three minutes to grab any food within reach and board our bus.
I have never been more happy to eat kettle corn.
An entire bag of kettle corn.
An hour and half later, we stepped off the bus at our final destination…
The middle of a street in the city in the dark.
It was 11:30 pm and everything was pretty much shut down. Dan called our accommodation to figure out how far our walk would be or how much it would cost to take a taxi. Three other westerners were cluelessly roaming around the empty street. It seemed we were all pretty much S.O.L.
Dan was told to go to the main street and head right or something, fifteen minute walk. Okay. Sure, that’s doable.. if we weren’t in the middle of two major looking roads. We picked a direction and began our trek. There were a few food stands still packing up, mopeds speeding off in the distance, and one shady looking bar/club named LOVE. Then within the darkness, three colors of hope shone bright, orange, white, and green: 7 ELEVEN.
Someone in there would know how to get a taxi, right? Worth a shot or at least a bottle of whiskey (Dan and I thought we might as well have some for the walk). We walked in and the other Westerners had found the savior. The employees helped the girls out by getting them motor taxis. Noticing us milling around after our purchase, the employee, who walked the other girls out to their chariots, motioned for us to follow. Two girls and one driver on one moped, the other girl and her driver on the other.. each holding luggage. (I am constantly amazed at how much one can fit on a moped. Dan and I saw a family of five driving through the open-air school cafeteria yesterday. Family of five, one moped, casually driving through the cafeteria. Well anyway, we couldn’t very well fit on the moped with them. Unsure of what direction we should really be walking in, we sat on a bench to wait for another bike to come.
I opened the SangSom bottle and took a shot. I can’t quite discern whether this was a low or high point in my life, whether I should have kept that to myself or patted myself on the back. Another bike didn’t come, but we did hitch a ride on a songtaew, an open small bus with benches in the back and a truck like front. It’s a pretty great form of transportation. You really get a sense of the places you’re traveling to; the smells and sights are right there in front of you without a window. As we drove into town, a Westerner flagged us down noticing we were foreign too, and yelled about a bar he was heading to. On a songtaew you can make plans without the hassle of rolling down a window. Even the buses children ride to school are in this form. Throw fifteen to twenty kids on there and if they don’t all fit, some can hang off the back. I’m not exaggerating. They really do just hang off the back.
Kanchanaburi is a cute little town. It looks much like Kamphaegphet in the city aspect, but has a lot more tourist traffic. There are westernized bars and shops. More Thais speak English. Driving through the streets as the driver searched for our hotel, my stomach grew more and more concerned. Popcorn really is not a substantial meal. We turned down a narrow muddy road between two shops and headed down toward the river. The truck seemed to get stuck as we neared the end of the road. We hopped off so the truck could turn around and we walked the rest of the way.
It was raining a bit as we walked up and a man greeted us at the entrance. It looked much like an accommodation you’d find in America, by a lake or something. All wood, outdoor dining area floating on the river, dirt and mud driveway. The man told us he had a special room for us. He pointed to the ground rooms to our right and said that’s where we were supposed to stay and then showed us to the second level of another building and said this was where we would stay. Didn’t ask us our names or to see our confirmation, I guess he was expecting us. The room was simple. Ya know, your standard picture of carpet carpet. Yes. That’s a thing. It looked like wallpaper on the floor.. shiny carpet picture paper floor. And the bathroom and shower were separate, which was nice.
*The bathroom is the shower in the apartment we stay at in Kamphaegphet. Makes for easier cleaning. Just spray down the whole bathroom with the shower head.
We dropped off our stuff and took another couple of shots of Sangsom. (It’s rainy and slightly chilly, needed the whiskey for warmth, of course.) It had reached about 12:30. Everything shuts down pretty early in smaller cities and towns around Thailand. We checked out a few places trying to find food, but everything was closed. Thankfully, we found a western themed restaurant complete with plaid that opened their kitchen for us. The owner spoke English and actually spent time in North Carolina and a few other states. Very nice guy and a great help with the menu. The food was delicious. I fell in love with cashew chicken. We thanked him for letting us eat by ordering a couple beers and finishing up quickly.
So far we were just barely making it. Lucked onto the bus to Bangkok, made it to the second bus with minutes to spare, talked our way into a lift to our accommodation, random upgrade, and pleaded for food. It’s easier to write about this, look back and say wow look at that.. pretty cool man. Sounds like a good start to the weekend, nothing went smoothly, but hey you made it!
Yeah, I wish that was where my head was while taking this journey. I was more like:
with a furrowed brow every now and then, a little forced smile at times. Dan’s an angel for putting up with me. I didn’t complain or anything, but I was SO unbelievably anxious until we sat down at the restaurant. Maybe I was more irritable because I was hungry the whole time. This girl’s gotta eat.
The next day we had planned on going to Erawan Falls, a seven tiered waterfall. It was raining. Dan started googling and trying to secure our stay in the national park, but they were filled for that night. Okay, so we’ll go and because of the rain there will be fewer people .. right?
We decided against that, more googling. Dan decided we would go for an elephant ride. I was a happy girl. As the morning went on, the weather cleared and we decide on taking the Death Railway to the end of the line, which is where the elephant camp was supposed to be. Water bottle of Sangsom in hand, we headed off to find the train station, stopping to get coffee and grilled bananas on the way. (The lady gave me an extra one for free! New best friend.)
The train was great. The cars, made of wood, had a certain glow when the sunlight filtered in through the window that made you feel like you were stepping into the past. We first boarded on the wrong car, which would have been uncomfortable to say the least. Everyone was standing on top of each other and there was no room to sit down even though we had assigned seats on our ticket(?). That couldn’t have been right, so we got off and asked again. The ticket girl originally told us “three” when we got the ticket. Not much to go off of, but we had assumed this number was in reference to the car we were supposed to board. So we take a look at the car we had gotten on… three. We check again, but there is definitely no way those were assigned seating. Turns out she meant car three from the front, not the car labeled … three. Lost in translation.
Anyway, we got on the proper car and still had no idea where to sit, until an elderly woman pointed to the empty bench on the left of the car and said “You. Sit.” Yes, ma’am. She was one of those tiny frail women you don’t mess with. When she says do something, it’s more of a command and you do it, right then.
We sat down and across from me was an older man with a hat and sunglasses on, staring outside. He was quiet and didn’t say a word the whole trip, but he seemed to belong there, observing. I wonder what he thought of us foreigners.
The little old woman adored us, moved over to the bench facing us, and started talking. She had the kindest eyes and a smile when she talked that even if you didn’t know what she was saying made you feel happy, even important. There’s something to a warm stranger like her talking to you like you are friend that makes you feel at ease. She talked about her trip and where she had been, where she was going, a few family members, how she learned English and about marijuana. Yes. Yep. Mary-j. She preferred the marijuana from the mountains over the stuff from the city. Lana, I believe was her name, force fed us fruit when we refused her first offer and gave Dan her phone number if we needed anything. She even gave Dan her luggage to hold. Being the gentleman that he is, he promptly helped her take it off when it was her stop. She shuffled away from the train at her stop, but not before turning around and seeing us off. She did a double wave, both hands in the air, in combination with the biggest smile I’ve seen in Thailand so far.
The ride itself was beautiful. I’m not sure beautiful can really cover it. The mountains and fields, trees and flowers, were indescribable. Miles of exactly what you picture Thailand to be. Whatever’s in your mind right now, it was there. Minus the elephants roaming free and the monkeys swinging from tree to tree. The monkeys may have been there, but I was on a train and do not have superman vision. It’s as if this whole country has been photo shopped, no Instragram filters needed. Beauty at its purest form, a nod to one of my favorite things about Thailand: simplicity. I stared out my window for hours.
I’m a star gazer. I love looking up at that big sky full of the tiniest sparkles. I love seeing the tiny stars create something so much bigger than themselves. Thousands and thousands of little glimmers holding our attention on one canvas. We are down here painting them into whatever we want them to be; constellations, dreams, stories. I love feeling small, feeling like there is an endless amount of stars for me to find. I can stumble through life and still look up at the night sky to find a star I’ve never seen before. I can look up there and let go, lose myself in a painting I create. I can ground myself in creativity, looking up at the tiniest sparkles, and be reminded of the infinite possibilities life holds. I am just one small piece, one small painter, but I can create something, I can be something. I found the same palette looking out my window on the train. I could block out the world around me, focusing on that little frame. I found my stars in the greens and yellows of the trees, the muddy brown river water, the contrasting reds, pinks, and purples of flowers I don’t know the names of, the warmth of the sun on my skin through the open window. Little shacks and houses lined the tracks, grand temples seemingly in the middle of nowhere, white and red with gold detailing the edges, glistened in the sunlight, all adding to the story, adding to my canvas. It was easy to get lost staring through my little frame, easy until the girl who had replaced the older man sitting across from me was whipped in the face with a tree branch. Poor thing didn’t see it coming. Open windows on trains can be hazardous.
We finished off the Sangsom and were thankful we had brought it on what turned out to be a three hour train ride. Three hours is a lot for a train ride when you aren’t prepared for it. Especially, when you timed things out for not a three hour train ride. We arrived at our destination, the end of the line, and again we were faced with the.. cue music here.. dun na na naaa.. we are here!
It’s around 2:30 PM now and the last train left at 5:30. Not enough time to go to the elephant camp and get back. This is where I panic. Dan wanted to rent a moped and just drive back after the day’s excursion. Just, ya know, drive through Thailand in a place we haven’t been before, back to our accommodation we had just taken a three hour train ride away from. I was uneasy about the idea and as I’m learning to voice my opinion more, I said (maybe not so eloquently) that I was not so sure about this moped idea. I may have used words like, “I have no faith in our directional ability” and “this isn’t a good idea” and I may or may not have pouted and been a total child in that I couldn’t offer a sound alternative.
I haven’t really had to put faith in anyone when regarding myself. It’s hard to describe. I obviously have my family and friends who I have the utmost respect for and trust in. But when it comes to decisions, they’ve been mine alone to make or not make. Usually if I’m uncomfortable with something, I shy away from it or panic or just hold my breath and jump in scared. But now, I can let go a little. I can be uncomfortable and let someone in to help me make it comfortable. I’m not sure I’m at all making sense here and I’m trying to work through it. You have to first have faith in yourself, I’m learning. My struggle was not so much with faith in Dan, it was with myself. I wasn’t confident in my own ability to get back with a moped, to find the right buses, to get the tickets, but I was forgetting this whole other amazingly not directionally challenged person. I was forgetting that not everything is going to go according to plan, things will go wrong, get messy, but I wasn’t alone anymore. I can step outside of my head. I didn’t need to be afraid of life being utter chaos, because at most times it is. That has always been a lot for me to overcome; I like order. But there isn’t a specific order to anything at all and that’s okay. I guess you can compare Dan, for me, to my star gazing, my train ride. I can find solid ground and a canvas in him. I can let go and know that he’ll be there to help me through the stumbles in life. He’ll not only watch me trace the sky with my stories, but he’ll be there, too, adding his own. It’s not just my story I search for in the night anymore. My vision so much wider than it was before, he paints in the places where I lost myself and makes me see that I can have faith.
Right now, I was sour and faith was escaping me. No one really spoke English and by the time we had assembled something of a plan, there was only one songthaew left that could only understand taking us to the Falls. So to the falls we went. I was not at all happy. We had just been told that the falls were in the opposite direction of the elephant camp, but I was mainly (and by mainly I mean ONLY) concerned with the whole not having a way back to our hotel problem. I had an irrational fear of being stranded when really no matter what we could just take a taxi back if we really needed to. I was tense to say the least. I was panicking and couldn’t stop myself. The ride to the Falls turned out to only be ten minutes from the station and on the way Dan noticed a hotel that had a bunch of mopeds out front – maybe we could rent one there. I was still unsure of the renting a moped idea, but at this point.. that was the option. We walked from the point the taxi dropped us off to the hotel that had “rooms from rant.” We were able to finagle renting a moped with the help of a deposit of a thousand baht, the rough translating from a young boy, and of course a photo with the farang, foreigner. They even helped us to locate and secure a ride at the elephant camp.
It was almost 4pm now, pretty late. We headed off in search of elephants down dirt roads, passing endless greenery and all of a sudden ELEPHANTS. They were just hangin out, munchin on some leaves and such in their camps next to the road. I was a happy, happy girl again. We arrive at the camp after some guess work at directions and it seemed like they were staying open just for us. 200 baht bought us a ride around the camp. Not too bad. Dan had researched 1000 baht rides. We lucked out. The camp itself was so interesting. People lived among the elephants, their houses lining the outskirts of the camp. Wouldn’t it be cool to just wake up in the morning to elephants roaming outside your window? Uh, yeah.
After the ride, we had to get back on the road heading to Kanchanaburi. We were chatting on the moped. I was taking pictures as we went. I was floating on my post-elephant ride high. And we got a flat tire. On a country back road. We kept driving because what else are we going to do and came to a house. Turned out to be owned by a German man who spoke English. He informed us there is only one motorbike shop in town, straight down the road and to the left. Ohh and it closes at 5 or 6. It’s 4:50pm. It’s not like we can speed off on a flat tire.. we crossed our fingers and took off in that direction. Made it JUST in time.
With the tire all patched up, we sped back to our accommodation. The moped plan worked out just fine as we sped down the road through the Thai country.
Back at the hotel, we changed and got ready to go grab food and drink. I donned my wonderful new overalls. Stylin. We went to the night market to eat and then wandered down the main street of bars. I stepped into a small shop and a slightly drunk, goofy Thai guy came flying down the street to talk to us. He was watching the shop for his friend and seemed to love practicing his English. I didn’t buy anything, but he asked us if we wanted to join him and his friends at a little hookah place set up on the sidewalk. Hairdresser shop by day, bar and hookah by night. We went for it and enjoyed some great conversation, hookah, and beer. We chatted about muay thai, soccer, festivals, and teaching. He even drew us a map for an easier, quicker route to return the moped. After we said goodbyes, we went to one more bar.. a reggae bar. The Thais seem to really enjoy reggae, I’ve seen at least one bar where ever we’ve been. I sat and ordered a beer, while Dan ran down the street for a slice of pizza. He came back with a whole pie. “I’ll save some for tomorrow” or just devour the whole thing. Same same.
Up bright and early, we were off to Erawan Falls. We stopped along the way to have coffee and do a bit of reading. Dan was reading One Day and I was finishing up A Fighter’s Heart. Once we arrived, we realized there wouldn’t be a way for us to get back that night to Kamphaengphet. We booked accommodation in the park itself, in a bungalow, and dropped our stuff off. Since we had a little more time, we grabbed lunch before the falls. Thank god we did. Big hike. Lots of stairs. And climbing. And stairs. Packed with people already, we headed to the seventh tier. Talk about seeing something breathtaking. We took turns getting into the ice cold water and discovering the giant waterfall. Another foreigner even asked to take a picture with me in front of the waterfall. Why not. We slowly make our way back down the tiers, wandering off the trails, uncovering hidden waterfalls and streams, following stray dogs and avoiding particularly pushy Europeans. Hiking about, no cell phones, no technology (except for pictures of course), just getting lost in trails and trees, it felt like finding magic. Letting your fingertips dangle over the ledge while water danced around them and over onto another ledge below you, felt like finding magic. It was a bit hard with the high volume of tourists, but when we found a moment alone, really alone, each climbing around different parts of a waterfall unseen by the busy trail walkers, it felt like it was okay to play again, to be curious and adventurous. Here it was easy to see how to “go with the flow.” This isn’t a silly connection to the water flowing around us. I sat for awhile, before discovering on my own, and watched Dan walk fearlessly out into the water, over hidden rocks and holes. He climbed up over a log up into the 2nd tier of this waterfall. He splashed about, discovering, playing. I wanted to play, too. Sometimes we forget to play. I know I do. It’s easy to consider going out to the bar and having a few with friends play. Getting wild, dancing the night away, that’s certainly fun, but we forget there are so many other ways to play, to be in the present, to go with the flow.
Carefree. Wandering through a waterfall, stopping to have coffee and read, talking to a local over hookah, driving a moped through the country, this is carefree. This is playing and enjoying life in the now. This is going with the flow.
We spent the night in the park and in the morning we drove the moped back. From there we hopped a bus to Bangkok to then journey on back to Kamphaengphet.