Tag Archives: rice fields

Thailand Tribute #11: Public transportation

Riding a baht bus home from That Phanom

Here, anything goes when it comes to transportation: Cars, trucks, coach buses, motorcycles, tractors and bicycles are all legitimate ways to get around and none would be out of place on even the main highways between Isaan cities. My transportation of choice? The baht bus.

In Thai, the baht bus is called a sawng thaew, which translates to “two rows” because it is just that. A baht bus is basically a pick-up with a roof (to protect riders from rain and sun) and rows of benches. They are color-coded and it was a great day when Steph and I discovered that the orange line goes to and from Pla Pak.¬†Fares are roughly based on the distance traveled, so a trip into Nakhon Phanom (about 40 kilometers) costs 40 baht. It’s my favorite mode of transportation because it affords a surprisingly serene ride, passing by rice fields and small villages that are often overlooked when traveling by coach bus or even car. The only time it’s less than enjoyable is when the bus is overcrowded and I have to squeeze onto the middle bench, enduring pressed knees and elbows in less than desirable places. Even then, there are amusing exchanges with the locals because the women eventually ask me what I’m doing here, how old I am, and whether or not I have a boyfriend. As of late, as I jump on these packed buses, I can even hear one or two women whispering my name to the other passengers and reporting to them where I teach. Many even know where I stay in Pla Pak and they tell the driver where to drop me off before I get a chance!

Above is a picture of me riding a baht bus back from a shopping day-trip to Mukdahan (photo courtesy of fellow WorldTeach volunteer Valerie Lopez). We actually missed our bus back to Nakhon Phanom but luckily one of our co-teachers was in town, so we hitched a ride with her to That Phanom (1 hour) and from there we “sawng thaewed” it back to Nakhon Phanom (1.5 hours) before jumping on another baht bus to Pla Pak (1 hour). I arrived home exhausted but happy with my purchases for family and friends at home.

I just hope everything fits in my suitcase, which is looking smaller every day.


Thailand Tribute #14: Water

Shoreline view from the Maekong River - Nong Khai, Thailand

As with most everywhere in the world, water plays an integral part of life in Thailand. Water is used during religious ceremonies in temples and in celebration of Songkran, Thailand’s New Year Festival. The amount of rainfall throughout the growing season determines the success of rice harvests for farming families. And of course, there’s the Maekong River (translation: mother river) wrapping it’s way along the northern and eastern borders of Thailand. The Maekong River is the 12th-longest in the world and the 7th longest in Asia. Here fishing plays a vital role in the nutritional and economic well-being of its surrounding populations. Lastly, personal hygiene practices also emphasize the importance of water in Thai culture, as Thais typically take (at least) two bucket showers a day.

It took me several months to adjust to the practice of showering several times during the day, as I was accustomed to taking a daily shower in the morning. Before any social event in the evenings, I used to be thrown off when my Thai co-workers would insist I “take a bath,” as if they were hinting about something! Then confusion would set in on both sides as I replied, “I already did, this morning.” To me, taking more than one shower a day felt completely unnecessary and borderline wasteful. After all, I just took one! After several months here, however, it has become the norm to take my morning shower as well as an evening rinse. I’ve even come to prefer the bucket shower at times over the use of our shower head. A quick shower is the perfect solution to cooling off in the hot, humid weather, and relaxing after a long day of work.

The daily commute: It’s a jungle out there

One of my favorite parts of the day, by far, is the daily commute between my home and Pla Pak Noi Elementary School. Set just a few kilometers outside of “downtown” Pla Pak (which consists of a small fresh produce market, some government buildings, stores, pharmacies, and food shops), the road leading to the elementary school passes through a patchwork of rice field plots belonging to many of my students’ families. The drive has always been a calming and peaceful experience for me, but now that the rainy season is in full swing it has become even more enjoyable. Farmers are growing rice and the fields are green and lush. After heavy rains, the standing water in the rice patties function like an enormous mirror, reflecting blue skies and white clouds as if the world was suddenly inverted. My students are often absent right after heavy downpours such as these because it is ideal planting weather and their help is needed in the daytime.

Yesterday afternoon when I was settling into the passenger seat of Pi Tuk’s car for another ride home, I began to reflect on the fixed amount of time I have left to teach, live, and yes, enjoy the scenery, in Thailand. Before I was able to withdraw too deeply into my own thoughts, however, we abruptly maneuvered around a group of stray dogs unwilling to budge from their comfy lounging positions in the middle of the road. I had to laugh at myself because, as I’ve said before, there is something special about my life in Thailand; I’m usually given present-focused reality checks when they are most needed, and often least expected. Not that reflecting about wrapping up my year as a volunteer teacher is a bad thing, I just don’t want to miss out on experiencing my next month here, either. As if some higher force were trying to further prove this point, about a minute later Pi Tuk had to slam on the breaks as a three-foot long snake slithered across the road in front of us. She exclaimed joyfully “Chok dee!” (Good luck!), as snakes are viewed as such in Thailand. Then not one minute later, Pi Tuk plowed through a bunch of chickens (yes, trying to cross the road), running over at least one unlucky fowl. “Not die,” she announced, looking in her rear-view mirror with a curious amount of amusement in her voice. I honestly think she sped up when she saw them.

After this, I couldn’t help but again laugh to myself. Not one, but three reminders of the virtues of mindfulness and present-focused thinking, all in such a short drive home. I’m sure I will continue to ponder how I should go about saying goodbye to my students and work colleagues, as well as prepare for life back in the States after living in rural Thailand for a year, but hopefully I won’t be too distracted from what is happening in the moment and run over any wildlife in the process.

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