Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Because We Have Friends There

Our biggest reason behind returning to Thailand earlier than planned was to visit our favorite places before going home. So, after Pai, we packed our bags and headed to Singburi.

The journey from Pai to Singburi was similar to the first time we made that journey. We took the minibus along the winding roads back to Chiang Mai. We spent the night in the big city before catching the 2nd class government bus south. We called Peetim as we were arriving at the Singburi bus station to ask for a pick up.

Beyond the basics, though, the trip was remarkably different. First, instead of springing for a night at a hotel, we decided to try out Couchsurfing for the first time! is a program of hosts who offer their spare rooms, beds, and couches for travelers to sleep on as they visit new places. We have heard wonderful things about it for years, but it had just never worked out for us to try it ourselves. Thanks to Fye in Chiang Mai, now we have!

Our experience began at the bus station, where Fye and two other Couchsurfers she was hosting picked us up. We piled into her car, bags and all, and drove through the rush hour traffic into the city. The Polish girls who with us had come to the bus station to buy tickets for their next destination (naturally, we steered them toward the bus to Pai), and now we were dropping them off to visit one of the temples in the city.

The three of us, TJ, Fye, and I, stopped at the market next, where Fye picked up bags and boxes full of interesting foods. Later, these bags became an impressive dinner that we shared with yet another surfer, a German guy named Andrew. We learned to eat with our hands in the traditional northern Thai style, by picking up a pinch of sticky rice and using it to scoop up various sauces, meats, and vegetables. After a dessert of sweet sticky rice and mango with Thai custard, we were stuffed.

We spent the rest of the night chilling out at Fye’s bar, making hand prints, and getting to know her, her roommates, and the total of five other surfers who were joining us for the night.  When it got late, we headed upstairs to the large, open room Fye had designated for her couchsurfers. We pulled out mats, blankets, and pillows and bedded down so we could wake up early to meet our bus.

The last bus we took out of Chiang Mai was at 8 pm, putting us in Singburi around 4 am. This time, we left on the 9 am bus so we could be at Peetim’s in time for dinner. After a long but pleasant bus ride, where we could understand just enough of the bus driver’s Thai to piece together his instructions (“I heard ’15’ and ‘toilet’ so I think we have a 15-minute bathroom break!”), we arrived in Sinburi at 6 pm. It reminded me of when we arrived in Sydney at the beginning of this trip.

Just like in Sydney, our first visit to Singburi was a venture into the unknown. Other than Peetim’s name and phone number, we didn’t know a soul. We were sleep deprived and unsure of ourselves. This time, we confidently leapt off the bus after giving Peetim a 15-minute warning that we were almost there. Almost immediately, we caught sight of a friendly face: Peemoo and his wife were there to pick us up! We threw our bags in the back of his truck, climbed into the cab, and drove to Peetim’s house for dinner.

Dinner, which was TJ’s favorite, Pad Kra Pao, lasted for the rest of the night. First, we greeted Peetim and her family with big hugs. Then we opened beers, met Robin, the newest volunteer teacher, and caught up. It was a Wednesday night, and everyone had to be up early for work. So we said our goodnights, took our much-desired showers, and fell asleep, so happy to be “home”.

Peetim's friend, teaching us how to eat lotus seeds
The new addition to Peetim's family: Robin, Jr.


The next two days were full of visiting friends and practicing English. We surprised the office where we had taught before by showing up to say Hi. They were thrilled to see us, but one of them explained that they were embarrassed that they didn’t know we were coming, so they didn’t have time to prepare a thank you gift. Of course, we insisted that we didn’t want anything, but that didn’t stop them from producing a few tokens to present us with. Just another example of the incredible generosity of the Thai community. We thanked them with a short yoga class, led by Robin, future Yoga teacher.

We also visited a couple other offices that are currently learning English. Thailand is a member of the recently-created ASEAN conference, which encourages English as the common language among member countries. As result, all of the service personnel in Singburi are learning English, so we visited the office of Local Administration (fire fighters, city planners, etc.) for an English lesson. The next day, we did the same thing at the local police station, where we received a tour of the station and a plethora of photographs with every on-duty cop. We even got to see them lock someone away in a jail cell (a rare occurrence in peaceful Singburi), and TJ got invited to come back and drink whiskey and sing Karaoke with the guys any time.

After a nice lunch with Peetim and her fellow English teacher, TJ, Robin, and I headed back to the bus station. We were on our way south again, through Bangkok, to the islands!

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