When I boarded the flight to Thailand, I knew I was doing something right. Going away had been simple. I had little or no knowledge of Thailand but as soon as I landed at Suwarnabhumi Airport, my perception of the world changed. Yes, you could say I was being hasty, but it was true.
As an Indian, I was entitled to Visa On Arrival (1000THB, a passport size pic) – the process took a few minutes. After showering at the airport, I was ready to face Thailand. At this point, I still had no hotel booking.
The first thing I noticed was the smile. Everyone was smiling, from the airport staff to the cleaning woman and the immigration officers – smiles were everywhere. The airport itself looked like a mini-Buddhist town.
I headed to the airport food court for my first meal in Thailand – and was not disappointed with the Magic Food Court as the cheapest option but a walk around the food courts threw up many surprises. My first ever meal in Thailand consisted of rice noodles (the flat broad ones), with sweet and spicy sauce, tofu, pork, sprouts, herbs I had never seen or heard of (or tasted before). I never got the name of the dish but I can’t say I particularly loved it…despite having made up my mind to enjoy the last grin of Thai rice in every meal.
The Airport Bus
The exit was outside of the Magic Court where I boarded a bus to the City. Airport Express operates from here at regular intervals. The buses are named AE 1, AE 2, AE3. I was intent on getting out of the airport quickly and out into the new world that was waiting to be explored. I also knew a train left Thonburi station at 1.50 pm for Kanchanaburi, which is where I had wanted to go because of the little I knew of Thailand, it was The Bridge on the River Kwai and figured I could get there soonest.
I bought a ticket: 150 baht. Standard fare. There were options, of course, but taxis are very expensive and I saw no point in spending extra to go the same place I could go to in less.
The ride from the airport was smooth, my first connection with a new land, so different from my own. There weren’t too many people and the one who were had their noses in Lonely Planet or napped. Surprisingly I was the only Indian female, wondering what to do on the 75 minutes ride into the city.
I enjoyed the feeling of not knowing where I was going, more than the Thai songs that played loudly, more than the Thainglish (Thai-English) the driver spoke, eager to convey to me the surprises of his country. One curious backpacker with tattoos assaulted me with a barrage of questions, wanting to know why as an Indian woman, I was on my own. Indians were many, holidaying of making money – he said, but to see a single one? Not done. He shook his head in disbelief.
Keep Pattaya off your itinerary, he told me grimly. I think it was concern – or perhaps I hadn’t enough experience to judge. But he said it like he meant it.
The bus saw me off at Sanam Luang, its last stop, in close proximity to the TAT office and the ferry that would take me across to Thonburi. Sanam Luang was a quiet, cool and shady area and showed the city in good light.
An eager tuk-tuk appeared from nowhere.
I smiled. He smiled even wider. Thonburi, I told him, gesturing at the tuk-tuk and asking him how much it would cost.
He had ideas…and he spoke a bit of English. He suggested going to the TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) office nearby, get myself an itinerary or probably even a ticket, and the correct information. He hailed another tuk-tuk and spoke rapidly in Thai. In the end, it was agreed that I would pay him 10THB for a ride to the TAT office and if I didn’t like their plans, I would be shown three sights nearby (all Budha of course) for an additional 10THB.
I suppose it was a good deal. I had time and tuk-tuks were the best way to see the city, much like their Indian counterparts, the rickshaws that made so much noise. The young driver put in all his energy, drove rapidly through the clean roads to the office, stopping en route at 7/11 for coffee (10 THB) before hurrying to the TAT office.
I drew a blank there. I didn’t want their itinerary and refusing to visit the Sleeping Buddha, I asked him to drive me back to Tha Phra Chand where I could catch a ferry to Thonburi on the other side of the river. It was the most sensible thing to do.
Tha Phra Chand was close to the Grand Palace, the university, the Supreme Court and the office of the attorney general, but has its own presence as the point of ferry-boarding.
While looking for a washroom, I met Mrs Supawadee Maspong. I sought her out of the hundred of other people milling about, because she looked like she knew English. I had to make myself understood that I needed a loo.
Yes, She knew English. She was nice and friendly, in a deep maroon skirt and blouse, Thai style with a single strand of pearl necklace. She knew where to find a loo. We walked backwards, towards the pier and we got talking.
She was heading to Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand, a temple town, and asked if I would like to come along. I hated to miss the train to Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya did not feature on my plans but since I didnt have a destination in mind – I agreed to go with her.
There was a train the next morning to Kanchanaburi – it was alright!
So to Ayutthaya I went. Mrs Supawadee Maspong happened to be the Chief Provincial Public Prosecutor of Ayuthhaya Province! Meandering through the heavy traffic, we reached Ayutthaya through the expressway after paying tolls at four different booths.