I had a 4-day weekend for New Year’s which was great. However, I did not want to spend it stuck in Ban Bung, I really needed to get away. My first plan was to go to Koh Chang, relax on the beach, frolic in the ocean, and do a little scuba. That plan fell through when the only accommodations I could find were about 200 USD a night. So I had to fall back to plan B: Pattaya and Kanchanaburi. Moral of the story is plan ahead.
Since Wednesday (December 30) was the last day of midterms, it was only a half day. We all left early. Wednesday was also payday except we weren’t paid until the end of the day so even though I left early I had to go back to be paid. I dusted off the bicycle and rode it to school. Apparently, farang on a bike is highly entertaining to everyone I passed; they all chuckled and pointed to me as I rode along. I successfully made it to school and back without any incident! I grabbed my backpack and headed to the bus stop.
On my way to the bus stop, a car stopped next to me. One of the PE teachers from school offered me a ride to Chon Buri; it was nice not to have to take the bus. He didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Thai but we still managed to have a conversation. He dropped me off at the van stop and off I went to Pattaya. I had to show the driver a map so he could drop me off on the correct street. We drove right past the street where I was supposed to get off. The man sitting next to me saw my confused face and told the driver the farang wanted to get off the van, the driver was confused why I would want to get off here next to the highway. Because he missed my street before the highway, that’s why. I got off and walked back to the road with my hostel. The map they gave me had the hostel on the left side of the street and the hostel was actually on the right side of the street.
I went scuba diving with the Mermaids on Thursday. First, I got free breakfast at my hostel, which was toast and coffee and it feels like forever since I’ve had toast. The water was super choppy as we boated to the dive sites. Everything was going everywhere, it was safer to sit and hold on than to try to move anywhere. Our first dive was the Hardeep shipwreck. It was quite amazing; this one was more intact than the other wreck we visited a few weeks ago. There was a little bit of a current so we couldn’t go all the way around it or we would have been swept away. We swam through it a bit (like the last one, it was broken so we swam through the pieces, not actually inside the ship). Inside it there was a turtle hanging out, he swam with us a bit before swimming off. Lunch was delicious as usual. I am spoiled with all the fresh fruit here. Our second dive was at a reef nearby. The current was much stronger here. At first, it was nice, you just let the current push you along the reef, so you don’t have to do any work, only look at everything. Then we had to turn around because if we got to the edge of the reef, the current would push us out to sea. Going against the current was a struggle. The fish in the reef were so happy because of the current and I was not happy. There was also the problem of getting to shallow and getting pushed into the rocks by the waves and surge. We swam back and forth along the reef, going with the current and against the current. It was a challenging dive; I fell asleep in the van on the way back to the shop.
I had to take a proper nap or else there was no way I was going to make it until midnight. For dinner, I stopped at a street market for a kabob and a smoothie, dessert was a chocolate drizzled banana crepe thing. I wandered along walking street for a little while after that. People kept mistaking me for Russian; they would come up to me and start speaking to me in Russian or ask me if I was from Russia. Apparently, Russian tourists are more common than American tourists are. Then I walked down the beach to find a nice place to watch the fireworks. People nearby were lighting the floating sky lanterns. There was one exciting point where a vendor went running past, chased by a man he had just sold something to, and a police officer followed them. Then midnight rolled around. There were fireworks all up and down the beach. Pattaya put on a nice fireworks display by the pier, everywhere else were people setting off their own fireworks. Dangerous but fun.
Friday, I set off for Kanchanaburi (which is a town west of Bangkok). You can get there by a bus from Bangkok. The bust from the southern bus terminal takes 3 hours to get there, and the bus from the northern bus terminal takes 4 hours. I went to the bus station in Pattaya to get a bus from Pattaya to the southern bus station in Bangkok. The woman told me they were sold out of tickets to the southern bus station but I could come back on Saturday at 7am and they would have some. I went to the northern bus station instead. When we arrived, I had no idea where to go, this bus station was big and all the signs were in Thai. One of the workers stopped and asked me where I was going. I told him and he said there were no busses running to Kanchanaburi that day so I would have to take a van. I spent four hours in a van to get to Kanchanaburi.
I tried sleeping on the van ride but I could not get comfortable and kept smacking my head on the window and the seat in from of me. When we arrived, I walked to the area of town where all the hostels were. Most of my fellow teachers in CIEE said to stay at the Jolly Frog because it was cheap and they would probably have rooms open. My Lonely Planet guidebook also mentioned the Jolly Frog, so it seemed legitimate. I made my way there, and they did have a room for me. It was 100 baht a night, which was a great deal. The best part was their garden; they had an amazing garden that overlooked the river and the mountains. I was swinging in a hammock, watching the sunset over the river. I had dinner at the Jolly Frog restaurant and the waiter took a fancy to me. I was not very comfortable with him staring at me the entire time I was eating.
After dinner, I took a walk to see what was in the area, not much. So I decided to shower and turn in early, I was planning on hiking a waterfall the next day. I went into the bathroom at the Jolly Frog and it was disgusting. The rest areas on the side of the road in Thailand are cleaner than this bathroom was. I would go as far to say porta-potties in America are cleaner than this bathroom. I decided to forgo the shower. The bed in my room looked extremely questionable. The floor looked cleaner than the bed. Of course, earlier this week I had been reading other travel blogs and one of them had an article about bed bugs. I noticed spots on the wall that was either mold or evidence of bed bugs. Peeking in the crack between the wall and the chair rail, you could see the bed bugs. That was my last straw, I called all the hostels in my guidebook, and all of them said full, no rooms. Except the VN guesthouse had one room left. I was so excited; I left the Jolly Frog as quickly as I could. The waiter shouted my name across the restaurant as I left.
The one room the VN guesthouse had left was a raft room, rooms on a raft connected by a bridge back to the hostel. The room was locked with a lock and they couldn’t get my room opened quickly. They told me to sit in the restaurant and gave me a cup of tea on the house while I waited for them to find the key to open my room. I wanted to cry because they were so nice and the room the let me have was so clean. Their towels smelled like soap and their bathroom had hot water. I was so much happier that I changed rooms; just because you checked in somewhere does not mean you have to stay there. The VN guesthouse told me they could only rent me the room for one night because someone else had booked it for the next night but they would find another room for me if I wanted to stay.
Saturday I woke up early and went back to the Jolly Frog to check out. They even refunded me for the night I did not stay there. I also had breakfast there since their food was actually good. They served me rolls with breakfast that were so delicious. They were just simple dinner rolls but they were warm and buttery. I then was able to catch the bus to Erawan falls on its way out of town and I got the last seat on the bus. The bus ride was an hour and a half and I was glad I had a seat. We arrived at the waterfall and the place was packed! There were so many people, and they had picnic baskets and floaties. The first two levels of the seven level waterfall were simple to get to, and after that, there was a sign, which said no picnics past this point, and the hike would not be for everyone. I thought there would be less people the higher up I went… wrong. There were people everywhere. The pools at the bottom of the waterfalls were full of people, there were people at the top of the waterfalls, people up and down the river, people in the forest, people everywhere. Many of them were making this climb in flip-flops or decided to take their very young children to the top of the waterfall. They had to stop in the middle of the trail to take pictures of themselves, their friends, their kids, a tree, or sticks.
Finally, after over an hour-long hike up a mountain and dodging people, I made it to the top of the waterfall. In the pictures, the top is amazing and beautiful; it seems to rival Niagara Falls. When I got there, there were rocks. Lots of rocks, and this little waterfall. There’s only that much water during the rainy season, and it’s the dry season. I went at the wrong season. I was not a happy camper, at the ranger station I bought a frozen iced tea Popsicle and was much happier. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery was beautiful, however my expectations messed up the experience. I was happy to go back to my hostel, and again I was thankful I moved hostels.
Sunday, I had to return to Chon Buri. First, I went to one of Kanchanaburi’s historical sites. During WWII, the Japanese occupied Kanchanaburi. Using Allied prisoners, the Japanese constructed a railway; now called the Death Railway because of how many prisoners died while constructing it. I went to see the bridge over the Kwai River, unfortunately there was not time to see the Hellfire pass. If anyone has seen the movie, “Bridge over the River Kwai” this is that bridge. My guidebook says the river’s name is pronounced like “square” without the “s” if you pronounce it as they do in the movie (ka-why), you are saying water buffalo. The bridge itself was impressive, it was big and black. Knowing its history made it seem almost ominous. Tourists were allowed to walk on the bridge even though the tracks are still in use, but there were signs saying to watch out for trains. I didn’t see any trains while I was on it.
I had to walk back to my hostel to get my bag before heading out. On the way, back I grabbed some coffee and decided there is better coffee in Ban Bung. Then I heard someone calling my name, I looked around and I saw the waiter from the Jolly Frog. He drove past on his motorbike shouting “SUSAN! I MISS YOOOUUUUU!” During my walk back to my hostel he passed me three times, each time shouting how much he missed me. Being a farang in Thailand has its ups and downs.
I got my backpack from the hostel and went to check out the historical street near the bus station. Using my guidebook as a map, I took some back roads to get there. Apparently, they are not used to farangs on those streets. One man rode past on a bicycle shouting “farang! Farang! Farang!” Everyone stopped and stared at me as I passed. When I got to the historical street, all the shops were closed. It was too early for them to be open so I headed to the bus station. The bus tickets were outrageously expensive, so I went to the van stop. The woman there told me it was going to be a two-hour wait and I bought the ticket because I needed to get to Bangkok. Shockingly, the driver showed up early and I only had to wait an hour and a half.
Upon arriving at Victory Monument, I went to the van stop where I usually catch a van to Chon Buri. They told me they were sold out of tickets but I could try again in the morning or go across the street to see if they had any. I started freaking out a little because I have school on Mondays. Fortunately, the van stop across the street did have space but I would have to wait two hours. It was starting to get late but I was desperate. Again, the van came early and I only had to wait an hour. It must have been my lucky day because Thai time is usually slower than regular time.
When I arrived in Chon Buri, it was almost 6:00 pm and the green bus moves stops after 6:00. I saw it had not moved stops yet so I quickly rushed for the bus when a motorcycle taxi driver blocked my way, “where you go?” I was in no mood to be stopped by a taxi driver, I elbowed past him and got on the bus. It was late when I arrived in Ban Bung but at least I arrived so I could go to school on Monday.