“Thailand has something for everyone.” said the Indian Ambassador to Thailand with a hint of a smile on his face when we went to see him at the Indian Embassy in Bangkok. I couldn’t agree more. Thailand is a country where you are one hundred percent guaranteed to have a great time. Whether it is culture, beaches, food, shopping, massages etc. it is all available and in abundance in this land of happiness. Someone has rightly said,
“If you got bored in Thailand, something is seriously wrong with you!”
After driving for 9 days through Myanmar, we finally entered Thailand and suddenly everything changed. I can never understand how does nature know that the country has changed? You draw one line on the border and on the other side of the line, the world is completely different. Different faces, different buildings, different language, different trees, different flowers, different roads, different food, different smells, different everything else. All because we had crossed one line.
As soon as we crossed the border and drove into Thailand, our Thai co-ordinator sent me a message saying that he has got busy with some work and will not be able to receive us at the border.
“Tushar, sorry, I stuck in meeting, cannot come to border. Please call for anything important.” he sent this message
He was supposed to also bring a road map of Thailand for us at the border.
We opened lonely planet and using a half page map of Thailand and also the inbuilt compass in our car, we somehow managed to get on the highway to our first night halt town called Tak. Is that the shortest name for a town?
“I have only seen roads like these in movies. It is so easy to drive here, everyone is so disciplined and the tarmac is so smooth”. Look at the trucks, they are all driving in the slow lane in one line.” Sanjay looked amazed as he got a firsthand experience of driving on the silky tarmac of Thailand. We cruised along on the Thai highways and in a couple of hours reached Tak. A small town, it was not so difficult to find out hotel. After eating enough rice over the last 9 days for lunch, dinner and sometimes for breakfast as well, we finally feasted on sandwiches and steak.
“I cannot believe Myanmar is only 100 km away. Life is so different here. ” I commented. Tak, though not a very exciting town, still looked very lively and bustling compared to Myanmar. We were on a journey and it was only the beginning of many such variations of countries, culture, people and food.
The following day we heading towards Bangkok and though we managed to get on the correct highway without the help of a map, the concern in our minds was how to find the hotel in the concrete jungle of Bangkok. We continued driving towards Bangkok following the superbly placed sign boards after every few kilometres all along the highway. The idea was to do the entire journey using maps, but, did we have a map for Thailand? No! We knew the address of our hotel but had no idea how to get there. Overconfidence? Not at all! Oversight? Umm maybe! As we entered Bangkok, I started looking for sign boards for ‘Din Daeng’, the area in which our hotel was located. We spotted a sign board showing a straight arrow towards Din Daeng”.
“There! There! it says Din Daeng straight. Follow it, follow it!” I literally shouted. Sanjay was behind the wheel and he started driving in the direction of the sign board. As we went deeper into Bangkok, the traffic increased and the maze of the innumerable flyovers and bridges also increased.
“Never lose sight of Din Daneg! let’s make sure we always go in the direction of Din Daeng!” We continued following the sign boards and after 30 minutes we reached Din Daeng. Now, we had to look for the street on which our hotel was located. We asked a few people for directions and within a couple of minutes found our street and to our own amazement, reached our hotel. High fives were given in the car. We felt very proud that we had managed to drive to our hotel in Bangkok without using either a GPS or even a road map.
“I think some divine power is guiding us. I cannot believe we managed to reach the hotel without taking a single wrong turn” Sanjay said.
Over the next couple of days in Bangkok, a lot of people came forward to help us, to meet us, to treat us and to guide us. Virot, a smiling young Thai taxi driver sat in our car and took us first to ‘Mini India”. We visited the largest Gurudwara of Bangkok where we spoke to the ‘granthis’ who felt very happy and excited about our journey.
“We are also travellers like you. We go from one country to another for a few months, do prayers and gurbanis in the local gurudwaras and move on” one of the priests said.
“I have been to Gurudwaras in around 15 countries so far. I feel Indian people in foreign countries are more committed to visiting Gurudwaras. Most of them visit here on a Sunday, in addition to offering prayers, it is also a common meeting place for the community” one of the senior priests told us. We took their blessings and after seeing the various Indian food shops, saree shops, jewellery shops, music shops etc. we went to visit a school where we had managed to get an appointment with the Principle.
“I am of Indian origin but was born and brought up in Bangkok. I and a few other teachers felt that there was a need to start a school where we could teach Indian languages and culture in addition to Thai. We don’t restrict our students to only Indian culture, we want them to embrace all cultures but we also feel that it is important for children of Indian origin to at least know their native language and culture. So, we decided to start this school” said the Principle who is married to a Thai Indian and considers Thailand her home.
“Of course Thailand is my home. I have some relatives in India, but I love my life in Thailand and we are very happy here” she added.
Seeing the Indian, Chinese, Thai, African and some American kids playing together at Pioneer International School made it very clear that the school was surely following it’s ethos of embracing all cultures.
We said goodbyes at the school and drove to the Indian Embassy. We had managed to get an appointment with the Indian Ambassador to Thailand. At the embassy, in addition to his senior officials, some reporters from Indian media were also present.
“Indian Embassy in every country would be glad to greet you and do whatever they can to help you”, one of the officials told us.
“Umm, can you help us get a road map of Thailand?” Sanjay said to him
“Oh, sure, wait a minute”. The official went and returned in a few minutes with a road book of Thailand
“Anything else?” he asked with a smile
“Ah, no, not for now. Thanks a lot, this is really great” we replied with a big smile.
the Indian Ambassador as he walked in and greeted us with a warm smile. He had a very warm, jovial and pleasing personality.
We sat in the board room for over one hour during which he listened to us curiously, kept asking questions about the route, discussed border issues between foreign countries, told us about the life of Indian people in Thailand, and also offered his help and assistance during our stay in Thailand
“People in Thailand are happy. Indian people in Thailand are also happy. It is easy for anyone with even a mediocre income to live here happily” he said to us
We left the embassy feeling very happy and proud. It was a great feeling to have met the ‘First Indian’ in Thailand who was such a warm, people’s person.
In one day, we had met so many people who seemed so happy and so willing to help us in every way. It was a fantastic feeling to meet our own countrymen outside of India. We felt a connection with them, they felt a connection with us, we were strangers but the only thing that connected us, the only bond between us was our nation. We left Bangkok feeling very proud.
The journey from Bangkok to Phuket was a breeze. Cruising along on the Thai highways was as smooth as silk. No potholes, no one honking, no traffic jams, no angry stares, no cutting of lanes, no animals or people trespassing the highways...it was the perfect drive. Just us, our car, music and the idea of driving to one of the most popular destinations in the world, Phuket. On way, we stopped at a road side ‘services’ for lunch, where women wearing traditional ‘hijab’ were serving food from behind the counter. I was curiously looking at the various sorts of meat displayed. When I asked them about the various dishes, in reply, all they did was whisper amongst themselves, look at me and giggle.
“Umm, am I that funny?” I asked Sanjay who too was smiling
“Why are they all laughing at me?” I asked
Never mind, I mustered up some courage even though I was starting to feel embarrassed and asked them to put some chicken and rice on my plate.
After driving 900 km over 15 hours, we finally reached Phuket. Cool breeze, sound of the ocean, tattoo bars, massage parlours, karaoke clubs...it was a very different world compared to all the places we had driven through so far.
“Can we stay here a few extra days please?” I smiled and said to Sanjay as I absorbed first wave of Phuket breeze all over my face.
“Done Tushar, done. I like this place already” Sanjay replied back
“I am Harry, so you guys are driving in a Fortuner? I also drive a Fortuner”, the 6 feet tall Sikh man from Phuket greeted us at the hotel. One of our friends in Bangkok had asked Harry to help us during our stay in Phuket.
“I have lived in Phuket for 22 years. I came to visit some relatives and never went back. I love this place, it is paradise, it has given me a lot” Harry said smiling as we attacked the Thai Green Curry, Fish and Lobsters that he ordered for us in a traditional Thai restaurant. Over the next couple of days in Phuket, we got a fairly good idea of why Phuket is one of the favourite destinations for tourists from all over the world. It is a very calming, laid back, happy place. Not only do you feel very safe walking along the streets any time of the night, it is also a place where you could easily spend weeks doing nothing. Sanjay took a dip in the crystal blue Andaman waters while I sipped coconut water and listened to rock music playing on the beach and watched people tie themselves on ropes and fly above the ocean while a motor boat pulled them.
Thailand never ceased to surprise us. After visited Bangkok and Phuket, while driving towards HatYai, a town near the Thai-Malaysian border, we spotted a restaurant on the highway called “Cabbages and Condoms”
“Wait, is that a restaurants’ name?” Sanjay said
“Sure is, looks very interesting, lets’ check it out” I said
We parked and curiously went inside the restaurant.
“No other place in the world other than Thailand could have such a name for a restaurant” Sanjay said.
It really was a very interesting restaurant. The coasters had animated images of condoms with phrases like “No glove, no love” printed on them. A huge banner of a ‘cartoon condom’ greeted us as we entered the restaurant. To top it all, we were also offered free condoms when we paid the bill at the end of our meal.
“We encourage safe sex and we guarantee that our food will not make women pregnant!” said the waitress who served us.
The mutual feeling on leaving Thailand was one of happiness. It was a laid back country where people work hard but party harder. Everyone here smiles, everyone here is willing to help, you will always be greeted with a “Swaadikaaaa” in a very typical nasal tone. But before you know it, you too will be returning the greeting. Be careful, it is easy to fall in love with Thailand, so make sure you visit the country with a return ticket or if you are the crazy kinds like us, with a visa for the next country across the border!