Tag Archives: bangkok

Rice Farming on a School Trip

Two days ago, four of us teachers went on a school trip to a farm called Ban Kru Thani, an hour or so outside of Bangkok. Two teachers were already there, having been selected for the overnight camp, but myself and one other went for the day. By 7am we were on a bus full of children on the way to the farm.

Firstly, we were asked to entertain the students on the bus. Begrudgingly – we both tend to suffer from travel sickness and were a bit apprehensive about standing and entertaining on a moving vehicle – we took it in turns to teach new vocabulary (words that might be useful on a farm) and indicate how they were to fill in their worksheets. To be completely honest, that was a challenge in itself. Does anybody know the difference between a sickle and a scythe? Neither did I. 

When we arrived, we met the others, played a few games in English and sang some songs to get everyone excited for the day ahead. Even in the shade at 8.30am it was extremely hot and it dawned on us quite how hot it was going to be out in the sun all day. We were encouraged to take off our shoes in order to really experience the farm how it’s experienced everyday by Thai farmers. As nice as that sounded at the time, we all regretted having left our shoes behind when we realised how hot the floor was under our feet!

Once we had split the group into smaller and more manageable teams, we then went to pay our respects to Buddha and the farm. Not really understanding what we were doing or why, we followed the farmers to a room containing a shrine and paid our respects, after which we listened to a talk about the history of the farm and architecture of the building. Of course this talk was in Thai, and we understood very little! So many times as an English teacher have I been thrown into a situation with almost no knowledge of what’s happening or why, and this was another one of those times.

Shortly after, each group was taken to a different area of the farm where we all took part in different tasks, and then moved onto the next. We rode in a tractor, rode a cart pulled by a buffalo, collected eggs, climbed a tree on a bamboo ladder, sat on a buffalo, helped to prepare a rice dessert, fed some fish, kayaked a little (very difficult to do when the students on your boat don’t understand the difference between left and right – I lost count of how many times we crashed into the bushes!), shimmied across the bamboo bridge suspended across the lake (it’s not an exaggeration when I say it was like a bamboo tightrope that was so hot to stand on it hurt the underside of your feet), and finally helped prepare the omelette for lunch. 

We all sat down in our groups to enjoy our traditional Thai lunch. Again we paid our respects, and tucked in. There was Thai omelette, chicken and pork, soup, som tam (spicy papaya salad with prawns), green curry with chicken, and of course lots and lots of rice. 

Next we were told to change into the clothes we were happy to get dirty and make our way over to the rice fields. We were to plant rice in the mud. Slowly my students and I – all aged between 6 and 11 – waded into the thigh-deep water to find that we sunk to our knees in slimy mud! Some of my students were holding onto me for support, though that made it harder for me not to fall over! Once we were all over the initial shock of the mud, we had a great time – splashing around in the water and painting each other with the mud. After, we got hosed down and it felt like it was songkran festival all over again! We all had a great laugh but were very happy when we were told it was time to shower. We all queued up for our showers – I didn’t know it took little girls so long to shower! – and waited our turns.  What a relief it was to finally wash all of the mud off! 

Once we were all clean and changed, we were served some Thai desserts – banana fritters, and an ice puppy-esque, grape flavoured treat. Finally, it was the last activity of the day – thanking the staff at the farm, and giving out the rewards. We awarded 5 students special prizes for participation and excellent use of English during the day. Some students told us their favourite parts of the day, and then we were ready to get back on the bus and go home to Bangkok. 

Finally back in Bangkok, we went out for a well-deserved pizza, followed by an inevitable early night!

Advertisements

The Smells of Bangkok

Bangkok is a strange and wonderful city. There is so much here to see and do and experience. And smell. 

Firstly, one of Bangkok’s most frequented spots is the Chao Phraya river. The Chao Phraya flows through the centre of Bangkok and has been hugely important to trade in Thailand. It has been an important transport route for decades as there are many canals that stem from the river, most of which are frequented by river boat taxis. However, the thing about this river that stands out to me, is the everpresent smell of fish. Despite recent pollution, this river is home to many species of fish and therefore provides an income for many locals; seafood. By any river in Thailand you will find a seafood restaurant, be it on the street or inside. It is easy to become enticed by the aroma of the freshly cooked fish. 

Speaking more broadly, wherever you are in Bangkok there is no doubt you will be close to a huge variety of street food. In order to avoid the stifling heat, many street food vendors come out in the evening (though a large number of stalls do uncompromisingly come out in the morning and stay well into the night) and walking down a crowded street full of street food vendors after the sun has gone down is one of my favourite things to do in Bangkok. Walking down one street you can smell fried chicken, fried squid, fried fish, seafood pad Thai (sweet noodles), meat kebabs, fried rice, spicy soups, mango sticky rice, exotic fruits and innumerable other delicious foods. 

Which leads me onto the smelliest of all the street foods, Thailand’s infamous durian. If you are unfamiliar with durian, it is a fruit available in many Asian countries, but has become a symbol of Thailand and Thai culture. It is a large fruit with spikes like a pineapple. To be eaten, it has to be chopped open, and the insides scooped out. Durian can be found on most streets, especially when it is in season, and you know durian is being sold on a street before you even step onto that street. If you have ever once smelt a durian you’ll remember it. In many hotels, shopping centres and taxis are signs specifically banning durian from being eaten. Do you know of any other fruits that aren’t allowed in hotels purely because of how smelly they are? I didn’t think so. The smell to me, though everyone has a different theory, is that of onion, wine, and gone-off custard. 

A similarly bed smell that is seemingly unavoidable in the city is, unfortunately, that of sewage and rubbish. This nasty odour is particularly prevalent in the rainy season though it is certainly not exclusive to this time of year. One minute you can be enjoying the sweet smell of mango sticky rice, and the wind changes and you’re left with something rather pungent. The streets of Bangkok, despite the continuous and uncompromising  presence of street food, rarely have bins. Instead, rubbish gets left on the side of the streets, and is taken away at night. It is not uncommon to see rats and cockroaches rummaging through, looking for their dinner. The city could smell so much better if only there were more bins around. With lids!

Finally, one of my favourite aromas I’ve come to associate with Bangkok, and Thailand more broadly speaking, is incense. Buddhism is the major religion here in Thailand, and incense is often used at ceremonies and during prayers. Walking down many streets you could stumble upon a shrine, and often there’s the smell of incense burning or of it having recently been burned. In temples there are incense sticks available to burn (often requiring a small donation) during prayer, not dissimilar to candles in churches in western Christian culture. 

So there you have it. My thoughts on the smells of Bangkok. Though some of the smells I mentioned are less than desirable (to say the least), the huge variety and persistence of the smells of Bangkok are an integral part of the complex make up this strange and wonderful city. 

Thanks.

Claire

Introductions

So I guess first things first; introductions. My name is Claire and I’m an English Teacher currently living in Bangkok, Thailand. 

For the sake of honesty – and all the best blogs are honest – I’m quite nervous about writing and publishing this first blog. I studied history at university so I’m no stranger to writing, but a blog is more personal and, with that, more intimidating. But I’m glad I’m finally putting pen to paper (or whatever the modern day, technological version of putting pen to paper might be) and getting some words out. People have a tendency to use social media to romanticise their lives (nobody wants to post a picture of the time they spent fifteen hours on a bus from Barcelona to Paris, but rather the pictures of the beautiful Sacre Cour when they finally arrived – I did that once, and I would not recommend bus journeys of that length!) and I am certainly no stranger to that; just look at my Instagram account! That’s why I want to make this blog as honest as I can, both for myself and to show the realities of travelling, and of both living and working abroad.

I also really enjoy writing. I love reading – I read all the time! – but I haven’t really written anything since I graduated two years ago. I’d also like to use this blog to talk about some of the books I’ve read recently. I’ve had more free time in Bangkok than I’ve had in a long time and I love using that time to read different things, and to learn about the world, about history, about culture (and read the occasional piece of chick lit that really teaches very little but provides great entertainment on my commute to work!). 

Lastly I’d like to say who this blog is for: me. I want to write. I want to document my time here in Asia with not just photos, but with anecdotes and feelings. I want to be able to show my family and friends back home in England – or wherever they may be! – that I’m safe and happy. (I am, mum, I promise.) And I want to show what Thailand is really like, what Bangkok is really like for a young woman in her twenties, the realities of living 6,000 miles away from home, and having to navigate a new place alone without understanding the language and being unfamiliar with the culture. Not to mention how much fun I’m having!  

Thanks for reading. 

Claire