*extremely picture-heavy post
A month ago, I mentioned that I’d be in Thailand for two weeks to attend a training. Well, it finally happened and I could not be more excited to undergo our organization’s rite of passage.
I arrived a bit early at NAIA Terminal 2, with enough time to look for the participants from our other office. My colleague from a different team will be arriving at a later date because he had a class for graduate school. I was a bit nervous as well because the typhoon Lawin was due for landfall the same day as my flight. I had enough of a traumatic flight in the midst of a typhoon, after the horrid travel back to Manila in October last year after the WHO meeting in Guam.
Anyway, I sometimes wonder up to what extent I do my best not to talk to people I personally do not know. At times I can be very friendly, but most often, I just shut my trap and freeze on my tracks. This time was different though and I mustered the courage to approach my colleagues from the other office. I already know one of them from a previous course this year, where I discussed something. On the other hand, it would be my first time to meet the other two. Nevertheless, I was delighted to know that they were very friendly and we immediately hit it off. With a quick lunch at Jollibee and a minor gossiping on what to expect during the training, the next thing we know was we were already boarding the flight to Bangkok.
For starters, I recommend installing MyPal app on your mobile device. Aside from civil aviation rules prohibiting people from turning on their cellphones, the app will allow us to watch a selection of movies, series and even get copies of back-issue local magazines. The coolest thing of all — seeing our exact location on the map as we fly across the South China Sea.
After a couple of hours, we landed at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok. It is a beautiful airport and as a Filipino, you always tend to ask yourself ‘Why are our airports not this pretty?’. But that is a subject for a separate discussion altogether.
I initially intended to take a cab from the airport to Swissotel. However, my adventurous colleagues had the train in mind and, what can I say, it was an adventure. Being the type A person that I am, I have printed out all necessary arrival information that had been sent to us. From time to time, we ask people within the airport for directions but they often deviate from the explicit instructions sent to us.
I also did not have any local currency with me. Good thing that Aileen was ready and had a pocketful of Thai Baht with her. I can’t recall how much it cost us to go from the airport to Phloen Chit station, but it was around THB 750. It was also no joke pulling all your luggages along Wireless Road to reach Swissôtel after more than an hour of slightly getting lost. That’s the beauty, I guess, of being in a new place. Getting lost and laughing your heads off over how inane some of your quandaries were.
I still did not have a single baht in my pocket and for hours, I have been borrowing money from Aileen to keep me alive. We arrived past 9:00 PM at our hotel, and most of the money changers (that we know of) were already closed. We also have not eaten since the in-flight meal and there were not a lot of open foods stalls near us. We just jumped on the first restaurant that we saw, and the initial reminded that we uttered was ‘No spicy’. It was also quite difficult to find our way inside 7-11, because they needed to have their sim card topped up with credits. Not a single chance even with the Google Translate on my iPod.
The morning after, we can no longer ask money from Aileen out of sheer shame. We really needed to look for a money changer. Walking from the hotel, it is obvious that the country is in mourning. The predominant color of the day was black, with Thai people wearing almost black tops and shirts, and buildings outside had these black and white fabric rosettes. Two days before our arrival, King Bhumibol, the longest ruling monarch of the world, passed away. We were advised to observe the solemnity of this event, to the point that we were discouraged to wear anything bright. Not a big deal for me since most of my clothing were dark or neutral ones.
Anyway, Big C mall was not that near to us, but we were hoping that we’d see other money changers along the way. We were too early that most of the stalls inside were not yet open. We eventually had our money exchanged (I used up my remaining Philippine Peso) as I did not want to exchanged my dollars yet.
After having our money changed, we went back to the hotel on a taxi (almost THB 100) because it started raining. None of us had an umbrella. With almost two hours to spare, we had to rest, eat and prepare our things before we take the bus to Kanchanaburi.
Kanchanaburi is located west of Thailand near the Myanmar border. On the bus going there with some of our colleagues from other countries, you can feel that people just tend to talk to those who they knew and came to Thailand with. I bet this ice would be broken soon enough.
The trip took around four hours and it was frankly fun to look out the window and see things you have never seen before. It was still a little weird, though, because the cars were driven on the right-hand instead of the left-hand I was used to. We were greeted by the resort staff and some of our colleagues in charge of the training (a drink of fresh coconut with an orchid perched on the edge).
Room at Comsaed River Kwai ResortAfter getting our keys, we headed straight away to our rooms. Just like Hyatt from last year, I got a little unnerved by the two beds. Not to mention, there were a couple of chairs inside that made me really uncomfortable.
See how the clear doors open to the backyard and the river? 😀 In all fairness, this is just my imagination always running wild with ideas. I just make it a point to distribute my bags and things on top of the chairs and the extra bed and I’m all set. This would be my room for five days on the first week, and three days the week after, so must learn to live (and sleep) together in peace.
After an hour, we were to meet at the lobby for the dinner. This would be the bane of my existence as I’ve heard from colleagues who attended the course before that they have gained a little weight coming from Thailand.
The morning after, and I still could not believe it happened, we arrived late for the first day of the course. Comsaed was really big and in spite of the clear instructions given to us the night before of where to go the morning after, we still got lost. Not to mention, Harry was supposed to arrive that Sunday morning after his class, but his flight got cancelled because of the typhoon.
He eventually arrived on Tuesday and just missed one day of the course. It was actually a relief because I was looking forward to getting stuck with my colleague who I never talked to even if he was just a stone-throw away from me. When you are in the middle of nowhere, you begin talking to people, eventually know everyone and see that you are actually happy to be with them. That was what I felt with the five of us from the Philippines.
I’m not going to describe in detail what exactly took place in the course of these days during our Staff Integration. In the likely event that somebody who’d be taking the course soon ended up here, he won’t be getting any information from me. Let’s just say that I appreciated the effort put by the people who devised the intricate details of the programme and they deserve the respect by not spoiling the fun part.
Usually by lunch time in the first few days, I make a beeline to the platter of mashed potato. I pretty much made a reputation of being the potato guy as I eat potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 😀
With all honesty, I enjoyed being with Francis, Aileen, Jommel and Harry. We might be annoying at times with our boisterous laughter in the middle of the night (bonus for having somebody knock on my wall because we were too noisy). Even if we sit together during meal times, we make it a point to be with other colleagues as well. My personal favorite was our Japanese colleague, Asuka, who had been our constant breakfast buddy.
I never thought I’d be taking lots of photos of myself with my newly found friends. But hey, it’s not everyday you get to be whisked away in a far-off place so you might as well document it as much as you can.
In the evening, because there were not a lot to do in Kanchanaburi, we would walk from Comsaed to a neighborhood store to buy junk food and some drinks (my personal favorite was Fanta). In the coming days, we managed to convince some of our colleagues to go with us as well to do our nightly walk after dinner. One time, we used the bicycles of the resort, only to find the next day that they were already chained to each other. These were not for free and must be rented for THB 50. That’s the reason why we were reduced to walking each night to go to the store.
You can tell from the photo below that the ice has been definitely broken among us (at least, that’s what I’d like to believe). While we were eating dinner, our colleague from Pakistan, Nasir, approached me to connive with a sneaky plan in surprising Aileen and Robert as it was their birthday! I don’t know where they got the cake, but it was a very sweet gesture. I’m sure they appreciated it very much. Aileen had been pestering me what was the whispering was about and I managed to hold my tongue!
We were just in the middle of the first week and more adventure await us for the coming day. I still have 12 days left in Thailand and the best is yet to come!