First steps in Thailand

I arrived at Bangkok's airport the 5th of July 1996 at 11:30. I was surprised to see so few people waiting at the arrivals' exit. As usual in asian airports, couple of taxi touts came to me. I declined them with a soft smile and they quickly gave up and realized that I wouldn't come in their trick. I had in my pocket an address where I could stay for the night. Outside the airport, I saw a bus waiting and some foreigners getting in. I needed to go to the center (or one of the centers of Bangkok the tentacle). I went out of the airport and I got suddenly hit by a strong wave of humid heat. I went to the bus driver and asked for this bus' route. Lucky I was, this bus was exactly going where I wanted to ! I threw my back bag on a seat and sat in order to relax from the long trip I just had. The bus hit the road and left behind the airport.
I was watching the landscape through the bus window. Tall and rich buildings were mixed up with slum. A dark dust was surrounding the city and preventing the sun to pierce the sky. The heat was so uncommon for me, probably because of its humidity mixed with dust. I realized that I was away from everything I knew, in a country where I wasn't able to speak and read the language, where I didn't know anybody. But somehow, I was feeling happy and peaceful in my mind like my destiny was going to lead me to some extraordinary experiences ...

One hour later, the bus ticket seller came to me and suggested me to get off the bus on Silom road in order to reach the place I wanted to. Following her advice, I found immediately the "Missions Etrangères de Paris" where I was awaited. I introduced myself to one of the father working there. He directed me to the father I talked to on the phone few days before. He offered a room to me and, as I was pretty tired from the jet lag and the climate, I went to bed until 18:00.

After I woke up, I went to see the father who welcomed me. Two young French guys where there talking. One of them, Jean-Francois was living in the "MEP" and was working as a cooperation worker for its military service. The other one, David, was accountant. Both of them were planning to go to the movie and asked me to join. So, we went in a movie theater to watch "Eraser". I was surprised at the beginning of the performance to see the whole attendance stand up so quickly at the first note of their national anthem.

The movie over, we went to eat in one of the numerous "soi" of Silom road. Some benches and tables were installed in the street and customers could order some food to the surrounding "mobile cooks". It was my first Thai meal. The food was delicious even though the european standards of hygien were probably far to be fulfilled :)

The second day, I went with Jean-Francois to the Saturday's market near one of the main bus station of Bangkok. After hanging around for 2-3 hours there, we came back by bus. For the first time, I could "enjoy" the daily Bangkok traffic jam. We stayed in the bus for 2 hours and a half to go through only 10 kilometers. Surely, by walking, it would have been much faster ! But, I was on holidays and this general way of dealing with stress in Thailand made me relaxed. Actually, I was so much interested by people around me and this new culture I was facing, that I didn't really see the time spent in the traffic jam. I was instinctively used to take things easy and simply enjoy life at any time as most of the Thai people do.

One avenue (almost empty) in Bkk. No traffic jam at all !

In the evening, we went to a have a dinner at the same place as we had the day before. I ordered a dish that I still keep in my memory because it was one of the most delicious food I've ever eaten. I don't know the name of it, but I can remember this clever mixture of rice, grilled pork and sweet soya sauce. Still, sometimes, I try to imagine this flavor on my taste bud, but always unsuccessfully.

The next day was a Sunday. I attended to a christian mass (the one of the MEP) for the first time in one year maybe. At one o'clock Jean-Francois proposed us (David & I) to go to an indian restaurant in a lost soi of Silom road. What a surprise in the restaurant, a wedding was currently going on. From the costumes of the relatives, as well as the wedding dress of the bride and the groom, it was most likely an hindu wedding. A lot of flowers were all around the restaurant, and petals were thrown on the just married man and woman's path. After a while, we decided to order some food though ! And I had my first real experience with extremely spicy food. Fortunately, we had also ordered some sweet milk in order to put out the fire in our mouths :)

We went back to the MEP for the traditional afternoon nap. The heat is so oppressing that one need to recover from this constant heat tiredness. This relaxing siesta made me ready to face the new challenge: my "goal" was to go to a village lost in the eastern mountains of Thailand. I went then to the bus station by taking a bus and getting off somewhere I didn't even know. As I was kind of lost but knowing that I was not too far from this station, I decided to experience a motorcycle taxi. One has to try this kind of transportation at least once in a life, full sensations are included in the trip for sure. Those taxi "pilots" have this powerful skill of slaloming through cars, trucks and any moving object without having any accident. Probably the amulet hanged on the front of their motorcycle protect them from any misadventures. Anyway, after approaching death several times, I finally reached the east bus station of Bangkok.

I was desperately looking for some signs in roman alphabet but after a while I gave up and I went to ask an official to direct me to the right counter where I could buy the bus ticket. Of course, the lady didn't manage to understand the name of the city I wanted to go to. At that time, I barely knew anything about the different tones used in Thai language. But after trying all the imaginable combinations for the city's name "Maesot", she finally realized that I wanted a ticket to "Màesõt" :) It was my first real experience of communication with locals. All along the "conversation", smiles were the only thing both of us could understand. Smiles are part of the universal language.

I had 2 hours to wait for the bus. Therefore, I put my back bag on the ground, sat down on it and started watching through the people around me. I was obviously the only foreigner daring to take a bus to go in the middle of nowhere. My fears were covered by the extreme curiosity state I was in. About an hour later, I noticed a group of people of my age looking at me and obviously talking about me. One of the girl finally came to me and asked where I was coming from. The conversation started in English. After a while, one of the other girl spoke few words of French and said that she went to Paris one year ago. The guys of the group were more interested about my sports interest, especially in football. I unfortunately disappointed them when I said that I was not a football fan. Anyway, after 20 minutes talking, they had to leave and wished me, with a sincere smile, a nice trip.

I had some troubles finding the right bus because destinations were all written in Thai. But, fortunately again, an official kindly guided me to the right one. I was really amazed by the amount of space available in the bus. Seats were incredibly wide and one could stretch his legs as far as possible without touching the other's front seat. A service was also included in the price of the journey. Sandwiches and drinks were served by a kind hostess. The bus left and drove all the night long before to reach Maesot early in the morning.