Bai Tiao: Thai Style

This weekend I went on my first trip with all the teachers from my school. The purpose of the trip was to go look at another school in Suphanburi province, about an 8 hour bus ride away, to hear about a new program they have implemented. (But really it seemed like the main purpose of the trip was to bai-tiao, or go traveling!) The whole school closed on Friday so we could go on our trip.

I was pretty nervous when I first found out about this little bai-tiao. The plan was to take an overnight bus Thursday night. I had heard horror stories from other volunteers who have taken overnight buses with their school and were forced to listen, and participate, in Karaoke all night long. I asked one of the teachers if that's what we would be doing, but my worries subsided when said that we wouldn't be doing that. Still, when the bus pulled up with neon lights flashing all over, my heart jumped a bit with fear. Luckily, it was a quiet, peaceful ride. (Unlike most of the trip!)

Friday morning we arrived at the school and sat in on a meeting. There is a new project being implemented throughout different schools in Thailand where pre-recorded lessons are being shown on tvs in all the classrooms. One teacher stays with their class for the whole day, and basically monitors the students while they watch the government issued lessons on tv. The particular school we went to only had 6 teachers. They seemed to really be supportive of this program since they are quite understaffed, not having qualified teachers to teach many of the subjects the students are required to study, like English.

 

Students learning from the lesson on the tv.

After getting the business side of the trip done, it was time to really get our bai-tiao on. We started by going up to Kanchanaburi, a province in the western central part of Thailand. The plan was to spend the night on a large raft on the river there. But there were a number of stops in between. We were on a tour bus, so nobody seemed to really know what the plan was. First we went to a ruined chedi from the Ayuttaya period, from about 400 years ago.

 

The next stop, to my surprise, was to go the the famous bridge over the rive Kwai. I hadn't even realized the bridge was in the province, let alone that we would be going there. As probably most people know from the famous film, the bridge was constructed by forced laborers and allied prisoners of war during the Japanese control of the area during WWII. It was part of the Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway. It was a 415 km railway that spanned from Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma. It was built in 1943 to increase Japanese power and control of the area. Around 90,000 Asian laborers and 12,000 allied POWs died during the construction of the railway. The bridge itself is over a beautiful river, but the industrial metal structure seems to hold memories of the past atrocities that once occurred.

 

The river Kwai, pronounced Kway in Thai.

 

The infamous railway

 

The large cemetery for all those who died during the railway construction

The final stop of the day was the “Peh,” or raft. Usually when I think of a raft I think of a small, not so sturdy, structure made of wood. I was told we would all be sleeping on this raft, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It was definitely the most elaborate “raft” I've ever seen, and came with a dining room with disco balls and a DJ. We floated along the river for about 2 hours at sunset before docking alongside about 10 other rafts, all with their own speaker system and strobe lights. Imagine being at an outdoor club, along side 10 other clubs, all playing different music, some Thai pop and some Western pop. It was fun while it lasted, and everyone got their dance on, including my principal, but my ears were ringing in the morning. I was looking forward to a peaceful morning on the river, but the quiet only lasted a few hours. The music started blasting again around 7 in the morning. I had ear plugs in and still was getting a head ache. I never thought one of the challenges of my Peace Corps experience would be surviving being trapped on a raft listening to blaring Thai music. If this had happened to me 6 months ago I probably would have been dreading every minute of it. I guess the culture has grown on me, and I ended up having a lot of fun.

Thai Peh, or river raft, aka party boat

 

After spending about an hour floating on the river to blaring music, we got onto a bus, and listened to blasting music and Thai tv for the ride home, only making a couple stops for necessities, like jewelry and kanoms. (Yes I said jewelry. The kanoms was expected but the jewelry shop was not.) This was my first time going on a Asian tour bus. It was pretty exciting. Every stop was a big surprise and it is a very convenient way to travel. Just get on, and enjoy the ride!

 

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