Lost in Phetchaburi
I grabbed backpack, a water bottle, a pile of clothes, some snacks, and stored the rest of my luggage at the front desk of the hostel I was staying at in Bangkok. I was ready to leave. I hopped into a pink tuk-tuk car headed to the central bus station of Bangkok.
It was 8 a.m. on a summer day, the city was waking up to the moving traffic, the howling tuk-tuk drivers and pedestrians’ hasty footsteps. Sitting in the back of tuk-tuk and breathing in the car’s exhaust, all I wanted at that moment was to get out of the tuk-tuk as soon as possible. Unlike an ordinary taxi, where I could just sit in the back and relax, when you are riding on a tuk-tuk which is an auto rickshaw, every stop and every acceleration the driver makes you will feel it. And the feeling was way too by me that morning, as I had not had breakfast yet. But I survived my motion sickness during the 30 minutes ride and hopped off the tuk-tuk with my shaking legs. The driver could not speak much English, so when I asked him where the station was, he pointed in a direction. I slowly dragged my legs along and headed that way.
“I am here at the station,” I texted to Ying Tan, a girl I had recently met through a traveler website. After days of talking, we discovered that we were both into this same Thai movie, “Sin Leklek Tee Riak Wa Ruk,” another cliché love story of Cinderella. We hatched a crazy plan to retrace the scenes in that movie in this small Thai town called Phetchaburi. Phetchaburi means “city of diamonds.” It is indeed a beautiful place located in southern Thailand which is about 160 kilometers south of Bangkok, ay the northern end of the Thai peninsula.
“Alison!” I heard the shout and saw a girl in white dress with a blue backpack who waved at me while running super-fast in my direction. “I am so sorry I’m late,” Ying Tan said. Now she is here, I could finally relax. The central bus station of Bangkok is not how I pictured. It does not have any ticket counter or any screens showing you the ticket prices or the destinations. But it does have about 12 small tables with people sitting behind them. And in front of each small table, there is a wrinkled sign identifying different destination. But we did not see a single cardboard with the name of Phetchaburi.
“Do you guys have mini vans to Phetchaburi?” I asked the ticket seller, a middle-aged man in a red Polo shirt. The direct sunlight that shone on his face gave him a nice brown shade on his skin. We asked him about Phetchaburi, and he put down his cigarette, ripped two tickets from his little brochure and handed them to us. “Wait over there by that white van,” he said it as he pointed.
I looked at our tickets, and they said nothing about Phetchaburi, but we got in the minivan. There were just two of us on the van, and as we traveled the driver looked in the reamer mirror to see us from time to time. “Are we safe on this minivan?” I wondered to myself. All of sudden, the van stopped, and I saw about seven soldiers outside the van. The door opened, and they got in and sat behind Tan and me. I thought we were in some kind of trouble at first, but then I thought maybe they are just going to the same place we are. They sat as still as mannequins; they did not move, and they did talk. I hoped they were still breathing back there. We all rode for about an hour in complete silence. I was trying to stay calm, looking outside the window to see some views, but the windows were tinted, and I couldn’t really see much out there. I closed my eyes and tried to get some sleep.
Time moves slow, and when we finally reached a rest station, I ran out of the car to the restroom. Inside I had the most awkward moment of my young life. As I was washing my hands in the bathroom, the group of soldiers walked inside and stared at me with shock in their eyes. One of them even went outside to check something and then came back. That’s when I realized that I was in the wrong bathroom. My excuse was that bathroom signs in Thailand are confusing sometime and it is hard to tell if the symbol is for males or females. I escaped the bathroom and wondered that the soldiers might think I am a “ladyboy,” but it is not a big deal. I comforted myself.
The rest station which about 100 kilometers away from Bangkok was simple and crude. It is basically a huge pavilion with different people selling food. They were peddling grilled bananas, different barbecue meat on short sticks, peeled pineapples and so on. I bought some barbecue chicken. “20 Bhat,” the lady said. 20 Thai Bhat is less than one U.S. dollar, that is one cheap barbecue chicken. As I was doing the currency covert, the lady had put the chicken in a small plastic bag.
We got back in the car again and about 40 minutes later the driver stopped the van and looked back and said, “Phetchaburi, here, here.” We assumed we needed to get off here. We opened the door and we were in the middle of the country road, surrounded by the cropland. “Where are we?” Tan asked, looking as confused as me. But when I was about to ask the driver, the door shut, and the van drove off. “That was fast,” I thought. Now we are in the middle of nowhere and do not know where to go next.
“Hello? Hello?” I heard someone was shouting at us. I followed the voice and saw couple guys across the road sitting by their motorcycle waving at us. With no hesitation, we walked over and showed him the address we wanted to go to. One guy looked at the address, and said something to his friends in Thai. Then he looked at me, smiled and said, “Ok, ok, 100 Bhat each person, ok?” While he was speaking, his friend had already put his helmet on and was ready to go. At this point, we really did not have an option. Knowing that motorcycles are one of the main forms of public transportations in Thailand had given me some comfort. Under such condition, we could either pay them and let them drive us there or we would probably spend an entire night walking in the wrong direction. So, I put on the helmet and got on the motorcycle. Ying Tan did the same with another guy.
Somehow the motorcycle ride was more relaxing than in the minivan. Maybe it was because I could finally see my surroundings. It was such a beautiful day, and the sky looked as if it had been painted with blue paint. Sheep walked in the cropland we passed. Then we drove over a sea of sunflowers. My driver talked to me from time to time asking me where I was from and why was I going to Phetchaburi, because, he said, most people don’t even know about the place. As we were talking, we arrived at a small town. It was a quiet town, with very few cars driving around. Most people use their bikes or motorcycles in this town. All the buildings are in not very tall and elephant statues are everywhere. I have always loved elephants, because they always look loving, kind and smiley.
The motorcycle stopped in front of a bridge that looked familiar to me. I looked at Tan and she was looking at me as well, and her eyes were screaming how excited she was at me. This is the exact bridge where our Cinderella Sangchan meets Rawee for the first time in the movie. We paid the driver and said our goodbyes. In the movie, the girl’s family owns a hotel that is next to the bridge. So, we looked around and found a wooden structure next to the bridge and on the sign, it said “Rabieng Rimnum.” Bingo, we found what we are here for.
The hotel looks really vintage. On the right-side wall, we saw some outdated travel guides. Down the hallway we entered a door and saw a short-haired woman standing behind front desk. “Welcome to Rabieng Rimnum,” she said with the most beautiful and sincere smile I have ever seen. After asking what brought us here, she told us the movie crew was here for 10 days and we could walk around the hotel if we wanted to. It was already 5 p.m., so we decided to spend our night at Rabieng Rimnum.
Rabieng Rimnum is a two-story building, with three rooms on the first floor and another room on the second floor. The room we stayed in was a small room on the first floor with a queen size bed. However, there was no private bathroom inside our room. There were two shared bathrooms in the hotel which are across the hallway. I have to admit that the living conditions in this hotel was not that comfortable. But our excitement of finding this place had replaced all the complaints we had.
The main lobby of Rabieng Rimnum is like a museum of memories. There were pictures of Elvis Presley and other singers from the ’80s and ’90s hanging on the wall. The pictures was too old, and the bottom of those was turning yellow. Next to the pictures, a wooden cabinet held old cassettes and records. The owner of this place must be really into jazz and blues, we guessed. We sat by the window, looking outside at the bridge while listening to some old jazz music. Outside, the blue paint on the sky started fading away as night arrived.
We woke up covered in sweat in the morning since there was no air conditioning in the room. The only thing that cooled us off was a small fan we had next to our bed, which was obviously not enough for us. I sat in the lobby while Tan asked the owner how we could get to the high school where the story from the movie continued. She hand-drew us a simple map that showed which bus to take and where to get off.
The main way to get from one place from another in Phetchaburi is by minivan. Luckily the bus station was only two blocks away. It did not take us too long to find it. We bought the tickets to Ratchaburi, where the Daruna School is located. Daruna is where most of the stories from the movie took place at. It only takes us 40 minutes to get there and based on the map that the owner drew, we easily found the school. Just like you can find a lot of food places outside of a school in U.S, there is a small food market outside Daruna, and everything was super cheap. I stopped by a cart selling drink and I asked for a large coke. Unlike other parts of Thailand, where you can get a cup for your drink, in this small town you get a plastic bag that is filled with ice and the drink you order. The way to drink it is simply sticking your straw through the bag. When I first saw it, I was shocked. By now, I am used to it.
Daruna school is actually an elementary school. And they do not normally let random people go in there. However, we were lucky that day. We met couple students and once they heard we were all the way here because of the movie, they happily invited us in and showed us around. There was one sixth-grade boy among them, Tim, who spoke perfect English. He led us the way to the main building.
“Could you guys take off your shoes here? We are not allowed to wear shoes inside of the classroom.” Tim asked politely. “Sure,” I answered, while taking my shoes off and putting them aside. I was not surprised when he asked us to do this because it is a common thing in Thailand to not wear shoes indoors. In some temples you even need to take off your shoes to go into their bathrooms. Inside the teaching building, we saw a stairway on our right that led to their classrooms. But all the classrooms were locked, so we could only peek from the outside. At that moment, I felt like I was in that movie. I remember how our Cinderella Nam got bullied by her classmates and how Mario would have her back. Different movie scenes started coming back to my mind. “Ka Pun Ka (thank you),” I said to Tim in my horrible Thai. He nodded and he left for class.
Tan and I started wandering around the campus. It is a huge school. With an outdoor swimming pool, basketball court, soccer court, theaters etc. Students were all busy with different activities. Suddenly a poster on the wall caught my attention. It explained the student uniform rules. They have to wear their school uniform every day and based on which grade they are in they will have different uniform. All the boys’ hair has to be the same length and girls have to tie their hair up, which is kind similar to Chinese schools.
After a lot of tasty school food and photographs, we were finally satisfied enough to leave. We got on to the same bus and headed back to Phetchaburi. Due to the awful living condition in the hotel, we did not spend a lot of time there. Actually, we packed up and left the very next day. We got back to Bangkok, and were welcomed by all the noises, neon lights and car exhausts.