I recently realized that my blog might be giving readers the wrong idea about my life in Thailand. It may seem like I spend my days relaxing on beaches while sipping on fancy umbrella drinks and trekking through the jungle with exotic animals. But that is only a small part of the story. I spend the majority of my time in a town that’s as far from umbrella drinks and exotic animals (if you don’t count the geckos and the crazy stray dog on my street that looks like a cow) as you can get.
It has been really difficult for me to hunker down and write about Paknam– because even after three months of living here, I can’t get a good sense of the place. My thoughts on the town I call home change daily, even hourly, depending on how the wind blows. Literally. One of my town’s defining features is its smell. Anyone who has been to Thailand knows that some cities reek a lovely mixture of sewage and pollution. But my industrial town is notorious for being one of the most polluted and smelly of them all. A good title to have, right?
Paknam isn’t all bad, though. It’s the equivalent of a Bangkok suburb, which means I get to be immersed in a more “authentic” area but still have access to all the western conveniences in Bangkok. Paknam has the same amount of crazy traffic and business as Bangkok, but it is totally different from the metropolitan, foreigner-filled city. To my knowledge, the teachers I live with and my schools’ English program coordinator are the only foreigners in town.
Aside from some street food stalls and clothing stores, there isn’t too much to do in our area of Paknam. But I’m lucky enough to be a 10-minute cab ride away from two nice shopping malls with grocery stores, a drug store, and some western food chains like KFC, The Pizza Company, Dairy Queen, and McDonald’s. There’s also a 7-11 and 24-hour Family Mart in walking distance of my townhouse. The terminal BTS Sky Train station (Bangkok’s ultra-modern public transit) is 25 minutes away, which can take you almost anywhere you want to go in the city.
One of the best features of Paknam is its night market. Every day at 5pm, a street about a 15-minute walk away from my townhouse shuts down and hosts a slew of vendors selling everything from soup to smoothies. I never have any idea what I’m eating, but the vendors are nice enough to let the stupid foreigners try sips of dishes before they order them.
There are even some great food stalls by my townhouse. The highlight is an incredible fried chicken stand that could rival someone’s southern grandma’s secret recipe. The only difference is that it’s served with sticky rice and a delicious spicy dipping sauce. You know it’s good when there’s a line of motorcycle taxi drivers causing a traffic jam to grab some on their way home. The stall is manned by a husband and wife team, who laugh at the crazy fried chicken-obsessed foreigners whenever we stop by.
I live with two other American teachers in a four-story townhouse off the main road through town. Based on what I’ve heard from other teachers, I have a pretty nice set-up. There are usually a lot of foreign teachers assigned to my school, so there are six bedrooms in the house. Mine is on the third floor.
There’s another bedroom and a living room with a satellite TV on the second floor. You can’t see it in the photo, but there’s a mosque essentially in our backyard. Hearing the call to prayer has just become part of the soundtrack of our neighborhood, along with the old man across the parking lot who like to sing karaoke to himself.
There’s a kitchen and another bedroom and bathroom on the first floor. We shared the kitchen space with some cockroach friends when we first moved in, but we’ve only had a few more sightings since then.
We also have a small roof deck (not as luxurious as it sounds) with a washer and dryer. So there’s your brief look at my real life in Thailand. To be honest, I spend most of my weekdays outside of school passed out in my bedroom recovering from a crazy day of scream-singing (aka teaching.) Here’s hoping I get the energy to go out and explore Paknam more in the next few months.