Ever since I saw Willie Nelson live on stage in Austin, I have been a fan – maybe not of his lifestyle, but of his music. I have often sung “On the Road Again” as I go out the door to yet another engagement somewhere. And so it was with this trip to visit two schools in the far south. When I looked at the collection of photos that I shot on this trip, I realized that modes of transportation figured significantly in this particular trip. So, allow me to share some of the ways in which people in Thailand get from one place to another. In this case, I was traveling from Chiang Mai, located in the northwest of Thailand, to Nakhon Si Thammarat, located in the southeast, just past that little hook in the coastline in the Gulf of Thailand. If you ‘double-click’ on the map, it will enlarge the map enough for you to read the names of the cities. Chiang Mai is about 450 miles north of Bangkok and Nakhon Si Thammarat is about 450 south of Bangkok.
Ajarn Thanom Pinta, my boss, was traveling with me this time. A quick examination of available flights to our final destination, Nakhon Si Thammarat, revealed that we did not have a whole lot of options. But I am not complaining! When I was a child, Nakhon Si Thammarat did not have an airport and the only way to get there from Chiang Mai was an overnight train trip to Bangkok, followed by a second overnight train trip to Nakhon. So, I was delighted to learn that a one-hour flight would get me to Bangkok and another one-hour-plus flight would put me in Nakhon. By the way, Nakhon means ‘city’ in Thai, so you have to know which ‘Nakhon‘ you are referring to before you can shorten it to just ‘Nakhon.’ ‘Nakhon‘ (นคร) is one of those mysterious words in Thai that has no vowels and ends in the Thai equivalent of the letter ‘r’, which in this case has an ‘n’ sound. (See my blog post on June 26th “The Frustration…” for more on this.)
Nok Air, a domestic carrier in Thailand, is the “Southwest Airlines” of Thailand. Nok (นก) means ‘bird’ in Thai and excellent service, inexpensive tickets, and a sense of humor (as you can see from one of their planes above and more in the thumbnails below) are the hallmark of this airline. If you fly south, they welcome you to the southern city in the southern dialect of Thai. If you travel north, they welcome you in the northern dialect. (This is kind of radical in the country that considers the use of its dialects to be ‘unprofessional.’) Unlike most of the other airlines, Nok Air is based at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, which is the old international airport that was heavily used from its early beginnings as a military facility in 1914 through its rebirth as a commercial airport in 1924 until Suvarnabhumi International Airport opened just five years ago.
From Nakhon Si Thammarat, we caught a microbus to Trang, a distance of 130 km or 80 miles. Our ticket cost 130 Baht or $4.50 and the trip took 2 hours. By then, it had been a long day, but we had something to celebrate. Just before we left on this trip, Ajarn Thanom learned that he had been appointed to the position of Director of the Education Ministry of our partner church in Thailand. Since I arrived in Thailand, he has been the ‘Acting Director.’ As you will see in my next blog, the school administrators in Trang and Nakhon Si Thammarat recognized this important occasion in his life.
The hotel in Trang was fairly standard, as hotels in Thailand go. It was the tallest building in town (at seven stories) and breakfast was included in the room rate of 700 Baht (about $24). The room had two queen-sized beds with mattresses that were solid. The pillows also had very little give to them (something that Thai people prefer), but I brought my own pillow to insure that I could get a good night’s rest. The room was air-conditioned with a western toilet and shower – which is fairly common today, but was rare just a couple of decades ago.
After a visit to Trang Christian School the next day, Ajarn Thanom and I caught the evening microbus back to Nakhon Si Thammarat. The hotel in Nakhon Si Thammarat was almost a carbon copy of the one in Trang. This time, I had a king-sized bed with the same rock-hard mattress. By then, I was so tired that I did not care. I enjoyed my visits to the two campuses of the school in Nakhon and the chance to speak with faculty and administrators on both campuses. (More about that in the next post.) After visiting friends on Saturday and worship on Sunday, I made my way to the small, modern airport in Nakhon Si Thammarat on Sunday afternoon to catch my flight home. All in all, I can say that transportation and travel in Thailand has improved immeasurably since my childhood.
More photos of travel in Thailand: