My First Unexpected Taste of Thailand

Elnaz Nourabadi is a student at the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Bangkok, Thailand. 

I thought I would be spending my first weekend in Thailand in my new apartment, exploring the city I would be living in for the next four months, getting settled and comfortable. I did not know that the morning after I landed, my ISA group and I would be traveling to a city 2 hours away and staying for 3 days. Slightly taken aback, I threw some clothes into my bag, said goodbye to my room of 8 hours, and walked away with my roommate whom I had only just met. Then we embarked on the first of many life-changing excursions I would have in Thailand.

Kanchanaburi is a historic city in the west of Thailand, about 123 km away from Bangkok. Although it is flooded with beautiful mountain ranges, rivers and national parks, it is best known for The Death Railway built in 1942, when the city was under Japanese control during World War II. Luckily, we were able to explore all the different parts of Kanchanaburi, including the ones with a more violent past in a country dedicated to peace and enlightenment. It was eye-opening being able to see how the city shaped the remnants of the war to promote and exhibit the tenacious presence of Buddhism in Thailand’s veins.

A morning market we visited to give food to monks and receive blessings. We had to be ready to leave by 6 a.m., so only the bravest made it on this visit.

A butcher and his son preparing the meat for the day. The food and clothing stands in the markets are usually run and owned by families and their children learning the family business.

A group of monks receiving food from a fruit stand. Monks can only eat what they are offered, so givers have to remember to provide them with a variety of foods. Once you place the food in their baskets, they recite a prayer and bless you for your offering.

An early morning view from the hostel we stayed at. Jet lag was still affecting me, so I had time to get some pre-dawn shots from the dock.

This is the Death Railway used by the Japanese in World War II. Aptly named because over 100,000 prisoners of war (POW) and Asian slaves died during its 16-month construction between 1942 and 1943. Once completed, it stretched 250 miles from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbuyuzayat, Burma. The movie The Railway Man documents the life of a POW who worked on this railway.

A temple underneath the Death Railway contrasts the dark and bleak symbol of war that rests on the river with its vibrant colors and sculptures capturing the eye. When a group of us went inside to explore, they presented us with a free lunch and information on Buddhism and the services they have. To have the full experience, we were able to ride the train that is still running on the railway. Mainly filled with tourists, it was still exciting to see the locals who use the train as their main method of transportation everyday.

The train runs through beautiful scenery, passing through forests and over rivers, giving you an in-depth view of the rural and natural areas of Thailand.

An experience I will never forget was visiting the elephants at the Elephant Sanctuary. There are many different areas in Thailand where they offer you rides and swimming with elephants, however the majority of them harm the elephants and don’t care for their well-being, only the profit they provide. The sanctuary we went to guarantees the safety and care of the elephants and provides a history of the use of elephants in Thailand. A Thai friend of mine said “The way Americans used horses before cars, we used elephants.”

This was one of our last stops before leaving Kanchanaburi for home. As the sun was setting and the rain was coming in, I felt a peace inside of me I wasn’t expecting so soon in my journey abroad. The weekend had cleansed me of all expectations and set in me an eagerness to learn and explore the entirety of Thailand.

In the beginning, I was wondering why this was the first place ISA decided to take us, expecting a tour of Bangkok or even of the campus where we would be studying. Once the weekend was coming to a close, I had realized that this part of Thailand is just as important, or even more important, than the hustle and bustle of the expansive city. A month later, after having explored Bangkok, and even a few other cities around Thailand, I understood that if we were thrown into a city of 8.28 million people, we would have gotten overwhelmed, absorbed in an infinite web of consumerism and tourism. I am very thankful that Kanchanaburi was my first exposure to Thailand and what it has to offer. I will definitely be making a trip back and to other similar cities so that I can have a holistic view of this country that has so much to offer.


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