The adventure started in hot and muggy Hua Hin. There are better beach destinations all throughout the south of Thailand, but Hua Hin is a fun beach town with a good balance of party and relaxation.
We stayed in the same hotel for 30 days while taking our TESOL course. By a stroke of great luck, a phenomenal restaurant was attached to our hotel. A nearly ancient woman dominated the kitchen there, cooking with fury of Gorden Ramsey and speed of Scotty Pippin. She understood no English, mumbled Thai, and cooked the most delicious Thom Ka Gai, and pizza.
This one wrinkled woman pushed out Thai and American breakfast, lunch, and dinners for a hotel holding not only its normal load of Thai residents, but also 120 wiley, young western teachers on the TESOL.
Despite the rush, The Chef always served her food with a smile.
Using every opportunity to practice my incomprehensible Thai, I would talk with The Chef everyday, waiting for food, but talking much longer than the food lasted, sometimes even talking into her booked schedule.
The Chef’s delicious meals, and her willingness to engage in nonsensical cross language guessing games with me, had been such memorable pieces of my time in Hua Hin that I felt the need to show my gratitude. The day before we departed for Bangkok, I bought the Chef some flowers.
I tried to explain my gratitude through garbled Thai. She smiled, took the flowers and wai’d me.
I returned the gesture, feeling like the whole exchange had gone smoothly. I had no idea the journey that laid ahead.
The next day I went down to the restaurant for my usual breakfast of seafood fried rice. I waved hello to a couple of the morning faced teachers on the course, and then turned to see The Chef walking towards me. She approached me, and in a moment of heart stopping horror, handed the flowers back.
A visible flood of panic, confusion, and embarrassment shot through me, in that order.
Had I just broken some cultural rule? Committed some unforgivable act that would have me socially shunned, and eventually exiled? I just wanted to give an old lady flowers!
Think fast, I thought. Just keep chanting in English, “I want you to have them, these are for you. I want you to have them, these are for you” cling to this mantra like it’s your rope out of this hot faced scene.
The Chef was speaking at me in some undecipherable, machete thick accent that none of my introduction to Thai language books could have ever prepared me for!
Eventually we both must have realized that neither one of us was understanding the other person. That’s when we both hushed up, and the Chef pulled a hand drawn map from her pocket.
The map was modeled after the Bangkok Sky Train (BTS), and had several stops and points of interests marked on it. There was one point on the map that was clearly circled and marked though, Wongwian Yai.
His puzzled expression worried me, but he told me he thought that she wanted me to take the flowers to the X on the map.
It’s my first month in Thailand, and I already have a secret treasure map.
Maybe there was a specific temple she wanted me to visit, Tao guessed.
Ah ha! A clear direction was beginning to form, and I was feeling reinvigorated.
Before leaving, I went back to The Chef and told her to hold onto the flowers.
“I’ll buy more in Bangkok,” I said, reassuring her I would bring them to the cryptic X, and complete the quest she had given me.
Although it was clear she barely understood me, she nodded, and I knew she had realized that I had accepted her mission.
The next night we hopped on the bus and made the two-hour journey into the chaos and traffic that is Bangkok.
While lots of people might be off-put by the jam-packed city of over 12 million, I think it’s a vibrant city with a unique flavor. There are huge outdoor markets everywhere, and food carts open until all hours of the night serving piping hot plates of noodles, skewers of fish and meat, paper cups of sweet coffees, and of course, rice cooked in every which-way imaginable.
Bangkok is an amazing city because one can easily travel through the city on a tight budget, enjoying the delicious street food and abundance of cheap hostels, or, one can spend a pretty penny to take in the stunning views from atop the numerous rooftops bars, enjoy amazing jazz music from the clubs, or dine in style at one of the five-star cooking schools and restaurants that are scattered throughout the city.
Enough about Bangkok though, let’s get back to the story. Feeling a little bit like Indiana Jones, and looking a lot like a lost Falang (not impolite Thai slang for foreigner), my girlfriend and I boarded the BTS with our hand-drawn map, and bouquet of flowers.
We headed towards Wongwian Yai, conveniently located on the complete opposite side of the city. As the BTS flew through the city skyline, I admired how the tall buildings, towering video ads, and vibrant lights everywhere illuminated the night air, bringing a Tokyo-like electric buzz and hum to the city.
We jumped off at the stop, and hurried to the bus station kiosk map. My eyes flipped back and forth from the hand drawn map in my hand, to the bus station map. I scoured the bus station map for a temple, but had come to the sudden realization that, other than knowing what stop to get off at, I had absolutely no idea where to go.
True to Thai hospitality, native Thai’s jumped off the BTS at Wongwian Yai, and approached my girlfriend and I to ask us where we we’re going. I told them in 100% honesty, I have no idea, but I think I would like to go to a temple. There were now three native Bangkokians surrounding us, scratching their heads.
“Why would I want to go to the temple?” the person with the best English asked us. It was about 8:00 PM at this point. “It will definitely be closed by this time of night,” he said.
“How good is your English,” I said, and tried my best to explain the story of how I had acquired my hand-drawn map, and how I believed The Chef wanted me to take my flowers to a temple.
That’s when Bob arrived on the scene. Bob was a Bangkok native with impressive English skills. He had a genuine smile, and a great hand-shake. I knew right away I could trust him. He talked with the other Thai’s who had tried to help us, and then told me that he didn’t going to the temple didn’t make any sense, but that he would take me anyway. He seemed convinced The Chef had wanted me to go somewhere else in Wongwian Yai.
My girlfriend and I thanked the other Thai Samaritans, and followed Bob out of the BTS station. Bob lived around Wongwian Yai, and was eager to practice his English. We talked about his office job, traffic in Bangkok, and Esan (northeastern region of Thailand), where I would be headed the very next day.
Bob walked us down humid dark streets, past apartments built into the side of massive concrete structures, numerous convenient stores, and lots of varieties of food carts. It was clear that we were no longer near the BTS, and definitely nowhere near our hotel.
Bob stopped suddenly. He pulled out his phone, and began typing (entirely in Thai).
“I think, what she wants, is for you to go here,” He said. Bob pointed to the giant monument lit up on his phone screen. The monument was an important looking figure with a moustache, sword in hand, sitting proud on a big horse. The bottom part of the monument was stone, but the person and horse were a perfectly chiseled, green tinted metal.
“It’s pretty close by, I’ll take you. It’s just a few more streets up,” He said. I followed, knowing I was in too deep now to turn back.
My heart swelled in my chest as the giant monument came into view. The street circled around in a huge round-about, and in the middle was a small park, with the monument as the center piece of the small park. The monument was for Taksin, a major political figure in Thai history. The intricacy and beauty of the big metal statue became more apparent the closer I got to it.
I approached the monument with my small bouquet, and saw people surrounding it, praying and taking pictures. All around the base of the monument were flower bouquets; I knew I was in the right place.
I laid the white and yellow flowers at the base of the monument, and put all my mental focus into thinking of the Old Chef. I hoped that maybe, somehow down in Hua Hin she had known that the flowers had made it to their destination.
I walked away from the monument feeling like I had just completed a mission with Tom Cruise and MI-6.
The three of us, Bob, Krissy, and I, took some pictures together to celebrate. I asked Bob where his favorite spot to eat was, and he agreed to take us.
We followed him down some more busy Bangkok streets to what appeared to be a full service kitchen, serving beautiful plates of fish, from a small metal cart on the street. There was a small area of tables, all full, and a line that wrapped around the neighboring building. The chef said it would be at least one hour before we would be able to eat.
Our generous and faithful tour guide said not to worry though, he had another place in mind. Bob walked us to his other favorite restaurant, another street cart, this one specializing in Pad Thai. The chef smiled at Bob as he walked up, and Bob introduced us to the extremely smiley man, who whipped his hands about, wielding wok tools with the precision of a surgeon.
The man sat us at his street-table, and we watched as he cooked with huge prawns, fish, pork, noodles, peanuts, and fresh wet bean sprouts to assemble the best Pad Thai I have ever eaten. At the end he draped an ornate net made of egg, over the top of the dish to enclose all the savory contents.
The taste and presentation was uncanny. I ran into the 711 next door to purchase two cans of Singha, and my girlfriend and I toasted to our wonderful adventure. Bob made sure we knew how to get back to the bus station, and then left us as suddenly as he joined us. We savored the rich taste of fresh pad Thai with cold Thai lager, and realized we would remember that Bangkok night for a long time to come.
1)* For a wonderful 5-star Thai dining experience I recommend the Blue Elephant in the Sathorn District. The taste, and presentation of each dish is immaculate, and the staff continually serves complimentary treats from the kitchen, such as delectable desserts, and house-mixed non-alcoholic drinks. It’s easy to see why the restaurant doubles as a cooking school. Although the prices are higher than a lot of the food in Bangkok, it won’t break the bank to eat there. Not to mention each patron gets a hot wet towel to wipe their face and hands!
Thanks for reading!