When we crossed the border from dusty dirt town Poi Pet, Cambodia into organised and clean Aranyapraythet, Thailand, we were excited to be entering our third country for the walk. We had arranged to stay with a young woman, Goy, via couchsurfing. She was busy at work when we arrived, so she arranged for her good friend Niichanan to come and meet us at the local cafe. Enter Niicha…..a super chill, no stuffs given, nature loving, trendy woman with a passion for coffee and artistic flair. Basically, Niichanan was just damn cool. She told us about the research she had done at University, studying the various uses of abandoned woodpecker nests (surprisingly, A LOT! So many animals go on to use it for their own home, like snakes, spiders, squirrels etc.). Once when she was out collecting data in the field she was close enough to a wild tiger to hear it roar. Whaaat??!! That is just the bomb. Like, I’m sorry, but HOW COOL IS THIS LADY???
Niicha was a lot like us in many ways, open-minded, educated, similar age and finding it difficult to find a job and be “successful” like her career driven friends who had all managed to fit into their roles neatly. Goy too, as we later discovered, was having a similar identity crisis; one that I could empathise with wholeheartedly! To get the job you want you need experience, to get that experience you need the job in the first place! Ugh.
Niichanan took us to her parents house, where, after meeting her mum and dad (and totally stalking their travel photos on the wall), the five of us jumped in their car and they drove us to some nearby ruins for a tour. Niichanan’s dad was a retired maths teacher and now fills his spare time with creating mind-teasing games whereby you have to twist apart objects that are seemingly locked together forever. I spent the better part of an hour trying to solve one of his “simple” tasks. He kept asking what I learnt from the exercise, “Patience?” I guessed. He shook his head and explained in Thai for Niichanan to translate, “Spatial Awareness; of how things interlock and systems operate mechanically”. Yup. Nope. Maths was not my forte, clearly. We kept laughing as he kept asking if I’d learnt anything, Niicha kept telling her dad to leave us alone with a smile on her face as she shook her head. You can take the teacher out of teaching, but you can’t take teaching out of the teacher.
The ruins were really lovely, particularly because we had them almost exclusively to ourselves. Niichanan’s parents knew one of the site guides and caught up with him. I asked if it cost money for the guides and they explained that the government paid a small sum to them for tourism purposes. I asked the guide if it was very much, and no it wasn’t, the tour guide just really loved history he explained with a toothy grin.
Later, we met up with Goy for dinner for Vietnamese (yes, our first meal in Thailand was Vietnamese). Goy was tired from work, but was so lovely in welcoming us and she had a very dry sense of humour which made us laugh. Goy has a passion for Japan and has travelled there repeatedly to get her fix of the country. She really lit up when she spoke about it and it made us want to go there and see it for ourselves. Goy, Niicha, Megan and I went down the street after dinner, where there was a local festival being held. We tried some different street foods and finally got a taste of our first sweet roti, covered in sweetened condensed milk! YUM! Honestly, I’ll be surprised if we have any teeth left after this trip.
Goy was so accomodating and actually gave us her own room to sleep in, while she slept on the floor! We were very embarrassed, but she insisted and was a very generous host.
Fortunately, we were able to meet up with Niichanan again a few weeks later in Bangkok. We went out to a vegetarian restaurant with delicious organic raw foods (another thing Niicha loves supporting, organic farming) and spent the dinner discussing politics, work and our walk. Niicha was just so intelligent and insightful, she really made us laugh a lot. I also went to a coffee festival with her the following day (um free coffee samples, yes please).
Two strangers became two friends in a matter of one day. The kindness of humans never ceases to amaze. Humans are great.