You’re an exchange student with no to very-little money or even student debt that you don’t want to deepen. Yet, you’re in another country and you don’t want to waste the opportunity.For those who happen to end up in Thailand I highly recommend visiting Erawan National Park and the nearby city Kanchanaburi. I did the trip with about $40 Canadian for two days. That’s on the steep side with splurging on souvenirs and a boat trip. The cost otherwise included:
– bus fare
– local transport
– a room for the night
– and entry into a national park
Now I don’t know if you’d prefer travelling with a small group or a big one, but despite having a heck of a time rounding up everyone and shipping people from place-to-place we saved big time on local transport and a room for the night.
We also found ourselves in a mix of backgrounds and nationalities, which was great because we had plenty of time to share stories on the long ride to Kanchanaburi and as we laboured our way up endless steps to temples and waterfalls.
We started the trip at 6 a.m. from the southern bus terminal in Bangkok. Our group included two members who spoke Thai, which was a great asset. They managed to get our stumbling group of 15 individuals all the way to Kanchanaburi without a single wrong turn!
The bus fare was 110 baht each from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi (a two hour trip in “first class” as we were told we paid for).
When we arrived at Kanchanaburi it was a simple matter to find the bus to Erawan Park. The bus terminal had all the buses labeled in Thai and English. Quickly we piled on squeezing ourselves into the seats and on the steps as needed. Yeah, one of us couldn’t find a seat so he sat on the steps leading up into the bus (50 baht each). This bus was pretty neat, with fun colours and designs. I kind of felt like I was in what my generation perceives as the 70s—with the flower power colours and the laidback, young, collective atmosphere.
As we approached the gates into Erawan National Park we discovered it had an entrance fee. The sign displayed a hefty 200 baht for those with foreign passports, but we soon discovered, much to our relief, that as students we get a huge discount (40 baht).
Just remember to bring your student ID. There were some students there who only had a letter and they almost didn’t get the discount because the letter didn’t have their picture. It was only after a lot of awkward gesturing and stunted English that they conveyed that the card-making machine at their university was broken and they couldn’t get cards yet. They also proved the letters pertained to them with copies of their passports on hand displaying their photos and names.
Finally passing through the gate, the bus trundled on to the foot of the mountains. Disembarking from the vehicle our group’s stomachs demanded sustenance before we tackled the famed seven waterfalls in the park.
A string of restaurants wielded a variety of choices for food.
A great tip for being a student abroad in Thailand. If you are not picky and eat the local food you will save yourself a lot of trouble and money. The foreign food is really expensive compared to the local food. Thai food is about 30-40 baht. Foreign food in a restaurant goes to 80-100 baht. Buffets featuring either type of food usually run between 250-300 baht.
Oh and a quick tip. When you enter a Thai bathroom there is sometimes toilet paper on the wall outside of the stalls. Grab some before you go into a stall (unless you are carrying toilet paper with you) because there is never any toilet paper by the toilet. If you are not squeamish you can use the sprayer to wash your… you know…
But! We marched on to the waterfalls—the sweet, beckoning waterfalls. To be honest I had no idea what to expect—I hadn’t done any research before the trip. I will never do that again. It would have been cooler to know where I was going and the history behind what I was seeing.
But, with merriment in our step we began to climb the stairs. Hearing the first set of falls before I saw them I turned the leafy corner to this.
They were so small. So, different from what I know. The waterfalls of the Canadian Rocky Mountains roared and trickled through sharp rock where this slid seamlessly over smooth stone. I was entranced.
Course I could only linger for a moment because six more falls beckoned further up the river.
The second set of falls were a touch larger, but it was the third set that really threw me.
Here was roaring water. Here was the rumble of the precious resource falling to the ground.
And people were playing in it. They were climbing it, sitting on it and swimming under it. I’d never gone swimming under a waterfall before.
Shocked now, I discovered people swimming in all the pools to come. People were even sliding down one waterfall!
I also noticed that there were bikinis everywhere despite the sign near the entrance asking people to respect the local culture of covering up (I’ll admit I didn’t follow that rule either.)
We stripped down to our swim duds and hopped in.
Apparently the fish in these pools really enjoy eating the dead skin from your feet. Their nibbling was a shock! There was a round of raised eyebrows and jokes from those preparing to enter the water followed instantly by a new stream of yips and shrieks as each newcomer beheld the sensation.
For me it tickled! We’d stand on rocks to see how long we could each take it. I’d often be the last but go down laughing.
After swimming for a while some of us decided to venture further to see the final waterfall. It was easy to see that it was the father of all the waterfalls we had seen. It towered overhead like the waterfalls I know from home. And yet it once more bounced down smooth stone. It was like the earth decided to ease its passing, whereas the ground of the Rocky Mountains wasn’t used to the idea and put up a jagged front to stop the water.
All in all it was worth the climb. The higher you go the more virgin the ground becomes. It wears down from cement steps, to stone, to mud, roots and dirt.
Remember to wear good shoes. Flip-flops could be rather treacherous.
Also, here’s a word of advice. Seriously, pay attention to this one.
If you must take the last bus out of the park—because Erawan Park closes to visitors after 4:00 p.m.—make sure you get to the bus early enough to get a seat. Something like half an hour to an hour before 4 p.m. If you arrive close to four, as we foolishly did, you will either be stuck without a ride or be forced to stand in the aisle of the bus all the way back to town. The ride from Kanchanaburi is about two HOURS long. And you are standing in a narrow aisle between seats trying to keep your butt out of people’s faces. Plus your recently soaked backpack (it was pouring as we made a mad dash down the mountain) must be placed over the poor seated passengers. Luckily most of these passengers were patient and too exhausted to really care. If you are tall you’ll have to crouch for the trip. It’s rough, but possible. If you are in good company and have a good-natured personality the experience can actually be rather fun, still, it’s best to avoid it because even those with the best nature will find it tiresome by the end of the trip.
Otherwise, have fun! You won’t regret it! (Even if you have the unexpected experience of standing on a bus for two hours.