Having the opportunity to explore the Thailand provincial town of Chachoengsao was by far the most culturally rewarding adventure out of any city I visited both in Thailand and Cambodia.
The province of Chachoengsoa is located 50km’s East of Thailand’s capital Bangkok and sits along the banks of the Bang Pakong River. The town itself is most famous for its world renowned temple that was established in 1549 and became the centre for the Kings military recruitment of the time.
Getting to many of Thailand’s rural provinces is both an exercise in patience and keeping up lower limb blood circulation. With the local van albeit cheap (only coasting about $4) arranging their seats so tight, they appear stacked on top of one another. The ride itself is both terrifying and exhilarating, as the van shakes and rattles amongst the never-ending lane changes. All the while fully loaded semi trailers decked out in fluorescent colours, hundreds of spotlights and toy Michelin Men speed past. Always with the knowledge in the back of your head, that you are driving in a country with the highest per capita road toll in world.
Arriving in the village my first impression is that if it wasn’t for the invention of the mobile phone, the scenes wouldn’t have changed much over the last 100 years. The neon lights and sterile environment of Bangkok’s thousands of 7/11s, are replaced by collapsable market stalls with villagers bartering with each other over the nights dinner. As too Bangkok’s Manhattan of soulless high rise condominiums where no one knows their neighbours are regressed with 6 foot tall wooden houses with children playing underneath and adults talking and preparing food above.
Of course however not all of Thailand’s rural life is to be looked through a pair of rose tinted glasses, there are too serious hardships and disadvantages that come with village life. Namely the big two of any society, health and education, both of which are seriously lacking in these underfunded and underdeveloped areas. Due mainly to a serious brain drain going to the private hospitals and schools for Bangkok’s elite where staff can attract salaries 10 times higher under conditions 10 times better.
There are also serious social issues that many villages face with high unemployment leading to boredom many turn to drugs and alcohol to fill their days. As too with a social hierarchy that sees little respect or investment placed in young girls teenage pregnancies a common occurrence.
Fixing this is a huge challenge, however a task growing with more relevance and required immediacy as the country moves forward with it’s coined phrase ‘Thailand 4.0’. A grand concept for Thailand to adapt with rapidly changing technology and attempt to equip citizens with the new skills required.
That said, the more I see and talk to locals, I can’t help but think that even with endless funding and government commitment life in these villages have stayed near the same forever for a reason. This is the way of a life they simply enjoy.
Next Stop: Pattaya