Technology is not my friend, so far as this trip has gone. There has been a bit of "user error", but it is not all my fault. My five year old iPad has died. It was working okay until it arrived in Bangkok. Then it got tempermental.
I have also had problems with WhatsApp, which is a lifesaver for communicating when you are outside the US. Thankfully, my older sister has patently sent me code after code until it agreed that I am really me.
The first technology hurdle can be blamed on Delta. I am very good about doing my homework before I travel so there are no surprises regarding immunizations, insurance, travel warnings, and visas. So when the Delta gate agent told me - RIGHT before I was boarding the plane - that I needed an international visa to board, I was not happy! I had to prove to him - in his system, - that anyone who needs a Thai visa can obtain one in the airport. He pointed out that my boarding pass says that an international visa is required, and I just let it go.
The travel itself was not bad. I couldn't really sleep so watched many movies and bad TV all the way to Seoul. Incheon is a really nice airport, with a surprising number of high-end shops in which people are actually spending money.. After a brief layover, I was on my way to Bangkok. I arrived late - some time after 1 am - and I actuall tried to get a visa (which I did not need so wasted that time, thank you Delta!), got through immigration (only 45 minutes at this time of night), and found a cab to take me to my hotel.
My cab driver could not find my hotel, in spite of the fact that I gave him the address and landmarks. At one point, he shared his Google maps screen with me, which was thoughtful, but useless for two reason: 1) I cannot read Thai characters, and 2) I have never been to Thailand before. So there is no point of refernce. The darkness saved us because I could clearly see the neon sign with my hotel name on it. It was 2:30 in the morning before I got to bed.
There are plenty of travel websites which will provide detailed descriptions of where to stay, what to see, and what to eat. My blog will be based on my experiences and observations.
When I awoke on Saturday morning, I actually felt rested and ready to tackle Bangkok. The only must-see on my list today was Lumphini Park. Luckily, my hotel was right on the MTS (subway) line and so is the park. A win for me and my limited planning.
The weather looked fine, but I knew enough to put on sunscreen. But I was NOT prepared for the humidity! I grew up in Houston and lived in New Orleans, so I should be used to it. Not the case. It hit like a wall as I walked outside.
Lumphini park is really lovely. There were lots of people out running, biking, and doing Tai Chi. As I walked around, I admired the art and noticed how clean this park is. What a pleasant surprise! I wish I weren't jaded but many parks that I have visited are full of litter.
The only thing of note from my visit to the park is that I saw a really large lizard (at first, I thought it was a Komodo dragon, but I reall don't know what those look like and I don't know where they actually live. I just feel like they are somewhere in Asia). I took his picture but was afraid to get too close.
As an aside, I have a friend I travel with -DTF - who is a great traveling companion, but is much more "safety" conscious than I am. I don't take unnecessary risks, but she is overly cautious. When I returned from Vietnam, I told her that it was a good thing that she had not come with me as she would have never made it across the street from the first hotel in Ho Chi Minh City! She has many great qualities, and she will always be my favorite person with whom to attend Jazz Fest, but this trip would not be good for her. She asked that I run all my decisions through the "WWDTFD" test. I have already failed.
I already mentioned the cab from the airport. When DTF was originally joining me in Thailand, she wanted us to have a driver pick us up at the airport. Perhaps this is why?
My next memorable experience also failed this test. As I left Lumphini Park, I wanted to catch the Sky Train to the River so that I could take a boat up to see the Wats (temples). As I was standing on the landing between the MTS and the Sky Train, trying to decipher my map, a nice man came up to me to ask if I needed help. I explained where I was going, and he took my map to show where I should go. But then he suggested that I might prefer to take a tuktuk to a location where locals pick up the boat (yes, my antennae did go up, but he seemed so nice). We talked for a bit, and I thought "what could it hurt?" I actually like riding in tuktuks and it was the middle of the day on a Saturday. The nice man negotiated my fare with the tuktuk driver and I got it.
This experience is not as sketchy as it may sound. Nothing bad happended, but I did end up in a place that was selling boat rides, but certainly not to locals! The nice lady offered me a "good price" on a half day boat ride up the river, with stops at all the highlights. This is when I played poor, asking if she took credit cards, which I was pretty sure she's didn't. She suggested that I go to an ATM to get the cash and I would enjoy my trip. I told her that I needed to return to my hotel to get cash. Then I left.
Okay - not one of my best moves. But it did lead me towards a huge plus for the rest of my time in Bangkok.
As I left the alley, I saw a sign showing the boat launch. There was a young man studying the sign, and we tried to figure it out together. He suggested that we take the locals boat up to Wat Arun. I was a it apprehensive after the last travel suggestion, but this kid seemed like he could figure it out.
We went to the boat launch and joined a line of locals headed up the river. The ride was cheap, and the boat reflected this. It was a "long boat" that mad stops along the river. No narration - no snacks. He barely stopped at the piers! You had better be ready to get on our get off when the boat made the landing. But it was perfect for our needs.
We made it to Wat Arun and decided to go for a drink before moving on to the next location. It was really cool to talk to this young man - Kris (his "English" name as he says his Chinese name is hard to pronounce". He is from China, living and studying in Malaysia. We talked about outside perspectives of each of our home countries. He said that the news shows all Americans have guns and I said our news shows all Chinese are rich. Kris also talked about how his world has opened up since he moved to Malaysia and can now access sites like Facebook, and he now sees news that has not been filtered by his government. It was an eye-opening discussion.
We we finished out the day, and decided to meet again the next day to go see the Emerald Palace. Then we parted and I went in search of Thai food.
I don't often do research on restaurants when I travel like this. My meals tend to be dictated by when I get hungry and what type of view I want. I found a Thai restaurant and had amazing green curry. Then I checked my map and decided I was close enough to the MTS to walk to a stop. This decision would not have passed the WWDTFD test.
It was after dark, but the street was fairly busy so I was not concerned. After I walked for a while, I asked a security guard in one of the buildings if I was close to the MTS stop. He looked at me like I was crazy and said "very far". Then said "just go that way", so I kept walking. At this point, it seemed like a challenge.
The MTS was about another 15 minute walk, but not bad. I took the subway home and called it a day. Kris and I finalized our plans via Facebook, and I attempted to access my WhatsApp. Another failure.
Sunday was nice. Nothing much worth reporting. I loved wandering around Bangkok, seeing the Royal Palace, and more Wats. One interesting thing was that when we arrived at the Palace, there was a HUGE line of people dressed in black. I asked our guide what they were doing and he explained that they were waiting to pay respects to the king who passed away in 2016. He lies instate for a year, and is then cremated. New coins bearing the likeness of the new king are not made until after the cremation. Pretty fascinating.
That's all from Bangkok. As I write this, I am at the Don Meung Airport, waiting for my flight to Chiang Rai. This is where I will be volunteering for the next week. I think my wifi will be limited so I don't know when I will next be able to write.
I hope you are enjoying this blog. I know that I need a good editor but I write like I talk - in bursts 😉 I call it "8 tracking" - if you are younger than 35, you may have to look this up.
If if I get a chance before I take off, will share a bit about the the organization with which I will be working.