Bali to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Picture a slightly overweight Thai man in a hot pink leotard with a white sheer mini-dress with wings on the back, a flowery headband and a page boy haircut. Now add some disco music, two pretty boys behind him on a little stage and some loud guttural sounds to go with the beat. Add some Richard Simmons-like moves and you’ll know what I saw on the television this morning when I woke up in my basic hotel room near the airport in Bangkok. I won’t add the image of me trying to keep up with this early morning aerobics class!

I rarely turn on a television but waiting for the time I could go eat my free breakfast (a ham and cheese sandwich with cabbage on white bread with the crusts cut off, juice and tea), I decided the television would provide a cultural experience and indeed it did! From infomercials taking place with old people in rice paddies exclaiming about a product that came in a jar to a Thai fashion show, I knew I had woken up in a new place. As I ate my breakfast, I read through a book on the swap shelf called, Thai Love. It was written in 2 languages to guide a man through the process of dealing with Thai women who ply a certain trade. Ok, then.

It’s just another variation on a worldwide theme. In Bali yesterday morning, as I chatted with my taxi driver on the way to the airport, we got onto the subject of American politics. Since Obama went to school in Indonesia, he is very well thought of in Bali. From there, the conversation went to the Bush administration and then back to Bill Clinton. On this point, Made was clear. “If I was with Monica, I would have done the same thing.” And then the subject turned to how much he wished he had met me earlier as he would like to make me happy too. “You are very beautiful and I like you very much.” Like in the Thai guide to Love, I had to take it all with a grain of salt, but now I can say I had my own version of the Eat, Pray, Love thing without the risk of AIDS (very prevalent in Bali) or a broken heart.

I was glad that I had allowed extra time to get to the airport. The traffic was backed up with cars and scooters on the way to work in the touristy areas. Once at the airport, (undergoing renovation to modernize it), I got a lot of walking in. First, I was told to go to the international building as my destination was Thailand. Once there, they said to go to the domestic terminal as my first flight was to Jakarta. At the desk, it took a whole team of people to get me my boarding pass as they had just started a new computer system the day before and I had a paper ticket. Fortunately, I had plenty of time and patience and eventually I got my boarding passes.

On my first flight, I was seated next to a man named Andy who was my age and had children the same ages as mine. His English was perfect and we chatted about his work with a German company that makes cranes, our children and retirement among other things. For him, the retirement age is 55, a far cry from my 65. As we neared Jakarta, he pointed out the flooding we could see from the air and the hundreds of cargo ships waiting their turn in the harbor. He helped me through the airport until I reached immigration and then said goodbye.

On my flight to Bangkok, I sat next to a young woman who didn’t speak English so I tuned into my seat computer. I watched a video about Bali, about an hour long, that did a great job summarizing my trip with footage of places I’d seen and explanations about customs I had observed. It was so nice to recognize familiar sights and know I’d had a chance to experience them. I loved Bali.

Once on the ground in Bangkok, my usual long-lasting supply of patience was pushed to its limits. Hundreds of people (I had time to count and estimate) filled a giant waiting area several football fields wide. Instead of lines, there were people packed together looking far forward to the immigration counters. From where I stood, I couldn’t see the counters themselves only huge overhead video screens advertising various products. After about 45 minutes of barely moving ahead 3-4 feet, I left my place and started investigating the scene. I noticed one counter that had a real line and two officers, rather than one. I decided it was time to cut bait and start all over. It was a good choice, especially as I met a charming group of Japanese students who had just finished their university studies. After a few days in Bangkok, one was going to bike from one end of Japan to another. I had found a kindred spirit and although I’m not sure he really believed that I had done the same thing in the U.S., the time passed quickly. With a quick glance backwards, I could see that the people standing in my former line were still there. Pfew. My gamble paid off.

I had wondered where my checked bag would be since it had been over an hour since I landed. It was at one of over 25 baggage claim areas and I spotted it quickly waiting for me on the side of the conveyor belt. With another sigh of relief, I quickly cleared customs and found the shuttle bus for my hotel.

By then, it was dark and I had read on Trip Advisor that the only eating options nearby were a 7-Eleven and some street carts so I ordered my dinner from the hotel restaurant. I was the only customer but I still enjoyed my first Thai meal, so familiar from so many Thai restaurants in the U.S. I toasted my arrival with my first Sangha beer, a delicious beverage in the humid air.

After dinner, I took a little walk across the foot bridge on the nearby river. There was a temple where an “orchestra” of instruments similar to the gamelon in Bali were playing while Thai women in fancy dress danced and monks sat nearby. There were several huge floral arrangements with signs on them. Was this some sort of funeral? I have no idea. There were several street dogs hanging around, one of which barked at me a bit, so I headed back for a good night’s sleep.

Going into the Bangkok airport from the arrivals area was as efficient as the entry had been inefficient. I zipped through my check in and security and made my way out to the gate. I loved watching the planes from so many different places land and take off from China or Singapore, places I have yet to experience. I chatted with an Italian man, about his travels to see the 7 wonders of the world. He encouraged me to visit Cambodia and Vietnam, something I an considering for my free time in April.

On the short flight to Chiang Mai, I enjoyed a conversation with a businessman from Singapore, here to set up an international conference. He has to work today but I am here in my guest house finishing up this post surrounded by guidebooks, brochures and a good map, trying to decide how to choose between the many options for tourists here. I have a nice room on the first floor where I can have tea and snacks during the day and a breakfast area for the mornings. This will be my new home for this week and I’m ready to head out and explore. Look out Chiang Mai. Here I come!

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2 Comments

  1. Barbara

     /  March 3, 2012

    Ellen- As I was reading the first paragraph to Jody, Elizabeth, and Andy after a snowshoe in the woods this morning, we were laughing so hard it was tough to keep reading! It sounds like you are meeting some wonderfully friendly people along the way who are so helpful. International travelers seem to have a bond…..

    Stay safe, enjoy!

    Reply
  2. pam perkins

     /  March 3, 2012

    Oh, Ellen, you are such a quick study on how to negotiate
    Asian airports. There is usually some alternative and you quickly figured it out. I love your descriptions, especially of the people you are meeting along the way. I always say that traveling alone brings you closer to people than if you were with one other or in a group. Isn’t it amazing how many people speak English? Thankfully. I’m sorry you don’t have room in your bag, Thailand has fabulous shopping. Biked with Candice and her friends yesterday. She & I commented on your wonderful trip and the fact that your blog just has to be a book someday. Keep on Truckin’

    Reply

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