Thursday, July 22, 2010

Final Details of Southeast Asia


*Audience Participation Portion: Please imagine the red dot is on Indianapolis and not Bangkok. The map was originally made on a Mac with Illustator and now I have Inkscape and cannot open the EPS to edit it.

So, yeah, we're back in America. I mentioned that earlier. I figured I would fill you in on the final details of our trip and the last few tidbits I have to share.

Saturday, 10 July, we caught the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok at 2:50pm. This time we got sleeper seats. They were not air-conditioned and I found that way more comfortable than the air-con seats we had on the ride in the opposite direction. This time around we were too smart to fall for their meal tricks. However, we were also arriving in Bangkok at 5:30 in the morning, so they weren't offering an overly-priced breakfast on this train anyway.

On the Train

Once again, the views from the train were lovely. Train travel, especially over long distances is way preferable to the bus. Even if we had splurged for the first, first, first-class bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok it still would have been like 12 hours in a seat on a bus. This way we could walk around and then at night we had relatively comfortable beds. The only disadvantages is they do not turn the car lights out. If you want dark for sleeping you need to draw your curtain. However, if you want the breeze from the fan (especially for top bunk people with no window) you need to leave your curtain open. I opted for the open curtain.

Cale and I settled down to sleep pretty early (it was like 8 or 9pm). It was pretty good that I started sleeping so early. Even though I had taken a Benadryl to aid with my sleeping, I still woke up every hour or two. No reason for that; I just couldn't seem to stay asleep.

Our train was scheduled to arrive in Bangkok at 5:30am. Maybe that is the time we crossed the line into the Bangkok metro area or something because we sure didn't pull into the train station until 7am. Oh well, the subway didn't start running until like 6am anyway, so if we had arrived at 5:30 we would have just had to wait around.

We went immediately to the train to the subway. We switched to the skytrain at an interchange station and took that to the stop for the Buri House (where we had stayed with Nancymarie and Hayden three months ago...almost to the day even). While sitting in the Buri House waiting room we ran into Portia (another Peace Corps volunteer we had met in Chiang Mai...it's a small world after all). After checking in we proceeded to crash for several hours in obscenely cold air-con. We already had a full day and it was only like 9am.

We quickly discovered that the Buri House is in a pretty expensive part of town. The roads are lined with high-end malls and interior design shops. If you are getting married this must be bridal row or something, with all the dress and bridal-planning shops. Cale was still a little weary from a bout of stomach problems he had experienced in Chiang Mai and didn't want a repeat just as we were going to begin our 30-hour airplane adventure, so he didn't want to eat street food. The restaurants in the area were pretty expensive (one Korea joint we went into had a buffet that cost 500 baht..that's $15USd!). So we ended up eating McDonalds in the mall (don't tell anyone...or that we had KFC in the mall for dinner).

The check out from our guesthouse was 12pm Monday, 12 July. Our flight wasn't until 12:30am Tuesday, 13 July. For those of you who have trouble with the whole midnight/noon am/pm thing, that means our flight was so late Monday night it was really Tuesday morning. It also meant we had 12 hours to kill from when we checked out of our guesthouse until our flight took off. At first we considered seeing a movie and getting food and wandering around. However, we had all our luggage to deal with, the area of town we were in was expensive and, well, we are lazy. So instead after checking out from our guesthouse we caught a taxi to the airport. That's right cats and kittens, only 12 hours early for our flight.

How to kill almost 10 hours in the Bangkok airport before even going through security:

1. Wander around the entire pre-security area. Get a feel for the restaurants and 7-11s. Keep an eye out for any electrical outlets near chairs.

2. Find a comfortable place to set up camp at one far, abandoned end near the restrooms. Choose seating strategically to keep an eye on all the electrical outlets. For some strange reason, all seats near electrical outlets were taken and most of the people in the seats weren't even using the outlet. Also, note to BKK, why go through all the effort to wire up that support beam and put an outlet in if you are only going to include a single plug. Why not two plugs? Or, heaven forbid, several?

3. Watch Alien on the laptop and drink a beer (cause you can do that anywhere).

4. Experience false advertising after ordering the "Burger Set" at the Black Canyon Coffee outlet in the airport. I counted, I got less than 10 fries with my burger and I won't even get into the burger.

5. Read

6. Take turns walking around.

7. Watch Where the Wild Things Are on the laptop and drink a beer.

8. Take turns walking around.

9. Read.

10. Get really excited about the prospect of checking into your flight.

11. Get your hopes dashed and return to waiting.

12. Check in for your flight. Watch an old man in line ahead of you open his suitcase and pull out socks and pants and proceed to get dressed while waiting in line.

13. Passport inspection.

14. Security.

15. Now begins the waiting on the other side of security.

We were flying with two large groups. One was a group of sporty looking people from Nepal. The other was some sort of large group of people who all appeared to work for the same company (the matching windbreakers were the clue). Both the Nepalese and the employees were wearing laminated pieces of A4 like unaccompanied minors that listed all their travel info and their names and whatnot. Can these grown people not travel on their own? Is there some worry they might get lost? I suppose if this is their first international flight. But they were more than 20 people in each group, I feel like it would be tricky to get lost.

Anyway, we fly to Korea. I have very little memory of this. It was five hours. I think there might have been breakfast. I think I made the mistake of choosing the rice porridge, which would have been fine if I hadn't added the "green tea" flavor packet that contained seaweed. Had I known about the seaweed I would have left out the packet.

Next we waited in the Seoul airport for four hours or so. This was done mostly in a delirious haze in and out of consciousness. Before boarding the flight to the US, Cale was made to throw away his bottle of water, even though he had just bought it on the other side of security.

The flight to Chicago was 12 hours. Our seat mate was a little too chatty for my liking. I now know all the details of his life. Where he used to live, where he lives now, why he was in Bangkok, his wife, his divorce, his dead grandfather, etc., etc, etc. I think he took the hint when I put my earphones in and didn't remove them for the next 12 hours. I watched Alice in Wonderland, Date Night, and Youth in Revolt. I tried to watch Bounty Hunter and Valentine's Day, but they were too terrible to continue with.

Lunch was chicken and mashed potatoes (my seat mate doesn't eat meat, but doesn't advance order a vegetarian meal, instead he just lets you know he cannot eat anything on his plate, do you want it? so I gave him my salad). Dinner was either Korean noodles or seafood. Even though our seat mate could see the Korea noodle dish in front of me and Cale (and how it was entirely vegetables) before making his choice, he chose the seafood. After opening it he discovered it was full of (surprise) seafood, which he could not eat. Also it was in a cream sauce and he cannot eat milk. Or gluten. I am sure the stewardesses love him. Some time in the middle of the night (to be honest, I have no idea what time it was) they came around with a snack, either these crazy pizza sticks or tuna-rice balls that were in a triangle instead of a ball.

Aside from the time I walked in on an old lady in the bathroom (you have to pull the lock so the door says occupied!) the flight was pretty uneventful. Just long.

We landed in Chicago and drank a beer that wasn't Chang or Angkor (or the like). I also showed an old lady with very little English how to use the automatic flush toilets. There is just something about me and old ladies and toilets I guess.

When we finally arrived in Indy we had been in transit for more than 40 hours. Our Tuesday had been more than 30 hours long and it was only 4pm Tuesday there. We still had eight more hours of Tuesday to get through.

The last of the tidbits will be in the next blog entry.

— Sara

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