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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Leaving: Getting to Chiang Mai

Sixty hours after leaving for the airport in Wilmington, North Carolina I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I left around 5 p.m. Wednesday, and arrived at the Top North Guest House at about the same time on Saturday. I lost 12 hours to time zones and the good old international date line, but the rest of the time I spent traveling.

First, I stayed overnight in Atlanta because there were no frequent flyer seats available on a normal connection to the Atlanta - Seoul leg. Then, after the fifteen hour flight to Seoul, a two hour layover, and a five hour plus flight to Bangkok, I spent another night in a hotel.

It was not really a night, more like a late morning, since I arrived at about midnight, walked forever, waited a long time for luggage, had trouble getting money out of an ATM, then took a taxi 40 minutes into the city, since I couldn't find a reasonably priced hotel near the new airport. The airport was supposed to open November 1. Instead it opened in mid-September. The only hotel that was ready costs $120 per night, a ridiculous price. I got to bed at about 3 a.m. Bangkok time, 3 p.m. my time. I just lay there, unable to sleep until about 6 a.m local time. My wake-up call came at 8:30. Oh joy.

Saturday morning, another long taxi ride (200 baht, 35 baht to the dollar, you do the math), a delayed flight, one last taxi, and finally I was in my room. I collapsed in bed, and slept until the next afternoon. The sleep I got along the way didn't seem to help.

Fifteen hours is a long time to spend on a plane, but since I had a TV set into the back of the seat in front of me, a remote, movies on demand, and some simple games to play, the time passed fairly quickly. Four movies, a little Minesweeper, a nap or two, a few meals, some reading, and it was time for an upright and locked tray table.

Breaking up the journey with two layovers seemed to be an advantage at first. Getting two nights sleep along the way should have made it a lot easier, if more expensive. Not so. I went through security three times: in Wilmington on the 25th, in Atlanta on the 26th, and in Bangkok on the 28th. I checked in three times, and collected luggage three times. I took four extra taxi/shuttle rides, and unpacked and packed twice. Connections straight through would have been better. I'd crossed the Pacific eleven times before this trip, and I now know that I prefer to check my bags and not see them until I reach my final destination.

My way of coping psychologically with these long plane, train, and bus rides is to forget there is an outside world. I pretend everyone lives in a long tube, eats when told, and climbs over other people every time a bathroom break is needed. The layovers interfere with that delusion. I just hope I remember all this the next time I book a long trip.

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