----------------------------------------------- Google Site Map ----------------------------------------------- Cindy in ...: November 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chiang Mai: Street Food

Street vendors stroll the city, setting up here for a few hours, there for a few hours, on a schedule that corresponds to the maximum traffic for their target customer. A few are permanent fixtures, setting up at the same place at the same time every day.

At schools, ice cream vendors stop near the fences during recess, and money and cones are exchanged between the bars. Snack stands open when school lets out.

Other popular spots are busy street corners, where little restaurants with tables and chairs materialize every evening. On Saturday and Sunday, vendors converge on the walking street. Actually, it's walking streets, plural. Starting in the late afternoon, the main street and parts of several side streets are blocked off to create a huge market. It stretches along Rachadamnern for nearly a mile, branching off into little sub-markets at intersections. These sprout even smaller clusters of vendors.

Some of the food is a little strange looking. And some is really strange, but I'll post about that later. This purlply-red thing is the inside of a dragonfruit. I have a place I like to go for a fruit salad because they include dragonfruit. It's good, and it's nice to get something besides banana, pineapple, and watermelon.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Chiang Mai: The City

The old city in Chiang Mai is surrounded by a moat. The tourist center is inside the moat and between the east moat and the river. I am staying at the Top North Guest House, inside the moat, down a soi (lane).

The sois are crooked and narrow. I've gotten lost a couple of times getting back from Moon Muang, which is the road that runs along the eastern moat. I learned to turn off Moon Muang at the Hash House Harriers pub, only to have the big international meet end and all the signs disappear. So, after being here for over a week, I was still lost getting back to my hotel.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Chiang Mai: A bit on the grubby side

I just noticed the other day that this is a grubby little city. With wats at every turn, restaurants and bars and shops, street markets and signs in Thai script, food vendors and tuktuks, I really never noticed it before. It's not bad in the sense that, say, downtown San Jose, Costa Rica is bad. There are covers on all the utility access points, the sidewalks are relatively intact, there is really very little litter except in vacant lots. There are street cleaners with long-handled rectangular dustpans everywhere. Still, it's grubby.

When I walked down to the western moat, I could see white apartment buildings across the moat and behind a wall. I wonder what it is like there. Are there areas of this town that look modern and well kept and that look as if they could be almost anywhere? One of these days I'll walk over and see.

In the meantime, I don't care if it is a bit grubby. It's an interesting town with an excellent book supply, wonderful food, low prices, pleasant people, hot days, and comfortable nights. It even has cheap internet and free wi-fi. And it took me nearly a month to even notice. It's a good place to pass a month or two or three.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Chiang Mai: The search for free wi-fi

The search for free wifi has been successful. I found free wifi! In a food court! What could be better? Free wifi in a bar, that's what, especially in a bar that's a whole lot closer than the food court at Pantip Plaza. A bar/restaurant called The Pirates' Cove, on Ratchamanka, next to the school, has a wifi sign in front, and when I asked, they said it was free. So I lugged the laptop over to check it out and it works! Day after day, unlike Pantip Plaza, where the free wifi has disappeared. I like the bar better anyway.

When I go to restaurants or coffee shops that provide free internet access, I feel
obligated to buy something. Well, some places will ask you to leave if you don't. Since the food at the food court is so cheap, it may turn out that paying for tuktuks and eating a cheap meal there would be cheaper than using the restaurant wifi and paying more.

The search started simply enough, with a web site that listed two restaurants that provide free wifi. I checked them out when I was walking around one day, and they never heard of wifi. One of the restaurants had one computer, and it was down. The other had nothing even resembling internet service.
I tried buying an account card, and got it opened before I realized it was for a dial-up service. Back to the hunt. Starbucks provides free wifi in much of the world, but when I checked here charge 150 baht per hour ($4.25). The 3N restaurant, across the moat from Starbucks, provides wifi for 35 baht ($1) per hour, though if you spend 35 baht on food or drink, the first half hour is free.

When I get to my next long-term stop I need to figure this stuff out a lot faster. I'm three weeks into this trip, and I'm still hunting for free internet access? I should be able to get this straightened out in a day or two. I suppose by the end of this year I'll have it downpat, a whole process for finding longer-term accomodation, free wifi, and the cheapest good food.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Chiang Mai: Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and I made it a pool day. After my post-pool nap, I treated myself to an Italian dinner in a nicer place than my usual. Cloth napkin, tablecloth, a rose on the table, and a real live Italian in charge. I had fettucine in artichoke cream sauce, breadsticks, and a glass of wine. The meal was so heavy that I didn't even feel the wine the way I usually do. I did get my wine flush, though. Thank you, Irish ancestors, for those glowing round reddish-pink circles on my cheeks.

While I sipped that wine, I thought about other Thanksgivings I have spent in foreign countries, particularly last year. Jellybean and I were in Ecuador. We went to the Cuenca market in the morning, then took the bus and a taxi to a tiny town called Ingapirca, to see the Inca ruins. We walked up to the site entrance, taking pictures all along the road. When we finally turned around and started back to town, we discovered that the restaurant had closed, and some of the small shops were going to close soon. y going to a couple of stores we managed to cobble together our Thanksgiving dinner. We found canned tuna, crackers, a tomato, cheese, and water. The food last year wasn't as good as what I had this year, but the company was a whole lot better.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Chiang Mai: Open-air Maintenance

Even back in the States, where it is considerably more expensive, I get a manicure and a pedicure every other month or so. To me they are still treats, not the necessary part of grooming that they are for many. Yet even I notice that after a while my feet start to look exceptionally ugly, and I get the needed maintenance. Jellybean says I have some sort of condition that makes callouses and cuticles grow like mad. That's as good an excuse as any for spending money. I have a 'condition'.

I love manicures and pedicures. They feel good. There is something about having someone fuss over you, massage your feet a little, that makes me feel pampered. I am always delighted when I get to a place where I can afford them more often. One place was Miraflores, a suburb of Lima, Peru. I stayed there for six weeks, and had a manicure every week. Even I can afford a two dollar treat once a week.

It is a little more expensive and certainly less plush at Mai's. No big comfortable chairs designed especially for giving pedicures, no manicure table. There I sit on a wooden bench, and prop my foot on a pillow in Mai's lap. I have another pillow in my lap, with a dishpan balanced on top. My hands are in the dishpan, soaking. My choice of polish is limited to ten shades or so, but I found a couple I like, so that's OK.

The salon isn't air-conditioned. That would be difficult, as there are only three walls. The open side looks out on a garden, and there's a fountain bubbling away.

The whole process takes three hours, and during this time I learn a lot about Mai. For someone who speaks minimal English, and has only been studying for two months, she manages to tell me a lot about herself. We agree that we did well in choosing young-looking mothers, because we look (in my case, used to) look younger than we are. We also agree that our hands always give us away.

I teach her to say 'skin' as a one-syllable word, not "suh-kin". She teaches me 'jam', which is Thai for 'Great!'. If you really like something, it is jam.

I'm sure there are more elegant places around. But I like this little hole in the wall, with its missing side and its fountain, and the woman who taught me jam.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chiang Mai: Where did all the stamps go?

Once again, I'm in a country that has abandoned beautiful stamps for machine printed, metered, ugly things. They get my postcards where they should go, but give me no pleasure in the buying, affixing, or dropping in the mailbox.

In fact, I no longer get to perform the latter two tasks. The clerk at the counter peels them off a strip that streams from a small printer and puts the stamps on the postcard for me. Those blue and red and white par avion stickers are gone. The clerk will do that for me, too using a rubber stamp.

Since the clerk counts the postcards, and enters the number into the computer, there is no chance of a mistake. No more frustration at discovering I bought too many of this one and too few of that. There are no struggles to fit the stamps onto the postcard without obliterating the message or part of the address. The old traveler's rule of 'stamp first, write later' no longer applies. There are no complicated directions. No more "two of these and three of these and one of these'. I miss all that.

Some countries printed their stamps in denominations, like money. When the postage for a letter increased, all anyone had to do was add another stamp of the proper denomination. Some countries were just using up the old stamps in the old denominations, as we do in the US. For others is was permanent, cheaper way of printing postage. I'm sure the meters save money, too.

I've heard that you can buy stamps at some stores. I'm going to ask. I'm hoping they don't have machines, and the stamps are pretty.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Chiang Mai: A Pool Day

Pool day. What does that mean? If I got up in the morning (or afternoon) and put on a bathing suit, it's a pool day.

I eat breakfast in the guest house restaurant, next to the pool. I probably eat lunch there. I stay at the pool until I think I'm getting a bit red or until I am ready to move on to something else.

Sometimes I talk. The other day I spent a couple of hours talking to a Dutch man. His girlfriend wandered by once in a while to smear suntan lotion on his bald head.

Mostly, though, I read at the pool. I read at my breakfast table, I read on my lounge chair, I sit on the edge of the pool and read. I slide down to sit on the shelf that runs around the shallow end, and I read. I stand at the edge, with my book resting on the pool deck, my CocaCola Light perched beside it, and I read. I also float a lot, to add some variety to my routine.

That's a pool day.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Chiang Mai: Loi Kratong T-shirt, 1989

Chiang Mai is a craft center, and one of the tourist things to do is go to the 'factories' to watch things being made by hand. Most of them are in villages that specialize in a particular craft. Thus you go to the 'umbrella village' or the 'celadon village'.

My first time in Chiang Mai, back in 1989, I hired a tuktuk and did a factory tour. I bought a paper umbrella, a laquerware box, and a small celadon vase, and took some nice photographs.

At the umbrella factory, the women who do the hand painting on the umbrellas look very carefully at every woman who comes in. They are looking for some accessory with a blank space on it, a space that they can paint. I had them paint the front of my little red canvas pocketbook.

For years I used it whenever I traveled, with its little flower decoration gradually fading. It outlasted the pocketbook, though. Now I wish I had cut it out and kept it, maybe pasted it into my journal. Instead this origianl work of art went into the trash.

I still have my other original work of art. They don't do festival T-shirts here, and I really wanted one. Every day I walked past this man's shop, where he air-brushed T-shirts. Finally I asked about festival T-shirts. He thought it was a pretty strange idea. After a day or two, I asked what it would cost for a custom T-shirt. He gave me a price, but couldn't understand what I wanted. I had to tell him it should be a picture of some festival activity, maybe kratongs. It should say, 'Loi Kratong Chiang Mai Thailand 1989'. A strange request, but he agreed.

As soon as I saw it, I ordered two as presents for the couple I had been hanging out with. The woman was a nurse practicioner, and had taken me back to their room one night, peered down my throat, pronounced it strep, and told me what to order at the pharmacy. I had been looking for a thank you gift, and this was perfect.

Since then I've been saying that I'm going to frame that T-shirt, or at least the picture part. And I will, one of these years. After all, it is a rare item. Only three Loi Kratong 1989 T-shirts were ever produced!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Chiang Mai: Good food?

Maybe I should call this post "Food #1", because I will surely write about food again.

The food here is amazing in taste, presentation, appearance, and variety. What it isn't is healthy. It looks healthy. Heaps of vegetables in a soup-like curry sauce, steamed rice,
grilled satay, glazed fruits. It looks great.

But that soup is loaded with fat and salt, and possibly made with artery clogging coconut milk. The chicken in it was fried. And you eat that satay with peanut sauce. Want an ear of corn? The vendor will slice the kernels from the cob, mix them with condensed milk and sugar, and serve the delicious results in a cup. Watch someone make fried rice, and wince when you see the sugar added.

There are other unhealthy options. Want Italian? Like carbonara sauce? You can have it. Belgain waffles? Common. Sourbraten? No problem. How about a taco. Si, si.

But it tastes so good.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chiang Mai: An Errand Day

So, what does an errand day look like? It usually involves a fair amount of walking, some confusing directions, and a lot of gesturing and pointing. Today was no exception. I started off after breakfast, ready to accomplish just a couple of things.

First, I wanted to trade my book in. Easy, right next to the breakfast place. I turned in the old book, picked out the new one, and three dollars later I was on my way.

Second, I wanted to find a post office and mail some postcards. My map was confusing, and I had to ask directions four times. One of those times I was actually on the right street, but was told I had to go another two blocks and turn right. And this was from the guy who spoke good English.

By the time I mailed the postcards, with very disappointing metered stamps, I was dripping with sweat. I had walked over a mile. I saw an air-conditioned internet cafe, and went in, just to cool off. It was really cheap, 10 baht per minute. Eventually I left and walked another mile back to the guest house and a nice shower,

Third, I wanted to get some copies made and totally forgot. But I did pick up some insect repellent, so I got three things done anyway.

The walk itself was nice. I went through some neighborhoods with no English signs, and saw some nice old buildings. I'll take my camera next time. Never leave home without it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Chiang Mai: What to write about?

How do I decide what to write about? I could give you an account of each day. I could then just write one or two posts and tweak them a little. I could have a "pool day" post, and an "errand day" post, and an "average day" post. Every once in a while I could leaven the mix with some unusual activity, such as visiting a wat. I'd die of boredom.

So, how do I decide? First, I look at my photos. If I took a picture, or tried to take one, maybe I should post about it. I think about the last few days. Did I talk with anyone interesting, notice anything unusal? What did I do with my time? I look at e-mails I received. Any questions? sometimes a post in some travel forum provides the seed. I look around me. What is happening right now?

So far I haven't run out of things to say. Stop laughing. It has happened a few times.
Surely. It must have. I'm sixty-one years old.

One advantage of posting this way is that I'm not dependent on dates. Sometimes, like now, I sit down and write four or five posts at once on my laptop while I'm offline, dig around my files and memory card for photos that I want to share, and copy them to a read/write disk. I take that to an internet cafe, and load them into blogger. Then, any day that I don't feel up to writing, or just would rather be at the pool or wandering around town in a pool of sweat, I stop in an internet cafe, review the draft, reset the date, and publish.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Chiang Mai: What Comes Next?

Maybe it is time I wrote about what I am doing here, and what the plan is for the coming year. Not that I feel in any way impelled to stick to the plan.

Last year I spent six weeks in Miraflores, Peru, a suburb of Lima. I didn't do much of anything, but I just couldn't get myself to move on. I was, horror of horrors, tired of traveling. Not necessarily tired of being in a different country, but tired of moving, of packing, of learning where things are in a town and leaving three days later, of hunting for a place to stay, and a place to eat, and figuring out which bus to take. I was burned out.

Then I had another awful summer. When I started to feel better, and a bit more rational, I started thinking about what to do next. My plan had been to look for work teaching in China. After exchanging e-mails with some people already teaching there, I decided it wouldn't work for me. A country that thinks elevators are unnecessary for the first eight floors is not a good place for my arthritic knees. Nor am I fit enough to routinely climb a lot of stairs. I also got an unexpected look at myself in a mirror one day and thought, would I hire me? Answer, "No."

So I made this plan to come to South East Asia and stay for two or three months at a time in one place. Staying put would give me a different perspective on the towns and countries I visited. It would cost less than moving around. After six months in the States, that was important.

Chiang Mai was first on my list. I had been meaning to come back ever since my first visit in 1989. Here was my chance.

My other plans include Penang, in Malaysia, and both Lake Toba (Sumatra) and Ubud (Bali) in Indonesia. Working my schedule to avoid rainy season as much as possible, I end up with three months in Thailand, a month or two in Penang, two to four months at Lake Toba, and two to four months in Bali. Lake Toba is the only place on my list that I haven't visited before.

Somewhere in there I might do two weeks in Laos or spend a little time on Phuket or in Krabi. I need some tropical beach time, Krabi sounds really good. Phuket is supposed to be beautiful, but relatively expensive. However, it's not outrageous.

Right now I have a reservation to fly to the US on September 2, 20007. But now, at the beginning of the trip, I'm considering October. I started the trip on October 25th, so I have to use my return ticket by October 24th.
None of which I have to worry about for a while. My next big deadline is in December, when I'll be applying for a thirty day visa extension.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Chiang Mai: Staying Put

The Top North Guest House is plush by my standards. For one thing, the bed is not the only furniture. I have an armoir for my clothes, a nightstand, a dressing table/desk, a chair, and two small benches. The goodies continue: a hot water shower, a front desk that is staffed all the time, a restaurant, daily maid service, towels and soap, a balcony, and a swimming pool. A bit of a splurge at 400 baht (35 baht to the dollar).

After a few days here, I decided to stay for two months. I was too jet-lagged to even check out the places next door. So I paid 14,000 baht to keep the room through December 27th, and I got credit for the money I had spent for the first four nights. The deal works out to $200 per month, or $6.33 per night.

I felt strange giving them so much money ($400) all at one time. Not because I am worried about the money, but because I haven't committed to staying anywhere for such a long time since I bought the house. I'll be here, in one town, for a minimum of two whole months.

A few days ago I met a couple from Canada who have a serviced one-bedroom apartment outside the moat, in an area called Central. It's near the mall and the university. They are paying about 5500 baht a month, while I am paying 7000. I've since heard they can go for as low as 3500 baht ($100).

I felt a little pang for the extra money I'm spending, but it went away quickly. A three month lease is required, and I'm not ready for that. I wouldn't be able to walk into this area. I'd have to take a tuktuk (a golf-carty thing with a motorcycle providing the power), taxi, or songtheuw (small pickup with bench seats along both sides of the truck bed and a camper cover). Besides, Lucy and Ralph don't like the neighborhood much and they aren't even stuck there. They have a motorbike to get around on. If I tried that, I'd have road rash in about a minute, and be dead in a week. All in all, I'm quite happy.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chiang Mai: Shopping

I'm trying to spend as little as possible, but I have done some shopping. My first purchase was a battery for my watch. Dull, but performing the mundane tasks of life makes me realize I am traveling for a long time, that this is not a vacation, but my life. Now I need toothpaste.

My other two purchases were a headband that I wear as a sweatband, and a painted fan to carry with me. I bought them on the weekend walking street. The main street runs from the east gate through the old town. Every Saturday and Sunday evening, it is closed to traffic along with several side streets.

Vendors set up on the sidewalks, and customers stroll along, in the middle of the road. This creates an enormous market, since the street is over a mile long. Handicrafts from the different hill tribes are for sale, along with shoes and art and whatever else you might find in a combination craft sale and flea market.

In addition to wanting to see just how cheaply I can live, it would be hard to buy too many souvenirs. I can't remember what I have at home in the way of tablecloths and bedspreads and vases and baskets. So I will buy only practical things.

For instance, I brought a large daypack designed to carry my laptop and all its appurtenances. It just isn't suitable for wandering around, and I use it only to haul the computer and its accompanying stuff to a place with wifi. Since it won't work as a daily bag, and the smaller one I brought for daily use is looking worn, I'll definitely have another opportunit to shop. The strap of the camera case I got in Peru is starting to fray. Another excuse to prowl the markets.

The night market. The walking street on Saturday and Sunday. The daily market. The flower market. They all seem more interesting when I have a mission.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Chiang Mai: Happy Feet

My feet were still hurting. Resting all day didn't help them recover from nearly five miles of pavement pounding. So I treated them to a one-hour massage at the sidewalk place, while I waited for the parade that closes Loi Kratong. I wanted a half hour massage, but the woman didn't hear the 'half'. By the time I realized what had happened, it was way too late. I wasn't going to just do one foot.

The massage wasn't always pleasant. Thai massages tend to be a little rough, but I always feel great afterwards. This time I only felt great from the knee down. My thighs still ached, but I could walk without wincing.

I watched most of the parade from a small table at a sidwalk restaurant. Since reservations were required for these prime seats, I felt lucky when a couple got up and abandoned their table. This was the 'big' parade, not because it was longer but because the floats were bigger.

One float in particular got a lot of attention. The dancers that preceded the float and those on the float were exceptionally good. Even I could tell they were better than anyone else I had seen. People crowded around when they had a rest stop, taking pictures and staring at the amazing positions of the dancers arms and legs. When it was over, everyone applauded, but no one moved. The crowd held them up.

Loi Kratong is over, but next week there is a special show at the elephant showground. From now until the end of January I can go to an international flower show and competition that I've heard is really excellent. And I can go for half price (50 baht) due to my advanced age.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Chiang Mai: Bad Luck?

I bought a kratong, a pretty one,with orchids. I added a coin. I lit the candle and the incense sticks. I did everything I should have. I mentally put my troubles into the boat. Health, I thought. It was slippery on the river bank, so I asked a Thai man, already safely crouched by the water, to launch my little boat. The poor thing stayed put in the water, missed by the current. The breeze blew out the candle, and even the incense sticks stopped burning. Then everything just tipped over and it sank. Bad luck. Very bad luck.

My lantern was more successful. I stood in the street watching it rise, until it became one of the dozens of bright yellow points in the sky.

I walked about four and a half miles today, first hunting for free wifi, then returning to the guest house for a nap, then following a parade. The sinking of the kratong occurred at the end of the day, and I still had to drag myself back to my room, over a mile away. As I walked I looked longingly at the curbside massage setups. Sixty baht (less than two dollars for a 30 minute massage). But it was getting late, and I had a long, slow, dragging walk ahead of me. I have promised myself a pedicure later this week, when the Loi Kratong festival is over. Three dollars, and my feet deserve it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Chiang Mai: Loi Kratong

Festival! Loi Kratong! I get to put all my troubles in a banana leaf boat and float them down the river. When I was here for the festival in 1989 I was still working at Fannie Mae. I needed two boats for my troubles. Apparently it works, since I quit in July of 1990 and went traveling in December. I'll float a few boats this time. My poor feet deserve a boat of their own.

A kratong is a banana leaf boat containing a flower, a candle or incense stick, and a coin. You put your troubles in the boat, light it up, and launch it on the river. The farther it floats, the farther away your troubles will go. A nice idea. The coin is for young boys who swim out and push your boat farther into the current so you will have better luck. I saw that happen in Pi Mai in 1991, but I don't think they do it here. I wouldn't go into the Mai Ping on a dare.

Another tradition is launching large paper lanterns. They are powered by hot air generated from lighting a burner inside the lantern. After opening up the lantern and lighting it up, you hold on to the bottom rim of the lantern until it fills with enough hot air to send it straight up. They sail high into the black sky, which is dotted with dozens of glowing yellow lights. I saw people writing things on the lanterns first, so I'll have to find out what that means. Good luck, I assume.

A woman staying at the guest house told me that the Hash House Harriers closing ceremony included launching a thousand lanterns at one time. HHH had to get permission from air traffic control, and wait until 10:30 p.m. so they wouldn't cause a plane crash. Or maybe air traffic control didn't want to deal with foreign pilots reporting UFO sightings.

I hope I can stay awake and moving long enough the next two days to launch my kratongs and see the night parades. The spirit is willing but the feet are weak.

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.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Leaving: The Build-up

Once again I spent a miserable summer, sick with multiple infections, worn out by antibiotics, and struggling with blood sugar levels and depression. I was too tired to even talk on the phone, and had a whole month of rollover minutes on my cell phone when I left for Thailand.

When I started to feel well enough to drive more than a couple of miles and thought I could stay awake for more than two hours at a time, I headed for North Carolina. Jellybean talked me into making the trip, knowing that it would be good for me to be around people instead of hiding in a motel room. And it was. Thanks, Jellybean. I stayed for three weeks, made a quick trip to Skip's and CR's, then returned to Jellybean's place. She had offered to store my car for me, so I made plane reservations with a departure from Wilmington, North Carolina.

Since depression isn't exactly what one would call a state of high aspirations and efficient execution, I left booking my flight until the last minute. There were no frequent flyer seats available. Suprisingly, the leg causing all the trouble was Wilmington-Atlanta. After making several calls, being caught in a system-wide reservations crash at Delta, and getting nothing but discouraging results, I spoke to a very resourceful agent who solved my problem. She suggested I fly to Atlanta the night before. And so I did. It made the whole trip a bit more expensive, but still way less than actually purchasing a ticket.

Later, I booked a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on a discount airline, AirAsia. Once again, I left it to the last minute, and paid $25 plus tax (a little over $40) instead of the $17 plus it would have cost me if I had planned better.

After running around at the last minute, I finally was packed and ready to go. Jellybean drove me to the little Wilmington airport. I was on my way! At last!