Monday, February 29, 2016

So, this last blog will cover the last two days – Friday & Saturday. As my last days in Thailand, I definitely had mixed emotions. On the one hand, 10 days is not nearly enough time here. I could easily have spent a week in Pai and a week in Chiang Mai alone, plus several days in Bangkok. That doesn’t even cover the south of the country! Jess and I agree that northern Thailand is the perfect place to hide away from the world and write a book. On the other hand, I am definitely missing Danny and home.

Travel has really morphed for me over the years. Of course, I love the adventure and discovery. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that bit. But, the manner in which I travel, the things that I enjoy and the comforts (or lack thereof) have changed a lot. I suppose this is normal as you get older. It’s been interesting to experience, though. On our last trip in 2015, I was kind of in this middle ground of feeling like an adult and wanting to avoid the party scene and loud hostel situations, yet also not quite willing to admit to it or make the changes to my travel mode. This time, however, I fully embrace my desire to pay more for comforts (ie: location and air conditioning in Pai). I also realize that Home is not something to dread or fear. Home is wonderful and comfortable; travel kind of acts as a contrast that makes one really appreciate home. This has become so much more apparent now that I am engaged and have someone to miss.

Anyway, on to the good stuff. Friday morning we had an open schedule (yay!!) and agreed to go back to the restaurant we’d had on Wednesday night for breakfast. We got up and packed some of our stuff, then headed down the road to the restaurant. It was about 9:30am, and Jess ordered Eggs Benedict, but I couldn’t resist the Massaman Curry. It felt so weird to eat that so early, but I suppose most Asian country’s breakfast fare is incredibly similar to every other meal. So really, I was just being authentic.

We took photos in the beautiful back patio area, and relaxed with our meal. Once we were finished, we went back to the hotel to finish packing and getting ready to head to the airport. Our flight was at 1:15pm, and we decided to leave the hotel by 11:30am in order to get there in time. Rather than deal with trying to negotiate a fare with a taxi, we had the hotel arrange a car for us for only 100TBH each. Well worth the extra ~20TBH to not deal with the hassle. Once we had collected all of our luggage and headed down stairs, we checked out. The hotel actually gave us each a cute cloth elephant keychain as a souvenir. I thought that was so nice!!

The car that picked us up wasn’t a taxi; I actually think that one of the hotel workers or owners probably contracted their friend to drive. But, it was comfortable and, like I said, not much more than a taxi would have likely been. We got to the airport in about 25 minutes, and dropped our bags at the counter. Chiang Mai is technically an international airport, but it is very small. From the time we walked in the door to sitting down at our gate was no more than 15 minutes. Such a breeze!

The flight to Bangkok was fine; a bit of turbulence but ultimately uneventful. Jessica was sitting across the aisle form me, and there was a Sweedish couple next to her. The man was trying to get Jessica to change seats so he could have the aisle without actually asking her to do so, and she wasn’t having it! I would have done the same thing, I think… aisle seats are prime real estate, particularly on small regional flights like this one.

Anyway, we got to Bangkok and got our stuff from baggage claim and headed to get a taxi. When we’d each landed in Bangkok before, we’d had a private car arranged, so this was our first experience with a taxi. We walked with the crowd towards the Taxi sign. We turned a corner and ran into the end of a HUGE line. It led into a room with glass walls where it split into 6 different lines. These lines all led to terminals where you told the attendant where you needed to go and they would make sure the taxi knew where to go and that they would use the meter. It was a good idea, but the line was huge and the room was packed with people. I had my big backpack on my back and my small pack on my front, and I was not looking forward to waiting in that line with 25lb or so on my shoulders. But, wait we did. The couple in front of us tried to split between two lines to then pick the fastest when ropes started. However, we edged the wife out of line when she dawdled at one point. Ultimately, it probably didn’t make much difference, but it felt like we got further! Finally about 40 minutes later we got to the front of the line and told them where we were going. The taxi driver was very friendly and we took off to our final hotel: Lebua @ State Tower.

This hotel was 5-star and was actually featured in the Hangover 2 movie. I had gotten an amazing price on, and thought that we could end our trip with some luxury. It was definitely fancy! Jess and I marveled at the beautiful fresh flowers all over the marble and glass lobby. The staff were extremely good as well. Once we got checked in, we headed up to our room. The places we’d been staying were nice, but basic. Jessica was particularly excited to be in such a nice place for our final night. We got into our room and were really floored! It was a suite, and you walked into a sitting room area. The hallway had a kitchenette and closets on the right, and big etched glass double sliding doors on the left that led into a stunning bathroom. Finally at the end of the hall was the bedroom, with two twin beds and a balcony with a fantastic view.

The balcony was locked but when the porter came with our bags, he offered to unlock it. We accepted and the porter left. When we stepped out on the balcony, it was kind of surreal! The city stretched out before us. It wasn’t night yet, the view would only improve, but it was really cool. We were on the 22nd floor, and there were still SO many above us!

We decided to relax in the hotel for a bit then went out in search of some sustenance. We had skipped lunch, and it was around 5pm when we found a bar about 0.5km away. We ordered a pizza and some cocktails. Tonight was treat-yo-self night! The pizza was decent, but we were still planning to have a nice dinner later on. The bar was owned by a foreigner; I placed my bet on Canada based on his very slight accent. We never found out since he only informed us of the happy hour specials then left. The waitress, on the other hand, spoke no English whatsoever and even her Thai was questionable; when we ordered, we said the English words but pointed to the menu which had the Thai translation. This girl had to write out the words for pepperoni and garlic in Thai letter by letter, as if she was not literate at all. It was really strange.

Rejuvinated, we headed back to the hotel to rest and get cleaned up for our last night in Bangkok! We decided to go to the rooftop bar in our hotel for a drink with a view. I borrowed a dress from Jessica, as I hadn’t brought anything too nice. We cleaned up nice!

We had to go to the ground floor and change elevators in order to access the bar on the 64th floor (!!), and there was a line for that one. As we were waiting in the line, two guys were arguing with a staff member who was playing bouncer for the elevators. Rather than checking IDs, though, he was checking dress code. These two guys were in shorts and ratty flip flops and sneakers. They were definitely not up to snuff, and were trying to beg the guy to let them in since they “came from so far.” Nope, he wasn’t having it.

When we got up to the bar, we walked out to the patio area and got a good look at the view. Amazing!! We grabbed an available cocktail table and each ordered a drink. Mine was a martini and it was 590THB – more than any other meal I’d had, and even more than some of my entire day’s worth of meals! When a couch seat opened up, we moved over and were able to sit by the edge of the patio. We took some photos and enjoyed the view. The drinks were good but horribly overpriced. We were definitely paying for the location.

When we decided it was time to find some food, we paid (the final bill adding 10% service fee plus 7% VAT… ridiculous) and left the bar, and a staff person asked if we wanted to go to the other bar. I figured, why not just go take a look? She guided us to the opposite side of the floor and out the door. This side was a bit larger and more grand. We skipped the overpriced drinks in favor of just some quick pictures, then left.

We’d originally planned on a nice dinner, but after paying the equivalent of $20 USD for a single drink, we decided we were happy enough with the type of food we’d been having, which typically set us back around $3 per meal. In our cockatil attire, we headed out on the street and got some good ol’ Thai street food. I had noodle soup, which was pretty good. As we were walking back to the hotel (not a far jaunt by any means), a beggar who had approached us while we ate on the street again stretched out his hands pleadingly. I couldn’t tell if he was blind or had a mental illness. I held up my hands, palms out about chest level and said No (once again, Jess teasing me that I couldn’t ever just ignore them), and this fool REACHED OUT AND TOUCHED ME. Not just touched me, but touched my breast! I was completely blindsided and appalled, and let out a squeal of disgust and shoved his hand off me.

After a second of shock, my mind righted itself and I realized that I do not think he did this intentionally. Of course, it’s horrifying either way, but it made me feel just a bit better to think that it was an accident. Like I said, besides being dirty, he appeared to have something wrong with him. Regardless, I was reeling and agitated. It was definitely time to call it a night!

We got to the room and spent the rest of the evening watching Bravo on TV and taking turns enjoying a soak in the big bathtub.

The night morning, Saturday, both Jess and I slept in with the blackout curtains drawn. I hadn’t been able to sleep past about 7 or 7:30 the entire trip, and it wasn’t much later than that, but it felt so wonderful to lounge in the bed for as long as I wanted. We had decided to stay at the hotel, once again, until we had to check out. We had plans for the day, but didn’t need to leave for the airport until about 7pm, so that gave us about 7 hours from check out.

We enjoyed every possibly moment of the air conditioned luxury before heading downstairs at 11:50am. At the desk, the porters asked if we wanted to store our luggage, and we happily handed it off to them. We left the hotel and before we got to the sky train station, we stopped for lunch. I’d found Nalin Café on TripAdvisor and it did  not disappoint. I’d been waiting for my “WOW” meal (well, outside what I cooked myself in Pai), and the Pad Thai here was definitely it!!! So delicious. Our spring rolls were also wonderful and fresh. We were now properly fueled up and ready to hit the Chatuchak market once again.

We took the sky train to Mo Chit like old pros, changing trains at Siam with ease. You’d think we’d been here before! We got off the train and headed into the throngs of people crowding the vendors that lined the street. We spotted some fresh pomegranate juice being sold, and grabbed two bottles for refreshment in the mid-day heat. Since we’d been here before, we knew exactly where we were heading: Section 7… the Art section.

I’d spent the last week dreaming about the art I’d seen at the market, and one artist in particularly. I’d talked with Danny and had decided to get at least one, if not more, piece. I would have to bring it home without a frame, then have it stretched in Austin. But, the price was too good to pass up and I was enamored with it. 

The artist recognized me, I think. I asked about the price of three pieces I particularly liked, and checked the dimensions against the walls I was considering hanging them on. I then asked him if he would give me a discount for buying multiple, and he agreed to 20% off. I did some calculations and decided to buy three. It would set me back just under $500 total. I was/am SO THRILLED with these purchases… Not only is it beautiful, but its actual art. Not a print, not an Ikea reproduction. This might be one of the most adult purchases I’ve ever made!

The artist and his assistant told us to come back in 30 minutes while they prepared the canvases and rolled them into a canister to be transported. I was going to check the canister as one of my bags, rather than spend money mailing it. So, for about an hour or so, Jessica and I prowled the market for last minute items we wanted to pick up. I got a few more gifts and an elephant card-holder I’d seen my hotel use that I was now obsessed with having for my office. We picked up my box containing the three canvases and headed back to the hotel. I really wish I’d have just broken down and gotten either a tuk-tuk or a taxi to the hotel, because that box made the sky train quite miserable! But, I finally made it, hauling an almost 5 foot long box along. I suppose the benefit was that no one crowded me for fear of getting whacked by my parcel.

At the hotel, we stored our recent purchases with our luggage and cooled off in the lobby for a while. Around 4:30 we headed to an early dinner at another TripAdvisor recommendation, but this time for one last Thai curry. My red curry with chicken did not disappoint! I am proud, also, that I can handle authentic Thai food ordered “spicy”! I sometimes think that when I order spicy in America, what I get is somewhere around medium for what the same meal would be in its home country. However, I realized on this trip that nope! I can actually handle real spicy.

We finished up our delicious last supper and trekked back to the hotel to change for our flights. We had both strategically packed so we’d be able to access our plane outfits (yoga pants, a comfy t-shirt, and a sweater for me) without completely unpacking. We made use of the clean bathrooms at the hotel and got ready to get our taxi. We left around 6:20, earlier than I’d planned, but it was fine because there was quite a bit of traffic. We got to the airport around 7:30 or so, and since Jessica couldn’t check in for her flight online, this was perfect timing.

I dropped my bag off and had took my box of art to the oversized luggage drop off point. No extra fees – yay! Jessica had to stand in a big line to check in, so I, like the wonderful friend that I am (heh heh), waited with her. When she got to the counter, I noticed a sign advertising seat upgrades for only $15 USD. I pointed it out to her and she decided to go for it, so she’d have the front row. Turns out it was a great investment, since she had the entire row to herself and was able to sleep the entire flight! Lucky girl!

We got through security and headed towards my gate. Again we were disappointed not to be on the same flight to Incheon, since that was where my layover was. We got some gelato near the gate and I spent the rest of my Thai Baht on two scoops. It was crazy how perfectly my finances worked out – I literally had just a few baht left in coins, and gave that to Jessica before we said our goodbyes.

Saying goodbye at the end of a trip like this is always bittersweet. We face the end of a break from reality, but the prospect of future adventures. What was particularly weird was that the next time I see Jessica, I will be MARRIED. This blows my mind!! She will be staying in Korea for a third year, and won’t be coming back to America before 2017. By then, I’ll be a married woman. Absolutely crazy. We said our goodbyes; no tears were shed. We are old pros at this by now. We’ll see what our next adventure is together. Life is full of changes and who knows what will happen by 2018.

For now, my next international trip should be my honeymoon in St. Lucia in December! Not sure how I’ll handle blogging that one, but I’m sure I’ll have something to update. J


Postscript: On my flight from Bangkok to Incheon, I sat in a row across from a Caucasian family with two small children; one newborn and one 2-year old. The 2-year old was so incredibly friendly, he kept giving me high-fives. He couldn’t sleep and I could tell his parents were exhausted. I ended up holding him on my lap for a bit and letting him play with my tv screen. (With the parent’s consent, of course!) His name was Caleb, and his parents were from Georgia but living in Uzbekistan now for the husband’s job. They’d gone to Thailand a month ago to give birth to their newborn son, Landon. Caleb basically made my day J I hope my child is that sweet one day!

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