Time for another adventure

North Carolina sure is different than what I’ve experienced overseas the past 5 1/2 years. First, the car culture is evident, and they drive fast here. I miss not being able to walk out my door and being able to find food right outside. Not to mention the cost of food here.

And when I am among other people, it seems so weird, like I’m a spirit who is watching, not participating.

Keeping warm on my daughter's back deck

Keeping warm on my daughter’s back deck

The cold weather doesn’t help either. And for some reason, the skin on my lower arms and legs has contracted some sort of rash, apparently caused by wearing new clothes – socks and long-sleeve shirts. Even washing them doesn’t seem to have an effect so maybe I’m just used to shorts, sandals and t-shirts and my skin is rebelling against the fabrics.

It is also weird not seeing roll cart stores along the roadways and on the sidewalks. Of course, you can’t just set up shop like that here, as they do in Asia. But clear roads and sidewalks just seem so strange now.

After two weeks of boredom in North Carolina, I had decided to go on the road again in two weeks. My daughter, however, the reason I made this trip to the U.S., objected strenuously, so I have booked my departure for after the holidays.

And where will I be headed? The page this post is on might give you a hint.

hua hin shoreline

The Hua Hin beachfront

Hua Hin has won the 2 Bags and a Pack tour sweepstakes. On Jan. 6, courtesy of JetBlue and Emirates Airlines, I will be traveling to Bangkok, from Charlotte to JFK in New York, and then on to Dubai before heading to Thailand.

My plan is to spend two nights in Bangkok, where a friend wants to see me and plans to meet me at the airport at 1 am. On Sunday, I will hire a minivan for the 2-3 hour journey to Hua Hin.

My plan is to reserve a hotel room in Hua Hin for a day or two, giving me time to walk around to find an apartment. I understand this is the best way to find a place to live – walking around, looking for rental signs and calling the phone number on the sign. That call should prove interesting, given the language differences.

hua-hin-mapHua Hin is located on the long, narrow stretch of Thailand that extends from Bangkok to Malaysia. It is the summer home of the king and a favorite vacation destination for Thais, especially from Bangkok. The city of about 100,000 stretches out alongside a 3-mile-long white sand beach, reminiscent of the beaches in Sarasota, Fla.

There are more than 3,000 Westerners living there, mostly European, and the town offers a lot of what expats need in terms of shopping and entertainment.

My understanding is that I can get a furnished, 1-bedroom apartment for about $300/month, in walking distance to shops and the beach. There is a fresh market for food and a night market for whatever else you might need. There is also an upscale mall with a grocery with all the Western foods you could want – albeit at a price.

I’ve also decided to use the 90-day tourist visa option, which means I will have to leave the country every 90 days to have my passport stamped. The best option for such visa runs is Myanmar, which will offer another interesting trip down the road. It takes a day or two for the run and I might have to stay overnight in a country far more third world than Thailand.

Visa runs also can be made to Laos and Cambodia via ground transport, but that takes considerably longer.

I will be posting more on this next adventure as details emerge and my research progresses. And here’s another selfie in front of the fire last DSC_0013night. It’s too cold here!


Saying goodbye to the ‘Pack’ and buying new clothes for cold weather

My trip back to the U.S. had barely started when my trusty backpack (actually an oversized laptop bag) sprung a leak. More precisely, one of the two main straps ripped loose, the strap I normally use over my left shoulder, unless the bag is too heavy and needs to go over both shoulders.

backpackI adjusted, of course, but the damage meant this was the bag’s last trip. It was already beginning to fall apart, with holes in several places, balky zippers and makeshift zipper pull cords. All war wounds from five years traveling around the world (literally) twice.

I picked up this bag at a trade show when I worked at Communications News 10 years ago, held on o it without using it for maybe five years, before taking it with me to Costa Rica in June 2010. It is the “pack” in the 2 Bags and a Pack title of this blog. And it will need to be replaced before I head off again for places unknown.

This bag has been used for many purposes, such as carrying groceries or short excursions, carrying a change of clothes or camera equipment. It was a very useful traveling tool. On the road, it was my airplane carry-on bag, with laptop and change of clothes and other items, as needed. RIP Trixie!

Getting Ready for Winter

Asheville, NC, sits in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and it gets quite cold here during the winter. And my wardrobe from Indonesia of mostly t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops just won’t cut it. So, yesterday my daughter and I headed off to Walmart to stock up on some warmer clothes for winter. This batch here cost a little less than $200, and includes two pair of Wrangler jeans, a cotton parka, long-sleeve t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, cargo pants, warm socks, and new underwear.

new clothesWe also ventured into the grocery area. The chicken legs were the size of turkey legs and the prices were all so much higher than Batam, as you would expect. I stocked up on some food I didn’t normally have access to in Batam.

And before we began our shopping yesterday, we stopped at Waffle House for lunch. This is redneck territory but the food is always good, the prices reasonable and I love the “What would you like, deary” greeting from the obviously Waffle House-type waitress. It’s been a long time, so I ordered an egg over easy, crispy bacon, hash browns scattered and smothered (with onions), grits, raisin toast and jam, and a big glass of milk. Delicious, but enough calories for two days.

A difference in cellphone setup

I have to admit that my first experience with a cellphone was when I moved to Batam in January 2012; up until that point I had never owned one, nor did I want to. My new employer, however, insisted on me having one and even paid for the first phone, a knock-off iPhone, which broke down in two months and was replaced by a Nokia that cost about $60.

That had been the only cellphone I had experience with until returning to the U.S. for a long visit this week. I figured I would only need to buy another SIM card once I arrived and could use my phone as usual. Turns out the U.S. and Indonesia cellphone systems are somewhat different.

In Indonesia, you buy a phone and add a SIM card and minutes (called pulsa). A simple process. Since there is only one mobile provider, there was no choice necessary. But in the U.S., the process is more involved.

Naively, I first went to a Walmart and asked the clerks in the phone section for a SIM card. “With which company?” I was asked. “I don’t care,” I replied.

“You will need to buy a new phone with a service plan,” I was then told. “My phone works perfectly fine,” I answered. “No need for me to buy a new phone.” Wrong.

I walked away, looking for my daughter who might be able to explain my situation to the clerks. But she decided we would go to Best Buy, where the salespeople actually have cellphone knowledge.

At Best Buy, I sought out a salesperson in the mobile phone section, told him I bought the phone in Indonesia and just wanted a local SIM card. He promptly took me to a section where I could choose a card from various carriers. He recommended AT&T.

Then we opened up my phone and discovered the SIM card slot was smaller than used in the States. I wold need a new phone. Suddenly, it looked like I was going to have to shell out hundreds of dollars for something I would hardly use.

Seeing my plight, the clerk offered an alternative – a pre-paid phone. He showed me one that sold for $8 and I said OK. Then I had to select a carrier for the service and selected AT&T. Not knowing how much would be charged per minute, but knowing my usage would be minimal, I decided on $30/month with a phone-in recharge of minutes. The minutes roll over.

When I was told I would still need to go online and register and do whatever was necessary to activate the account, I was concerned but figured I could handle it. A second clerk intervened, however, and said they could do all the activation for me. Good service.

So now I have a new flip phone, a new number and not a clue how to operate the thing, although I did manage to enter my daughter’s number.

And for those who recommend a smartphone, I do not see the need for spending that kind of money. I rarely need Internet access away from my laptop, although the one app I would like to have in Asia would be a translation program. I’ll deal with that at another time.

I’m saving my old phone for when I return to Asia.