What a day! Or two. The trip from Charlotte, NC, to Bangkok was everything I expected, with some new twists from past journeys (of course). As I write this, the big hand is past the 12 and the little hand is staring at the 3. That would be 3 am Bangkok time Saturday morning, 4 pm Friday afternoon East Coast time.
I have to say that a lot of my nervousness about this move abated somewhat when the jet landed in Bangkok. Of course, the butterflies reappeared later as I ran into some challenges.
The hotel I’m in is a nicely done boutique hotel in the middle of nowhere but near the airport. I don’t know why I thought that was important when I booked it but, whatever. I’ll get back to the hotel later. Right now I’m enjoying some pork sate from the street, chips, a bourbon and this report.
The trip started innocently enough with a 5 am alarm Wednesday morning. By 6, we were heading for the Charlotte airport, where I would take a Jet Blue to JFK in New York. There, I had a 4-hour layover, so was able to “experience” the internal train system and buy a couple of gifts for a friend in Bangkok.
The train system: JFK is immense and definitely not well organized. Looks like they made a lot of add-ons over the years and it has created a maze of facilities. There are 7 or 8 terminals (the map showed 1-6 and 8, but not 7). A train connects all the terminals. The Jet Blue terminal was the stop AFTER the international terminal, where I needed to go to connect with my Emirates Airways flight. So I had to ride the train for the entire length of the track in order to get to my destination. This is the way I was told to go when I asked. But, like I said, I had plenty of time. BTW, I wasn’t all that impressed with Jet Blue.
Which brings me to these planes they’re flying nowadays for international flights. I rode in an Airbus 380 from NYC to Dubai, UAE – 11-hour flight) and an MD777 for the 5-hour flight from Dubai to Bangkok. The 380 has two decks and the plane was full, meaning more than 350 people onboard, not to mention all the supplies, cargo, luggage, fuel, etc., these babies have to rise up to the sky. The 777 also was fully boarded.
There was a difference, however, in the passengers. The flight from NYC to Dubai was carrying mostly Middle Easterners, and there were a lot of kids. I can imagine many Americans refusing to board a plane with that kind of makeup. I mean, everyone looked like a terrorist! /sarc
In contrast, the 777 to Bangkok carried mostly Europeans.
Emirates, by the way, gets only a passing grade this time around. The seat space on the 380 was quite a bit better than the 777, where I felt wedged in and couldn’t even use my left arm when eating because the person on that side was so close. The food on both was good, salmon for the main dinner on the 380 and chicken and mashed on the second, although there were other choices available. Emirates also gives you a salad (feta cheese with one), a roll or baquette and always an interesting dessert.
However, they keep the cabin way too cold. Everyone was reaching for the flimsy “blankets” they provide and used them throughout both flights. I used two on the 380 because I had an empty seat next to me with an extra blanket. The good news is that, unlike many airlines, they don’t charge you for the blanket, or for a pillow, or for headsets to watch the hundreds of movies, TV shows and more on the entertainment system in front of your face. (It gets even closer when the person in front of you pushes his/her seat back. You can almost kiss the screen. Now, that’s close!)
But the seat space and the bitter cold make it only a passing grade.
You would think that by this time I would be used to flying for such long hours. No. I don’t even like flying for short periods; it just beats the alternatives. This trip was long, tiring and I really don’t want to do it again. I know, I know, I will end up doing it again. But despite the flying pain, everything was going along fairly smoothly until I touched down in Bangkok.
Immigration was a little slow but I made sure I hustled ahead of my fellow passengers so that I could get a better spot in the queue. Exchange a little money (34 baht per dollar), recapture my two checked bags and I was off to find the driver who would be holding a sign with my name on it to take me to my hotel, and to find a friend who was to meet me there. A little caution: I somehow managed to lose my receipt for my two checked bags, and if they had been lost there would have been no way to reclaim them if/when they were found.
Never found the friend, even with a phone call, but I did manage to find the driver for my hotel. Thankfully, I had written the hotel’s name, address and phone number on an index card (translated, as well) and showed it to a guy who pointed me to the right driver. It was a chaotic scene, with signs everywhere, many in Thai, and people milling all around.
Now, the first problem. The driver did not have my name on his list, nor did he have a sign displayed for me, explaining why I couldn’t find him. He called the hotel and they said I missed my check-in time or something but that they had a room for me if I wanted.
Here’s the thing. I recognized that my 00:20 am flight arrival time was going to be an issue with any hotel unless I explained my situation. So I explained my situation in an email 3 weeks ago and received an excellent response, pretty much mirroring what I outlined to them. But for some reason, the girl at the desk told me I was supposed to arrive on the 7th (which was never mentioned), on a Thursday (again which was never mentioned). I had asked for a room for the night of the 8th-9th and 9th-10th but she thought I had already forfeited one night and would have to check out about 6 hours from now, or book another night. She even told me that 1 am was still Friday, when it was Saturday.
You really don’t want to mess with a bear who’s been cooped up in airplanes and airports for who knows how long, needs a shower, needs some food, and a drink. I did show some temper, which you’re not supposed to do in Thailand. I asked when the manager would be in.
I also learned about this time that the hotel’s Wifi was down, so I did not have a way to contact the friend who never showed, or to post this report, which can wait.
All of that is probably not worth all the words but I need to vent somewhere. It will all be worked out tomorrow, when I also have to get a local SIM card and Thai mobile Internet access, and contact the people giving me a ride to Hua Hin Sunday. Maybe even get together with my friend.
Good night (actually it’s 4 am).
UPDATE: It’s the next day now and I’m resisting the urge to delete that hotel rant above. But I need to admit my error. Seems I was on the wrong day. I thought today was Saturday. The hotel manager informed me this morning, after I had managed 3 hours sleep, that I was only a day off. Today is Friday. Long travel across multiple time zones can do that to your brain.
This self-imposed snafu meant I either had to leave a day earlier than planned, coordinating with both the taxi service and the Hua Hin hotel on the changes, or book my Bangkok room one more night (1,400 baht, or about $46). After checking what my additional cost would be at the Hua Hin hotel and consulting with my friend, I’ve decided to maintain my original schedule and stay a second night in Bangkok.
First thing this morning, after the breakfast that is part of my reservation, I asked where I could get a SIM card, hoping that the phone I used in Indonesia would accept the size SIM cards they use in Thailand. What I had read, though, was that Asia, in general, used a smaller card than is used in the U.S.
Turns out 7-11s sell SIMs here and there was one right next door. The poor girl behind the counter couldn’t understand a lick of what I was saying but we managed to acquire me a card and a new phone number.
Now if I could just figure out how to make it work.
Last night, I walked around my new, temporary neighborhood looking for food at 2 am, and today I decided a more thorough exploration was necessary. Besides, I needed to kill some time before my friend comes over and we go to dinner.
The hotel sits about in the middle of a mile-long 4-lane that has an overpass at both ends and a highway ramp in the middle. There are two 7-11s, a number of small hotels, maybe 15 small open-air restaurants, two massage parlors and some apartments and other retail. A pretty bleak-looking area actually. Oh, and there are at least three open-air bars, a couple with live music. Gonna have to check at least one of them out.
I walked to both overpasses. As it was lunch time, I stopped at one open-air restaurant that had a good crowd eating. Usually a good sign. The menu was spare but there were several interesting entrees for under $2. But they also had one of Thailand’s signature dishes – tom yum kung – a traditionally spicy tomato-based, seafood soup. It was the most expensive item on the menu at about $2.
I also ordered a Coke (50 cents). Actually, I asked for iced tea but they didn’t have any. Strange. The waitress asked “Coke?” I figured what the heck, even though I almost never drink anything but diet soda. I have to say, however, that the sugar in the ice-cold Coke helped to overcome the severe burn the soup inflicted on my mouth. The waitress asked if I wanted it spicy and I said no. I think she understood, but if that was the not-spicy variety, I’d hate to try the hot kind. It was very good, though, with eight good-sized shrimp in it.
Since my body thinks it’s past 2 am, I’m going to post this as soon as I process the photos you see here – and take a nap before a night out.