Dax told you in his last post how we arrived in Bangkok. Overland travel is not for the fainthearted and certainly accounts for our most exciting travel days (just wait until we tell you how we left the city). As with Beijing, we were a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of the city’s hotel scene, so we chickened out and played our Sheraton card….aaaahhhhh. Heavenly respite. Because Tom has been a major traveler for many years, he enjoys wonderful benefits with the Starwood chain…at least for the next two months. The Royal Orchid Sheraton on the river upgraded us to a luxurious two room suite with two bathrooms, an awesome river view, and decadent daily fruit plates. The big kids had a normal room next door, but they didn’t mind. They weren’t sharing beds, had free internet on the first floor, and a choice of five different types of pillow. The only problem with this little setup was that we didn’t want to leave the hotel. We ventured down the street to the 7-Eleven every now and then for a Slurpee and some snacks, but for the most part we stayed in. This was a good thing, especially since we have some major planning to do for the next month of the trip. The more comfortable we got, the more ambitious we became. Here’s how things evolved: flights are cheaper to India from Singapore, so let’s go there. The cheapest and most interesting way to do that is to exit Laos into Thailand, take the train back to Bangkok and on through Malaysia to Singapore. Fun! Two more countries than we had planned on. And since Tom and I have been to both before, we know what to expect. Flights to Bali from Kuala Lumpur (a stop on the train route) are really cheap, so maybe we should throw in a few days on one of favorite islands as well. A third unexpected country. Sure, why not.
We raced to submit our Indian visa applications along with the small fortune it costs Americans to get them to the Bangkok embassy. We had planned on doing this in Chiang Mai, but we realized that with the Christmas and New Year holidays thrown in, we’d be stuck there for almost two weeks waiting to get them back. (They take a long time and a lot of money to get here if you’re not Thai.) With India rapidly approaching, we didn’t feel we had that much time to devote to one place. So we left the paperwork in Bangkok with the assurance that they would hang on to the visas for up to three weeks and blazed off an overnight bus to Chiang Mai.
The bus turned out to be lovely–fuzzy neon seats and blankets, a stewardess who brought about 743 snacks, goofy Thai movies on the TV–but the amount of sleep we got on board was inversely proportional to our size. Asher and Kieran zonked while Tom and Dax tossed and turned. McKane and I were somewhere in between. The darn thing traveled two hours faster than we expected so we pulled into the Chiang Mai bus station at 6:00 am…in the dark. We had expected daylight, a taxi ride to the city, camping out in a cafe, and hunting for a hotel. Instead we wrapped the little kids in their silk sleep sacks for a nap (they’re the blue blobs in the picture below), poked around online, bought a SIM card for the phone, and woke up a bunch of guesthouse desk clerks with our calls. Who’d have guessed that Chiang Mai–not a beach town–would be packed for Christmas–not a Buddhist holiday? Or that the annual flower festival which the guidebooks say happens in February is actually a mega event this year in honor of the king’s 80th birthday and in full swing right now? Certainly not us. After many, many calls, one nice man who didn’t have rooms told us to come to his guesthouse where he would help us find something. With the sun now shining and the birds singing, our prospects seemed good. After a thorough scouring of the neighborhood, we came up with a few nasty rooms and some just so-so ones. We drove back and forth in tuk tuks and pick up trucks checking out some others but finally ended up in one of the so-so places. Miraculously, another more upscale place had a few last minute cancellations, so we moved the next day.
My point, and remember, I always have one, is this: travel is an emotional rollercoaster. The ups and downs come as rapidly as you change settings. A single bad meal or transaction with a taxi driver can blacken your outlook, while one good night’s sleep or a chance encounter with a friend can make you feel invincible. Right now we’re somewhere in between. After sleeping on a bus, wandering a city in an exhausted haze, and crashing in a flourescent-lit, amenity-deficient guesthouse (about what you’d expect from $10/night rooms), we no longer wanted to add new countries to the itinerary. We didn’t want to go anywhere. We wanted to veg for a week or two or three. Now that we’re in a more comfortable place where we get free breakfast, have access to laundry facilities and 24-hour in-room wifi, we’re regaining our confidence. A couple more days of this and we’ll once again be dreaming of riverside shacks in Laos and beach huts in Bali. Stay tuned to see where we end up. If you have an opinion as to where we should go, be sure to post a comment here or shoot us an email.
Oh…and we actually did more in Bangkok than I’ve led you to believe. We saw Eragon with Thai subtitles and played video games in a mega mall, visited the Grand Palace, and lit incense for a few impressive Buddhas at Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho.