Monday: March 16th – From Seoul to Bangkok
After a brief two hours of sleep in a Korean Jjimjilbang (overnight bathhouse), Jessy and I caught the earliest train to the Incheon airport. At 8:50 a.m. we boarded our flight on Cathay Pacific for Hong Kong. I was sad – didn’t want to leave this beautiful country. Still so much to explore and I was already missing the many friendships that had been formed. I told myself I would return.
Our plane arrived at the Hong Kong International airport around 11:45 a.m.. During our layover we wandered around the shops, sampled some chocolates and cookies, and enjoyed a walkthrough history of Bruce Lee. While we took a lunch break, the new currency and exchange rate was the first dose of a new culture shock. The overall vibe of customer treatment seemed less friendly as well. We paid with our USAA credit cards (which have a low foreign transaction fee of 1%) to avoid withdrawing cash. Before long it was 4:05pm and we boarded our next flight for Bangkok, Thailand!
Atlas we arrived in Bangkok around 6:50 p.m.. After getting through customs we headed to Baggage Claim 20 and found some chairs to setup camp for the next 4 hours while we waited for Jessy’s best friend, Elysia, to fly in from America. During this time I was trying to connect to some sort of free Internet. Finally, I had something to go off of and used the LINE App (Offers free text and calls in App) to connect with our host family. My dear friend, Pook, from a small town in Kansas connected me with her family in Thailand. We’d be staying with her brother and sister-in-law. It was a huge blessing.
They let me know they had a sign with my name and we decided on a place to meet up once Elysia arrived. When she did, we headed out the airport doors. There were people everywhere; people with all kinds of signs looking for whomever or offering a ride. It was very hectic and slightly overwhelming when I couldn’t locate them and had lost my Internet connection. Heading back inside the airport and reconnecting with the host family, they assured me they were outside waiting for us near gate 4. I headed back out and looked around. We were at the right gate and there was no sight of them. Making my way back into the airport for Internet, I was stopped by security and they refused my reentrance. We were tired as it was already around 1:30 a.m.. I felt bad not being able to locate our new friends. Leaving Jessy and Elysia to their chatting, I left and searched different nooks down the long pick-up stretch and finally to my delight, there the couple was with my name on a sign. We all greeted and loaded up in their truck to go home. Sleepy and with a slight language barrier, we connected humming/singing some classic American songs playing on the radio (John Denver’s Country Roads is a favorite across Asia). We arrived to their beautiful home and our housemother, named Gai (which means chicken in Thai), took us to the neighboring open-air restaurant and bought us delicious Tom Kah. A quick walk home and fueled with bottled water, we said goodnight and fell into heavenly sleep.
Tuesday: March 17th – First Day in Bangkok
Morning came so sweetly. It had been over a month since I stayed in an American-sized bedroom with a large comfortable bed all to myself. I even had a nice bathroom. We stayed on the second floor of this nice home and below I could hear the voices of our new family and the clanking pots in the kitchen. Something smelt very delicious. Gai and her husband, Pui, greeted us downstairs. She looped her arm through mine grabbing my hand and led us through the house to her neighboring mother-in-law’s kitchen. Here she had prepared a beautiful pad Thai dish. It was such a big batch! We waited for her family to join us, but she insisted with broken English that they already ate and this food was only for us… so we just helped ourselves.
We took a quick trip to the bank to withdraw some cash. Jessy’s credit card wasn’t working so she couldn’t access her funds. So until she figured things out, I’d be “mother”. The exchange rate was around 31.37% in favor of the American dollar. For $100 would get you a little over 3,000 Bhat. A freshly squeezed juice could range from 12-50 bhat depending on which area or city you’re in. A nice meal ranged from about 50-120 baht.
Gai and Pui drove us to a mall to search for silk materials (Jessy wanted to have silk pillow cases made). On our way there, we had to drive up a spiral dive for several stories. I was getting carsick but closed my eyes and breathed steadily. While walking around, Elysia was acting dazed too. After eating something it went away. It just so happened that taking malaria pills in the morning with just water made us nauseous. No success in finding silk, but we got some sunglasses and bought more malaria pills.
Wednesday: March 18th – Ayothaya Floating Market
Greeted with a wakeup call, we enjoyed another breakfast and got in the truck to explore the Ayothaya Floating Market. There was a petting zoo and elephant rides. We didn’t ride an elephant, but did feed and kiss a sweet old elephant on her trunk. We took a little boat tour around the market and enjoyed fresh coconut ice cream that Gai and Pui bought us to stay refreshed in the day’s heat. We shopped around for a few hours buying some T-shirts, cute owls charms, and I also got a little red dress. It was a charming market, with lots of culture and goodies to offer. I was a bit curious of where all the ivory jewelry came from though.
On the way home, Pui let us ladies out and Gai waved a taxi down so we could take it to the tailor’s to have custom suits made for Jessy and Elysia’s mom. It cost around 2,000 baht per clothing item. It was my first time seeing this processes. The shop was attached to the owner’s home and his little girls would come in and stare at us. The apprentice was taking measurements and sewing away on other orders. It’s quite an impressive skill to have. With the orders in, we left and walked home through the different street markets. There were so many motorcyclists!
Thursday: March 19th – A Final Day in Bangkok
Getting an early start to the day, Bangkok’s China Town was the next destination. The goal was finding genuine gold jewelry and essential oils. The outcome was a new leather travel purse, jewelry (couldn’t find gold) and lots of exotic essential oils. It was early morning so we didn’t see all the fun streetlights, but it was a good experience.
That evening, Gai took us to the subway station where we then said goodbye before heading on our journey to take the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We got to the train station and found our car. The assigned sections were stacked with the top section as a bed and the bottom section as two seats. Sheets and pillows were provided. Having a bottom section, it took a little while to figure out how I’d comfortably sleep overnight on two chairs with a gap between them. The task of figuring out the chair mechanics was slightly amusing and I finally got them to fold down into a comfortable bed. The train made several long stops throughout the night but was a comfortable ride and I was excited to wake up to a new city.
Friday: March 20th – First Day in Chiang Mai
I awoke with morning sun shining through my window. The train was still moving. Breakfast was being served to those who ordered-in last night. Later in the morning we arrived in Chiang Mai. Upon exiting the train, we were excited to venture out. Using our Lonely Planet travel book, we searched for recommended Guesthouses. It took a long while to get anywhere because we were street shopping the whole way. There were lots of very detailed temples and and beautiful sights! I don’t think we bought anymore than 1 or 2 things each, but it was fun to look around!
On our way, we met Paige and her friend who were teachers in Korea. They were kind enough to lead us to our JJ Guesthouse. It’s always a great feeling to have a place to stash our packs. We relaxed a bit and then went out on the town again. By a water way, there was a beautiful girl in a red dress feeding pigeons. A young man (I assume her husband?) was photographing her. It was such a lovely sight that I had to capture her also.
That night we went out to dance. The music was American, but not very interesting… so we left fairly soon. After stopping by a convenient store for water and snacks, we returned to our room. I messaged our childhood friend, Phong, who first came to America 15 years prior at the age of 25 and learned English with my family for 3 months. God gifted him as he became fluent in that short time and returned to his village to teach English and be a pastor. He was coming in the morning to pick us up. Back at our room, we got comfortable and went to sleep. We chose the cheaper non air-conditioned room, but the rotating fan on the wall was enough to keep us well.
Saturday: March 21st – A Reunion in the North
Morning came and Jessy and Elysia went to a nearby café while I checked out of and watched our luggage back at the hostel. I was on the lookout for our friend. In time heard a truck approaching on the narrow alley. There he was; hadn’t aged a day in 15 years it seemed! Some neighbors came out and scolded him for driving in the alley where cars weren’t allowed, but his charming and ornery personality made friends out of anyone and so he was given the OK to pick us up and be out of there.
His village is in Mae Cheam of northern Chiang Mai (About a 3-hour drive from where we were). On the way he stopped at a shopping center to get a new room fan. It was our treat to him. Continuing on the road, he stopped at a small street vendor to grab food for our next stop at the lovely Wachirathan Waterfall and then continued on to the highest mountain in Thailand to see the Inthanon Royal Project: a lovely garden area with the King and Queen’s temples (While this may seem like a royal splurge, the wise king had cleverly developed this attraction to bring money into the country. He is very well educated and takes care of his people and they respect him). Afterwards we then walked the Ang Ka Nature Trail with a memorial site where a helicopter had crashed. These areas were relatively close to each other (by vehicle) and I highly recommend a trip to this area.
Elysia and I rode the rest of the trip in the truck bed. It was a beautiful ride through the forests and along the hillsides. Excited about his village and not sure what to expect, we kept guessing which one was his and were always wrong. Finally we arrived to his village and home in Mae Cheam, Chaing Mai. We had our own guesthouse and bathroom! It was mostly sealed off to nature with a boarded ceiling and concrete walls and floors with mats. The bathroom was perhaps the most exposed with the walls not quite reaching the roof. I was excited! Phong showed us a picture album he had kept of his time in America and with us. For the first time we met his sweet wife, Sara, and later that night we went to a local home and had a church meeting session. We introduced ourselves to the villagers and Phong translated.
Turning in for the night, we made up our sleeping arrangements with some nice plushy blankets the family provided us. Jessy slept on the floor mats and Elysia and I shared the bed. We had a gecko hiding somewhere in the ceiling boards repeating it’s sound and experienced our first giant spider intruder! Actually it was three of them similar to a tarantula! I hate spiders. Jessy hit them with a broom and swept them out the doorway. I checked the bed sheets from then on.
Update: Here’s a video of our trip in Southeast Asia!