"When Things Go Wrong, Don’t Go With Them" - Elvis
Our travels through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam were fascinating. But they were also frustrating - more due to human error on our part than anything else. So I've divided the next blogs into three parts to give each country the appropriate love, along with our challenges...
Trouble was brewing and it started with a massive thunderstorm in Bangkok, Thailand.
Usually we take some sort of public transport or a shuttle when we arrive in a new city. Or, if we do splurge on a taxi because it’s late at night or public transport will take forever, we'll use Uber. Michael, being the Budget Director of the Senior Nomads, really likes Uber because we know the fare ahead of time and translation is less of an issue. He can sit back and relax.
Unfortunately Uber closed up shop in Thailand a week before we arrived so we piled ourselves and our luggage into a regular metered taxi. Both of our big bags and our backpacks wouldn’t fit in the trunk so one duffel sat up with the driver - looking very much like another passenger. Michael and I were crammed into the back with the everything else.
The skies were turning dark and, after a few pleasantries I mentioned to the driver it looked like it was going to pour. No response, and not worth translating the obvious, so we settled in for the 45-minute drive into central Bangkok.
In fact, the skies did open and we crawled into the city in rain-snarled traffic. It took over two hours to reach our front door. All the while, the ticking meter was blocked from view by our big suitcase. Michael was in a sweat, regardless of the AC because his worst nightmare was coming true. We were at the mercy of a taxi driver and he was sure we would be looking at least a $100+ fare. He was miserable, I was anxious, and the driver was incommunicado. But in the end, the fare was only $22. Michael was so relieved he was tempted to pay our driver double - but we were thankful to be at our destination and instead gave him a generous tip.
Our Airbnb was on the 31st floor of a fairly new building and we had a panoramic view of the Chao Phraya River just below us and the city beyond. The apartment was beautiful. We were ready to find out why so many people either love or hate this sprawling, cacophonous city, but we’d have to wait a full day for the rain to stop. We didn’t mind, because the view of the traffic on the river was ever-changing entertainment, and between downpours, we’d been to the grocery store so we spent that first day lounging around and catching up on travel planning.
We were staying on the west side of the river in the Khlong San district which is opposite side from the center of the city. Some travel guides called it the “wrong” part of town - but we enjoyed figuring out how to take the short ferry ride to the “right” side, and then getting the hang of taking longer water-taxi trips up and down the river.
At first, it seems a complex system, but once you get the colored flag system down, you can tell which boats go where and for how much. You also have to be quick getting on and off and you’d better have the correct change for the harassed fare-takers who push their way through the crowds banging on their coin box.
On one particular ride we glanced back at the captain as we disembarked and noticed an impressive collection of beer bottles at his feet. But somehow these guys whip their boats onto the docks and away again with breathtaking accuracy and speed - so who’s to judge.
Speaking of getting around - our first big adventure in Bangkok was taking an Airbnb Experience bicycle tour through the old parts of city. Now I haven’t been on a bike for a long time. Mostly because I have chemo-related neuropathy in my feet (another story) that causes numbness so I am not always sure my feet are firmly on the pedals - awkward, at best. But I thought I’d give it a try because the tour sounded so interesting. Luckily we were a small group of 5 with a very conscientious guide and Michael could keep an eye on me.
Our guide was good at keeping us together, but he would whip down narrow alleyways that had about six inches of clearance on either side of the handlebars and turn corners where you might have to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting someone cooking outside their front door or a Rickshaw crossing your path. At times we’d merge in with traffic on busy roads including a sprint through Chinatown where it was every rider for herself! It was a bit harrowing, but when we were rolling along the riverside, or finding hidden view spots and small temples you’d never see otherwise, it was worth it.
Along the route we stopped for street food and a walk through the eye-popping flower market where millions of flowers were being sold in bulk or being made into intricate Phuang Malai garlands. The bike ride combined with our walking tour the next day, we started to understand the draw of this complicated place.
On the plane to Bangkok, Michael struck up a conversation with a woman sitting next to him that lived in center of the city. Eventually, after some political discourse, he asked her for a recommendation for a dentist. She had to laugh because that was a first. But she did give us her dentist’s contact information and we booked a teeth-cleaning at the Smile 4-U Clinic. I could write an entire blog about the dentist visits we’ve had over the past five years, but the short summary of this teeth-cleaning was it felt like running your face through a car-wash! Luckily it was only $38 each.
Prior to our dentist visit, we spent the morning at the extensive National Museum of Thailand. We took an English speaking tour that became a highlight of our time in Bangkok. Our guide was a woman named Vessela who's German husband works for Bosch. She had an extensive marketing career with the same company but decided not to work during their time in Bangkok so she could concentrate on raising their daughter and volunteering. Needless to say, she was an amazing, well-informed guide. There were just three of us on her tour, so we enjoyed each others company and took our time. We learned so much from her about Thai history and Buddhism that we could have stayed all day.
We looked at our watches and realized we were going to be tight for time to get to our dentist appointment and asked her the best way to get there. She looked at the address and told us we’d never make it because it was quite far away, and in a really complicated part of the city. But she had a solution. Her driver was waiting to take her home and she was happy to take us with her since it was on the way. Sort of. We used up every minute of the hour we’d allocated to get there - and if she hadn’t been so kind as to get us to right the door of the building, we’d have never made it. Thank you Vessela (and Bosch).
Over the next few days we saught out all the great food we had been told about. We met lovely people. We rode through the city in a Tuk Tuk and we had a great last afternoon in the rain at Jim Thompson House. A series of traditional dwellings and lush gardens created in 1959 by an American silk entrepreneur who mysteriously disappeared in 1967. It was a tranquil oasis in the center of the city. Oh, and I got a mani-pedi for under $20. with blue sparkley toe polish because we were headed for the beach! So far, so good.
We decided to find a beach destination not too far from Bangkok so we settled on Hua Hin, at one time the favored retreat for the Royal Family. Our goal was to be sure we experienced at least a few days near the water before leaving Thailand - We’d have to save a Phuket or island visit for another time. We found a great Airbnb with a tranquil pool not too far from the beach.
And, once we realized we could sneak across a back road into the luxurious Wara Bura Resort and, for the price of a drink or two, got much easier access the beach than we had at our condo and some comfy lounge chairs, too. We were all set.
The town of Hua Hin itself wasn’t very interesting, but it is known for two really great weekend night-markets where you can graze on interesting food and enjoy live entertainment for a few dollars. And both markets were just a short walk away from our place.
It was here that things started to go wrong. First, Michael decided to jump on a “taxi bike” to make a trip to the bus station to buy our tickets back to Bangkok. Nothing really wrong with that move until he got a nasty burn near his achilles from the tailpipe as he was getting off. Not only was it painful for the next few weeks, it also took those $8 foot massages he was loving off the table.
On the last morning we were all packed up and had some time before we needed to be at the bus station so I decided to go to the local mini mart for snacks and water and to weigh myself on the coin-op scale on their porch. Michael had done it the day before, so I thought I too, should have a “gut check”. Maybe it was the shock at the number, but when I got home I realized I’d left my phone sitting on the scale (no need for the extra weight). I ran back and it wasn’t there. And the clerks hadn’t seen it. It was at that moment I realized the dependency I had on that 3 x 5 device. So much of my world was in that phone and I couldn’t imagine how I’d replace it. I ran home and Michael jumped into action. First, we called it, but I'd turned off the ringer two temples ago.
We remembered we had the Find My iPhone app so we’d give that a try! Except we didn’t remember how to use it and it involved passwords and the cloud - two of my worst nightmares! I left Michael struggling with that and ran back to the store just in case. It was hot and humid and I was a mess - but as I blasted through the door, I saw a nice man behind the counter holding my phone in his hand. Thank you Lord. They were almost happier than I was that I came back! Meanwhile, Michael had learned how to use the app - that would come in handy in the very near future.
All in all, we enjoyed our two weeks in Thailand. Neither Michael nor I had South East Asia on our destination lists because we rarely take beach vacations and we are living the ultimate "chance to get away” lifestyle. We are in fact always on the lookout for large, interesting cities. So Bangkok delivered on the one hand, and Hua Hin was just enough of a beach getaway to satisfy the other.
On to Cambodia where the next front blew in... See you there!
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads