Thailand trips are never 'same old, same old'
The Biker's Diary
Monday, November 19, 2012 8:31 AM
The primary purpose of this trip to Thailand was to attend the wedding of someone who is very important to us. There's more about that on a later page of this diary. But during these past two weeks, while we did repeat some earlier experiences, we also had more new ones.
For a few years now we've happily made use of Bangkok's two train systems. In my early trips there, the way to get around (when I couldn't walk, which is most of the time) was via taxi or private car, either with a driver or a friend at the wheel. It wasn't easy for this U.S. American to overcome my cultural values and accept the use of the driver and the car. After all, it appeared to me to be a waste of the driver's time to be simply waiting for me wherever I decided to go and for however long I would be there. Somehow, back then without cell phones, he always managed to be right there with the car when I was ready to leave. And it was explained to me that it was his job! So I quickly learned to love that "luxury." After all, it was convenient, and that's another top priority value for our culture.
With the advent of these two train systems, it became much easier to get around, because we no longer had to sit and wait - and wait - in Bangkok's legendary traffic. The Sky Trains, also known as BTS, are elevated, and the underground trains, known as MRT, are mostly convenient and inexpensive.
The MRT has had a senior citizen rate since it started up, as far as we know. But it was only this trip that we found that the Sky Train had also just initiated a new senior citizens fare. So we went to the ticket booth and asked for a senior pass. The ticket seller said something that I correctly interpreted to be a "no," so I tried again, and so did she. Finally, I agreed to buy what she seemed to want to sell me, and we went off on our merry way.
While waiting on the platform for the train, we started talking with a young woman from Russia. She told us we should have a different card; it would save half because it was the senior discount card. We said we'd tried to buy that and had ended up with adult passes instead. We knew we could refund what we had purchased, so we decided to try again at our next stop.
The ticket seller there evidently tried to tell us the same thing as the first one had. Finally she asked another agent to explain to us. Obviously their command of English is always better than mine of Thai, and finally we understood: the new senior cards, which are purple, are for Thai citizens only. Clearly that was not us.
One of the places we couldn't get to by train was to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a private university. It was a one-and-a-half hour trip each way - due to both distance and heavy traffic. Fortunately a friend drove us out and back. The occasion was the official opening of an aircraft cabin interior mock-up. Three years ago, this university had added a four-year program intended to prepare students to work in the airline industry. A good friend of ours had taken on the job of starting this program so as to have "a little something to do in retirement."
This program is now in its third year, and acquiring this mock-up was a big addition for the curriculum. It will allow aspiring flight attendants to become more familiar with their duties and the aircraft environment. And it was obvious from the students' expressions during this ceremony and the reception that they were excited both about this new resource and also about the number of airline dignitaries and others who braved the Friday afternoon/holiday weekend traffic and made it to the event.
In our 12-day stay, we made it twice to the weekend market, and to massages several times, including two-hour sessions two days in a row at the beach. We were able to see some friends, though not as many as we'd like. We did eat at several of our favorite spots - but again not all - and again got to try some new ones, usually with friends who had discovered a newest favorite. I did a one-day seminar on Intercultural Conflict Management, attended by several former students and by a whole batch of new participants.
It's a long trip over there, as I am reminded right now on our way home, currently somewhere between Bangkok and Seoul, Korea. For many years, my journey was always from the Midwest to either Seattle or Los Angeles, where I would connect to Thai International for the longest leg of the trip. We always stopped in Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul or Taipai. After an hour or so on the ground at one of those spots, we'd re-board and continue on for the last international leg.
Then Thai International started a non-stop from Bangkok to Los Angeles round trip. At first I thought I couldn't possibly see that as an improvement: 16 to 17 hours without a stop? But I was sold the first time I did it. I was no more exhausted after that non-stop journey than I had been after a 12 to 14 hour trip to Tokyo or Taipai, where after the shorter one I still had a five-to-six hour trip to go. So I really liked the non-stops.
Now, we're back to the old schedule, and today, as on the way to Bangkok, we will stop at Seoul before the longest leg across the Pacific. It's a lot of flying, but it is always worth the journey - both for repeat experiences and new adventures.