Friday, January 30, 2009

Thailand: Humble Beginnings

So I've decided I'm going to try to document this trip in installments; that way, we hope, nothing gets left out and I can try to relive the adventures in relatively full and embiggening splendour. So I start, as is my wont, at the beginning.

It was a cold day, dark and windy, a light snow beginning to dust Janghowon. I had already decided not to pack my coat, since I wanted to travel light, with just a small backpack. I was seriously considering scrapping the whole idea, just so that I'd be able to bring my coat along for the 1st stage of my journey: a bus to Icheon and a 2nd bus to the airport. It was that cold. After my final day of English camp, which went really well, by the way, I had lunch with Mi Sun and Bo Il. Mi Sun was kind enough to help me out for the 2nd week of English camp while Bo Il was on vacation, but he showed up anyway to help wrap things up and send me off in style. After lunch, Mi Sun took me to the ATM so I could stock up on cash (which turned to be a lifesaver, but I'll explain later). Then she dropped me off near my house, and I was walking home I saw Dave, the Canadian who teaches at the high school here. He offered to pick me up after work and drive me to Icheon since he was going that way anyway. So that was one problem solved.

By the way, I was going to the airport on Friday night, even though my flight wasn't till Saturday morning. This is because, in Korea, the buses quit running at around 8 or 9 and don't begin again until the morning, around 7. My flight was at 8am, it's a 3-hour trip, and obviously I needed to be there ~2 hours early, it being an international flight and all. So all of these factors combined, I felt it would be smartest to just go to the airport on Friday night and sleep there -- another reason I wanted to have just the one bag. I figured I could use it as a pillow and not be robbed, you see.

So, Dave wanted to take his dog for a walk around Icheon, which gave me a chance to do some shoe shopping. Because, you know, I'm a chick. No, actually, it's because I knew I was gonna be hiking through the jungle and crossing rivers and shit, and I wanted to get some shoes that could handle that. I didn't find what I was looking for -- you know the trekking sandals that lots of backpackers wear, often with socks? ha -- but I did manage to find some aqua shoes that seemed pretty sturdy, so I picked those up, had dinner and got on the bus. The first stage of the journey was unremarkable. The airport sleeping thing worked out pretty well; as well as can be expected anyway. I got a decent night's sleep once I found this little lounge that was vacant and had nice padded seats. I just pushed 3 together, took off my shoes and crashed out. I think I woke up around 5am, had some breakfast at the ole airport Burger King, and went to my gate.

Flight was fine. I got to Hong Kong airport, where I realized the first (of what may be many, or only one, who knows) major shortcoming of this airport. You know how most airports have those screens that tell you flight status, departure gates and times... like, everywhere? Well, not Hong Kong. It took me a good 20 minutes to find one after wandering up and down the whole freaking concourse, repeatedly. I finally had to leave, and head out towards the food court and everything, just to find my connecting flight. But no biggie, I had lots of time and I was pretty close. Again, flight was fine. This one had the entertainment on demand thing, so I got to watch a big chunk of the 6th season of Family Guy, which rocked. And I gotta say, Cathay Pacific has some amazing food and service. They still do the whole free booze thing, even in economy. And the flight attendants are awesome. And gorgeous, but that's besides the point. Anyway... ;)

I finally arrived in Bangkok, but so many people told me what a cesspool it is and how I shouldn't waste my time there that I had decided to head straight up to Chiang Mai that night and not even bother with it. So after another brief wait, I hopped on another plane, this one a Thai Air flight, and got my ass to Chiang Mai. Um, they served this weird like, chicken pastry. It was good. Just weird. Sorry I didn't take a picture, because it looked really interesting.

Upon arrival in Chiang Mai, I promptly (way over-)paid for a cab and went to my awesome guesthouse. I think I've already detailed the problems I soon encountered, but if not, here they are again. I had booked online to do the "Flight of the Gibbon" ziplining thing the next day, along with a homestay in a village and then rock climbing the 2nd day. What I discovered when I arrived, however, was that the company I booked with would only accept cash. Now, I had an idea that my Korean ATM card wouldn't work worth a damn here, and sho' nuff, nothing. I had Korean cash, but it was like 10pm on a Saturday night, so there was no real chance of me getting more Thai money before Monday morning... boo. Luckily, the woman who ran the guesthouse called the ziplining place, cancelled my order, replaced it with just the one-day ziplining, rather than the 2-day thing, and saved me like, almost a hundred bucks. Then she hooked me up with a one-day trek on Monday that involved the Elephant riding, rafting, hiking, Akha village stop, and everything. Altogether I paid 2600Baht, or around $75-80... instead of the $175 I would have paid... she rocked! Thanks Nine! :)

Then I went to bed, exhausted! More coming soon; in part 2, we'll learn about ziplining and the glory of the Green Tulip Guesthouse! Stay tuned.

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