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12 January, 2013

Thailand: From the West to the East (Saturday)

So excited to fly the 747, it was fitting and nearly ironic that it was the roughest flight that I have ever had. There was heavy turbulence for well over an hour in the middle of the flight. During this time, the captain instructed all flight attendants to remain in their seats. You never want to hear the captain say that. And the captain didn’t speak again. Non-stop bouncing. I spent my energy reassuring her that everything was fine, and I was pretty sure that it was. But every few minutes, the thought of the 747 being the largest aircraft, and it being so remarkable that the thing can even get airborne in the first place, really made me wonder how fast we’d drop if one of those wings were to snap off the plane, 40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

But, sure enough, after an indeterminately long span of uncomfortable flight, things finally smoothed out, and we made it to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport around midnight. The baggage claim was shockingly brief; we waited a total of about 3 minutes and we had our bags (I was worried that they would be lost, with all the snorkeling gear, since I never like to check a bag, for reasons that aren’t even clear to me, since it’s so much easier to travel without schlepping a bag around through the airport). Then, we had passport control – also quick. Finally was customs, which I was again surprised to see was a complete non-event. Not only is there no paperwork, but you just walk through a line called “Nothing to Declare” and they don’t even scan your bag. Apparently, your word is good enough. Though, I imagine that perhaps this is sufficient to deter things like drug smuggling, when the penalty for such action is life in prison or death.

Getting a taxi was also simple, with the standard line-up that you’d find in any airport. The first incident of me not being prepared came when we climbed in the taxi. “Oriental Residence, Bangkok,” I said. And the taxi driver had no idea what this was, or where this was. I had assumed that it would be a well-known fact where a large, new, tourist hotel would be located in the heart of downtown. But I guess there are more taxis, and fewer guests of this new hotel than would be required to make such an assumption valid. We resorted to “Close to U.S. Embassy,” which was true, but we were not sure how sufficient that would be, in terms of proximity. It turned out, this was the adjacent building, so we were fine. Taxi from airport cost us less than 300 BHT. The exchange rate is about 30 BHT/dollar, so this was about a $10 ride for the 15 miles from the airport. Some things are very reasonable. Most things, in fact, are. But then, you encounter something strangely overpriced (such as sunblock, described later). I guess the rule of thumb is, “If it could be for anyone, including the locals, it will be inexpensive. If it is for tourists only, expect to get fleeced.”

We were greeted at the hotel by a friendly, young staff, and a beautiful lobby, and shown to our room. The room is a suite, and there was a large marble bathtub, plus a separate spacious shower. We didn’t really need the suite, but thought it would be interesting to stay in the two different styles of rooms in this hotel. Since we are going to be here twice – for 3 days at the start, and 2 days at the end of our trip, we booked the suite first, and then we’ll return to the non-suite, which appeared to be a more traditional style room. This suite had a rather European feel to it.

There was papaya in the room, which we ate. Not long after, we were asleep in the giant bed, with giant, comfortable pillows. I woke up almost every hour the entire night, due to the time shift, but it was still a very comfortable and satisfying sleep, and I didn’t find myself sleepless at all.

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