Blast from the Past

Two years ago next month, my job -- the Old Job, to be specific -- sent me to Bangkok to do the press check for our membership directory. Not being a complete idiot, I took a couple of weeks of vacation while I was there. The only downside of the trip was that I was by myself. I've traveled solo before and have no qualms about dining and sightseeing alone, but I didn't realize how much I would miss having someone to talk to. I've always been on my own either in the US or other countries where English is the dominant language, so I could just talk to the locals when the need for conversation got to be too much. Not so on this trip. Granted, the Thais and Cambodians had way more English than I had Thai or Khmer, but it was still not enough for more than an exchange of pleasantries. And thus, I texted my sister. A lot. She'd been to both Thailand and Cambodia before, so she could ooh and aah along with me more easily than most. Unfortunately, my Treo freaked out upon my return from the trip and repairing it erased the memory, including our entire "conversation."

This week, though, Eileen surprised me by emailing me a transcript of my texts. She's getting a new phone and didn't want my in-the-moment travelogue to be lost forever. It's kind of interesting, I think -- I hope not just to me, since I'm sharing it here. I've edited it only to correct typos and take out names, except where noted. I've left in the cryptic remarks that would probably make more sense if her side of the conversation were there. Oh, and the date and time stamps are off by 13 hours -- the difference between Southeast Asia and US Central time.

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10/1/06 6:12am Hope I don’t wake you but I am here and at the hotel, which is way too fancy. Please let Mom & Dad know I arrived.

10/1/06 8:24am Oh, I am so happy for you. That’s great news! Trip was long but not as bad as I expected. Off to bed now.

10/4/06 6:48am Overall, yes, but I can see why everyone says to get the hell out of Bangkok. Other than the Grand Palace & Reclining Buddha, there’s not much to recommend it. Food not as hot as has been warned. I’m at the train station now, heading to Chiang Mai in an hour. Why are you up so early? Isn’t it 5:30 in the morning for you?

10/4/06 6:57am The book is fine. Best press check I have ever been on. Really, I didn’t need to be here, as it turned out. ;-) I think the train will be long but kinda interesting. I’ll let you know when I get there.

10/4/06 7:11am Hm. Second class is a bit rustic. This should be interesting. There does at least seem to be some a/c, so that’s a plus.

10/4/06 7:28am Anything new on the move to the Windy City? [***] ok it yet? And please tell me there is something happening in the US besides the Florida congressman sex scandal and the Amish school shooting. Those are the only two stories I’ve heard on CNN for 3 days. (Sorry to keep bugging you but I am a bit starved for conversation.)

10/4/06 7:50am Well, the Nobels are good news anyway. At least our scientists don’t suck. I did hear about Nkorea craziness. Some guy today who had four words of English asked me where I was from, and when I said the US, his response was “Aah. America has power” accompanied with a Popeye-arm gesture. Nice that even some toothless dude in Chinatown in Bangkok knows we’re the biggest bully on the block.

10/4/06 7:57am “I’m staying regardless.” Really? Very interesting. Good that you’re looking for a job. You’ll be happier working again, strange as it is to say. Where are you planning to live? In town or the burbs? If the former, my officemate [***] might have some recs—she used to live there. Train hasn’t left yet. Oh wait, here we go. Only about 20 minutes late.

10/4/06 8:06am Your part of the ride is easier. No horrible diesel smell. To the extent I can smell, that is. I am so congested from the smog I can hardly smell at all. Is there any actual reason folks at [***] would say no? Seems the worst they’d say is they won’t pay for the move again. Which would suck but not be insurmountable.

10/4/06 9:41am Video pod rocks. He will love it. Sorry to be gone so long. Am drinking vodka with a bunch of Kiwis

10/4/06 10:55am Hey. Just got to the required go-to-bed time, so am now tucked into my little bunk. It was nice to talk to people tonight – the Kiwis were very friendly. I will probably go to sleep shortly, but text back if you want.

10/4/06 11:03am Yes, apparently 11pm and they start getting you ready sooner. Good thing there’s still a half-bottle of vodka left. :) I’ll text you when we get in to let you know I made it ok. Good night. Or good day, to you.

10/4/06 8:32pm Hello again. Been up for a couple of hours now – the start selling orange juice in the aisles at 6:30. Should be at Chiang Main within the hour. And yes, the Kiwis are in the same car with me. It’s big, like an Amtrak train, just a different seating configuration. I already like Northern Thailand better than Bangkok. It’s much prettier.

10/4/06 8:45pm Dunno about the Kiwis, they haven’t asked. Doubt it though, as they are already a pretty big group. And I slept pretty badly. I think I’ll try the Ambien on the way back.

10/4/06 8:49pm OK. You have fun too. Please let Mom and Dad know all is well.

10/4/06 8:53pm Thanks. Please give my love to the [CommonLoon family] with a special hug for [H***].

10/4/06 10:14pm Made it to hotel. Going to nap, shower, and see what’s to be seen.

10/5/06 10:15am As I sit in the night bazaar food court, I just have to ask…How the heck do you decide what to get? It’s mile after mile of nearly identical stuff, ranging from fairly crappy to pretty cool. Not being much of a shopper, I am overwhelmed. Help!

10/5/06 10:21am Yeah, I guess I is knowing what is quality is what’s throwing me. I know what I like, but how to tell if it is even decent enough to survive the flight?

10/5/06 10:25am All sorts of things. A long silk skirt an top for a fancy-dress thing for work in a few weeks. Some table runners (for my wall), other random things. There are costumed girls (Hmong I think) selling “Uncle Chris’s frog” all over the place.

10/5/06 10:31am It’s a night bazaar – not a lot of light. ;-) I am sure it will be fine. They just make you feel so guilty for not buying that it’s hard to choose who to patronize. Done with my late dinner, so back out into the fray. Talk to you later.

10/5/06 11:21am Guess what…I ran into the Kiwis at the bazaar and they invited me to join them tomorrow to go see the hill tribes. Hope it works out – it seems like a fun thing to do.

10/5/06 1:26pm Will buy tomorrow. That’s why two nights are good. I though the beep for this message was the alarm. So glad its not. Will write more later.

10/5/06 10:03pm Glad to hear all is well. I am just wandering at the moment. Have heard from the Kiwis that they are having a slow morning but should be ready soon. Hugs to all in MN. :)

10/5/06 10:15pm Glad to hear she made it ok. Her travel karma tends to be pretty bad. Tell Dad I said hi back.

10/7/06 6:31pm Hey. Just about to arrive back in Bangkok. Train ride was much more low-key…I think I may have been the only person speaking English. Off to hunt up the luggage storage and some breakfast. Then off to the market.

10/7/06 7:23pm Yeah, I liked Chiang Mai, though it was a bit touristy. (As you will see from the photos of yesterday’s monkey show, snake show, and elephant show.  :) I only have about 1000 baht left – will that be enough for today? I got some clothes (fisherman pants – did you get any of those? – and a fancy outfit for a work function). Also got some purses for various people and Hill Tribe dolls for Susan’s girls. Not surer what to get for mom. I am going to give dad the picture of me riding the elephant.

10/7/06 7:26pm Thanks for the update on things at casa de [CommonLoon]. Glad to hear all is well. [I cut the rest of this one b/c of too much family detail that's not mine to share.]

10/7/06 7:37pm Gotcha. I already have 500 stashed for the flight tax. How much will I need in Cambodia? I brought about $150 USD with me.

10/7/06 7:39pm And can I just say…my phone freaking works in the subway in Bangkok, but not in the DC Metro. This is wrong.

10/7/06 7:40pm Please let me know if you hear. And yes, I can see how it can take longer to bounce back every time.

10/7/06 7:44pm No charging hotel. If that’s enough shopping cash for there, then I can probably pull out a few more baht today. I just don’t want leftover. How much is the plane fee from SR back to Bangkok? And do I pay the 500 baht on my way back to the US too, or is just for short hops?

10/7/06 8:03pm OK. Get you coming and going, don’t they? Do you know if there is anywhere to sit/rest at this market today? I haven’t found much of that at markets so far and really think they could use some benches ;-)

10/7/06 8:04pm Thanks for keeping Dad posted. And how cool for Mom & Fran. Two more stops to the market and then I will probably disappear until I get to SR.

10/7/06 8:06pm Guess that will have to do. Catch you later. Hugs to all.

10/7/06 9:07pm Holy shit. This place is huge! I am totally overwhelmed.

10/7/07 9:11pm I guess so, but it has also taken me an hour to figure out how to eat. I finally just sat down somewhere, chose pork and am now having soup for breakfast.

10/7/06 9:15pm True. And the soup is good, too, though I will be happy for some mini-wheats upon return.

10/7/06 9:212pm Plane is at 7pm, luggage is at train stn, so yes, back there and then taxi to airport. I am planning to leave here by 3 to have enough time.

9:34pm Hi to Chris. Ok. I’m back to shopping again so I’ll catch you later.

10/8/06 8:39am Hiya. Safely arrived in Cambodia and am at the hotel – where I somehow got a free upgrade to the nicest room in the hotel which is a good sized suite. Will probably head to bed soon even though it is early. Between spending last night on the train and six hours today at the market, I am exhausted. And dirty. I really need a shower.

10/8/06 8:54am One quick question…is SR same time zone as Bangkok? I though so, but the reception lady said the restaurant was open until 10 but then said it was already closed at 8:30.

10/8/06 9:08pm Wow. Just when you think Thailand is the muggiest place on earth, I wake up to a drizzly morning in Cambodia! Sheesh. At breakfast now, will head out to Angkor Wat shortly.

10/8/06 10:24pm Good, though a little bummed that it is raining. I guess I’ll get interesting misty-looking photos.

10/8/06 10:46pm No electric bike for me. I tried to drive it and crashed before getting out of the parking lot on the wet rocks. So, I am getting someone to drive me – it is only $3 more.

10/8/06 10:53pm Oh, I was only going about 5mph so no injury at all, just embarrassment. I’ll be careful at the temples, I promise. :)

10/9/06 7:33am Amazing. And wet. Very wet, in fact. And even more amazing. Did you climb all the way up the tower at Angkor Wat? Holy shit was that steep. I am so afraid of heights, I had to talk myself out of hyperventilating the whole way up – an down.

10/9/06 7:46am I truly wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t see the staircase with the railing and had just given up trying to climb another when the guard came and showed me the “easy” way. Also went to Bayon and the other nearby temples. And yes, kids in droves. One latched on to me on the way in and wanted me to promise to buy his book when I was done, and he found me on the way out (3 hours later!) and helped take a photo of me, so I was going to buy the book, but he wanted $15 for it! I gave him $5 for showing me the few things he did and taking my picture. Too much, probably, but he was nice. I also got you 2 sets of bracelets so far, but the first set is not exactly right.

10/9/06 8:02am I think the $5 just made me a target! And I had amok for lunch at Angkor Wat. You didn’t mention that they serve it in a coconut! Impressive presentation for 4 bucks. Not sure tomorrow’s plan. My moped-driver will be here at 10. Any suggestions? Hard to say what I liked best- everything was really amazing.

10/9/06 8:14am I am already sore. I was seriously so tense that I think I pulled my left quad just from clenching too hard. I think I saw most of Angkor Thom – it’s just down the road from Bayon, right? Never saw Tomb Raider so I can’t compare.

10/9/06 8:31am AT is a big complex from what I understand and Bayon is one of the complex and the overgrown/Tomb Raider one is too. I did see that one today, or as least as much as I could because some of the paths were ankle-deep (or more) with water. Oh, and the answer to the months-long question of when the rest of my gross toenail is going to start falling off is “at Bayon.” It’s on by a thread now. Whee.

10/9/06 8:46am Sorry. I just remembered that you had asked at some point. :) Just finishing dinner and will be heading to bed shortly. Have a good day.

10/9/06 8:49am You got drenched, too? Y’know, I realized today that I don’t think I ever saw your photos.

10/10/06 8:21pm My last day already! I can’t believe it! Do you think the hotel will let me swim after I have checked out? I need to check out at noon but my plane isn’t until 8:30 tonight and I will certainly want to clean up after sightseeing, since I’ll be in a plane for the next 24 hours.

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If you've read this far, here are the links to my photos from Bangkok and Cambodia. I still haven't organized/captioned the ones from Chiang Mai. One of these days... Probably right around the time I get around to taking in the nine rolls of film I still have from this trip. (Yep, the links are to my digital photos only; there are many, many more on film. Yikes.)