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Flying to Thailand

Sunday October 14th 2012

I am finally heading to the place that I hope will let me heal my heart and contemplate what the future holds for me, Koh Phangan, Thailand. I was last in Thailand with a friend in 2001 for Christmas vacation when we taught in Seoul. It will be interesting to return.

My flight was at 9am and I had thought this was a fairly decent hour, needing to be at the airport at 7am. However, I forgot to take into account the 1hr bus ride from Seoul to Incheon Airport, also wake and get ready time (luckily for me that’s about 10min). I got up at 5.30am, got dressed, Jamie walked me to the taxi and was on the bus at 6.02am. Not bad timing if you ask me. I had no issues at the airport, unless you count the rather humbling experience of trying to pull a baggage cart away from another, I just grumbled and moved to another one that was much happier to oblige me. All my fears of baggage weights proved unfounded and I was well within the limits I had paid for. I checked most of my scuba equipment except for the more expensive and sensitive regulator and computer, which of course were suspicious going through security scan. Although the only thing they asked me was if I had a dive knife… I would hope not in my carry on luggage, I just smiled sweetly and said no and they barely checked to make sure I was telling the truth.

At check in I was told to take the train to gate 106 and it would take 30min, I assumed that the airport had grown a bit since the last time I flew out of here. But after barely 3min of talking to a very chatty businessman who was heading to China to ship silica, we arrived at the gate. At first I thought it was one of many stops but then realised EVERYONE was getting out. Guess the check in lady had mispoke.

I love watching people in airports and ever since we entered the train I was bemused by the bleach blonde or wigged, serious high heel platform shoed version of what seemed like the Korean Lady Gaga. You just couldn’t help but stare.

With 2 hours and 10,000won I bought an ice coffee and skyped the folks. I wanted to exchange my leftover won and hoped to use my debit card to get $100 worth of Thai Baht. But they wouldn’t accept it, cash only. So I dug out the $20 I had saved and used that along with my remaining change of Korean won. I managed to get 590 baht which would cover the taxi in Bangkok tonight and the one in the morning right back to the airport.

Air Asia – Flight 1

Air Asia has really cheap flights, but you pay for everything from checked baggage, to meals, to seats, to entertainment. The good thing about this is that you can design your trip how you want it, you can also add something like a meal during the flight, it’s just a little more expensive. Usually I don’t book seats and just see where they put me, but for some reason I decided to book these flights.

It paid off and I managed a whole row, where I quickly spread out to prevent anyone else getting the idea of moving to one of the empty seats. Sometimes self preservation and being able to stretch out during a flight is more important.

I was flying Air Asia via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Bangkok. I would arrive around 8pm. I ordered vegetarian lasagna and I must say it was delicious, as far as airplane food goes.

I guess I couldn’t have it all perfect, a full row to sleep, airline food that was actually food and good, tv on my computer…. and an aircon system in the plane that was bordering on schizophrenic. Blasts of freezing air every 10min, then lull you into a false sense of security of comfort and just as you get comfy…another blast of arctic wind. After the one flight attendant saw me turning blue and teeth chattering for the 3rd time they finally got it sorted. Maybe they were just trying to convince folks to buy the “Comfort Pack” which includes a pillow, eye mask and a BLANKET!!!

Arrival Kuala Lumpur

I had a 3hr layover in KL, and it was a balmy 33C, which is the warmest I have felt in over a year. I stripped off jackets and hats and boots in preparation and just as well as the airport’s airconditioning involved open doors and windows.

I was meant to go to the transfer “lounge” but got caught up in the masses and discovered myself in immigration. After some confusion I figured out that the sign was telling me to U-turn back down the stairs and not go round the corner. The entrance to the transfer was a door I had walked passed and had a huge sign announcing what it was… oh well, I blame lack of coffee (you had to pay for that).

In true customer service style there were 3 desks open… but only 1 for about 10 country destinations including mine, so there was a good 30min wait and shuffle, wait and shuffle. But people watching was hilarious. The high maintenance Korean girl wearing ridiculously high wedges and blue stripey socks and nearly breaking her ankle with every step was there. She was having a tiff with her boyfriend/husband, and throwing things on the floor in grand temper tantrum style, I was waiting for her to start stomping her feet, she already had the pout going.

By the time I got through the counter I only had a 2 hr wait. I needed to charge my computer so hunted down a power station, the only one in the whole place. Then realised I had packed my adaptor in my checked luggage. Luckily found one at the bookstore. Plugged in and sat on the floor watching one of my miniseries. Of course, people kept bumping my plug and losing power, and every time I tried to reach across the table to plug it back in, very helpful folks unplugged it for me thinking I wanted to leave. After the 4th time I just took the plug and went to the loo. When I came back I went to the other side of the power station and a plug point I could reach. Started chatting with an American girl, and she watched my computer as I searched, in failure for a water fountain, apparently you need to buy water in this airport.

The Boarding Game

I have taken a flight from this airport before and remember the sheer confusion as multiple destinations are checked through the same gate and you all, en masse, head for a variety of planes and just hope you end up on the right one.

This time was even more amusing as there were streams of people coming off planes and streams heading to planes. You kind of criss cross, look confused, point in one direction, get a nod, head that way, board a plane and hope it’s the right one. Luckily the flight attendants are quite good at checking tickets.

I was surprised when the attendant suddenly called my name and handed over some roast chicken I had pre-ordered. Completely forgot I had got it. My seat mate was Thai and we had a great chat about things, well “great” with limited English. This time the food was not so good and there was a lot of gristle on the chicken and just not that good flavor wise. Oh well can’t win every time.

As we left KL there were massive thunder clouds outside the windows, which made one a little nervous and prepare for bumpyness.

Arrival Bangkok

I got into Bangkok around 8pm, and had been traveling for close to 16hrs. I managed to get my bags, some money and then went to line up outside in exceptionally hot and muggy weather, waiting for a taxi. Once I got my taxi I showed him the name of my hotel, of course he didn’t know it, but luckily I had taken all the information I could including the phone number, and he called to find directions. He was a very chatty driver and told me to be sure to get an early start touring as my area got very backlogged with traffic by 7am in the morning. I said no worries as I had to leave at 5.30am for my 7am flight.

Delight Residence

Finally arriving, actually it was barely 5min, I went into reception and discovered the 2 guys spoke NO English. We managed to get me checked in and they called one of the other staff with English to come and get some info from me. She also helped me get a sim card for my phone, and the wifi code and promised she would be on duty in the morning at 5am to get me a taxi. Finally making it to the room, I collapsed after a shower and a quick message home to say I had arrived. The bed was as hard as a rock, but I didn’t care. All I wanted was the 6hrs of sleep I had before I had to wake up for my last flight, and bus and ferry to Koh Phangan….

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in RTW, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Seoul, Korea – Week 1

1 Oct 2012

Flying United

You would think by now I would be an expert at packing. But add in some dive gear and I am lost… Trying to fit in my fins turned out too much work.

The most important aspect to my packing was my faithful friend, who traveled all year with me in 2011 and never once demanded a mention. Well here he is my faithful African Wild Dog:

The shuttle picked me up at 3.45am for my 6am flight. I wonder why I do flights at these ungodly hour, literally before the butt crack of dawn.

My fabulous, amazing parents allowed me to use air miles to get a flight to Seoul on United Air. I have flown United many times and usually they are ok, not brilliant but ok. Well this flight lived up to all the expectations… of other people who say United is shite! The flight attendants looked miserable and never smiled, only offering water once during a 6hr section of the trip. They even refused to help anyone with their bags. So much for it being a customer service based industry. The lunch they served was almost inedible, it tasted like they had warmed the salad up with the “chicken” dish. They had also run out of choices by the time they got to me and the back half of the plane, and of course the only choice they had was the one I didn’t want.

The entertainment was still the old way with the TV in the center of the aisle every few rows, and about 25 people didn’t have any sound… it was a 12 hr flight! But it felt like longer.

Luckily the passengers were super nice in my area, some of them helped me get my bag up into the overhead as the attendant just glared at us. As I got to my seat, I realised there was a couple behind me with a 8mth old little one, named Hudson. My first thought was “blooming hell, 12 hrs with a screaming child”. But then the mom handed out little pieces of paper attached to ear plugs introducing little Hudson and apologizing for nay crying. You can’t be angry when the parents are considerate.

My seatmate was flying her first international flight and was super nervous. She tried to upgrade, even to first, but they refused to let her since she had already boarded, once again United steps up to the plate. She had booked a window seat and been assured she would get one but instead she had the 2nd seat in from the aisle in the 4 seat section. I had the aisle, and I would have switched but I couldn’t do a 12 hr flight in an inside seat.

She was on her way to visit her husband for their anniversary, he is a soldier at the Yongsan Army base in Seoul. We chatted a lot and I helped her through immigration and customs.

Old Friends

As we came through the doors I saw Jamie, I had not seen her in almost 8yrs. We met on a Korea Tourism trip and had stayed in contact ever since. When I told her I was planning to go to Thailand she said I should visit her in Seoul as she would be returning there to do 2yrs at an international school. Sounded like a plan to me and it meant that I could try meet up with Korean friends and hopefully my taekwondo masters.

It was fantastic seeing Jamie and chatting about everything, both good and bad that had happened in the last few months. The shuttle bus took almost an hour to get to her place and then we hopped in a taxi to go the last 10min rather than lugging my bags… I was already sleep walking as it was. After a shower I felt much better and then we headed out for my first meal of Sam Geup Sal (Korean BBQ with thick bacon like pork), my favorite.

Visa Run

Wednesday turned out to be a public holiday so we couldn’t go to Itaewon (the Foreigner area) till Thursday. We spent Wednesday meeting a friend of Jamie’s to help her with an application essay. I was really jetlagged and tired, but after some Donkas (fried pork cutlet) I felt much better. We also went for coffee and a delicious brownie. I ordered an iced coffee and had to pay 200won for the ice, how funny is that!

Then we walked around Namdaemun market (South Gate Market). One of my favorite places from when I lived here. I was still able to find my way around even after 8yrs…

Thursday morning we got up early to find the Thai Embassy in Itaewon. If Jamie had not been with me I would have been lost for sure!! To find the Thai Embassy you go out exit 3 and walk straight until you see, what I termed, the lego building on your left, then turn right and go downhill till you find the embassy on your right.

I went to pull my number noting about 20 people in front of me. As I pulled number 4 the dinnger dinged and showed 4, well that was quick. Less than 5min later we were out the door and I could pick up the visa in the morning. Turned out I couldn’t get the 90 day visa, as I hoped, as the letter from Lotus Divers was not an original.. dangit. But I have a 60day visa and can do a visa run to the immigration office near where I will be staying.

Time for breakfast at a place called Gecko’s, Jamie, being a veggie, ate all the non meat, I cleaned up the rest. Then a treat for ourselves, a pedicure. Bit more expensive than I would have liked but it was fun. Of course in the subway on the way home a lody rushing for the door stood on my foot and took off half the paint on my left big toe. Dammit!!!!

Meeting Masters

Jamie headed home but I went to meet my 1st Taekwondo Instructor, Master Kim Eun Cheol. I hadn’t seen him in over 8yrs. He had sent me text saying I must go to Jamwon and exit 4. Finding his school again was going to be a miracle, but then again if I can find a curio shop in the middle of Namdaemun market, there was hope. Low and behold I found it. I just walked straight then a left and then there was something about the door across the road that looked right, 3 floors up and woohoo, there was Sindong Taekwondo.

Now, since I had 2 masters during my 3yr stint in Korea, it became easier to describe them as Number 1 and Number 2 when talking to my mom. So for future reference that is how I will write them here.

Number 1 was out of the office when I got there but his assistants, who spoke no English, looked like an honored guest had arrived and scurried around finding me coffee and getting me a chair, it was kind of cute. They called number 1 and he said he was bringing the van and to bring me downstairs. There was much bowing and smiling when they took me to meet him.

I got in the van and it was like we had just seen each other last week. He took me to lunch at a place famous for its beef soup and kimchi, delicious. He showed me pics of his 2 kids and caught me up on all the other masters I had known. He called number 2 who nearly had a heart attack when he tried to give me the phone, as he was terrified of speaking English to me. It was all rather bemusing.

Back at his gym we chatted more and he told me about his second gym he had opened. We planned to get everyone together and meet at the restaurant of one of the masters, Maximus had opened a korean BBQ place and also had a gym. I looked forward to seeing all of them, but wasn’t holding my breath as we all know how busy Koreans can get.

Back at “home” I made Jamie some Pasta Italiano, thanks again to vet Nicola from Italy who taught me the recipe in the jungle of Ecuador. It has been a favorite of all my vegetarian friends.

Visa in my Hot Little Hands

Friday I got an early start and left a note for Jamie. Got to Itaewon and went straight to the embassy. This time I had to wait a whole 2min before it was my turn. What a pretty visa it is, 60days sorted need to make a visa run to Koh Samui at some point to get a 30 day extension.

Then went back to the nail place to have my pedicure fixed, no problem and no charge. The fascinating thing was, that when she switched on the dryer for my toes, there was air blowing. Yesterday there hadn’t been any and I just assumed it was one of those ultra violet type ones… no wonder the pedicure didn’t dry properly.

The Insanity of Myeongdong

Jamie is a bit different to me on the shopping scale. In other words she got the shopping in stores and malls gene while I didn’t, much preferring the open market crowds vs the mall type crowds. She needed to get a few things for winter and so we planned to meet at Myeongdong. I think I have been to this area once, and now I remember why. It was blaring music and signs and lights and people…

Since she was running a little late I went to find a coffee shop, which turned out to be harder than expected. Eventually desperate to get off the insane street I picked a place and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a lemon tea for 5500 won ($5.50). It tasted like hot lemon crystal light with a piece of lemon in it and it looked a rather luminous yellow color. But it was out of the noise and street so I guess that’s what you pay for.

Did You Say Cat Cafe???

Jamie, still recovering from being sick, arrived and looked pretty miserable and sick, but we decided to give shopping a try. As we walked towards H&M I saw a sign for a Cat Cafe… I insisted we go look, Jamie thought it was just some stupid name, but I was certain it was like the ones in Japan I had heard of, where you have a coffee and can sit with a bunch of cats.

It was heaven and the cats were fantastic. Only photos can do it justice:

This little bugger is in time out for peeing on a customers bags and escaping.


Our favorite Juno, who gave Jamie some much needed kitty therapy

After some much needed cat therapy Jamie looked much better and was able to shop all afternoon. Can’t say that I faired very well, but then when we figured out the girls outside the beauty shops were enticing us with free face masks and such I was much better. You don’t have to buy you just have to look. Sounds good to me and I get free stuff… I really have no shame in that department, Jamie felt bad though and bought something in almost every shop.

Stir Fry and a Korean Movie about a Tsunami that wipes out Busan (city in the south).

1 week down another to go. So many things to see and do and friends to meet up with…

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Germany Bound!

1st December 2011

Security Checks Continue

So my route plan from Kathmandu to Hamburg was extensive: 8am flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi, 4hours layover, New Delhi to Milan, 4hours there, finally, Milan to Hamburg…

After leaving Nepal far behind, we disembarked in New Delhi, India. Quite a fancy airport and it even has sleeping “cocoons” that you can rent if you have a long layover.

Once again we were given bag tags to add to our ever growing collection, I think I will look like a traveling Christmas Tree by the time I am through all of these.

Bag Tag Decorations

Waiting in line I met Hannah, returning to the UK after volunteering in Nepal for a few months. Going through security check number 2 or 3 since arriving at the airport, we had to scan our bags. Her’s was pulled to the side and the good humored guards asked where the little pair of scissors were. She argued stating there were none, but when she unpacked it she found it in a little side pocket. There was much laughter. As mine went through I took out my little pair before they even had a chance to ask, dang it totally forgot about them till Hannah was arguing. We joked that they should open a used scissor shop after work. It was refreshing to find airport security with a sense of humor.

Money Exchanges… Or Not

I had ended up with 2500 Nepali Rupees, totally forgetting to change my money before I left (blaming lack of sleep and emotions). But was certain I could change it into Euros in New Delhi airport or at the very least change it into a currency that would be more workable once I got to Germany. As it turns out there were TWO major issues:

1) Past immigration and security no FOREIGNER could exchange money (only Indian Passport holders). Since transit meant I was already past security meant I had no hope of being able to do this.

It did occur to me to ask an Indian Passport holder to change it for me… until

2) They don’t take Nepali Rupees.

GO FIGURE!!! It was suggested that one of the Duty Free stores might take them, but after about 15 shops both Hannah and I realised there wasn’t much hope. Mmmmm guess it means I just have to go back to Nepal.

People Watching

People watching in airports is one of my favorite pastimes and this was no different. This brought a bemused giggle to my lips:

Reebok Monks

I can barely afford Reeboks and here are 2 monks buying a pair of stylish running shoes in the Duty Free Shop (which is usually twice as expensive).

Jet Airways continued

So far Jet Airways had been pretty decent and I hoped this would continue with the 11hour flight to Milan looming in my near future. After an hour delay it was time to board, then a further 30minute delay we were finally in the air. I was in the middle section on the aisle with an Indian mom and 2 boys. For the most part they were reasonably well behaved, but there was the occasional elbow in the ribs when they weren’t concentrating. Luckily Jet outdid themselves with individual entertainment units, great service and decent food. I think I even managed a bit of shut eye, which is rare for me unless I have a row to myself.

Arrival Milan Airport

Finally landing in Milan and feeling decidedly travel worn already, I wandered through the airport towards my gate, which was on the far end. On the way I thought it wise to draw some Euros, but at that precise moment could not remember if Italy used them or not. I asked at one of the duty free shops and after a bit of confusion with translation I got my question across and the fact that I was brain dead at that moment. We all laughed and they pointed me in the direction of an ATM. Of course it was all in Italian without the option of English (if there was one it was probably asking in Italian if you wanted English). Oh well, it was a good thought.

Went through another security check and finally found my gate, I literally think it was at the end of the airport. Another hour long delay so I decided to buy some internet time just to let all those who needed to know that I had made it this far.

The plane was almost empty and I just hung back to board up hoping to get a front row to sleep. Thank karma I did, the attendant too one look at me and didn’t argue, pointing me to the second row. I think I was out for the count before the plane even left the ground. I woke up just before we landed and before my eyes were even in focus the attendant was offering me the snack and juice I had missed at the beginning. I love good service and was very appreciative of this.

REUNION!

Germany was not just a country of random choosing like most of the others. At the very beginning of my trip, in my first country, I had met an awesome girl by the name of Cathleen in Aguas Calientes. You can read about that in my entry “Aguas Calientes Day 13”. We had always joked about me visiting her on my way home but never really thought I would get the chance to. Once I realised I was going to Nepal and would head home over Europe it just seemed like it was meant to be. Cathleen lived in Leipzig in the former Eastern side of Germany but had traveled to Hamburg to meet me. As I got off the plane and wandered through the non existent immigration check (still very strange to enter a new country without all that rigamarole and slightly annoying as I now don’t have a German stamp in my passport), I felt exhausted but was very excited to see my friend.

She was there with her friend Hendrik who lived in Hamburg. He had driven her to the airport which meant no dealing with public transport, he also gave up his bed for us. I was exhausted but still had many things going through my mind and still trying to fathom that my year of travel was only 2 weeks from an end. This would prove to be a difficult idea to wrap my head around in the weeks to come.

But for now, there was a new country to explore and a great friend to catch up with.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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