Thailand Day One: The Adventure Begins

In Korea they celebrate two new years’: Solar New Year, the traditional western New Year, and Lunar New Year, an exciting double New Year you get to celebrate if you live and/or work in East Asia. For Lunar New Year, Nicole and I had two days off: Thursday and Friday. We both additionally took off Monday through Wednesday giving us an awesome 9 day holiday from Friday night to the following Sunday night.

Before you read

If you haven’t read about Solar New Year, check it out here. If you have read it then check out my trip to Thailand below!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Getting to Bangkok

I left work at my usual time around 10pm and hailed a cab over to Nicole’s apartment. From her apartment we both grabbed our bags and took another cab to the bus station. Our bus left for Seoul at 11:40 and we arrived in Seoul at about 3am. From the Gangnam, yes that Gangnam, Station we took a cab to Seoul station to take a train to Incheon where the airport is.

[box type=”info”]Fun Fact: The first train to Incheon is at 5:20am.[/box]

What’s a person to do at the Seoul Train Station between 3 and 5am? If you guessed wait inside you’re wrong. Unfortunately the station is closed until about 4:30. Nicole and I waited at a crowded Lotteria immediately adjacent to the train station. Clearly we were not the only people waiting for the station to open. Almost every single seat in the joint was taken. Many patrons were sleeping on tables or waiting impatiently, luggage in hand.

Finally 5am rolled around and we went into the train station to purchase our tickets and head to Incheon. The train left promptly at 5:20 and an hour later Nicole and I were on a moving walkway slowly making our way towards the airport terminal.

The Flight

Check in was quick and we made it to our gate with about an hour to spare, about 8:30am. Since we were sitting in row 58, a row so far back, on most planes you would be sitting behind the plane, we got to board first. It was neat.

Nicole sleeping on Thai Airways

Let me say this about the flight, Thai airways is fantastic. If you get a chance to fly Thai airways, I strongly encourage you to do it. There are touch screens in the back of every headrest and remotes in the armrests. The touch screens have dozens of movies, music, and tv shows to choose from. The food was pretty good too and there were free potent potables for consumption. Nicole and I indulged in celebratory gin and tonics and then Nicole fell asleep again and I watched a ton of movies because I can never sleep on transportation.

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Touch Down

We touched down, or landed, in Bangkok at 1:30pm due to a two-hour time change. It was hard to believe that we were finally in Thailand after traveling almost nonstop since 10pm the previous night. Customs was a breeze, just like it was entering Korea and Japan. In a matter of minutes Nicole and I had our bags and were on our way to meet a man I would later come to call Pimon, his name.

Pimon, or possibly Simon

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Our air BnB host, Bee, offered to have her father pick us up from the airport and drive us directly to the apartment all for $20. Considering Nicoleand I had zero idea of how to get to the apartment this seemed like a great proposition. We met up with him in front of the airport and we walked to his car. He introduced himself as Pimon, at least I think that’s what he said. He was difficult to understand.

Pimon was an interesting fellow. I would say he was in his late 50s. He loves his family and kids, his wife died of cancer, he enjoys hiking in Canada, and he is very proud of his daughter, Bee. That was all I understood of what he said. On an unrelated note, for some reason he reminded me of what Dave Thomas, of Wendy’s, would look like if he was born in Thailand instead of the US.

[box type=”info”]Fun Fact: People drive on the left side of the road in Thailand.[/box]

Getting to the Apartment

From the airport we hopped on the highway and he drove us the 30 minutes or so to our apartment. We took the highway over much of downtown Bangkok. It was a view to behold. Bangkok is such a modern and futuristic city at its center, but its antiquated and poor just about everywhere else. In the center of downtown there are designer boutiques and multistory shopping malls. Meanwhile only blocks away people live vastly different, and poorer, lives.

Pimon drove us past a nearby plaza area called Asiatique and a few other sites in our neighborhood. Afterwards he brought us to the apartment and gave us the key. Nicole and I had booked a studio apartment for our stay for about $300. The apartment was incredible and much nicer than both of our apartments in Korea.

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It was nice to finally be done traveling, almost a day after we started. We both passed out on the bed from exhaustion and probably slept for an hour.

Waking up in Bangkok

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I woke up with one of the worst headaches of my life, probably from not eating and drinking enough while traveling. Luckily, there was a “café”.

The soup we shared was just enough to tide us over as we walked towards Asiatique and dinner. Along the way we got to see our first taste of Bangkok, outside of downtown. The buildings were old and run down, but lively and bustling on the first floor. Most of the buildings were concrete block and maybe 3-4 stories. The first floors of most of the buildings were shops. There were lots of internet cafes, hair salons, and little cafes selling that same soup we had near our apartment.nearby where we could get food. By café, I mean there was what looked like a hotdog-cart parked on the side of the road with several plastic tables and chairs. Nicole and I split a delicious soup that was one of the best meals I had on the trip. There were bits of beef and spices in it and it was the right balance of spicy and flavorful. A few bites of soup and I was good to go.

The soup we shared was just enough to tide me over until dinner. Nicole and I stopped at a small restaurant that Pimon had recommended to us. We ate delicious fish and steamed octopus in a lime chili sauce. It was amazing, but also amazingly spicy. I thought I knew what spicy was, living in Korea and all, but Thai spicy is on a whole other level.

After dinner Nicole and I walked down to Asiatique, the market that Pimon told us about in the car earlier. Asiatique used to be a derelict warehouse park on the water. However the area had been renovated and each of the former warehouses were converted into hip outdoor markets with various shops and stalls. Nicole and I bargained a bit with a few shop keepers and bought some gifts for our family. We also got some dairy-free coconut ice cream, served in an actual coconut and sprinkled with peanuts. It was amazing and it quickly became a staple of our Thailand trip. I probably ate it everyday.

Next to Asiatique was a giant ferris wheel, I believe the third largest in the world. As we were walking over to it, fireworks began to go off and the two of us decided to watch the fireworks from the edge of the river instead.

This was a spectacular end to a very long and very eventful day. We rode buses, taxis, trains and planes. We traveled almost all day and all night. However, at the end, it was all worth it. We enjoyed delicious foods in a variety of venues and got to experience a new and interesting culture.

The best part of all, this was just the first day.

 

Japan Vacation – Returning to Korea

One Last Train Ride

Nicole and I woke early, cleaned our room, and took a train back to the Osaka airport. The ride was early and uneventful. The often crowded subway was sparsely populated with random Japanese people and the odd tourist with a suitcase making the same trip as us.

Along the route back to the airport, I saw numerous people outside exercising, playing tennis, jogging. It was refreshing to see a culture that embraced the morning. In Korea, I rarely saw anyone out and about before 10 am. The coffee shop by my house doesn’t even open until after 11. By then I don’t even need coffee.

Airport Food and Souvenirs

Duty Free Shopping
Duty Free Shopping

At the airport, Nicole and I checked in and bought Udon noodles and Takoyaki in remembrance of the great times we had in Japan. The food was considerably better than American airport food and much more reasonably priced. After our airport lunch Nicole and I perused the duty-free shops before out flight. When it was time to board, Nicole and I realized that we would not be sitting next to one another because we booked separately and checked in electronically.

Two Ships Passing in the Night

I was sitting in the back so I walked out onto the runway with the other passengers stuck in the back and Nicole boarded at the front like a normal human. In that moment I knew what it must have been like to be a third-class passenger on the Titanic. Right as I boarded though, Nicole flagged me down from the front of the plane. She had persuaded the Korean woman next to her to switch places with me and sit in the back.

In-flight Booze
In-flight Booze

I walked up to the front and sat with Nicole. Nicole regaled me with the tale of how she asked the woman and the woman said yes before realizing how far back it was and remarking in broken English “It’s so far”. I didn’t know this detail beforehand and felt a bit bad about it, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed by reading some exciting in-flight literature. Nicole and I had some Japanese money remaining that we hadn’t spent and decided to go out with a bang so we spent our remaining few dollars on Japanese in-flight booze. It was fun, we got a beer, some plum wine, and a highball (which is awful). Thoroughly sauced, we passed the rest of our flight discussing our favorite parts of our trip and planning our next adventure back in Korea.

Korea or Bust

Nicole and I landed in Korea and spent the rest of the day traveling back to Gwangju, first by light rail, then subway, then bus, then taxi. It was exhausting, but we finally made it back home.

Overall I had a great time in Japan. It was a place I’d always wanted to visit and I feel like Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto were a good way to see a wide slice of Japan. I’d love to go back someday soon, perhaps even teach there. It felt a decade ahead of Korea and the US. The food was amazing, the people were incredibly friendly, and there was so much to do all the time everywhere.