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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Arriving in Thailand

I must say, I am totally impressed with Finn Air. They know what they are doing when it comes to flight. All the components of the second leg of the trek to Thailand worked together well to make smooth travel. Good food, excellent service, fairly spacious coach seats, individual TV touch screens with a choice of music, movies, games, TV shows in a multitude of languages - impressive. I was even able to move to another seat, so that the only person next to me in the row was a Buddhist monk who alternated between sleep and prayer. Thank goodness! I got a little sleep and watched a couple of movies.

Getting to Bangkok was easy. The city was bustling - equal parts ancient and modern and brought to mind Hawaii, Mexico and Jamaica with extremes in housing from shacks to mansions. It smelled like my favorite Thai restaurant back home, and I couldn't keep looking all around at the people, the vegetation (even in Bangkok) and the crazy pink taxis. Navigating the city was even easy. There were signs in English and Thai and plenty of people around to help answer questions and direct bleary-eyed tourists to the right stops. We hit the ground running as soon as we arrived, and followed a combination of Rail train, subway, and our good ole' feet, to get to the main train station with our overnight train to Chiang Mai. When we arrived to the station (filled with hundreds of travelers sprawled all over the waiting area), we got our first class overnight sleeper tickets. Yippee! Finally traveling in style.

On a mission for the bathroom at the station, I found a sign for pay showers. So, I went back to the group to let the others know that we could freshen up before the journey. Three of us decided to go for it - at 20 Baht, it seemed like a deal. Now, considering the last shower I took was at a Finnish spa, I knew I should keep my expectations low, but this exceeded even those low expectations. I had visions of my Girl Scout camp shower (I always felt dirtier leaving than I did getting there) - cold water, dirty floor, old stinky smell. It did the trick of getting the travel grime off of me, but I cannot wait to get to Chiang Mai to take a real shower.

On the street outside of the station, I had my first Thai meal - fresh pineapple on a stick. To watch the woman expertly cut a pineapple in less than two minutes, put my best pineapple cutting skills (and I have eaten fresh pineapple my whole life) to test. it was delicious - sweet and juicy and the right thing for my off kilter sense of time and out of sync stomach. I then went into the craziest 7-11 (bologna and peanut butter sandwiches on the shelf for sale - yuck), and purchased two of the biggest bottles of water I could find for the train ride. And then I just sat with the group and waited for our train. Sitting in the station, we met travelers from Canada, the U.S. and Australia. They all gave us great information about what they were experiencing and we all bonded over adventure. The overall feedback was that Chiang Mai is lovely and diverse - I can't wait to get there.

The train ride was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. An actual bed to sleep in! Since we were traveling first class, we were able to get individual sleepers with AC. I was glad to see that there were sinks and we each had doors that connected to another compartment, so none of us were truly isolated. Giddy with the excitement of the long (yet last) part of our trip, we ordered dinner and beer. Pictures were taken, toasts were made and then we settled in to eat, ride and rest.

I kept telling my group that they should follow my lead and eat vegetarian - what can possibly go wrong with veggies and rice, right? Wrong! I fell asleep around 10:00 p.m and woke at 11 with a burning feeling in my chest and throat. I experienced the worst heart burn I have ever had to deal with. It felt like fire in my throat - I thought I was going to choke. The rocking of the train only made it worse. With visions of death on a train in the middle of nowhere, Thailand, I woke my neighbor (Tara) who sat up with me and helped me try to figure out what was going on. Could I breathe? Yes. Could I swallow? Yes. Did my stomach ache? No. Did I feel any pain. No? We deduced that it was probably severe heartburn, so I gave some Alka Seltzer a try. No luck... I then tried Pepto tablets. Within 5 minutes, I was in the train bathroom (and I use that term both recklessly and loosely - bathrooms have taken on a whole new meaning here :) ) throwing up my veggies, rice and pineapple. And beer. It was the worst vomiting ever! I don't want to thrill you with all the details, so suffice it to say I am on an elimination diet (don't eat anything unless it is bland) for the rest of this train ride.

Back in my cabin, Tara gave me some motion sickness aromatherapy and peppermint gum. The burning slowly faded and I fell asleep to a combination of relaxation hypnotherapy and the un-gentle swaying of this 1960's train (if you are picturing the Orient Express or some other luxury, just get that right out of your head). This is Thai first class :) Old train, bad food, lots of rocking and noise and never on time.

At 6:30, Tara woke me up to look out the window - the train was flooded with sunlight as we rode through mountains and lush greenery. A few times, we could look down the steep mountainside and see brown rivers and steep drops. I was trying not to think about how much rocking we were experiencing at this point, I was just soaking in the visual splendor of the countryside. Thankful that I had the foresight to bring ginger on the trip (it is excellent for nausea), I ate a few pieces and brushed my teeth with bottled water and tucked into my breakfast of fresh pineapple (I ordered the vegetarian breakfast - chocolate cookies, pineapple, juice and tea - but pineapple was all I could stomach) as I sat and enjoyed the view. What an experience!

Arriving in Chiang Mai (five hours later than expected), we quickly navigated through the taxi drivers at the station to get to the red taxi we were told to find. Our driver (a nice man who didn't overcharge us - 200 baht for 6 people is a steal!), took us right to our guest house. It is small but clean, and the desk clerk/owner (Ann) is very kind and helpful. Now we get to settle in, shower off, and explore Chiang Mai.

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