Almost one year ago, I got the idea in my head that I wanted to go to Thailand for my next trip. After 8 months of tirelessly planning and working out logistics, I had managed to buy airline tickets and rent a motorcycle. The rest I would just figure out when I got there...
November 1, 2012
As with most of my trips, I hit the ground running. I arrived at Denver International promptly at 7:45 AM with my flight scheduled to leave at 8:20 AM. So, I had a cushy 35 minutes to check in, clear security and get to my gate. Over the last couple years, I have unintentionally acquired a unique talent for always being the last person on the plane, but I have never missed a flight yet. Once again, I was the last person to arrive, but this time around I had company.
(Side note on being the last person on the plane):
Everyone assumes that being the last person on a plane is such a bad thing. While I won't say that it's wrong to assume that, I do want to mention that it does have its perks. For instance, the customer service is definitely a notch above. When you are the last person to arrive at the gate, everybody knows your name. So, instead of being just another member of boarding group 3, you are Mr. McDonough, quickly followed by a congratulatory remark on making your flight. When was the last time you were congratulated at the airport for anything?
Then, there is carry-on luggage. These days if you're not one of the first 30 people on a plane, flight attendants will inevitably gate check that bag that you've spent all morning trying not to check, because all of the overhead bins are full. Now if you're the last person on the plane, it's exactly the opposite. Not only will they not gate check your bag because the luggage compartment is already closed, but in an attempt to get you on the plane faster, they will physically stow it for you, usually in first class. The best reason by far though is that the minute you sit down, the plane pushes back and you are on your way. No putzing around in the airport or sitting around for what seems like an eternity on a stuffy plane while you wait for that one guy who only gave himself 35 minutes to make his flight.
Anyways, on this particular morning I was not alone in being the last one aboard. As per usual, they had over sold the flight, so myself and four other guys found ourselves standing at the gate with tickets but no seats. Interestingly enough, it turns out my new friends were climbers headed to Joshua Tree for the week. Was it coincidence that there couldn't be more than 5 climbers on that flight, all of whom had showed up late, and none of them were actually on it? Probably not. We spent 15 minutes standing outside the gate chatting about climbing in Joshua Tree and Thailand. I also squeezed in a little advertising while I handed out some First Ascent koozies, and finally we all made it on board! (big thanks to Sue at the United counter)
The trip to Thailand was rather routine from that point forward. Denver to LAX (2 hours), LAX to Beijing (12 hours), Beijing to Bangkok (6 hours). I've taken a number of long plane rides over the years, 14 hours straight to Sydney, back to back 7 hour flights to Nairobi, but something about this ride made it feel unbearably long.
November 3rd (skipped a day crossing the dateline)
Thirty odd hours after leaving Denver I was in Bangkok, Thailand, and I was sweating my ass off. It was 1 AM, and somehow it was still 90 degrees with what felt like 150% humidity. Sweating would unfortunately become a common theme of the entire trip. I made my way into a taxi and to my only pre-booked accommodation of the trip where I went straight to bed.
When I woke up, it was my first day in Asia, and I was unbelievably hungry. So I did what any adventurous traveler does, I knocked down a couple Clif bars and set off to explore Bangkok for the day.
Bangkok is one of those places that is truly difficult to explain in words. For starters, it's massive- by far the largest city I've ever been to. You could travel for miles in any direction and never manage to escape its urban grasp. It's busy, noisy, dirty, crowded, and absolutely mesmerizing. It was one of the few places on earth where all the stories and rumors surrounding it were absolutely true.
I spent my first day wandering the grand place and Wat Pho (the home of the giant reclining Buddha seen in the film "The Beach"). It turned out that I spent most of it trying to avoid the throngs of tourist from every corner of the globe.
I quickly learned that there was a significant language barrier as I attempted to order lunch for the first time. The Thai language is unlike anything I have ever encountered before. The fact that it doesn't use roman characters makes it all the more interesting when trying to accomplish seemingly simple tasks. When ordering lunch in a language you don't speak, you can usually just point at the menu and have some idea of what you are getting. I quickly found that the whole point and pray method was quite a bit more interesting over there. Seeing as I couldn't read one letter I had no clue what I was ordering, and every time it was like a game of roulette. I still don't know what many of the things were that I ate but the vast majority of them were absolutely fantastic (and not nearly as spicy as everyone talks about).
Interestingly enough, forks were used for all dishes except for soup. For soup, chopsticks and a spoon were always given.
(My very first mystery lunch)
After a big day of wandering around aimlessly, I returned to the hotel and mapped out how I was going to get out of Bangkok alive. Tomorrow would be my first day ever riding a motorcycle.
Read Part 2 Here
A collection of stories and adventures from the FAMS director and instructors.