90 Days in Thailand – The Journey So Far

We’ve been back in Thailand a little over three months now and I thought it would be a good time to recap the experience.

Getting here was somewhere on my list of the top ten most draining experiences of my life. Buy a plane ticket and move, right? I wish it was that easy.

We had to sell our house, close out a real estate investment deal, sell our cars, sell my motorcycle, sell everything else we owned that we couldn’t fit in a few suitcases, and obtain import permits for both of the dogs (both for Thailand as well as Taiwan which we had a layover in).

For awhile we were sleeping on an air mattress on the floor because we had sold all of the furniture.

Getting There is Half the Battle

Our last day in the US started before the crack of dawn and we drove from Las Vegas to Los Angeles because:

A) Most airlines won’t allow dogs in the cargo hold if the tarmac temperature is over 100F. Since we had to book the flights several months out, we had no idea what the temperature would be and didn’t want to take any chances of getting stuck unable to get the dogs on the flight.

B) The only flight that flies non-stop to Asia is Korean Air, everything else stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle. Given the fact that it was already going to be a 20+ hour flight with a layover somewhere in Asia (Thai Airways no longer flies non-stop from LAX to BKK) we didn’t want the dogs to endure an extra layover, sitting around at LAX for hours.

driving-to-la

We rented the largest mini-van we could since we were hauling all of our luggage, two large dog crates, and the dogs.

Once we arrived in LA we drove around looking for dog parks so we could tire the dogs out. Unfortunately, all of the walks and playing with the dogs had the same effect on us.

When it was time to head to the airport I had to drop Ked off in front of Tom Bradley with six suitcases, two dog crates, and two dogs, while I took the van back.

Then we had to figure out how to get all of this stuff inside. The dogs crates didn’t have wheels so that had to be carried. Jack’s crate, minus the dog, was 50 lbs.

So we tracked down a porter who had to get another porter and they helped us get everything inside.

Next we had to check in all of the bags and get the dogs boarded. A process that wasn’t helped by the fact that the woman checking us in made several mistakes and had to tear up our boarding passes and start over again.

Midway through the process the manager came over and decided that he wanted to weigh our carry-on bags. He declared them too heavy and insisted that we take stuff out of the carry-on bags and put it in the checked luggage.

But once we put the stuff in the checked bags, they wanted to re-weigh them and they were now overweight.

I ended up going back and forth with the manager for awhile and then he just walked away mid-conversation. The woman that was checking us in sort of just took the bags and didn’t say another word about weight.

After that we had to have TSA screen the dog crates which meant taking the dogs in the dog crates to the opposite end of the terminal and having them inspect the crates and then put zip ties on the crate to keep it from being tampered with.

Following the TSA screening we had to bring the crates all the way back to where we started to check the crates in with the airline.

Then we sat with the dogs for another 30 – 45 minutes while they got someone to come take them.

Jack was terrified and shaking. Star, the little diva, was angry and wouldn’t acknowledge us. LOL.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 12:15am and we had been up since about 4:00am the previous day.

Arrival in Bangkok

We arrived in Bangkok about 22 hours later, having barely slept, and had to wait for the dogs to be brought up from oversized baggage. Then we had to go to the quarantine office and obtain an import permit.

Again, with so much luggage and the two crates, we had to get some porters to help take us out of the terminal where my friend Rob was waiting. We loaded up as much as we could in his SUV and he had already called a pickup truck to take the bigger stuff like the crates.

About an hour later, we finally made it to our new home (technically our friend Rob’s old home – since we’re renting it from him).

After showering and going out to dinner with Rob and his wife, we went back to the house and crashed for about two solid days.

And thus begins the adventure.

Ninety plus days on, we’re starting to settle in.

We bought a moped for getting around the neighborhood. We bought a truck so we can take some trips outside of Bangkok without relying on planes, trains, or buses. We opened bank accounts. I got my Thai car and motorcycle driving licenses (Ked is still working on getting her’s).

ford-ranger

Krabi, Thailand

Our first excursion out of town was to Ao Nang and Krabi Town. We spent a few days down there relaxing.

krabi-thailand

In my last post, I talked about the fact that one of the reasons we decided to move back to Thailand was that Ked’s grandmother was getting up there in years and she wanted to spend some time with her.

Bad News From Phetchabun

After we got back from Ao Nang we went up to Ked’s hometown in Phetchabun because we had gotten word that Ked’s grandmother wasn’t doing well.

We brought the dogs with us because we didn’t know how long we would be there but it became obvious that Ked’s aunt’s dog was not too pleased with the guests . After a few days we decided to bring the dogs back to Bangkok and put them in boarding and then return back up to Phetchabun.

Shortly after we got back to Phetchabun, Ked’s grandmother passed.

Fortunately, Ked was there with her holding her hand and she was surrounded by family.

I have been to a Thai funeral before but this was the first time I had ever seen everything from start to finish.

Within minutes of passing, someone from the temple was at the house to start making arrangements.

Shortly after, a wooden casket that she would be cremated in was delivered and people began preparing it with palm branches and other decorations.

The body was brought outside near the casket and everyone took turns pouring scented water into her grandmother’s outstretched hand as a final cleansing of the spirit.

washing-grandma

I remember the first time I went up to Ked’s hometown, almost 10 years prior, during the Thai new year, Songkran. I was chilling in her house when she asked me if I wanted to “shower grandma” and we got into a comical exchange only to eventually learn that pouring water over the elder members of the family to wash away everything and have a new start to the year was part of the Songkran tradition.

As I poured the water into Ked’s grandmother’s hand, I couldn’t help but think back to that moment and I made a joke about it to Ked which made her smile.

When everyone had finished, the body was lifted into the casket, the top was put on it and the casket was loaded into a refrigerated container that was then put on display.

Throughout the day people came to set up awnings and decorate the coffin with elaborate floral decorations.

floral-arrangement

People came over to the house and began cooking massive amounts of food and by evening the entire courtyard of the house was filled with chairs and a shrine.

Crowds of relatives and neighbors gathered and sat around and a pickup truck delivered monks from the temple who came and chanted prayers.

large-crowds

When the monks departed, everyone was fed (monks are forbidden from eating after noon so it’s rude to serve food in front of the monks).

monks-chant

As people mingle out, the booze starts to flow freely and people bring their own setups and start playing Hi-Lo, a Thai dice gambling game.

This cycle of wake up, go to the market and buy food, cooking a large meal, guests coming over, monks chanting prayers, and drinking and gambling all night would repeat daily for about a week.

On the day of the cremation, several younger male members of the family are ordained as monks for the day. They shave their heads and put on the saffron robes and escort the body to the temple.

little-monks

At the temple a service is performed and then the casket is opened so friends and family can view the body one last time before it is loaded into the crematorium.

The last glimpse of her was peaceful, like she was sleeping.

Return to Bangkok

But we didn’t stay in Bangkok long as I had to leave Thailand just after the new year and rather than wait until the last minute, we decided to take care of it near the end of December.

I came to Thailand on a Non-Immigrant “O” multiple-entry visa which is good for one year and you can enter and exit Thailand as often as you like. However, each entry is for 90-days and then you must leave the country and re-enter.

Nong Khai and Laos

We decided to head to Nong Khai, a quiet little town on the Mekong River. On the other side of the river is Laos and about 20 kilometers from the border is the capital city of Vientiane.

nong-khai

So we took a bus up to Nong Khai and rented a small guest room. It’s a beautiful city and we were fortunate to catch the night markets there.

We eventually did a day trip over to Vientiane and toured a few ancient temples.

laos-2

laos-1

On re-entering Thailand, they stamped my passport with another 90-days.

Udon Thani

On the trip back to Bangkok we decided to stop off in Udon Thani and spend a few days there. Neither of us had been there before so we were curious.

Udon Thani is the “big city” in the area. That’s where people from smaller villages and towns go to when they want to go to a shopping mall or need something that isn’t available locally.

Honestly, we didn’t really click with Udon though so we only stayed two night and then got the bus back to Bangkok.

NYE in Bangkok

We spent NYE in Bangkok with some of Ked’s family that came to visit us and then we were back on a bus to Hua Hin.

Hua Hin

We’ve both been to Hua Hin several times before. I was both curious as to how it had changed since we last visited and I thought it might be a good idea to break up our trip a little bit since it’s only a few hours south of Bangkok.

We arrived early and spent the day walking around near the beach. At night we meandered around dropping into little bars and having a drink here and a drink there.

I’ve always enjoyed Hua Hin but we were also anxious to check out Prachuap Khiri Khan.

hua-hin

Prachuap Khiri Khan

So after discovering that the next train would not be arriving for several hours we hired a van to take us to Prachuap.

Normally, I like to plan everything on our trips but since we’ve returned to Thailand, we really haven’t planned anything. We decide we’re going to Nong Khai and we just go to the bus station and buy the tickets and wander around looking for a place to stay.

Same in Hua Hin and in Prachuap. We don’t know how long we’re staying, we just get a place and we keep extending as long as we want to stay.

So far, Prachuap is the first place we’ve visited where I felt like, “I could live here.” It is a super-quiet little fishing village on the Gulf of Thailand. It’s like what Hua Hin must have been like decades ago.

We rented a scooter and drove down to the Thai Air Force base which has the best beach in the area, Ao Manao. Despite being absolutely gorgeous, it was practically deserted.

prachuap

Monkey Business

Later in the day we discovered the monkeys. At the far end of the main part of town is a road that leads up to a temple perched on the top of a mountain.

At that intersection there are monkeys everywhere. They’re sitting on the edges of buildings, crossing the street, climbing in trees, and even jumping into people’s cars.

monkeys

We saw an old woman selling bananas to feed to the monkeys so we walked up to buy some treats. She had a bicycle and as she got up to greet us she dropped the bike and we tried to help her. Her dog thought we were harming her so he got very aggressive snipping at me.

The monkeys figuring this was their chance at some food, started circling us and the dog was now chasing them off and still not very cool with us.

We bought some bananas from her and it was at that point that I became aware that these monkeys were not going to line up in a nice orderly fashion. They were approaching from every direction and they were squawking and fighting each other for the bananas.

I got rid of the bananas quickly and made a mental note never to feed the monkeys again.

Prachuap Nightlife

We arrived on a weekend and in the evenings they had a night market. Everybody was laid back and friendly. We found a spot where many of the expats sit on the sea wall and drink beers as they watch the sun set.

Later in the evening we found a little bar run by an entertaining dreadlocked man named, Bong. It was less like a bar and more like you stumbled into this guy’s living room. He sat around strumming a guitar that he obviously did not know how to play and sang along to everything from the Beatles to Bob Marley (of course).

Cruising Prachuap

One of the days we were there we decided to go check out real estate. Maybe when our lease ran out in Bangkok we might consider moving down here, either to buy a place or to rent for a year to two.

So we took the scooter and just started randomly driving neighborhoods.

At one point we just kept following this one road and it took us down to another beach and we found some people offering massages on the beach, so, hey, why not?

beach-massage

After a nice foot massage we were heading back into town and Ked suggested we go check out a road we had seen earlier but hadn’t been down yet.

There are two types of motorbike riders; those that have laid a bike down and those that will

There were several signs that said that there was a new housing development on the road but all we saw were older houses.

I finally saw something that looked like it might be newly built and I made a left onto the road.

As soon as I made the left, I knew I had made a huge mistake.

The road dead-ended and at the end of the road were some dogs that didn’t look like they appreciated us being there.

I slowly began u-turning the bike as the dogs kept barking and walking towards us.

As I completed the u-turn one of the dogs was walking faster towards us and was still barking so I hit the throttle and tried to put some distance between us.

He broke into a full sprint and I could see the business end of his teeth as he was running up just behind us.

But now I’m going too fast and the road empties back onto that main road we had turned in from. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see left or right as both directions were blocked by buildings.

I have three options.

1. Keep going and turn onto the main road blind at full speed.
2. Slow down and let the dog catch up.
3. Try to slow down just enough so I can catch a glimpse of any traffic on the main road before making a decision which way to turn.

I went with Option #3 but when I hit the brakes, unfortunately, the wheels were on loose gravel and the bike lowsided out from under us.

Fortunately, the dog that was chasing us turned around and lost interest but we were both scraped up pretty bad.

Banged Up

We jumped back on the bike and started heading into town. I told Ked to keep an eye open for a pharmacy or somewhere where we could get bandages.

We found a clinic that was open and we saw a doctor who cleaned up the wounds and gave us some pain killers and antibiotics. The total bill, for both of us, came to a mere 800 baht ($26.50 USD).

banged-up

Besides the stinging pain from the scrapes, my left foot was banged up pretty good and I couldn’t put much weight on it. With the adrenaline rushing, I didn’t really start to feel it until we got back to the hotel and I got off the bike.

We returned the bike and called the owner. She came and we told her about the accident and she inspected the bike and said that 300 baht (about $10 USD) would cover the damage.

Then she insisted on going to the pharmacy and buying us some antibacterial ointment she said her son used when he crashed his motorcycle.

We stayed in Prachuap a few more days, mostly because we weren’t really fit to travel. Both of us were in a lot of pain and we just wanted to rest.

Recovering in Chomphon

Eventually, we decided to head down to Chumphon so we got another van to take us there and we spent a couple of days in Chumphon on the beach just healing before catching a bus back to Bangkok.

chumphon

We’re all good now but there were a couple of weeks there where it wasn’t fun.

So, we’ve been back in Bangkok for a few weeks now.

We’ve only driven the truck around the neighborhood a few times but once we get our permanent license plates we’re planning on taking her out on the road for some more adventures.

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