Greetings from Southeast Asia! It’s our second and last day in Bangkok, Thailand, before we head to our final destination in the nation’s south. So far, our travels from the U.S. have gone swimmingly — no significant delays, a handful of pleasant flights and experiences, and no problems of which to speak. In fact, I think this may have been one of the most pleasant journeys to Thailand that I’ve yet taken.
We departed from Florida on schedule this past Friday morning, after my parents graciously shuttled us to the airport in Apple’s Mazda (and then put the car away with its tank full of fuel stabilizer). Our first flight took us by way of Atlanta — doesn’t every Delta flight? — where we had a light breakfast and then proceeded on to Seoul, South Korea. We seem to try a new airline each time we travel, and this particular 15-hour flight was our first on Korean Airlines.
Atlanta’s international terminal, known fondly as “Concourse E,” is much more nicely-appointed and much less harried than its domestic terminals. We hit a streak of good luck almost right away, when the gate agent told us that “it was pretty quiet today” and offered to relocate us to a seat at the front of the plane, without us even asking. We ended up with two bulkhead seats in row 28, the very first row of the economy cabin. Although the armrests don’t raise and the seats are a little narrower, I’ve come to like these bulkhead seats because of the abundance of legroom. Perhaps most importantly, my knees aren’t constantly embedded in the back of the seat in front of me, and this helped a great deal.
In fact, the first third of the 15-hour flight disappeared almost without trace as I essentially slept through the whole thing in one- or two-hour segments. This is unprecedented for me. The food was quite good, and between my iPhone and an actual printed book in my pocket, I was kept occupied the entire time. I tell you, the eReader application I wrote about earlier is a godsend. And I’m glad I bought a couple more eBooks before we left, because if I hadn’t, I’d be just about out of reading material by now!
Although we were almost an hour late in taking off from Atlanta, we still had plenty of time in Seoul with which to grab a bite to eat and explore around a little. Admittedly, this was probably the low point of the trip, as we were both feeling tired and a bit grouchy and sore from being seated so long. Also, Incheon International Airport isn’t as impressive as we’d hoped. I think Apple was hoping to buy some Korean cosmetics there, but there weren’t any to be found. There was also an extreme dearth of food to eat, as the food court was undergoing renovation and was completely closed. We eventually found a little restaurant and had a meal, but it wasn’t anything special.
Our final flight — a nearly 6-hour jaunt — was also on Korean Airlines, and took us directly to Bangkok. Again, we asked if there were any better seats available and were “upgraded” to an exit row, where we had just two seats next to each other and a huge amount of legroom. I thought this was an excellent location, the only problem being that we were right next to the galley and thus often had to endure a crowd of flight attendants as they scurried about.
I dozed off again for a couple hours, but the last three hours of the flight dragged on and on for both Apple and I. At that point, we could think of little else besides getting to our hotel room, stretching out and sleeping for twelve hours. Finally the plane landed in Bangkok, we picked up our luggage (all of which made it there intact), and met Apple’s brother M, who was there to escort us to our hotel by taxi.
Bangkok has a bit of an air travel oddity going on. Due in large part to government corruption, the brand new Suvarnabhumi Airport was recently found to have a number of structural deficiencies, including disintegrating runways. Parts of the airport had to be closed, and as such, the airport now only serves international traffic. If you want to travel domestically within Thailand, you have to go back to the old Don Muang Airport across town, which was reopened to handle only local traffic. The distance between the two is almost an hour’s taxi ride, which, in Bangkok daytime traffic, can be a real pain in the ass (but costs only $13 US, thanks to the city’s comparatively affordable cab fares).
Knowing that our flight from Bangkok to Apple’s home town would have to be from Don Muang airport, we booked a hotel just minutes away from it. So we endured the long taxi ride on the night of our arrival, which worked out just fine because the traffic in Bangkok at 1 a.m. is practically nonexistent. The Asia Airport Hotel is a big place that’s pretty nicely appointed, has very good wireless Internet service available (for a price, alas…naturally we paid it) and is right in the heart of town. Perhaps best of all, their beds and pillows are excellent, and we made good use of them on our first night here.
We had all day Sunday to lounge around, because our next flight wasn’t until Monday afternoon. As such, I figured we’d sleep all day, but after only 4 and a half hours of slumber we were up at the crack of dawn feeling ready to go. Must be the jet lag. Apple’s brother M came back to the hotel to meet us and we had lunch at the huge “IT mall” next door. Yes, attached to this hotel is a four-story mall that’s completely filled with electronics, computer equipment and other tech goodies. Of course, I enjoyed wandering around the place looking at all the good stuff. There was even an Apple store — the official Apple retailers in Thailand are known as “iBeat” — where we got to play with the brand new Macbook, the one Apple wants to get when we return to the U.S. This was our first time seeing it, and we were both really impressed — it’s a huge improvement over the plasticky-looking Macbook of old. It also had an active Internet connection, so I posted an update on Twitter to let my family know we made it there safely.
While we were at the IT mall, I decided we should buy a cell phone. Unlike the U.S., in Thailand (and the rest of the world, actually), cell phones aren’t locked to specific wireless carriers. You can buy a cheap secondhand phone, like the Nokia we found for $24 USD, and put in a prepaid SIM card from any carrier you want. I picked out a DTAC SIM that had about 30 minutes’ worth of talk time on it, so Apple could talk to her parents, and with her brother M, while we were in BKK. This was actually a really good idea. In the future, we can bring this phone back to Thailand with us and use it to contact M when we get to the airport. And while I’m at home working at home in the south, Apple can use it to call me and keep me updated on what’s happening, in case she’s out with her family or friends.
After we left the IT mall, M took us over to the Major Cineplex and we saw the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace. M explained that Thailand was the very first nation in the world to see the film; there was even a warning at the beginning that explained as much and warned everyone not to pirate the movie, because the rest of the world wouldn’t get their chance for another week or two. (It just landed in the U.S. on Friday, so by now that warning is obsolete). The movie was quite good, but not as good as Casino Royale in my opinion. Nevertheless, it kept me interested the whole way through, and I’ll be interested to pick up a copy on Blu-ray later so my dad and I can watch it together (and I can pick up on things I undoubtedly missed the first time around).
After that, we bought some snacks to eat — including some breakfast pastries for me to enjoy the next morning — and returned to the hotel for a while, intending to go back out and grab some dinner after a few hours. But by then we were both getting sleepy, and Apple dozed off while I surfed the Internet and caught up on a couple hours’ work from the office. By the time she woke up, it was almost 8:00 and now I was the one feeling sleepy. In the end, we decided to eat peanut butter crackers for dinner and just sleep it off. Hell, I need to lose some weight anyway.
Sunday night we slept much better, although Apple was wide awake by 4 in the morning and passed the time by watching a few hours’ worth of Korean TV that she’d downloaded just before we left home. As 8:00 a.m. rolled around, she headed off to the local government center to get her name changed. We never officially got married in Thailand since that would have invalidated her U.S. K-1 visa, which means the Thai state still thinks she uses her maiden name. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that she wants to renew her Thai passport, and the name on it would not match her U.S. passport or any of her other identification. So she’s getting that squared away as I write this. Hopefully all goes according to plan — you never quite know what’ll happen when you’re dealing with a government office.
Incidentally, I’ve had a chance to test our Slingbox. To be honest, I was afraid the thing would be completely unusable from here, given that network latency over 10,000 miles of distance is bound to be terrible at best and impossible at worst. But even on the hotel’s 512-kilobit wi-fi connection, my Slingbox was located immediately and fired right up. Although pings are close to 800ms and the throughput is only an effective 128 kilobits, I was sitting there watching Headline News on my TiVo in real time. Sure, I know how it works and I’ve tested it extensively, but somehow, when you’re on the exact opposite side of the planet, it seems that much more impressive.
On our hotel connection, the picture quality isn’t too great and it was unwatchably choppy at first. But then I noticed that if you hit the pause button and let the Sling Player’s video buffer fill up for a few minutes, you can then resume playback and everything is super-smooth. I didn’t think it would work this way, but apparently the Slingbox is sending buffered output to the player software, not real-time output…so if your connection is choppy, you’ll still receive all of the data, rather than dropping chunks of it. This means that even on a lousy connection, if you are patient enough to let it buffer for a while up front, you can watch your show in almost perfect clarity thereafter. Now I’m anxious to try it on our connection at the house down south. My sister-in-law Mary tells us that the ISP there has upgraded their service to 4 megabits for no additional charge.
So this afternoon we’ll be leaving Bangkok and flying down to Apple’s hometown, where we’ll eat dinner and get settled. Apple plans to visit her doctor there this evening so we can talk about what we need to do and how to get started with our fertility procedures. Aside from that, one of my personal priorities will be to go computer shopping, so I can put together a desktop machine to make working more efficient and effective. And then I’m going to be looking for an Xbox 360 — the price cuts have made their way here, and I was directed to a highly-recommended, Bangkok-based online store from which to order the hardware for a good price in case I can’t find any decent deals down south.
That brings you up to speed on our travels — I’m sure I’ll have more in the coming days. But so far, I’m pleased with how well everything has been going. After the shocking incident of disgustingly bad luck that hit us the night before we left home — I’ll post more about that very soon — I’m hoping that it’ll be smooth sailing from here on out.
Check back soon for the continuing adventures.