Leaving on a Jetplane
After months of travel planning, our departure day was finally here! Bursting with anticipation for the impending evening flight, the daylight hours were spent in wrapping up the mundane details of cleaning, bill paying and packing.
Travis was being transported to the Portland Jetport by his family, while Bekka, Heather and I were utilizing the services of Abbey Road Taxi.
A rapid check-in at PWM, and a round of pre-flight brews at Shipyard later, and our journey was underway. The weather conditions had delayed the JetBlue flight somewhat, and did nothing for the physical constitution once aloft. I experienced my first-ever, brief bout of motion sickness on a plane and regretted the beer instantly. Travis fared the best out of our group and was solicitous when we exited the plane in a hurry at JFK, (John F. Kennedy Airport), to catch our first connecting flight.
Hurry Up and Wait
We navigated the terminals at JFK, Heather and Travis in the lead, playfully racing each other along the moving sidewalks as Bekka and I brought up the rear. As we jumped in the sinuous line that had formed to board the Qatar Airways flight for the next leg to Doha, we heard our names over the intercom. Apparently they’d been hailing us well before our previous flight had even arrived. Once at the desk, our seats were soon arranged and after dickering about baggage weight, the flight attendant finally sent us off to rejoin the dwindling line.
We happened to strike up a conversation with another passenger in line, Jeff, from California who was also en route to Bangkok, Thailand. One bag and a ukulele were his only luggage and, he informed us, he was preparing to move there for an entrepreneurial business venture. We traded pleasantries for a while as we boarded the flight, and made our way to the assigned seats.
A good number of the other passengers were of Arabic descent, single men and families, whose conversations were incomprehensible to us. Their modest clothes, in comparison to those worn by the many American travelers, stood out in stark contrast.
The plane was far from full capacity and while Heather had a window seat, with Bekka in the middle and Travis on the aisle, I enjoyed a full, middle row with three seats to myself, after ousting a seat interloper. There were plenty of in-flight amenities including multiple meals, snacks and beverages at no additional charge. The visual entertainment included a wide variety of music, video games and strangely, the Tom Cruise movie collection.
Announcements were made in both flowing Arabic and the crisp syllables of British-accented English throughout the flight, informing us of anything from an upcoming meal service to the progress of our flight.
Bekka was the only one who didn’t manage to catch a few zzz’s during the next twelve hours to Doha, which if you knew her, you’d find highly unusual. At home, she is known for her ability to sleep through entire weekends, coming out of her hibernation only to forage for food.
This flight had also been slightly delayed, so in preparation to book it to our next segment, we grabbed our bags from the overhead compartments early and were in the aisles to disembark the moment the seatbelt lights were turned off. We were stymied by the movements of the passengers and found ourselves next to Jeff again as we waited for the line to make any forward progress. As we were all going to be in Bangkok for a few days, I gave him my card to reach out when he arrived to coordinate a meetup. His next connecting flight was hours after ours, as he had initially intended to go to Europe first, but missed the departure at JFK, so he decided to make his transition to Thailand a week earlier.
We made time through the terminal to get to our next Qatar flight, and ended up with some time to spare before boarding. A mix of languages from Europe and the North American continent dominated the air here. On board, yet another passenger had decided to keep my aisle seat warm for me, and the others were together in the middle row. This Qatar Airways flight was as full of amenities and hospitality as the last. There were two ladies from Poland seated next to me, who made some small talk, but mostly only deferred to me as an English dictionary when they didn’t understand one of the announcements or written forms.
Bekka was still unable to drowse, while the rest of us drifted in and out of slumber between reading, watching a flick, or some such seated activity. It was light out as we landed and the lines moved more quickly to exit the plane.
Arriving at Suvarnabhumi-Bangkok Internaional Airport
Before heading to the immigration line, we stopped to get our bearings and visit the currency exchange. The current rate was $100 USD to 3240 TBH (Thai baht). I took map screen shots on the iPad of our route to the hostel and we made our way to the immigration line. For the number of travelers passing through the terminals, it surprisingly only took us about an hour to get through the line.
Travis had taken care of the arrangements regarding accommodations for our stay in Bangkok. A place called the Shanti Lodge, upon recommendations from friends at home, so all we needed to do was find the best means of getting there.
The Shanti Lodge website recommended using the Express Line, which would cost 150 baht each, but we found it was closed for the week. It was just as well, as the City Line Sky Train was only 45 THB each and got us to the same place, the Phaya Thai Station.
Instead of taking a taxi the final 2.3 miles, we decided to take the scenic route and hoof it.
Move It or Lose It: Crossing the Street
According to the map, it was a straight shot down Thanon Si Ayutthaya. Our most short-legged and travel weary companion, Bekka, ultimately set the pace.
The wide, tree-lined avenue, and all the connecting streets we passed seemed to have an unceasing flow of cars, trucks and motorbikes, all in a rush to get to their destination. They drove dangerously close to each other, swerving past the large number of tuk-tuks and idle vehicles that crowded along the road and crossed lanes without blinking an eye. This made crossing the streets, even narrow ones, an adrenaline inducing experience.
We must have just missed a large celebration of some sort, as there were dozens of brightly colored tents and staging being taken down at one of the larger intersections.
It took us close to an hour to finally reach what would be our haven of serenity for the next few days, The Shanti Lodge!
Travel Planning Tip: Layovers
Whenever I travel and have connecting flights, I always assume that there is going to be a delay. I’m rarely disappointed in this respect. I won’t book connecting flights unless there is at least a two-hour layover in between, even for domestic. This served us well on this trip, because if we had booked any of the shorter layover connections, we would have likely missed at least one flight, if not more.
So, my travel tip is to consider your itinerary carefully when booking segmented flights and give yourself a time buffer!