Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Thailand 2016 Day 10. My 35-hour return trip

Four am and I am getting ready to leave Thailand. I will definitely miss this fabulous country and its kind people. People often ask me which is my favorite country, and after dividing it by continents I usually put Vietnam at the top, but Thailand is a very close second. Vietnam is crazy and anything you do is an adventure. Thailand, on the other hand, is just as exotic but everything is easy. It is beautiful, inexpensive, and in a day or two you feel part of the culture. No wonder so many expats have chosen Thailand as the place to live, particularly if you are on a budget. I can see myself living here, and then traveling to the rest of Asia to get the adrenaline flowing.

My flight actually departed at 7 am, and after that I did what DJ has referred to as the Indiana Jones maps. A red arrow from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, a new arrow from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, and then to Ho Chi Minh City, and then to Seoul, and finally across the Pacific to San Francisco (I am not there yet, but that is where I will end). In total I will have 35 hours of travel, including a 10-hour layover in Seoul (which is where I am writing this last entry).

Incheon is the airport of Seoul, and for many reasons is my all time favorite airport. First of all, it is common for Korean airlines to “encourage” you to spend a few hours here, so you take the opportunity to see something of Korea. To further facilitate this introduction, the airport runs free tourist tours that last 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 hours. I took the 5-hour tour to downtown, which included a visit to one of the old, posh neighborhoods, and then a visit to the central market, where we had free time to browse, shop and eat. Of course this implied exchanging a new batch of money (1 US dollar = 1,100 Korean wan), and the eternal quandary on how much to exchange. I wish I had exchanged a bit more, because I saw some cool things in the market, but there is no point regretting a missed shopping opportunity. Lunch was … OK I guess. Our guide had recommended sea weed rice and veggie rolls (actually quite good) and bimbimbap, which is a kind of rice and multi-produce salad combo that was a little too vegetarian for my taste.

Seoul is of course a large, modern, and very organized city. It has beautiful views, but the inhabitants remind me more of the folks in Singapore or Germany, than of the crazies in Vietnam or Mexico. Everything is spotless, people cross the street only when allowed, and everything carries the threat of draconian fines. But they are happy and prosperous, so who can argue with that? (Also, note that Seoul is very close to the border with North Korea, so if certain fat coo-coo decides to shoot a missile, this is the first place that is going to get it (but nobody seems to be particularly paranoid about it).  

The second reason why Incheon is my favorite airport is that they have free showers! For delicious 30 minutes you have a well appointed bathroom all for yourself (and after 24 hours of travel I definitely needed a shower). I am now in clean clothes, waiting for the 10-hour flight to San Francisco. I should try to sleep, but the temptation to watch movies for 10 hours straight may be too hard to beat. My last little bit of R&R before the craziness of the next semester starts!


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