One Night in Bangkok

Once we arrived in Suvanarbhumi Airport, I realized that three years had hardly seemed to have passed since I’d been in Thailand. The signs, sounds, and smells of Thailand all felt very familiar. Bangkok, however, is almost a separate culture of its own in Thailand. With a population of over fourteen million people wedged on about a 600 square mile space, Bangkok makesNew York City look like a mere pit of a big apple.

Time passed unusually quickly for our twenty eight hour trip to the other side of the planet. Once I set foot on land, however, time moved at a snail’s pace. It suddenly hit me that my body hadn’t laid horizontal for about two days. Somehow, for me, even six straight hours of sleep on a flight cannot replace a bed with big pillows. It was 7:10 am in Bangkok, and I couldn’t wait to sink my body onto a real bed. The process of waiting in line for customs and obtaining our thirty-day Visa on arrival seemed to take hours, although in reality, it was no more than about twenty-five minutes. Once I received my Visa, I picked up my luggage, went to the ‘hong-nam’ (toilet, but I must start using my Thai now!), and met up with the other women to walk together to ‘Gate B’ to meet our guide who would escort us to our driver to transport us to our hotel. As I lugged my big purple suitcase along with my black backpack and my yoga mat bag over my shoulders, I looked over at two of my former students who are traveling with me – Anne and Anna. They each had only one rather small bag! I had a moment of envy as I lugged my cumbersome luggage. No matter how many times or how far I’ve traveled, I still cannot seem to lighten my load that small. I always have numerous ‘what if’s’ when packing and end up not using half of what I brought. Still, I knew I’d be grateful for my yoga mat, insect bite remedies, vitamins, and excessive pairs of underwear when I’d be immersed in the tropical 95 degree (F) or higher temperatures. I was anxious, though, to unload my belongings. All I wanted was a bed.

As we looked for a sign with the travel agency’s name on it, we eventually found a woman with a sign that simply read ‘Amy Warcup.’ I figured it was a good guess that she was referring to me! We joined her, and she greeted us cheerfully as we made small talk and she asked us what our plans for our trip would be. After she directed us to our taxicab van, we excitedly hopped on board. We made it! This was not a fantasy anymore. We were really in Thailand!

Aside from the excessive traffic and large billboard signs written in both Thai and English, we knew we were in Thailand as soon as we looked at the sign above our seats.

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One of my favorite silly pleasures when I travel to Asia is reading the signage. I also find myself wondering what our signs in the U.S. would look like if we dared to attempt writing in Thai. So much must undoubtedly become lost in translation between a tonal language with characters and a Roman language with letters. No matter now humored I get, I always appreciate the effort the Thais make to accommodate the tourists in their country.

Each time I visited Bangkok in the past, I always stayed in the city’s Bangrak neighborhood, – a wild, exciting, bustling neighborhood that carries contradictions of tradition and unconventionality, purity and sin. On one corner one may find a temple lined with monks, statues of Buddha, and prayer offerings, and walk only one block up to find an array of strip clubs and bars with explicit names, awaiting to fulfill any foreigner’s naughty Bangkok fantasy. It is also home to the famous Patpong night market, which is large,crazy, and exciting, but also very crowded and overwhelming at times.

This time, however, we stayed in the Sukhumvit neighborhood, which is described as being one of Bangkok’s hottest strips of real estate with the widest choices of restaurants to dine at in the city. My first impression of the neighborhood was that it is most definitely designed for the foreign traveler. On our little side street (‘soi’) alone, one can find a Starbucks, German Restaurant, British Pub, and several Thai restaurants, with Thai massage businesses speckled in between. I noticed seeing just as many Western people as I did Thais strolling down the crowded, narrow street where our hotel was located.image

We stayed at the Salil Sukhumvit Soi 11 hotel; an unassuming little Bankok guesthouse tucked away on a small side street off of the famous Sukhumvit Road. The hotel had a very ‘homey’ atmosphere. We were greeted by a sweet young Thai woman, and also by a fun, friendly man named Mr. Wit who asked to be called ‘Wilson.’ The outside of the hotel had a small spirit house and Buddhist alter where the hotel workers prayed and gave offerings. Here is Marcie standing outside of the entryway.

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My second floor room looked just like a doll house, which was a big contrast from the fancy, modern room I was in during my last visit to Thailand in 2012. This room, however, suited me just fine. It was clean and had everything I needed – a comfortable mattress, a good shower, and air conditioning (it was 9am and already it was 95 degrees outside!). I couldn’t wait to sleep!

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Although I wanted to only sleep for about four hours so I could enjoy the day, I couldn’t pull my head from my pillow until about eight hours later. At this point, it was dark outside and dinner time in Bangkok.

I knocked on the doors of the others, but I didn’t get any answers. Assuming they were all either still sleeping or out exploring Bangkok, I meandered up the street solo to find a place to eat. On my way, I passed one of dozens of massage places and found Morgan, Natalie, and Marcie all seated in a row inside of one place receiving blissful Thai foot massages. They told me they were almost done. I planned to meet them back in a few minutes to find a place to eat together. Next, I saw Anne and Anna walking up the street. During the time I was sleeping off my jet lag, they had already visited the Grand Palace, the Wat Pho, taken a water taxi ride, and visited other temples. I was amazed! It turns out that I was the only one who needed eight hours of sleep upon arrival after our long flight.

Later, I went to dinner with Marcie, Morgan, and Natalie. The prices on the menu were quite a bit higher than the ones I recall in Chiang Mai, but they were still far cheaper than they are at home. The menu also looked delicious, so we stayed.image

I couldn’t resist ordering fresh coconut water, which is served in Thailand right out of a real coconut with a straw. I had been craving fresh coconut for a couple of years at his point. Natalie ordered one, too. Here we are drinking out of our coconuts.Yum!

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For dinner, I decided to order the pineapple coconut fried rice. I assumed (correctly) that the dish would be served in a real pineapple. Being a great lover of this fruit, this alone was a good reason for me to order it. Needless to say,it was absolutely delicious.image

This somewhat upscale Bangkok Thai restaurant also included live entertainment. The band consisted of a male and female singer, two keyboardists, a drummer, bassist, and a guitarist. They played all Western music, mostly from the 1970’s and 1980’s. The male singer sounded just like Joe Cocker. There was a large television screen that showed them up-close in case customers couldn’t see them from their seats. Marcie was clever enough to find the camera, and she took the opportunity to stand as close to it as she could get to it. For a moment, Marcie was a television star on our first night in Thailand! I have a feeling we’re going to have fun with Marcie here!

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After dinner, I decided to follow in the footsteps of the other ladies and get a foot massage myself. It was so relaxing that I fell right back asleep once I returned to our hotel. Ahhhh.

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We had the next day free until 2:30pm, when we would be picked up to return to the airport for our flight to Chiang Rai; a much smaller Thai city located in the North. While some of the others engaged in more tourist activities, I decided to search for a belly dance studio. I had the fortune to do many of the tourist activities in Bangkok during my previous visits. I knew I’d find plenty of yoga studios throughout Thailand, but I didn’t know if I’d find belly dance anywhere outside of Bangkok. To my great fortune, I did find one, and it was only two stops off of the sky train from where the hotel was located. I discovered on their website that they are affiliated with a well-known studio I’ve visited in New York City called Bellyqueen. That,to me, was a very good sign. The studio I went to is called Rumpuree.

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I attended a noon class with a teacher named Jody. When I arrived, I was greeted by a pleasant young Thai man. I registered, got dressed in one of the changing rooms, and entered the class.

The class was small, with two other students and the teacher. The entire class was taught in English, which I was not expecting since I was in Thailand. This certainly made it easier to follow along with the teacher. Most of the steps in the choreography that the teacher, Jody taught were the same as what I’ve learned at home, but the arrangement of her steps and the music was new. I was delighted that I could follow along and join the other ladies in their dance. It was so much fun that I didn’t even notice until the end that I was sweating so much that I looked like I just came out of a swimming pool (did I mention that it’s hot in Thailand in June?). At the end of class, I was lucky to get a photo with the Jody (far left) and the other students in class. It feels like a small and comfortable world to engage in a dance I love so much at home with women who live on the other side of the planet!

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When I returned to the hotel, it was time to gather my cumbersome luggage together to return to the airport for our short flight to Chiang Rai. Somehow, my luggage felt a little lighter being in Thailand. Perhaps the more relaxed, easy-going ways of the Thai people was rubbing off on me already, even in the huge city of Bangkok.

Before we left, we said goodbye to our fun and friendly host at the hotel, Wilson.

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It’s only been one night, and we’ve already made a new Thai friend. This is only the beginning of our journey through the Land of Smiles.

Natalie

As I continue to share adventures about our 2015 trip to Thailand, I will be inter-weaving interviews with my former students who are joining me on this journey. My first interview was with Natalie Olton.

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“I’ve heard that Thailand is called the ‘Land of Smiles,’ Shared Natalie Olton, as she leaned over the table with a stick of her chicken satay in her hand and her clever eyes shining excitedly. “I’ve always been a very smiley, bubbly person, and I’m really looking forward to being around other people who love to smile as much as I do.”

Twenty-eight year old Natalie has been a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) for almost six years, and she is a 2009 graduate of FLCC’s Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care Program. A lifelong native of Palmyra, New York, Natalie grew up in a very lively household with five sisters and two brothers, one of which is a twin. She and her twin brother are the second youngest children in her family.

Natalie with sistersFor our interview, Natalie and I decided it would be fun (and fitting) to meet at a local Thai restaurant in Rochester, where we both currently reside.  As I watched Natalie enjoying her satay and her Thai fried rice, I could tell already that she will integrate into Thai culture with grace and ease. Natalie shared that when she first learned of the Thailand trip being offered that it seemed like the most exciting opportunity for her in to have in her life right now. “It seemed like such a unique opportunity to have a chance to learn a style of massage that so few massage therapists offer in Rochester,” said Natalie. “I literally decided the day I learned about the trip in Amy’s e-mail that I was going to Thailand. I completely just went with my gut, which rarely steers me wrong.” Natalie added in her interview how she felt strongly that visiting Thailand is just something she ‘needs to do’ in her life.

After practicing as an LMT for six years, Natalie has already gained her fair share of experience in the massage therapy field. She currently has her own part-time massage business in Palmyra, New York called ‘The Hara and the Heart.’ She primarily offers Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, pre-natal massage, and Shiatsu in her practice. Natalie is also certified in Reflexology, which she also offers. Soon, she’ll also be adding Thai massage to her menu of massage therapy services.

When reflecting on what originally sparked her interest to enter FLCC’s massage program eight years ago, Natalie shared that it was important for her to choose a career path in which she could help other people to feel good. “I’ve always been a nurturer, so bodywork seemed like a good fit for me.”  Once she began to start learning massage, Natalie found that the benefits she received reached far beyond just helping other people.  “I really feel like the massage program and being a massage therapist helps me to be a more centered and peaceful person in my life overall,” said Natalie.

Natalie’s nurturing nature led her to continue her training in Nursing after she finished massage school. “I went on to become an LPN after massage school as a way to supplement my massage career and income, and also continue to work to help people.” In addition to her massage practice, Natalie also works at Twelve Corners Pediatrics in Brighton, New York as a Lactation Counselor.

Prior to studying massage therapy, Natalie double-majored in Musical Theater and vocal performance at Westminster College in New Jersey. Although she decided that massage therapy is a better career path for her, Natalie continues to have a great love for singing, music, and theater.

For the past eighteen years, Natalie has been attending a children’s summer camp in Penn Yan, New York, first as a participant when she was a child, then later when she became a young adult, as a camp counselor. Natalie shared that the camp is an experiment in community. “The camp is a special place because it fosters a nurturing and accepting environment for kids who are ages ten through eighteen. They are taught about the importance of cooperation and to not to accept bullying or ever bully others.”

This multi-talented young woman has a few other hobbies she is passionate about as well. In the recent past, she was a member of an all-women’s roller-derby team. Natalie is also very passionate about baking and cooking, too. “Culinary school is also on my future list of things to do!” said Natalie enthusiastically. “Melting chocolate is one of the most soothing and relaxing activities for me.” I have a feeling Natalie will be able to add cooking Thai cuisine to her list of many talents soon!

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Well, if you haven’t gotten the impression that Natalie is adventurous yet, maybe you will after you watch this video of her eating Durian, which, although revered in the far East as being ‘the king of fruits,’ is rarely eaten or even tolerated by westerners. This is mainly due to its very strong smell which is often regarded as being quite a foul aroma. (I didn’t even realize she was videoing this when she offered some to me!).

 

If you would like to book a massage appointment with Natalie, contact her at 315-573-0213, and also ‘like’ her massage business page, The Hara and the Heart, on Facebook.

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Our Long Flight To Thailand

After three years being planted in the Western hemisphere, I have finally taken the long eastward journey back once again to my beloved Thailand. This time, I’m visiting the Land of Smiles with five first-time Thailand travelers; Marcie, Natalie, Anne, Morgan, and Anna. All five of the women accompanying me on this trip are my former students from Finger Lakes Community College’s Therapeutic Massage Program, where I teach as full-time faculty. Many have spent the past year working very hard to save funds to make this trip possible for them. Two of the youngwomen, Natalie and Morgan, were signed up for last year’s canceled trip and have been waiting two years for this long-awaited journey! As you can imagine, we have all been very eager for our journey to Thailand to really happen! On Saturday, May 30th, we took our long awaited flight.

The duration of our flights and layovers collectively was about 29 hours in its entirety. We originated from our small local airport in Rochester, New York, and eventually arrived in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. After our short flight on Jet Blue from Rochester to New York City’s JFK International Airport, we took the air train to check into Etihad Airways. We had a five and a half hour layover while waiting to board our thirteen hour flight to Abu Dhabi. For me, this felt like the longest part of our trip. We did our best to kill time by eating overpriced American airport food, checking e-mails and Facebook, charging our cell phones, and calling our loved ones to say our final goodbyes.

Natalie and I made ourselves comfortable by sitting on the floor while we waited for our phones to charge. I was beginning to feel like I was back in travel mode at this point. image

Finally, we boarded our first flight. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a thirteen hour flight. It didn’t take long, however, for me to remember some of the most important things I need to remember about being on a flight for this long; dress in layers, bring a pair of warm socks, hope the airline will include at least one moderately good television show or movie, buy lots of tasty snacks from Trader Joe’s, bring a good book to get lost in, and cross my fingers that I’m not seated next to, in front of, or behind any nose-pickers, fingernail clippers, crying babies (don’t get me wrong – babies are adorable, but not while crying on a long flight), or un-showered travelers dressed in clothing so rank that even the lice have fled.

Fortunately for me, I had the pleasure of being seated in a row with Marcie, Natalie, and Morgan. We quickly got comfortable. Marcie was ready to sleep almost immediately.

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It was one of the most pleasant and seemingly shortest long flights I’ve ever had. I slept nearly the entire time. It helped that it was almost 11:00pm in our EST time zone before we took off.  

When we landed in Abu Dhabi to transfer to our next flight, it began to feel for me like this journey to Thailand is real. Up until that moment, it still felt like this Thailand trip was more of a dream than a reality. The Abu Dhabi Airport is definitely one of the cleanest and classiest airport I’ve ever been in. The gates were lined with very healthy and large live jade plants, and the pristine bathrooms included showers, which I have never seen in an airport before. Each toilet had a bidet. When I stopped at a little café to purchase a mocha latte, I received my first dirham in exchange for my American dollars when I paid. Indeed, we were not in America anymore!

Our layover in Abu Dhabi was less than two hours long, and time moved very quickly. We managed to find someone to take our first group photo right before we boarded our flight to Bangkok.

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The next flight was only about six hours long. Given that it was only half the length of time from our previous flight, this one went very quickly, even though I was wide awake the entire time from sleeping for several hours on our last flight. Perhaps some of it was also the adrenaline rush of knowing that the next step I take on planet earth will be on Thai soil….or perhaps more accurately, Thai concrete, since we spent our first night in Bangkok.

We had just one night in Bangkok to begin this exciting adventure. Of all of the cities in the world where one can find adventure, Bangkok must undoubtedly be listed in the world’s list of top ten.

We have now been in Thailand for five days already. Between recouping from my jetlag, limited internet access, and our very busy schedule of wonderful visits here, I haven’t begun blogging until now. I promise that I will be catching up quickly to share our adventures. Please come back to visit daily as I share the places we visit, some fun Thai cultural facts we’re learning, and also introduce each of the five amazing women who are accompanying me on this journey!

Until next time, Saw-at-dee-kaa from Thailand!