Chiang Mai – Day 1 – The Journey there
I was quite impressed with my little room at the Sydney Hotel CBD in Liverpool St Chinatown. Advertised as a single standard room it was similar in size to a regular Singapore hotel room, well appointed, and at $95/night, better value than my regular Sydney Chinatown haunt – the Great Southern. For an overnight stop it is walking distance to Central Station and all the delights of Chinatown.
After checking in at 6.30pm I headed down to Market Central food court in need of a laksa, completely forgetting that it was the end of April, a cold front was sweeping the continent and Sydney was a little chilly. Having packed exclusively for south east Asia I. was not well clothed for the situation!
Returning to my room I still had some work to do before leaving Oz – a small matter of the BAS needing finalising for Home Hardware and a nagging computer issue stalling my work. Emails back and forward to our IT guys still had not solved the problem so despite the comfort of my hotel cacoon, I had a fitful night’s sleep.
Up early and back on the train to Sydney International Airport I arrived before my planned time of 8am getting lucky with the train timetable. I usually try to fly straight through from Alice Springs to my final destination in one hit – but Bangkok was proving difficult without arriving in a strange city at 3am. I relented, took an extra days’ leave than usual, and opted for the stop-over to arrive before Chiang Mai was completely asleep and me being knackered from 18 hours travelling.
Due to works on road George St I took a different route through the city back to the station and across the park bordering Eddy Avenue, surprised by the organisation of homeless people in that acre of city real estate. Tents surrounded all parameters of the park and a van emblazoned with Jesus Cares Ministry was dishing out eggs, sausages, baked-beans, and tea to anyone who needed a feed. I’ve crossed this park many times before but never seen so many homeless and such a permanent campsite set up.
Spending a lot of money with Mr Qantas during the year allows me the privilege of lounge membership so dumping my hand luggage on a comfy chair, loading up with tea, eggs, and croissants, I was back on the phone to HH IT in Melbourne for one last chance at solving the computer issue before leaving the country. Poor IT guy Nino had to put up with loud boarding announcements and my frustration at trying to go on holidays with a clear conscience of my duty to the ATO resolved. We reached a conclusion and I left him with some trouble shooting, promising to log back in tonight in Chiang Mai to check if his solution worked.
There’s only so much tea one can drink in the Q lounge and it was too early for champagne. The 9.50am flight was yet to be called so time for a leg stretch around the airport before a 9-and-a-half-hour flight. The departure board told me to “relax” – code for “your flight has been delayed”. Oh well – I’ll stand in line and see who else is boarding the flight to Bangkok. The airport is a great place for people watching, and who doesn’t enjoy a spot of that?
An elderly chap in a wheel chair was parked up at the priority lane so I stood next to him and we started chatting. A Manchurian who was heading to Phuket to visit his nephew to have some quiet time to write a book about his life in the horse industry. And love a chat he certainly did! He told me if I wanted to get on board early I could accompany him on to the aircraft and push his wheel chair. I said I was entitled to board early anyway and it turns out he snored all the way to Bangkok in the seat behind me!
Asking me why I flew so much, I said I used to work for a politician and flew to Canberra and around the NT a bit, as well as making the most of my accumulated long service leave in short bursts. Right on cue who should join us at the priority boarding lane but past Australian treasurer Wayne Swan. I introduced myself as a staffer (technically ex-staffer now), exchanged pleasantries, then continued the conversation as our wheelchaired friend was taken away to be settled before the mad rush. You never know who you’re going to meet in an airport queue.
Finally, we departed an hour late, with the pilot promising to fang it to arrive at the other end relatively on time. A consoling thought for those of us with connecting onward flights – although to be honest I hadn’t even thought of that until someone else mentioned it. Seat 24J is like having 4D on a domestic Qantas flight – the front row of economy with a little extra leg room and a little extra attention from the ever so accommodating flight attendants. The chap allocated to my aisle kept checking on the level of my wine. I’m a slow drinker at the best of times and it was still before midday. When I was ready for a top up, he forgot me for half an hour but came back with the good stuff from up the front in a brimming glass – bless him! All the better for making the creative writing juices flow and the spelling and grammar mistakes tumble out in abundance!
Before lunch I flicked my way through the movies on offer. Emirates allows you to make a wish list – Qantas doesn’t, so trying to remember the very few that took my fancy was a problem. I settled on “The Ghost Writer” which looked vaguely interesting and vaguely British amongst all the American offers. Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and a few other well-known English actors suited me just fine over veg curry and rice. And now to beat the fading battery in my lap top as I furiously type on board QF 23 to fill in a longish flight and low interest threshold on the movie menu. It seems very weird at 2.30 in the afternoon the cabin is in darkness and everyone is sleeping!
By late afternoon I grew frustrated by the insistence of cabin crew and passengers that I keep the windows closed. I didn’t catch a day time flight to be shrouded in gloom. Next time I’ll do the overnight flight and at least snooze during normal snoozing hours. Thank goodness for the bagful of newspapers I always carry on board any flight I take these days. Dinner was served at 5.30pm Sydney time so finally I could throw open the shutters and let the daylight in – although I seemed to be the only one desperate to see the sights, even if was just sky and clouds.
Aghhh – I nearly screamed when I opened my dinner bag. Those horrid Rowies Popeyes (two slabs of inedible gluten free toast filled with a thin scraping of spinach and beans) had followed me on QF23 to Bangkok! The nightmare of my Qantas domestic flight vegetarian life was haunting me on international. Seriously? So it was more wine and an apple for dinner.
It was still daylight when we landed in Bangkok and I started the 1km walk across the airport towards the domestic transfer. This terminal is vast. Hundreds of metres of moving walkways. A sign says 850m to the Chiangmai transfer desk. At least you get some exercise when you disembark. I just kept following the crowd and various signs to International baggage claim. I nearly ended up boarding another plane and turned around when I got to the cabin door without a boarding pass! Most of the doors to the baggage claim were closed off so I’d just kept following the crowd. Back tracking I found an unclearly marked doorway through to baggage claim and was off through the doors to a taxi stand and the beginning of my Chiang Mai exploration.