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Friday, November 4
My trip started with friend Janice giving me a ride to SFO, a 20-minute trip which would have taken 2 hours by light rail/train and BART. Thanks, Janice! All I had with me was my camera, a fanny pack with camera batteries and memory chips, and a Sony mini-disc player; and a 22" bag which converts into a backpack. The plan was for this to be carry-on.
9 p.m. Check-in at EVA Air was slow - 20 minutes, even though there were only two people ahead of me, but I had plenty of time. It turned out I had misread the carry-on limit - 22" was correct, but they had a limit of 7kg - 14 lbs. My bag weighed 35 lbs. So I pulled my meds from the bag, put them in a foldable mini-knapsack I'd brought along just in case this happened, and checked the bag.
Saturday, November 5
12:10 AM :The plane was packed, 11 seats across (3-5-3) and I had a window seat. Unlike the EVA ads and web page, this was a slightly older plane, not much room between rows, so I ended up being stuck in my window seat for the whole 12-hour flight to Taipei. The ads said every seat had its own video screen and remote control, but this flight did not - there were screens over the aisle which were difficult to see from the window seat, and I never did get the audio control panel or reading light to work. So I just plugged in my mini-disk player and listened to classical music and show tunes. The plane was 15 minutes late boarding, but arrived 25 minutes early. There were no screaming babies, the food was excellent, and the ride very dull. They played one movie after another, with Chinese subtitles, but I wasn't really interested in what they were showing. Odd meal times - dinner at 1:45 AM PST, breakfast at 3:30 AM Taiwan time.
Sunday, November 6
Lost a day. Arrived in Taipei, explored the arrivals area, looking for the transit lounge. I finally asked for directions, and was sent to the skytrain to go to the next terminal, where I went through security again. Very annoying, that. Found the gate for my Bangkok flight, and read a book for a while, explored a bit (mostly duty-free shops) and wandered through the National Palace Museum exhibit. Very nice picture and calligraphy scrolls, lots of vases and such. The airport also had a pretty exhibit of orchids.
From time to time an armada of EVA crews would pass by. Pilot in the lead, followed by cockpit staff, followed by maybe 20 female flight attendants 2-by-2.
The plane to Bangkok was amazing - this was the plane in the ads. Brand new Boeing 777, wide seats with lots of room, video screen built into the seat in front, a full-featured remote control built into the arm rest, 30 channels of on-demand audio + 30 more of video + 10 games. I could have used this on the 12-hour flight (Bangkok it's only about 3 hours from Taipei). Watched a National Geographic special on squid, and then started in on Willie Wonka (but only saw the first 45 minutes before we went into our final descent).
The flight was 3/4 full, no one was sitting in the middle seat next to me (I had a window seat again). 3-3-3 seating. We landed 20 minutes early, but by the time we actually got to the gate we were 10 minutes late. Don Muang Airport has not changed much in 15 years, except they now have a KFC.
From the airport I was going to go to the train station to get a ride north to Chiang Mai, and it turned out to be a short walk through a skyway over the freeway. I was almost at the train station when I remembered I had to confirm some future flights on Thai Airways, so back to the terminal. Glad I did - they had canceled my China flight because I had not shown up in Bangkok within 72 hours of booking it. They needed to see my passport in order to issue the ticket. My other two (domestic) flights were fine.
Back to the train station, I reserved a 2nd class sleeper, but had to wait for the 6:30 pm express because everything else was sold out (it was now around 2 pm). It was about 95 degrees out there, and somewhere around 12,000% humidity, so I went back to the airport, and had a couple of diet Cokes and a plate of Pat Thai and read for 2 hours. From there I did some exploring, found the observation deck, and parked there for an hour and a half, watching the thunderstorm and 20-minute downpour.
Back to the train station, the express was 15 minutes late, found my sleeper berth, which was air conditioned down to about 80 degrees, but at least most of the humidity was sucked out. The car was mostly Australian and Scandinavian World Travelers, with a few Thais. Went to sleep around 7:30 pm, woke a few times in the night, but was up for good at 6 am.
Monday, November 7
Arrived at Chiang Mai 2 hours late, about 8:30 AM. Had lunch near the station, and rode a tuk-tuk to the bus station. A tuk-tuk is a 3-wheeled vehicle which seats a driver up front and two passengers in the back. It has a canopy roof, is open at the sides, and is called a tuk-tuk on account of the sound of its 2-stroke engine.
There were two companies which had buses to Mae Hong Son, I bought a ticket for the 10:30 "air-con" bus, which left on time. Half the passengers were foreigners, but I was the only American. It's a very scenic trip through the hills, but due to flood repair work, it took 9 hours instead of 6. There were also a lot of police inspection stops, which consisted of a sign proclaiming that this was in support of the USA-inspired world-wide anti-terrorist campaign, but usually there was nobody at the check-point, and when there was, they just waved us through. Mae Hong Son borders on Myanmar (aka Burma) which is not exactly an ally of the US or Thailand, and Thailand always has more security in the border provinces. The reason I am going there is it is the only province inThailand I had never as much as passed through - I've been in all the other 75 or so.
All the other foreigners got off the bus at Pai, about 2/3 of the way to MHS, apparently it has gotten a lot of press about its guest houses and it's a trail head for mountain treks.
We arrived in MHS at 7:30 PM. My adventures there will be in the next installment.