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This will be the final, and very short installment of my travel novella, since it only covers about 24 hours in Bangkok and maybe 18 in the air.
Friday, December 2
The plane to Bangkok arrives on time, 5:20, passport control is a 15-minute wait even though there are only about 3 people ahead of me. Customs is a walk-through. My luggage is among the last to make it to the carousel, and at 6:30 I'm on the sidewalk waiting for a cab. Me and 100 other people. There are two taxi lines - one is very short, for non-metered cabs charging 700B ($17.50) to go to Bangkok, and the one I'm in which use their meters and add 50B "for the driver". If the driver takes the tollway, he'll ask you to pay the 60B in tolls too, but a metered ride won't be more than 200B. It's the first Saturday night of the high season, and the line is not moving. There are no cabs in sight. After 20 minutes cabs start arriving and I'm in one after half an hour's total wait.
I have him drop me off at Nana Hotel, but I go right to Rainbow Bar across the street, because I've forgotten the name of the hotel Noi said I should go to, the one with plenty of rooms for 1400B a night. It's 7:30 and she isn't there yet. One of her friends calls her cell phone, she is on her way and will be there by 8.
When she arrives, we go in search of the hotel, me lugging my 35-lb. hard shell bag, but she insists on carrying my carry-on, which isn't light either. It's a long walk on the other side of Sukhumwit Road, and when we get there, they have rooms, but for 3500B ($87.50) a night. Noi hadn't counted on high season kicking in while I was gone. I tell her my company is paying for it, but she won't hear of it. Noi has a very strong sense of what a fair price is, and there's no way around it. So she talks to a tuk-tuk driver who says he knows some places we can check which are in a reasonable price range, and he says for 20B he'll take us around. All four places he takes us to are full, so we have him drive to Soi 19 and City Lodge. They are full too, but they tell us there's another City Lodge on Soi 9 which has a vacancy. We get there, and sure enough they do, for 2500B, which is still a little high, but by this time Noi has come to terms with the concept of supply and demand. We pay the driver 100B, since he went way out of his way for us, and I check in.
It's a short walk to Soi 3 and Nana Center, where I take her to Starbuck's, which she has never been to. As soon as she sees the Thai word for chocolate she is sold. She asks what a frappuchino is. I tell her it's "chocolate baan" - baan being the Thai drink where you throw a pile of ice in a blender, then a banana or mango or some watermelon and make a smoothie. That sounds excellent to her, and she also picks out a piece of blueberry cheesecake. I get an iced mocha, and think about getting a chocolate chip muffin, but Noi reminds me that's not a good plan for a diabetic. Her mother is diabetic, so she knows all about it.
From there we go to her bar as customers, and we both buy drinks for her friends and she shows me off.
Saturday, December 3
I check out at noon, and park my bags at the front desk. Noi and I walk down the block and find a nice quiet place to have lunch. There is a Thai statue in the center of the patio, and it has been decorated with cotton batting, and there's a sign over the place which says "merry Christmas and happy New Year". But the food is god, Noi orders for us, but this time she takes one of my suggestions.
Back at the hotel, I collect my bags and she puts me in a taxi, it's not a long good-bye, but long enough. She gives me her cell phone number.
At the airport by 1:45, way early, but it lets me play on the Internet and walk around a bit. I stop in at Dairy Queen which is having a special on banana splits.
I'm one of the first to check in for my flight, but it still takes 15 minutes for the person in front of me to sort out his wife and kids, and match them to their passports and tickets. Passport control is another long wait, but I still have time to get to the gate area and wander amongst the duty-free stores and gift shops.
Nice comfortable plane to Taipei, but with more and louder screaming babies than all my previous trips combined. I put on the headphones and watch the part of Willy Wonka I missed on the flight in.
My flight to Taipei deplanes at gate C1, and my flight to SFO is leaving from gate C2, but instead of just sitting in a transit lounge they make us go all the way to the end of the hall, through security, and upstairs to the departure area back at the other end of the hall, then downstairs to actually board the plane. Ridiculous.
The flight to SFO is long - 10 hours - but I've managed to snag an aisle seat, so I get up a few times to walk around, use the restroom and stretch. The food is excellent, but they serve it at odd hours which seem to have no relationship to Taipei, SF or the current local time. And we know the local time because the TV screens are showing it, along with altitude, ground speed, distance traveled, distance to go, time at Taipei and time at SF.
We arrive 10 minutes late at 6:30 pm, there's a short wait for passport control, and even though my customs declaration is more than the $800 limit, they wave me through.
I take a taxi home, which is expensive but saves me the 3-hour adventure of BART-train-light rail and 6-block walk home. The cats are fine, and waiting, and obviously my cat sitter Jennifer has done an excellent job. There's a note from her saying Domino and Pumpkin were fine all month, and were a pleasure to visit.
Before I left I had rigged up a new wireless timer system for the apartment's lights, and the right lights were on for this time of the evening, which was nice.
It's good to be home, but I already miss Thailand.