Although very tiny, the United Arab Emirates (or UAE) is one of the richest nations on earth. Tucked into the Arabian Peninsula on the north east corner of Saudi Arabia, it is host to the relatively new city of Dubai, a city with the only 7-star hotel on the planet, and a series of man-made islands hosting luxury gated communities. This is the same city that Dubai World is from, the corporation who controls a large number of global security concerns, who almost got George W. Bush in a lot of hot water by winning the bid to monitor security in the US ports. You can only imagine what an airline from such and opulent kingdom might be like, and their name is, naturally, Emirates.
Emirates is probably the number one airline in the world for service and comfort, with a “beyond first class” option which includes a private room complete with reclining couch, bar, and personal attendant. Although this was a bit out of our price range, costing upwards of $10,000 per ticket, it was fun to fantasize about air travel on that level. It makes first class seem like taking the Greyhound. As we learned on our nine-and-a-half-hour flight, being comfortable while strapped into a tin can hurtling through the air at 500 miles per hour can make all the difference in the world. Each seat came equipped with its own LCD screen capable of procuring dozens of TV shows, movies, music, video games, even a tracking map of the flight progress and exterior cameras to see the pilots’ view. In 2007, this was revolutionary, something no other airline offered. We all had the best of intentions for what to do during the flight, ranging from writing posts for the blog, to catching up on school and reading, but it all got lost somewhere between watching the endless entertainment and trying to get some sleep.
After the ordeal we had getting a visa for Cyrus to get into Australia, we were a little nervous about what we may face trying to get into Thailand. Cyrus was born in California to an American and a Canadian, who had jointly decided to give him a unique last name (Sol), and he had subsequently been naturalized as a Canadian. He had passports for both countries, but was travelling as a Canadian. This is exactly the sort of situation that ambitious authority figures seize upon to make up for being bullied as a child. Visions of an interrogation room with a non-English speaking immigration officer accusing us of child smuggling kept trying to take root in my head, but I was maintaining a strict policy of not worrying about what may not happen, which was a helpful after effect of the Vippassana meditation. We were as prepared as we could be, and that would have to be enough.
By our circadian clock, it was roughly 4am when we arrived in Bangkok, 1am local time. As refreshing as sleeping in an economy class seat is, we were a little rough around the edges. Fully expecting to emerge from the airplane to be greeted by locals trying to sell us chickens and rubies, we were pleasantly surprised by a modern metal and glass structure filled with well-dressed travelers and nary a chicken in sight. The airport was probably one of the nicest I had ever seen, which went a long way towards reassuring me of what might lay in store.
As we lined up at the immigration counters, we could see the baggage carousel our bags were on, and could get the occasional glimpse of our bags as they went around and around, just crying out for attention. Being able to see our bags so close to us, yet so close to the exit was both reassuring and disconcerting, but we had nothing to do but wait until our turn in line.
Our customs forms had two sides, one relating to our arrival, and one relating to our departure, and the glaring empty spaces where our departure info was supposed to be was theoretically a cause for worry. We had almost been denied onto our flight as we only had a one-way ticket with no onward ticket, and only by the grace of the Emirates check-in supervisor were we allowed on the plane at all. Apparently he was aware of the fact stated in our guidebook that ‘although Thailand immigration requires an exit ticket, thousands of tourists are allowed in every year on one way flights.’ We were hoping our immigration agent might have also perused that section of ‘Lonely Planet: Thailand’.
Apparently the Thais don’t suspect that Canadian families might be making a mad rush to live as illegal aliens in Thailand, as we were ushered through without a hitch, without even being asked to declare any foodstuffs etc. After grabbing our luggage and passing through the final security checkpoint, we were thrust into the mad world of Thai taxi competition. A driver was supposed to be picking us up from the hotel, although I had only confirmed this over a very quiet and crackly phone call. I was keeping a positive attitude that it would all work out in the end. The alternative was daunting, as it seemed that every person we passed was a taxi driver, and they were all desperately eager to give us a ride. They all seemed to exude a slight amount of hurt at being refused, even though we were hurriedly explaining that we had a ride arranged. Finally, we spotted a man who was actually holding a placard with my name on it, a sight that I had not yet seen in my life, and one that I could not have been happier to see. Our first taste of Thai hospitality was a great reassurance, as they are among the friendliest, most non-threatening people I have ever met.
Our first taste of Thai weather was another matter. I remembered thinking in the airport that the temperature was quite nice, and had passed it off as being the coolness of the evening. After the open air Hawaiian airports, I actually thought that we were feeling the clime of the country. As we followed our contact out of the building, the air hit us like a wall. A damp, hot wall, akin to opening an oven door containing a pot full of boiling water. Keep in mind that this was 1am, and it must have been at least 30 degrees out, and insanely muggy. Think Dagobah meets the surface of the sun. We were half tempted to turn around and get on the next flight to Antarctica, but adventure lay in wait.
Our first adventure lay in getting to our hotel. I had strategically chosen the Bangkok Airport Hotel so as to avoid a long taxi journey after our flight. As it would happen, there is more than one international airport in Bangkok, and they are conveniently located on opposite sides of this vast, ancient sprawling city. 90 minutes later, we arrived at our “airport hotel”, after being entertained by the sights of freeway driving in Bangkok, which included such delights as truckloads of dead pigs, and bandana clad motorcycle gangs. Despite the late hour, there were numerous folks eager to set us up with tours of their country, and everyone from the shuttle bus driver to the hotel check-in clerk had great deals to see some sight or another, and a convenient way for us to see it. “Tomorrow,” we said, wanting to see if our jet lag would hit us right away, and managed to make it to our room to pass out, naked, on top of the sheets.