The journey to Thailand from our home was indeed a long one. We flew from Los Angleles, CA to Narita,Japan, then continued on to Bangkok, Thailand. It was a combined 18 hours of flight time, which I said I'd never do unless I could fly first class and be super comfortable the entire time. Well, I actually did get to fly first class and I was most comfy in my accommodations. The flights didn't seem long at all considering there were numerous movies to watch and it seemed they fed us every few hours . United Airlines really does know how to provide first class service. I have to admit I indulged in the free alcoholic beverages too, and took advantage of the dark, cool, and quiet cabin for a much needed nap.
It was late at night when we finally arrived. Getting through customs and out of the Suvarnabhumi Airport was a breeze. It is a beautiful airport and relatively easy to navigate. We headed for ground transportation to get a cab to our hotel. As a former travel agent, I had already done all the research as to the best way to get where we were going. I had booked a hotel near the train station that would take us to Northern Thailand the next day, and the best way to get there was by cab. Of course there were other ways, but I wasn't sure that we should be wandering around Bangkok while switching bus lines late at night. Just a feeling I had!
The folks at the airport were more than helpful, and very friendly. They were actually jumping in front of us to offer their services. We were a little overwhelmed and made our first rookie mistake by taking the first ground transport service that was offered to us. Luckily, we only paid a little more than twice as much as we should, but oh well. We had yet to grasp the value of a Thai Baht but at least we ended up with a nice private car, and as a bonus we arrived safely at our hotel, which we never would've found had we been on our own. Trust me, some things are worth paying for even on a budget.
I had made a reservation at The Bangkok Centre Hotel prior to leaving our homeland, but still wasn't sure what to expect. Turns out the hotel
was very nice and I would certainly recommend it if you need to be near the train station. It is practically at the entrance of the transportation hub. It was also very reasonably priced and our reservation included breakfast which was most enjoyable.
The surrounding area, however, is very questionable and I would not plan to wander out on your own, especially at night. I won't go into detail as to how I know this, just take my savvy advice!
We would be taking the first train out in the morning from Bangkok to Chang Mai. It is a very popular train for both commuters and tourists because it is considered the "express" train. The total time from Bangkok to Chang Mai is approximately 12 hours. We were only going as far as Uttaradit which was scheduled for about 6 or so hours. As it turns out, the nice people of Thailand are in no real hurry to get anywhere or do anything so the 6 hours turned into 8 hours and I have no idea how long it took to finally get to Chang Mai.
I thoroughly enjoyed just hanging out at the Bangkok station waiting for the train to depart. It was my first real glimpse into the Thai culture and the condition of downtown Bangkok. I was taking pictures of everything and everyone. The locals were fascinating to me with their simple ways of living.
The stories that their faces told without actually saying a word were heartwarming. I even took a candid shot of a local Monk, which when I think about it might not have been a great idea. He probably didn't want his picture taken but just couldn't tell me.
Many people peddle their wares as a daily source of income, not just to tourists but to locals alike. My favorite part, however, was the Dunkin Donuts booth. I was raised on Dunkin Donuts only to be without in SoCal. Imagine my surprise, after traveling half way around the world, to be able to drink my favorite coffee.
The actual train experience was a bit of a culture shock. Even with an open mind I was surprised at the sights I saw along the way. The countryside is beautiful but littered with trash and squalor along the path
of the train. The one thing that sticks in my mind though, is the strength of the faith of these quiet and friendly people. Everywhere you looked, whether a small humble shack, or a Thai palace of sorts, you
would see the gold buddha statue.
Upon arriving in Uttaradit, we were met by a very pleasant Thai fellow from Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary, who took our bags and escorted us to his truck to begin the final leg of our journey into the jungle of Thailand. It took about 45 minutes before we arrived at BLES, where we were greeted with open arms by Katherine Connor and her beautiful children.
We were able to get our bags into our guest house just in time for a mesmerizing storm to come upon us. The sky was turning dark, the trees were whipping around in the wind, and the chimes were ringing sweetly. The mahouts were rushing around to finish their chores, and the children were laughing madly.
It was then that I knew...this is where the magic begins.