This month’s return to Thailand was probably the toughest journey overseas that we’ve had so far. By necessity we always book the least expensive flights we can find, and we’ve been blessed in the past to end up on the EVA Air flight out of Seattle at midnight. Leaving at midnight makes it easy to sleep on the long 13-hour trek to Taipei. No such luck this time. This flight left at 12 noon. Although we had been awake since 5am for our Boise to Seattle flight, we weren’t at all ready for a long rest. EVA tries to help its passengers by turning out the lights at 2pm. We decided to give Bubba an extra boost by giving him his night time medicine once the cabin was dark. He has been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately over germs, and kept asking us over and over if all the germs were away from him. It seemed wise to help him sleep. Unfortunately, the medicine only made him extra tired and agitated over not being able to really sleep. He was in need of constant reassurance and answers to his questions, which made it impossible to rest or even watch the in-flight entertainment, which is usually such an amazing blessing on this trip. It was a very long flight.
For those new to international travel, we would advise never putting anything you care about in the seat pocket in front of you. It’s far too easy to forget it when you’re tired and confused. I did this very thing with my kindle in November, on the flight from Bangkok to Taipei. Luckily EVA Air put the kindle in the Taipei airport lost and found and we were able to track it down. I made arrangements to pick it up during our layover in Taiwan. But of course, Lost & Found is located on the wrong side of Taiwan immigration. We are just transit passengers through Taipei, so we don’t usually have to go through immigration and customs until we reach Thailand. We landed at about 5pm local time (3am Idaho time). Being so exhausted made it much harder to communicate, but I finally convinced the right people to let me through immigration for the sole purpose of going to the airport’s lost and found. It meant going to the shortest line in immigration, which was for Taiwanese nationals, because we didn’t have time to waste during our transfer. I eventually recovered my Kindle and made it back to the gate in plenty of time to sit with the rest of the family in the icy cold boarding area; a strange indoor temperature for that part of the world.
Exhausted in Taipei
After boarding in Taiwan we had a relatively short four hour journey to Bangkok. We arrived at approximately 1:30am local time and headed toward Thailand’s incredibly long immigration lines. Our ED visas had been rejected by the Thai Embassy in Washington DC before we left, so this time we had to enter as tourists. This meant learning an all-new process, which added some confusion due to the lack of sleep. As it turns out it was extremely easy to enter Thailand with a 30-day pass. But try telling that to a sleep-deprived family of 7. We’ve traditionally thought of Bangkok as our “meltdown airport” because every time we reach there we are all so worn out we can barely function. This time was certainly no different, but since we landed so late there were no flights to Chiang Rai that night, so instead of boarding the last flight home we took a van to a hotel.
The Bangkok Airport — incredibly busy even at 1:30 a.m.
We reached the hotel at 3:30am and at first I worried there had been some mistake. We piled out of the van into a dead-end alley, with dirty high-rise buildings around us. Bubba looked around with hope in his eyes and asked if there was a pool. (There wasn’t.) The manager of the hotel met us outside and took us to a small apartment on the ground level. It was a small 2 bed/2 bath apartment. Nice, except that there are 7 of us. We had reserved a 3-room apartment that would fit everyone all together, at a lower cost than multiple rooms. There was no way we could all sleep in this place. We were told that the room we reserved was unavailable due to flooding (a lie, as it turns out, because the place only had 5 rooms total and the next day we saw that they were all in use). They instead offered a second room all the way on the 5th floor…with no elevator and lots of heavy luggage to haul. We were apprehensive about splitting up our crew so far apart in a place that felt so sketchy. But in our state of exhaustion we felt we had no real options and just wanted to sleep.
I don’t know if it was because we were soft from our last few weeks in America or what, but those were the hardest five flights of stairs I think I’ve ever climbed! I’m sure the 31 hours without rest contributed to our weakness. At any rate, it was good motivation to get back into shape again after too little exercise in Idaho. (Missionaries have to be tough, yo!) The apartments were fine, although a far cry from the advertised pictures. The typical Thai problems were all present – broken faucets, damaged floors and appliances, no water (and you can’t drink from the tap), worthless AC in the lower apartment, etc.
The next day we slept until noon. We needed coffee. So after stumbling out of the room and pushing past all the wet clothing someone had hung directly in front of our door (and we do mean directly…we got a facefull of children’s undies), we found our way to the closest coffee shop, a chain called Amazon Cafe. I had to remember what country we were in and watch my step on the loose and uneven sidewalk tiles, and be careful not to get to close to traffic as we walked along the roadside. We had forgotten the adrenaline rush of feeling a van mirror zoom past your head with mere inches of clearance. Welcome back, Wheelers. Our G was able to reunite with her younger sister, Wit, while we were in Bangkok. She is a lovely girl and we were all so happy to see her.
The problem with traveling so frequently with a large family is you get good at it, and then you get lazy and forget why you were good at it. We definitely were lazy for our last leg to Chiang Rai, and one by one we were called out by security to have our bags checked. A battery pack here, laptop left inside a backpack there, liquids and gels not in the required ziploc baggies, cups of coffee still in hand…we were terribly noncompliant. The best moment though was with Calico, who packed her Nerf gun in her carry-on. Locked and loaded. She received extra attention, as a second security guard come over to help inspect our criminal 7-year-old’s bag for the deadly weapon she had tried to smuggle through security. One of the guards was far more serious than the other, and it was this serious guy who removed the Nerf gun from her bag and began fiddling with it. We almost lost it completely when he inexplicably reached down and pulled the trigger, firing a foam dart into the security lines. The less-serious guard also stifled a laugh, but Mr. Serious Guard was not amused. We politely asked if our child could recover the wayward dart, and less-serious guy nodded with a smile. The weapon was ultimately emptied of ammunition and returned to her bag.
It doesn’t get easier saying goodbye to family and friends in America, but we were so overjoyed to arrive in our Thai home and hug our sweet foster son. He has been sorely missed.