Yesterday I made my way to Bangkok where I will spend the next week on sales calls. I’m here with my Sales Manager from Laos, which will be our main focus. Since the riots and violence in May, travel to Laos and Luang Prabang has severely slowed down. Most of the flights to Luang Prabang come from Bangkok. The number of flights per day has been limited and the people on the flights are few. Bangok flights from Hanoi have also been limited to just 4 per day across two airlines. An while Hanoi has a direct flight to Luang Prabang, the cost remains $340 round trip. A bit expensive to just zip over for the weekend.
I happen to love Bangkok and Thailand. The traffic and the rainy season my put a damper on running around town for business, but I’ll stay through the weekend to get a health check-up and do a wee bit of shopping.
The photo I’ve included is my hotel room, the Glow Trinity Hotel. It’s pretty cute and comfy!
Tonight, I return to my room after celebrating the opening of a new hotel in Luang Prabang. This is one which is not a competitor, as the rates begin at $600+. The Amantaka was the former hospital in Luang Prabang and has now been restored and converted to a lovely, albeit austerely designed hotel. In a former hospital, I think I would avoid minimalism and go out of my way to make it as cozy and comfortable as possible. But I digress…
Marie-Helene and I were sitting in wicker chairs over-looking the black-bottom swimming pool which was aglow with floating candles. The dance performance began at the opposite end of the pool. I asked her how she ever landed in Laos and how she has enjoyed living here the last 10 years. As we talked, one of the daily flights flew over our heads. All of the planes which land in LPQ are propeller planes. The locals know exactly where the plane is coming from and which type of plane it is, even which airline. I find it all so very Casablanca.
We talked about out love for Asia and I told her that in the early 1990’s, I watched for the first time the 1956 movie, The King and I. In that movie, there is a scene where the king has invited a delegation to dinner and his servants perform for him. Do you remember the scene? They are all in costume and the story focuses on Liza, who wants to escape the kingdom.
The beauty of that scene was always lost on me until I moved to Asia, until I visited Thailand and saw for myself these types of dances. Now I find the simplicity of the performance so beautiful. You amy remember that sheets of silk were used to form a river. The dancers acted out emotions and set designs. Yet they absolutely got their point across.
Sitting there at this elegant party, watching this dance and soaking it all in, I still realize how lucky I am to have a chance to live life in this part of the world. It is so enchanting, so different and I am forever grateful that I will always have these beautiful memories for the rest of my life.
So with the craziness of work building up and my wardrobe falling apart in the past 8 months, I decided it was time to go to Bangkok and have a weekend of pure fun and shopping. I also got a complete health check, but that’s another blog entry! I arrived very late Thursday night, was pleased to see the staff of my hotel had already given me a free upgrade in room and happily plopped into the down bedding and drifted into dream land.
Thailand is one of my favorite places to travel to for such a variety of reasons. The people are super friendly. The tourist infrastructure is pretty solid, so it’s easy to travel most everywhere in Thailand. The food is superbly delicious. The first meal I ate was at my hotel, off menu. I just asked for a nice red veggie curry, medium spice and was served perfection in a bowl. You may remember that I took that one week cooking class in Chiang Mai last year. And while my skills in cooking any of those dishes have rusted a bit, I can say with certainty that I know a good curry when I taste one. And I know just the spice level I like (that and how much palm sugar to use – right Annette? ;p ).
After ease of travel and yummy food comes massages. I can get any number of awesome massages for super cheap. When I was at the health spa last year, I got a massage everyday. And while I traveled in Thailand, I indulged often. This weekend, I was able to squeeze in two massages. One came Saturday morning. I arranged an early morning massage, 8am, so that I could still have time to stop by the health center to pick up my results and then head out for shopping. The second came after I spent about 8 hours in the malls and barely made it back to my hotel! I had a leg massage in-room and lucked out with Sleepless in Seattle on TV! Awesome! I have to say, though that my first massage was a bit alarming. The goose eggs in my shoulder blades and neck – the same ones which were there when I slipped that disc in my neck – have reared their ugly heads. I was surprised how tight my shoulders were, which actually makes for a not-so-relaxing massage! (Note to self – schedule a weekly massage to combat goose eggs making nests in shoulders.)
Bangkok also has no shortage of nightlife. This is something Hanoi greatly lacks. We do have our parties and certain after-hours bars, but the police roll through town right at midnight and the town goes dark. On Friday, I met up with colleagues in BKK and had a night out on the town. I still love going out on the town. I love going dancing and meeting new people and just being out. I do question how long I can relive my youth, though. I didn’t get back to the hotel until 2am. The next day after the big night out was a little rough, to say the least. Not my preferred frame of mind for a big day of shopping.
And then let’s talk about shopping. There are some great malls in Bangkok. And I hit them on a big sale weekend, which was perfect. A bit surprised to see that the malls weren’t all that busy. A sure sign that we are still not climbing out of this tourism hell hole just yet. When I say big sale, I mean most stores had sale items 50% – 70% off. Even though I didn’t have to nudge my way through crowds, I still dealt with rude people. I mean, sometimes I swear I think I am invisible. As soon as I would go to a rack, someone else would walk up and look at the same section. In one store, this Russian chick got a mouthful from me because as I was flipping through a rack of shirts, she grabbed one which I had my hand on. “What the hell is wrong with you? You don’t grab a shirt someone is looking at! How rude can you be?” She didn’t even say sorry, so apparently, she’s comfortable in her rudeness.
At least shopping in BKK is a bit easier than Vietnam. The Thai don’t really push to make a sale, nor do they care if you buy anything. Vietnamese, on the other hand, follow you around the store and watch every move you make. While Thai sizes are more manageable, women’s clothes, for the most part, still look as thought hey were made for children. You cannot go to Asia and worry about what the number says on the size label. You just have to find what fits, and that may be a 6 in one store and a 42 in another. No shame in finding something that looks good.
I have to ask, though. Why are 80’s fashions making a come back? Long shirts with elastic and a ruffle over the hips (not so good for those of us who actually have hips)? One sleeve numbers? I’m pretty sure I saw acid-washed jeans. There is also this whole trend of very thin, cotton blouses which are pretty much see-through. What exactly am I supposed to wear underneath? Just a bra? A tank top? Can I expose my little boobies? I mean – what’s the protocol? And why do I want to pay $50 for a shirt that’s thinner than a handkerchief? This is when shopping becomes a chore and I feel very perplexed.
Nonetheless, I came back from my Bangkok weekend with four pairs of shoes, a few tops, a hand bag, one suit and a pair of linen pants. Oh, and a new love of black sesame ice cream, which – trust me – is to die for! I can’t wait for the next visit!!!
On the Bright Side,
When I lived in Japan, I was lucky to enjoy a great healthcare system. As a civil servant, I also was required to do a full health check once per year. This was always something I sort of enjoyed doing. I think folks are kind of 50/50 on this topic. You either don’t see a doctor until you have to or you see one so you don’t have to see one. I like the peace of mind in knowing that I’m healthy, alive and kicking!
The hospitals in Bangkok have really become more like 5 Star hotels. All the facilities are sparkling clean, staff is super friendly and the health check runs very efficiently. In fact, the term for people who go abroad for health care and procedures is called Medical Tourism. And so in addition to feeding my shopoholic frenzy, I played medical tourist for a day! Oh, I’m so well-rounded!
I took a later appointment, which allowed me a 10% discount on my bill. It also allowed me to sleep in. I arrived in Bangkok late last night and today, slept until 9am and couldn’t drag myself out of bed until 10am! Oooohhh that felt so good! The appointment was at 11:30, and so I had to fast for 10-12 hours before my blood work. Thankfully, they weigh you, take your blood pressure and your blood at your lightest. Still, I’ve gotta loose about 4 kilos. I’m back to a zone I’ve been in before, but am not comfortable staying in. Not fat, but just not me. Right after they take your blood, you are ushered through a number of other stations to check your eyes and EKG and an ultrasound and #1 and #2 and the female-only tests. It’s all very thorough and everyone is incredibly professional.
What’s clear when you are waiting in the lounges is that people from all over the world come to the hospitals for these services. The month of July is popular for those from the Middle East. While very few men wore traditional garb, the women all remained in their black arayas. It reminded me of my trip to Europe last summer and the tiny little lake side town of Zell Am See in Austria. Remote and quaint, and a now popular destination for Saudi families. Out of context, it is just a strange site to see the women in traditional dress amongst those in travel gear in the mountain towns of Austria or the hospital loungewear which patients are provided at a hospital in Bangkok.
While I was in one small section of the health center, each building of the hospital I chose is a good 12 stories tall and provide all sorts of services. Out in the parking lots, I’d say eye and nose jobs are a popular procedure!!! My friend Pete and I laughed as he warned me not to come back to Hanoi with a new set of boobs!
Other than being a little heavy for my own good, I’m a healthy gal. I like seeing the word “normal” on all of the pages of reports! With all of the tests taken and a one-on-one review of the results with a doctor, my total bill came to $268. Small price to pay to make sure you are A-OK!!!
On the Bright Side,