When Sara and I planned this trip with Tom and Maggie Mulvihill, our friends asked how our friendship would survive a month of spending every day together. But we’ve been close for many years, and were sure we could handle each other’s quirks, warts and baggage. And everyone contributed to the process.
Tom spent months researching and planning itineraries, must-see sights, logistics, etc. He accumulated a file folder that was an inch thick with information. He and Sara also searched for hotels and flights, seeking the best rates to fit our preferences and schedules. But even with all that, there were many unexpected disappointments, and difficult situations. And overcoming them became a large part of the adventure. Bangkok, while beautiful and full of amazing attractions, was so congested that it was near impossible to go anywhere without hours of traffic delays. And the air was so polluted, breathing was uncomfortable, and the skyline obscured. As result we cancelled our planned final week return to that city.
Upon leaving Bangkok, we rented a van to travel to the seaside community of Pattaya before heading north to the mountains. Pattaya turned out to be an even bigger disappointment than Bangkok. The beach was very narrow, and so packed with beach chairs that walking along the surf was nearly impossible. And the city was just as traffic-jammed and dirty as BK. So once again we changed plans, and drove to the other side of the country to a seashore town called Cha Am. And while this beach was wide and uncrowded, it was overrun with dogs and cats. And guess what they used for toilet facilities? We stayed overnight and then turned around and headed north. Our plan was to get halfway to Chang Mai that day, but we only covered about 20% of the distance.
So let me tell you about the driving. Cars and trucks drive on the right side of the road, and have right hand steering and controls. Motorcycles drive wherever they want,including sidewalks and shoulders. And go in any direction they want. While the roads are clearly marked, none of us can read Thai. The English translation, when it appears on road signs, is very small. Tom brought his GPS which he had updated with current Thai driving information. For some reason, instead of a Garmin, he bought a brand called Tom Tom. None of the addresses he put in came up on the GPS. So we approximated the area on the map where we thought we were going, and we used the iPhone’s GPS as a backup. The Tom Tom was mounted on the windshield, and I held the phone, giving Tom instructions. Can you see where this is going? Well, neither could we. We would drive for an hour, check the highway exits, and possibly change direction, not knowing exactly why. Tom was getting frustrated. I was giggling. Sara kept saying, “Why don’t we stop and ask for directions?” And Maggie would say, “Sweetie, did you take your medication this morning?”
Tom also dictated a rule that we would never let the tank go to less than half full (which I agreed to at first). This despite the fact that there was an occupied commercial or residential building every fifty feet along the highway. We were not in the untamed jungles far from civilization. And every time he used his directionals, the windshield wipers came on, which made me giggle. After a few hours of aimless driving, and considering what I just described, it was getting a little tense in the car. At one point, Tom was so stressed, he said, “I need a piece of gum.” Sara offered him some of hers, but he wanted his own brand. So we pulled over, and he opened the tailgate and started going through his luggage, looking for gum. And Maggie commented, “We’re not doing this shit anymore.” And Sara said, “Shouldn’t we ask for directions?” And I giggled.
Maggie pulled out a map from one of the tour books, and suggested we go to the Kingsri River Hotel in Ayuthaya. She thought it wasn’t that far away. So we made a decision to find that city and go to that hotel. At that point I was really feeling for Tom, as it was a frustrating ride. We found the hotel with no trouble. They had two rooms, but for only one night. We took them, and went to the dining room for lunch, and a drink. After a relaxing lunch, the girls suggested we change plans again, and skip Chang Mai in the mountains, and go to Cambodia next, instead of at the end of the vacation. No one wanted to be driving on the road again. Sara thought we should consider the beaches at Phuket for the last leg of the vacation. Despite being much more expensive, we all thought that area may be the only location to end the trip on a high note.
Well Cambodia turned out to be a wonderful surprise, not because of the temples at Ankgor Wat, but the delightful hotel and staff where we stayed. And then Patong Beach in Phuket became the highlight of the vacation. Unfortunately Tom got sick in Phuket, and spent a day or two in his room, putting a damper on his last few days.
In summary, Sara and Maggie enjoyed the shopping, the sights and the people. They especially liked hanging out at the various pools, and the excellent restaurants we visited. Always being up for an adventure, I thoroughly enjoyed the country, the people, and finding humor in everything I saw. Tom appreciated the marvelous architecture and other attractions, the challenge of the driving, and the fettuccine carbonara, which he had at least twice a week. The relationship? It’s as strong as ever, despite the challenges and the stress. And it proved our mutual love and respect.