6 Months in Thailand

After being stuck at home for the past 3 years (except for a 2-month stint in Chiang Mai last year), we decided it was time to tick something off our bucket list: spending an extended period in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We have visited several times previously and fell in love with the city. Ideally, we would have liked to have spent September through March there, but my hip replacement surgery changed our timeline. We arrived in November and stayed until the end of May. Unlike the United States, there are only 3 seasons in Thailand – rainy, hot, and cold. If you add in smoky season, I guess that would be four, but smoky season is just a part of hot season. The cold season is not what most would call cold; the temperatures range from around 60 degrees at night to the mid-80’s during the day. I was a bit hesitant to stay there during smoky and hot seasons but decided to give it a go anyhow.

I have already shared much of what we did during our time in Chiang Mai in previous posts but wanted to share my thoughts after spending so much time there. And I neglected to post anything about Songkran so I will include that in this post as well.

One of the things that a person visiting Thailand will need to adapt to is not being able to read or speak the language. Now, I know that some visitors can, but I am not among them, nor is Clayton. The alphabet is completely different than ours; it contains 32 vowels (short and long), 44 consonants (split into 3 classes) and 4 tone marks (high, low, rising, falling). There is also a neutral tone, but it does not have a special mark. So, to read Thai, one needs to be able to read the letters (and there is no spacing between words; only a space at the end of a sentence), translate the Thai letters into Latin-script letters, and then understand what the word means. To speak Thai, add in the correct tone so that a Thai can understand what you said. I have provided much glee among the Thais that I have attempted to speak to. They giggle uproariously at my Thai! As an example, here is a simple sentence in Thai (the marks above some of the letters are tone marks):

Here it is in Latin-script alphabet:

Each “mai” is pronounced differently! The meaning of the sentence is “New wood doesn’t burn, does it?”. But you knew that, right? LOL!

Google Lens has provided to be an invaluable tool. After opening the app, you just point your camera at something written in Thai, and it translates it for you. It is not perfect, but it is tremendously helpful.

Clayton’s barber shop advertises a butt shave, according to Google Lens. I am assuming this is not an accurate translation, but you never know! I thought the translation for the first item at the nail salon wasn’t quite right but came back a week later and it had been fixed. So much better!

Google Translate works OK, too and allows you to have an actual conversation in a different language. Some of the translations are “interesting”.

Shopping was a bit of a struggle when we first arrived. And then we discovered Lazada – the Amazon of Thailand. My first purchase was a hairdryer. I thought the price was a misprint – $2 for a full-sized hairdryer. I figured I couldn’t go too far wrong by trying it out (shipping added another $1) and so if a toy hairdryer showed up, I wouldn’t be out too much money. Imagine my surprise and delight when a “real”, fully functioning hairdryer appeared a couple of days later. The delivery guy called when he arrived (they actually still do COD in Thailand, though I always paid for my purchases in advance). Since I had success with that first purchase, Clayton and I found all types of things we could make use of; all at bargain basement prices. Some of the items came from China, which added about a week to the delivery time. But still, the convenience couldn’t be beaten. When we stayed for two months last year, there were things we just did without. For a 6-month stay, we decided to purchase some items that would make our lives easier. The front desk guy at our apartment would hold our purchases for us so we didn’t need to be home to accept delivery.

Our day-to-day shopping was done at the fruit and vegetable market by the Chiang Mai gate. Every couple of weeks we made a pilgrimage to a “real” grocery store to pick up items that weren’t available at the fresh market or the small grocery store near us. I don’t want you to think that I did any actual cooking (one of the best parts of living in Thailand), but we did like to have breakfast and dinner in our apartment so that we didn’t eat out for three meals/day. Breakfast was typically eggs and toast or oatmeal, served with lots of tropical fruit. We ate lunch out daily. By the time we left, we had found our favorite places for our favorite Thai foods and rotated between them. Dinner was typically a sandwich and yogurt. We like to eat light in the evenings.

There were some definite differences in our daily life in Chiang Mai compared to the US. Garbage was put in plastic bags and tied to a fence. Our apartment had garbage cans, but that was atypical. The garbage was picked up by the garbage men who then often sat on the bags of garbage.

There were certain days that alcohol was not sold, either in restaurants or stores. Most of these were tried to Buddhist holidays but it was also true on election days. Incidentally, alcohol cannot be served in Chiang Mai between the hours of 2 pm to 5 pm. Apparent too many people were showing up drunk at work…

Fashion-wise, it was very much a mixed bag. Most people wore what they could afford, which meant that you saw the most interesting combinations of colors and patterns. In general, Thais dress very modestly. You don’t see many in shorts and/or revealing tops. Most wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Add to that a sweatshirt, even in over 100-degree heat! Occasionally, you see people in pajamas. I have been told that it is a sign of wealth. If you can afford special pajamas, you are upper-middle class. There is a minimum wage in Thailand, but it is just over $300 US per month. Social security exists as well, but only pays 600 Baht/month, which is around $20. The amount increases with age and tops out at 1000 Baht/month if you are over 90 (around $30). Most elderly Thais live with family. Obviously, even with the lower standard of living in Thailand, $20-$30/month isn’t sufficient for anyone to live independently. You often see older people working. Every day, we walked by an elderly woman grilling bananas and selling them for 10 Baht/each. She was a sweet little lady and always offered me bananas with a big smile. I nicknamed her “Nana Banana”. I tried one and let’s just say that it is an acquired taste. There are two types of bananas in Thailand – the kind you are probably familiar with, and the smaller, cooking bananas. She grilled the cooking bananas which are not as sweet. Grilling them gives them a leathery texture. I always felt bad turning down her bananas but didn’t want her to waste them on me since I didn’t really like them.

Marijuana was sort-of legalized last year and so the number of pot shops blossomed. Pot is legal in Washington state, where we live, so it was no big deal to us. But, for many of the British and Aussie backpacker set, it was a big draw. There were streets lined with pot shops near the main tourist part of town. One of my coffee shops got in on the action. Sadly, the Star Buds store wasn’t in business for long, though I do appreciate the name and location! Even Armani got into the game, fashion-wise. Not to be outdone, this haberdasher designed this fabulous suit.

We learned to “drive like Thais”; in other words, to drive as if no traffic laws, signs, or signals exist. We became immune to seeing two-year olds “help” their parents steer their motor scooters. It became common to see four on a scooter, the family minivan of Thailand. People drive what they can afford, and not everyone can afford a car. Scooters drive right through the markets – why walk when you can ride? Whilst riding, we became used to cars pulling out in front of us (without signaling), other scooters passing us on the left and right within our own lane, scooters driving really fast (typically, the food delivery drivers) or really slow (tuk-tuks, scooters with sidecars attached that haul goods, multiple people riding a 110-cc bike, etc.).  As scary as the other scooter drivers are, the car drivers are even scarier. I may be completely off-base, but I think that since most Thais grow up riding scooters that being in a bigger vehicle throws off their depth perception in gauging distances. It’s crazy getting behind a car turning. Most come to an almost complete stop before making a turn and then either turn wide or cut the corner. Or the exact opposite – typically a young guy in a big pickup driving like a bat out of hell! The excitement comes in by trying to anticipate what everyone around you is going to do and to be prepared for all eventualities.

Our first few months were idyllic – the weather was fantastic. In the mornings, the temperature was typically in the 60’s to low 70’s. By late afternoon, it warmed to the mid-80’s and then cooled off after the sun went down (between 6:30 and 7:00 pm). It was perfect weather for walking. We took morning walks, midday walks (to get lunch) and evening walks. And then, in February, smoky season started. Farmers burn their crops at this time of year. Usually, it is worst during the months of March and April. This year, it started early and lasted longer. It is illegal to burn, but that doesn’t stop anyone from doing it. Besides, farmers from surrounding countries burn crops, so even if Thailand managed to quash the habit, there would still be smoke. Locals told us that this was the worst burning season in years. Chiang Mai topped the “world’s most polluted city” list for weeks on end. To make matters worse, hot season kicked in in April. So, besides the nasty smoke, the temperature hovered around 105 degrees daily. We returned to wearing masks outdoors. It helped keep us breathing and helped keep the crud out of our lungs. We ran an air purifier day and night. We also had to run air conditioning 24/7 because of the excessive heat. It did cool down at night, but the temperature only dropped into the upper 70’s to low 80’s. Sadly, our lovely daily walks had to end. From what I read in the news, this was the worst heat wave SE Asia has ever seen.

In the middle of this record-setting hot spell, Songkran happened. Songkran is the Thai New Year, which is celebrated over 3 days (or more!). If you have seen pictures of the world’s largest water fight, you have seen Songkran! It is a much deeper experience for Thai people than just super-soakers, though. The roots of Songkran are in the Buddhist faith. The faithful here go to their local Wat (temple), pour water on elders’ hands, spend time with family, and of course, go crazy with water! A week before Songkran, we started to see signs of the upcoming festivities. We had seen pictures of the craziness and really didn’t know what to expect. Friends had told us that the locals used water from the moat that surrounds the old city to refill their water guns. Gross, gross, gross. The moat water is not clean, and we weren’t too sure that we wanted to be a part of that. But we did want to experience a little bit of fun, so the first morning of Songkran, we walked to the Tha Pae Gate area. All along the moat, there were booths set up selling buckets, water guns, masks, cell phone protectors, and all sorts of accoutrements related to the festival. There was supposed to be a “Thai women in traditional dress carrying umbrellas while riding bicycles” competition and so we set up shop on the 2nd floor of the McDonalds across the street. We had an excellent view of the action – garbage cans filled with water lined the streets and if you walked or rode by, someone would throw buckets of water on you. There were pickups filled with young people shooting you with their super-soakers and people with hoses spraying those that walked by. One thing we did not see was anyone using moat water. Lots of local businesses provided water for refills. Despite the signs, we never saw anyone in the moat, either.

Everyone was having so much fun that we decided to join in. Incidentally, due to Covid, this was the first Songkran Festival in three years, and so people were really letting loose! We didn’t have water guns but were happy to let others soak us. Clayton made it a special point to let the little ones spray him. Given the excessive heat, it felt great!

Thank you Chat GPT for producing this lovely Songkran Rap:

Yo yo yo, it’s time to celebrate
The Thai New Year with a splash of fate
Songkran is the festival of water and fun
When you can soak anyone under the sun

It’s a tradition that goes back to ancient times
When people sprinkled water as a sign of good vibes
Now it’s a massive water fight in the streets
With buckets, hoses, and water guns on repeat

But Songkran is more than just getting wet
It’s also about respect and gratitude, don’t forget
You can visit temples, make offerings, and pray
Or wash the hands of elders and monks in a gentle way

Songkran is a time to cleanse and renew
To wash away the bad and welcome the good
So grab your friends, family, and strangers too
And join the party of Songkran, the coolest thing to do!

Thai school children have their summer break during hot season, which makes sense. School starts up again in mid-May, which is when smoky season finally ended. There were some fabulous thunderstorms around then as well. I attempted (unsuccessfully) to upload a couple of videos I took of the rain; I have never seen anything like it, and I have been in tropical storms before. Within 5 minutes, the street in front of our place had turned into a river. Crazy!

Will we be in Chiang Mai during the smoky and hot season again? Not on purpose. Once was enough. We will return in September after spending the summer back in Seattle. It will be rainy season when we go back, but in the northern part of Thailand, that means one or two rainstorms daily, and nice weather in between. We will miss the lovely people of Chiang Mai while we are gone. We had lots of hugs and tears when we let people know that we were leaving, but that gives us that much more to look forward to when we return. Thais are known for being warm and friendly. We certainly experienced that, and it is one of the main reasons why we love the area so much.

When we return in September, we have a few side trips planned that I will be writing about. We are taking a trip to Vietnam in October, a cruise in December, and a trip to India in February. More adventures ahead!

Sawadee kha from Chiang Mai!

We are still loving life here and plan on returning next September. I have taken a couple of tours, which shockingly (not) revolve around food! We also took a train journey to Bangkok, and then continued to Kanchanaburi. Other than that, life continues as normal:

  • lots of walking
  • drinking coffee
  • people-watching
  • scooter riding
  • massages (less than $10 for an hour!)
  • pedicures (about $5)
  • delicious food

 It is smoky season here, and all over SE Asia. Farmers burn their crops making very poor air quality. We are staying indoors a bit more as well as running an air purifier to keep the crud out of our lungs. N-95 masks are used outdoors, not for COVID protection, but as a health precaution due to pollution.

I am valiantly trying to learn a little Thai. It’s not easy – Thai is a tonal language, and the same word can be pronounced five different ways, with five different meanings. The letters are a challenge, and the words are not separated by spaces. They say it’s important to keep your brain active and challenged as you age; learning Thai qualifies! I do know a couple of important phrases: mai pet (not spicy) and pet nik noy (a little spicy). We are acclimating to the spiciness of much of the food and now actually add spice such as prik nam pla (fish sauce with chilies) or just ground chilies if the food isn’t spicy enough for our palates.

Since getting our Thai driver’s licenses, we have only been pulled over once. The police officer that pulled Clayton over was delighted to find that he had an actual Thai motorcycle license. He even high-fived Clayton before allowing him to drive on! As for me, I think the police officer either didn’t believe that my license was legitimate (an old, white foreign woman, properly licensed and riding a motorcycle???) or he was extra-disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to charge me a fine. Either way, he questioned me extensively and examined both my Thai and US driver’s licenses before scowling at me and sending me on my way.

We are pretty cautious about eating street food, given the lack of refrigeration that exists for meat. Nonetheless, I wanted to try some different foods so thought it was a good idea to take a street food tour. That way, the places I tried should be safe. There are several companies that offer tours; I settled on Chiang Mai Foodie Tours. They offer both a morning and an evening tour. I opted for morning, given that there is a bit of walking on the tour and mornings are much cooler than evenings. Also, I don’t like to eat much in the evening. It was a fun activity, and you can read about it here.

If you follow my blog, you know that I have taken three different cooking classes on previous visits to Chiang Mai. This year, I opted for Smile Organic Farm Cooking School. The class took place on the farm as opposed to most classes which are located near the old city and include a visit to the local market to teach about the vegetables used in Thai cooking. Since I visit the local market several times per week, I thought it would be more interesting to take the farm class. My friend, Mary Jo, as well as a couple of her friends took the class together. My post about the class can be found here.

Clayton and I love taking train trips, from traveling from south Vietnam to north Vietnam by train (36 hours of beautiful scenery), traveling around Europe on a Eurail Pass for a couple of months, or taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Beijing to St. Petersburg. We wanted to visit Kanchanaburi, which is located several hours from Bangkok. There are many ways to get to Bangkok – fly, night train, day train, bus, and private car. We wanted to experience the train. We opted for the day train so that we could enjoy the scenery. The journey is supposed to take 10 hours and costs less than $20 per person. In contrast, one can fly to Bangkok for around $31, so not much more expensive (but way less scenic). We spent two days in Bangkok and then took a train to Kanchanaburi: a 2.5-hour ride in a 3rd class, non-air-conditioned train. We loved the Bangkok to Kanchanaburi train, the Chiang Mai to Bangkok, not so much. If you want to read about our experiences as well as some of the history of the death railway and Hellfire Pass, or if you just want to browse my photos, click here.

Winter in Paradise

It seems hard to believe, but we have been living in Chiang Mai for about 3 months already. Time flies when you are living the good life! We take lots of walks and scooter rides as well as eating fabulous food. What could be better?

Since we are here for more than 90 days, we were required to get our Thai driver’s licenses. The process was simpler than it might have been because we both have motorcycle endorsements and International Driver’s Permits so essentially, we had to fill out tons of paperwork (thanks, Thai Assist Visa!), get a medical clearance (got weighed, height measured, and blood pressure taken), and then spent a fair amount of time having our documents checked, rechecked repeatedly (at least by 3 different people) at the Department of Land Transport, were tested for color blindness (but no vision check), paid a nominal fee, and had our pictures taken for our licenses. We are now legal to drive (both car and motorcycle) in Thailand for two years. After two years have passed, we get to do it all over again, but then will receive a “permanent” license for five years. The fact that there is no eye test whatsoever is kind of frightening…

This post is primarily photos of things that caught my eye during our many walks around town; things that are dramatically different than what we normally see at home in Seattle. I revisited the Silver Temple, attended the Chiang Mai Flower Festival and parade, and took pictures of things I found interesting.

We will be taking the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok in early March, and from there will be taking the train to Kanchanaburi to view the Death Railway and Hellfire Pass. Look for a new post then!

The Silver Temple

Chiang Mai Flower Festival

Flower Festival Parade

This and That Around Town

A Visit to Chiang Rai

As a change of pace, we decided to spend a couple of days in Chiang Rai. We visited there four or five years ago and wanted to return, even though we had already seen the major attractions in the area. The bus ride to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai is between 3 and 4 hours, depending on traffic. Though there is an airport in Chiang Rai, it seemed silly to fly for such a short distance. There are different levels of comfort available for the bus; we chose VIP, which is the nicest. The bus has three seats across rather than four, so there is quite a bit of room. A small snack and a bottle of water are provided and there is a bathroom in the back, though you would only want to use it in an emergency…Though we were on the first trip of the day, the toilet was backed up and had not been cleaned out for quite a while.

The route goes through a mountain pass or two. The first part of the trip is quite windy, then the road straightens out for a bit before turning windy again. If you have motion sickness, I recommend taking meclizine or something comparable beforehand! We arrived in Chiang Rai around noon and walked to our hotel. First on the agenda was a massage and walking around town. Afterwards, we were both so tired we took a long afternoon nap. Retired life is great! We had dinner at the hotel. Though they had a very complete menu that included western food, only Thai food was actually available. And it was quite spicy!

Our tour van picked us up around 8:30 the following morning. We had a full day’s agenda ahead: White Temple, Blue Temple, Black House, Long-Neck Karen Tribe, Tea Plantation, Mae Sai (border town with Myanmar), and the Golden Triangle (including a stop at the Opium Museum). A very full day indeed! Our tour guide was Guy; the driver was Boy. And yes, Guy was a girl! Thai’s use nicknames rather than their given names. We shared the van with a couple from northern California and a family that was spending ten months traveling the world. We lucked out in that everyone was friendly; it made for a very pleasant day.

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is located south of Chiang Rai. It is a spectacular temple that has been completely redone by a Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, though it is not yet complete. Since it is privately owned, the entry fees collected go towards completion of the temple. There is a donation limit of 10,000 Thai Baht (around $300 US). I did notice one building that had been constructed, but not “bedazzled” just yet! To enter the Wat (temple), you must pass through the artist’s vision of hell before getting to heaven. As is true of any Buddhist temple, shoes must be removed before entering.

Photos inside the temple are not allowed. The back wall is painted to resemble a demon. If you look closely, you can see that the eyes contain images of two men. The right eye is Osama bin Laden; the right is George Bush. Interesting symbolism! The left-hand wall has paintings that represent the circle of life. On the right, three people are portrayed: the first is painted dark, the next is half dark/half-light, and the final is light to represent the progress towards enlightenment. All point towards the Buddha.

There is a beautiful golden building on the grounds. Every other building is glistening white except for this one. What else could be golden but the throne room, aka happy room, aka toilets? I was not able to get a picture because my phone decided to act up.

Next on the agenda was the blue temple, Wat Rong Seur Ten. This is also a reconstructed temple that was designed by a student of Kositpipat (who designed the White Temple) between 2005 and 2015, though there are still some parts that are being built. The tigers on the side of the building are representative of the fact that tigers used to roam in this area.

The last stop near Chiang Rai was the Baandam Museum (baan means house, dam means black). This place was quite unique compared to the temples we had just visited. The artist, Thawan Duchanee, started collecting animal skins, bones, and other unique items from around the world. The Black House is not a single building; it consists of 40 buildings spread around a large garden area. It started as a hut to contain his collection of “stuff”, then grew to a house, and eventually spread into a complex.   He was already an acclaimed painter and replicas of his paintings dot the walls of the main building. Each painting has a QR code that can be scanned to get further information about it. What really draws a person’s attention, however, is the sculptures and other objects d’arte. Let’s just say that he has a strong fascination for the phallic! It is quite the counterpoint to the White Temple.

We were now heading north towards the border with Myanmar. Our next stop was at a long-necked Karen village. The Karen tribe originates in Myanmar but has relocated to Thailand. They are not allowed to work and so exist by selling admission to their “village” which is actually a series of stands filled with objects that they well. You may wonder why they wear the coils on their necks. Legend has it that a tribal leader started the practice to protect the women from being attacked by tigers. Girls start accumulating rings at age 5. New rings get added every couple of years. The rings are quite heavy but there is a maximum weight of 5.5 kilograms (12 pounds) allowed, so at a certain age, no new rings get added. They switched metals about 20 years ago and started using a lighter one. The rings can be removed but if they are, the woman must leave the tribe. It does not kill the woman to remove her rings, but she does have very weak neck muscles. The wearing of rings is not allowed in schools, so the girls in the tribe are not educated. They must marry within their tribe. The elongated look is partially due to the women’s shoulders being pushed down by the weight of the rings.

Akha woman

Each booth sold essentially the same things. Several women were weaving. The first booth or two were Akha women rather than Karen.

I had mixed feelings after the visit. It’s very unfortunate that the only way these tribes can subsist is by selling tickets for tourists to gawk at them. But, if they did not have that option, they would starve.

Our last stop before lunch was at a tea plantation. Given the number of tour vans and tourists milling about, it seemed to be a common stop on the tour circuit! We were given three teas to taste; none were to our liking, so we did not purchase any. It seems that most tours seem to include one dedicated shopping stop.

Finally, it was time to eat! We had been on the road/touring for 6 hours and we were pretty hungry! The restaurant seemed to cater to tour groups. They provided a small buffet of Thai food (rice, a couple of stir-fried dishes and a couple of soups) as well as some french fries. It helped stave off starvation and gave us energy for the rest of the tour.

The last time we visited Chiang Rai, we were able to cross the border into Myanmar. It is one of our fondest travel memories and so I was curious to see what things were like now with the border closed. There used to be a 5 km zone where the people that lived in Tachilek, on the Myanmar side, could cross into Mae Sai, on the Thailand side, to purchase items without having a visa. Mae Sai was a bustling town filled with people buying all types of items and bringing them back to Burma (Myanmar). Now, it seemed to only have tourists. Though the markets were still open, there were very few customers. It looked like a ghost town compared to what it was in the past.

Our final stop of the day was the Golden Triangle, the place where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet. Its claim to fame is the opium trade, and there is a museum to visit to learn all about it. We had visited the same museum on our previous trip, so opted to sit outside and wait for the rest of the group.

The ride back to Chiang Rai was about 1.5 hours. I spent it chatting with the mom of the family that was taking a sabbatical year to tour the world. What a fabulous experience for those kids! She was home-schooling them to keep them up on their studies, but the experiences they are having will educate them in ways no classroom can. The time flew by, and we were back at our hotel, exhausted from our day.

We took the bus back to Chiang Mai the following morning. Tentatively, we plan on taking the train to Bangkok in March. I will update my blog then.

Life in a foreign land

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a foreign country? One where you can’t read, write, or speak the language? I thought I would write about our experiences in Chiang Mai so far to give you a taste of what it is like.

We have been here almost a month already; time flies when you are having fun! We flew from Seattle to Seoul to Bangkok on Asiana Airlines. The flights were smooth, the food was good (we flew in business class) and the service was excellent. We arrived at about 10:30 pm so spent the night at the Novotel hotel at Suvarnabhumi Airport, then flew to Chiang Mai the following morning. We are once again staying at the Smith Suites, in an apartment across the hall from where we stayed last year. We were a bit disappointed to find that the unit we had reserved had been given to someone else, but it has turned out for the best. We have a garden view apartment, and the deck stays in the shade all day so that we can enjoy sitting out whenever we get the urge. Our apartment last year was on the “rooster” side of the building and had full sun from 7 am until sundown. The roosters made sure we didn’t sleep in!

The people here are so friendly! We were warmly greeted by the people we had met last year – our favorite barista, the banana guy, the servers at our favorite restaurants, as well as random people that had noticed us last year, but we had not actually spoken to. Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles”; it is a reputation well-earned.

Much of our first weeks have been spent on the little daily tasks of living – getting groceries, buying water, getting our laundry done, getting scooters rented, etc. Each of those tasks are very mundane at home, but here, things are a bit different! We have a mini-mart close by as well as being only a few blocks from the fruit and vegetable market. Most of our groceries can be purchased at one or the other of these places. However, for certain items, a trip to a full supermarket is in order. The odd thing here is that the supermarkets don’t open until 10 or 11 am! And parking is an issue. You won’t find parking lots like you would in the United States; you either must pay to park in a garage or find street parking. We really like to do our errands early in the day before it gets too hot, so have decided to take a songthaew rather than riding our scooters when we need to shop. It just simplifies matters for us.

The water here is not drinkable, so we buy a big jug at 7-11 and then refill it as needed. There are water refill stations nearby. For 4 baht (11 cents), we can refill a large jug. There are laundromats everywhere, but we choose to have someone do our laundry for us. For a few dollars per week, we drop off the dirty clothes and pick them up a day later, nicely folded.

We start our day with breakfast on the deck. Whatever else we eat, we always have tropical fruits. Fresh fruits and vegetables are so inexpensive at the local market. We definitely eat a healthier diet than at home. After breakfast, we head to NuNu NiNi’s for coffee and one of their tasty little almond cookies. The coffee shop is located across from the old city walls and the fruit and vegetable market. It is a prime people-watching spot! We love watching the crazy drivers on their way to work in the morning (more about that later). There is a small park between the coffee shop and the market; in the morning, vendors set up stalls selling clothing and other items. Most items seem to go for 100 baht (around $3). These stalls get taken down by mid-morning, and in the late afternoon are replaced with food vendors. We are a little hesitant to purchase street food due to the lack of refrigeration of meat but do partake of fruit smoothies occasionally (around 50 cents each).

After coffee, we go for a walk along the old city walls and the moat that surrounds them. There is not much left of the original walls, but there are several gates that have been left intact. We live near the Chiang Mai gate. The Tha Pae Gate is the most popular with tourists. They love to take videos of themselves with the pigeons that live there. A few enterprising locals feed the pigeons and then make noises to get them to fly up in front of the tourists so that they can get their pictures and videos to post on Instagram!

Several days a week, we stop by the fruit and vegetable market to stock up. We have our favorite vendors. One of them always throws in some extra vegetables at no cost. As I said, people here are very friendly. Most have a calculator to display the cost of the items since most that work at the market do not speak English.

On all our past visits, we have rented scooters. This year, there was a scooter shortage! Tourism has returned to Thailand in a big way and so the scooter rental shops do not have sufficient bikes to rent. We went back to the place we have rented from in the past and they were able to get Clayton a scooter but did not have one for me. Later that same day, they contacted me to let me know that they now had a scooter in stock. However, the price from the previous year had doubled! We needed wheels, so went ahead and paid for a month’s rental. The scooter rental places make more money from daily rentals; it was difficult to find one that would rent for a longer period. Unfortunately, Clayton’s bike did not have functioning back brakes. We took it back to the shop and they did something to it…but whatever that something was, it did not fix the problem. We think that since there is such high demand for rentals, they are not keeping up with the maintenance of the bikes. As soon as a bike gets returned, it gets immediately rented out. So, we decided to purchase scooters! Since we were spending such a large amount of money renting bikes that were not in great shape, and since we plan on returning yearly, it made sense to buy our own. That way, we get bikes in great shape with new tires and can ride more safely. We found a Honda dealer where the employees spoke some English and ordered what we wanted. To purchase bikes, we needed to present a residence certificate and our passports. The residence certificate meant a trip to immigration; something we really wanted to avoid. So, we paid a small fee to a visa company that would get the certificate for us. We had to leave our passports with them, which we absolutely hate to do, but it is how things are done here. Two days later, they had secured our certificates and we got our passports back. When we picked up the scooters, we had to leave our passports with the dealer for them to complete the proper documents for the government. They also kept the resident certificate so we will need to get new ones when we get our Thai driver’s licenses. We love our new bikes and feel so much more secure riding.

I may have mentioned before that Thai’s love their paperwork! Everything requires some type of official document (usually several). I needed to update my phone number with the bank here. It took a half hour and about 8 forms being filled out. Then, another two weeks for the information to be updated in their system. It’s a different world here, for sure.

Transportation here is a whole topic unto itself! I know that I have mentioned the crazy driving in prior year’s posts. I thought I would show some examples of how people get around here. Though there are traffic laws, they are rarely followed and never enforced. The only traffic police you see are those that are setting up checkpoints for tourists that have rented scooters. Rental places are happy to rent bikes to anyone; even those that have never ridden before. It is the law here that you have an International Driver’s Permit (or a Thai driver’s license) and a motorcycle endorsement from your country of origin. The police wave you over and if you don’t have the proper documents, fine you anywhere from 500 baht to 2000 baht (commonly known as “tea money” for the police). I have been stopped a few times; they are always quite disappointed that I have the necessary documents! This year, I just held up my International Driver’s Permit and they just waved me through.

Though helmets are mandatory here, very few wear them. The locals do, however, wear masks everywhere. They may be risking getting their heads bashed in if in an accident, but they won’t catch Covid!

Last year when we visited, masks were mandatory in Thailand, both indoors and out (no logic there!). Though masks are no longer mandatory, almost all Thai continue to always wear them. Very few tourists do.

Despite our precautions, both Clayton and I got sick after attending an expat meeting where no one masked up. I got sick first, then passed it along to him. We learned that a prescription is not necessary to get prescription drugs here. You just go to the local pharmacy and tell them your symptoms; they give you what you need (including antibiotics). We hope to not need to have any serious medical care but have Thai health insurance if we do. The health care here is very inexpensive, at least compared to the United States. We read about some poor guy from the UK that had purchased travel insurance and then fell off the scooter he had rented and broke his leg quite severely. He was taken to the hospital and had surgery; he was told he needed one or two more surgeries to fix the leg. He learned the hard way that when he rented his scooter, he did not have a motorcycle endorsement or an International Driver’s Permit and so his travel insurance would not cover the cost of the surgery! He owed over $6,000 for his hospital stay and initial surgery and needed more money for further surgeries and his trip home. Apparently, a friend started a Go Fund Me and managed to get enough money to pay for his bill, but he learned a hard lesson in life from the experience.

Though Thailand is a Buddhist country, Christmas is a big deal here. There are Christmas trees and decorations in practically every shop and restaurant. Market stalls are filled with Christmas décor and costumes. And there are so many tourists! Last year, the Saturday Walking Market was closed due to Covid. This year, you can barely move through the stalls. Great for the local economy; not great if you hate crowds! Traffic backs up in all directions every Saturday night; this is one of the best markets to visit here.  There are plenty of food stalls to tempt a person as well as lots of items made by local hill tribes. You can get a 30-minute massage for less than $2.50! At the end of the walking street is Wat Sri Suphan; the silver temple. It’s well worth a visit because it has very unique artwork on it – where else can you find UFOs embedded in silver on a Buddhist temple?

We have learned so much and have so much yet to learn. We have found our favorite restaurants, favorite massage place, favorite barber for Clayton and favorite salon for Heather (15-minute scalp massage/shampoo with your haircut, anyone? Shampoo, haircut and two lovely ladies styling my hair, all for less than $15). We have found the Amazon of Thailand; Lazada! Very inexpensive goods – I got a $2 hairdryer and Clayton got prescription sunglasses for less than $5. We learned how to get food delivered when we were sick. We have a few Thai phrases but most helpfully, we use Google Lens to translate the written word. If all else fails when trying to talk to a local, Google translate helps. Thanks to technology, we can both stream shows (using a VPN) and watch shows from our dvr at home. We are forming friendships with some of our fellow expats – quite an international crowd. We are adapting to the heat. As a matter of fact, it was 70 degrees this morning and I needed a light jacket – just like a local! In case you couldn’t tell, we love it here. Where better to escape the cold of winter?

On the Road Again!

“On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again.” Good old Willie Nelson’s lyrics keep running through my mind! In less than two weeks, we will be heading back to Chiang Mai, Thailand. This time around, we will be staying for a little over 6 months! Last year, we had intended to stay for two months, but immigration had other ideas…If you are interested in the gory details, please click here

So, this time around, we decided to bite the bullet and pay for visas. We went for the non-O retirement visa which will allow us to stay for 90 days and then get a 12-month extension.  If you want to read about the process, click here. We plan on staying for 6 months this time around and will be once again staying at the Smith Suites. We love the location, and the apartments are quite nice. 

We actually had intended to leave for Thailand earlier this Fall, but life got in the way. Last year during our trip, my hip started to hurt. I visited the doctor upon our return to the US and learned that I have arthritis (both hips) and would need to have my hip replaced (only one hip at this time).  I was anxious to get it taken care of, but unfortunately, due to Covid, elective surgeries had been postponed and so there was a huge backlog to get through before my surgeon could fit me in. He estimated a 6-month wait and that turned out to be pretty accurate. I had the surgery in mid-September and was shocked at how quickly I recovered. I am now back to normal and ready to go! 

Our plans this time around are to stay in Chiang Mai for most of the time. We are planning to take the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok at some point in the trip; we do enjoy train travel and figure it is a wonderful way to see some of the countryside. Most people that take that particular journey take the night train, but we will go during the day so we can see the scenery. Once in Bangkok, we are interested in going to Kanchanaburi to visit the death railway historical sites. We had tried to do this on a previous trip, but I got sick and so we had to cancel. We may or may not also head to southern Thailand. Southern Thailand is known for its beautiful beaches, but also for lots of partying and sex tourism. Shockingly, we are into neither of those, so not totally sold on visiting down south.  

If we do venture away from Chiang Mai, I will definitely post pictures. I probably won’t post much (if any) while we are in Chiang Mai, given that I have posted about the city extensively on previous trips there. Just can’t wait to get on the road again! 

Thai Akha Kitchen Cooking School

Since we have been to Chiang Mai several times, we have visited the major tourist attractions already. We have seen many, many beautiful temples, and yet each block we wander down seems to hold another! We have heard European tours called “ABC” tours – another beautiful cathedral. I guess you could call Chiang Mai “ABW” – another beautiful wat!

Even though we are not visiting as tourists this time, I decided to take another Thai cooking class. Despite having taken two on previous visits, I have definitely not mastered the art of Thai cooking! I love to cook, and I love to eat Thai food, so I have been practicing at home and have improved. I selected Thai Akha Cooking School this time based on its many 5-star reviews as well as the added bonus of learning to cook several Akha dishes. Akha is one of the hill tribes in northern Thailand; we visited an Akha village the last time we were here and so I was intrigued by the possibility about learning more about their culture and food. The website for the cooking school (https://www.thaiakhakitchen.com/) promised that we would cook (and eat) eleven dishes. Count me in!

Traditionally, Thai cooking classes give you options within several categories – appetizer, soup, stir-fry, curry, and dessert. The day starts with a visit to a local fruit and vegetable market, followed by a half-day of cooking. I was picked up in a modified tuk-tuk by Nikon (pronounced nee-con; spelled like the camera but pronounced differently!). He had already picked up Remy, a classmate from France. We drove to the Chiang Mai fruit and vegetable market which coincidentally is where I shop for fruit every couple of days (it is only blocks from our apartment). He dropped us off by a lovely, white wat and told us that the others from the class would be joining us shortly. I chatted with Remy and took a few pictures while we waited.

Four more classmates joined us. All looked to be in their twenties (I was the senior citizen in the group). There was a couple from England, a young woman from Poland (who lives in England), and a young man from Estonia. Being terrible with names, I don’t remember any of them! Another couple would be joining us at the kitchen; they were from the United States.

Nikon did a wonderful job of showing us the unique fruits and vegetables for sale at the market. He also had us taste-test a yummy coconut cream treat. They were baked in what looked like an aebleskiver pan and had chives cooked into them. I will be returning to the market to buy some. If I were walking through the market and saw them, I would not give them a second look. But, thanks to Nikon, I now have a new delicacy to enjoy while we are here.

I really enjoyed Nikon’s explanations. This is the third market tour I have done, but the most entertaining and educational.

After the tour, we climbed into the back of a songthaew and headed to the kitchen. I loved the colors and décor; the setting was incredibly beautiful. We were given a few minutes to relax and have coffee, tea, or water before the fun began.

Nikon created some of the dishes; we created the majority. We started with papaya salad and deep-fried spring rolls. Nikon made the filling for the spring rolls; we each attempted to roll the filling in a wrapper. Fortunately, we were given tongs to hold them together while they fried, or most would have come apart in the oil! We took turns frying, counting, “one elephant, two, elephant,…,five elephant before flipping the egg roll and counting to five again. Then, we were told to let the egg rolls swim until they were cooked to our satisfaction. We drained them, cut them in half, and plated them with our salad. Then, it was time to eat!

Nikon cooked the next dish, pumpkin in coconut milk. It was a dessert dish, but in Thailand, they don’t save dessert for the end of the meal; it is consumed during and after. Smart people, those Thai.

He also showed us how to steam sticky rice for the mango sticky rice that we would have at the end of the meal. He made the three Akha dishes – Akha soup (Fuk Kiow…just like you would think it would be pronounced), Akha salad (cucumber and tomato), and Akha chili dipping sauce (Sapi Thong).

Each person had pre-selected a curry paste to make. I chose green curry; most chose red, and a couple did massaman. Nikon provided the ingredients for the curry; we used lots of elbow grease to pulverize the spices using a mortar and pestle. When we were at the market, Nikon introduced us to a woman that sold pre-made curry paste. I believe that I would much prefer to buy from her than to make my own! The advantage of creating your own paste is being able to control the heat. As most people know, Thai food is famous for its heat. I like a bit of kick to my food, but nowhere near five-star chili level! We each tasted our pastes to determine if they were the right level of heat. Then we created the curry. Just a couple more dishes to cook!

Our soup choices were Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut milk; my fav), Hot and Sour Prawn Soup, and Clear Soup with Egg Tofu. The Hot and Sour Prawn sounded intriguing, but I cannot resist Tom Kha Gai.

The final course was the stir fry. At home, I have been working on perfecting my pad thai, so chose that as my dish. I have learned that although technique is important, it’s really all about having the right ingredients. In the US, I use tamarind paste; here they use tamarind juice. Palm sugar is a key ingredient; it’s hard to find at home. Nikon said that in Akha cooking, they use soy sauce rather than fish sauce, but I used half and half because I think using pure soy would really change the flavor of the dish. The pad thai turned out good, but I think I prefer the recipe I use at home. The other choices for stir fry were cashew chicken (my husband’s favorite), sweet and sour chicken (not the Chinese restaurant variety), or chicken with holy basil. Since we were given a recipe book with all of the recipes, I felt like I could easily make any of the stir-fry dishes at home.

At the market, Nikon had purchased a “century egg”, which is an egg that has been preserved in tea for at least a month. The eggshells are dyed pink so that people purchasing them know that they are century eggs rather than regular eggs. He sliced the egg into slivers and showed us how to wrap the sliver in a small piece of cabbage, add some vegetable slices, then add Sapi Thong (Akha chili sauce) to it. I was a bit hesitant to eat it, but it was actually pretty good!

We sat down to complete our final course. Nikon talked to us about the Akha people and how they differ from Thai. When Thais greet each other, they wai (bow), with their hands placed on different levels to denote the level of respect they are showing the other person. Akha shake hands. Akha is an entirely different language (and culture) than Thai. Nikon told us he spoke Akha, Thai, Lanna, and “Tinglish”, though we assured him that his English was excellent.

What made this cooking class so special compared to the others I have taken? Mainly, it was due to the personality of the teacher, Nikon. He was knowledgeable, polite, funny, and made us all feel at ease. Another positive was my fellow classmates. Though we were of completely different generations, they were all friendly and made me feel like one of the group. I enjoyed every minute of the day and was dropped off at my apartment happy and full.

Thai Akha Cooking School definitely earned a 5-star review from me!

We Made It!

But not without a few hiccups along the way, from testing issues, to documentation “misunderstandings”. But, we are here! And we will be here for a couple of months, possibly longer if the Thai immigration officials will let us. While our friends back home are enduring cold and rain, we are enjoying beautiful sunshine, tropical fruit, and friendly local people that are thrilled to have tourists return to their country.

Will We or Won’t We?

It’s been quite a while since I have had anything travel-related to post! I don’t know about you, but when the pandemic hit, I never thought that its after-effects would drag on this long. Last winter was a long, depressing one. Where we live, in the state of Washington, winter can be a dreary affair. It is rainy, cold, and dark for months which is why we always travel during that time. We knew travel would be out of the question, so hunkered down for the season. Where we live, we had quite a few covid-related restrictions, so normal social activities were curtailed or eliminated completely. But, when the vaccines were approved, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel.

We both got our jabs as soon as we were eligible and had high hopes that things would be returning to normal. So, what did we do? Booked a trip, of course! Our plan was to go to Chiang Mai for a couple of months before heading to South Africa. If you regularly read my blog, you know that we were on a cruise to South Africa when Covid shut down the world in March of 2020. We were given an enormous amount of Future Cruise Credits that needed to be used, so booked a 14-day round trip cruise from Cape Town as well as a 14-day land trip around South Africa. We booked our flights and made hotel accommodations. I started to set up independent tours for the cruise portion of the trip. We were quite excited to be “on the road” again! There was such a sense of hope initially.

Unfortunately, the vaccines turned into a political hot potato and there was much resistance to vaccination in the United States. I must say, I was shocked. I really thought that everyone would jump at the opportunity for protection from Covid and the return to normalcy in our everyday lives. That didn’t (and still hasn’t) happened. Then, the Delta variant took over and it seemed that the vaccine wouldn’t provide the protection that we had hoped it would. On the positive side, Covid restrictions eased and so life returned to more normal. We are still not fully back to normal, but more so than that long, dreary winter of 2020/2021!

By the end of last summer, it became clear to us that South Africa would not be a safe place for us to go. The vaccination rates were abysmally low and Covid was rampant. There was a chance that things would straighten out before our trip, but we were not willing to risk it. The last thing we wanted was to end up on another cruise like the last one! Additionally, Thailand was making it really difficult to enter the country. Even as a fully vaccinated person, they were insisting on either 14 days of quarantine in Bangkok or spending a couple of weeks at one of their islands in what they referred to as the “sandbox” scheme. Neither alternative was that interesting to us; we simply wanted to return to Chiang Mai for a couple of months. So, we made the decision to cancel all our plans.

Fast forward to November. Thailand announced a “Test and Go” scheme for vaccinated tourists that would only require one night of quarantine until a clean RT-PCR test came back. After a negative test result, one would be free to travel anywhere in the country. In order to enter the country, a person would need to apply for a Thailand Pass which involved uploading proof of vaccination, proof of booking (and paying for) an approved Test and Go Hotel, flight details, proof of a minimum of $50,000 insurance that would cover Covid treatment, and passport information. In Thailand, if you test positive, you are quarantined in a hospital for 2 weeks, so we opted for Thai insurance to make sure that was covered. There have been instances of tourists testing positive and their home or travel insurance policies not covering their hospital stays because they were asymptomatic, and their stay was not medically necessary.

So, we decided to book a two-month trip to Chiang Mai for December and January. We plan on spending a few days in Bangkok so booked a lovely suite overlooking the Chao Praya River at the Chatrium Riverside Hotel for both the initial test and go night, as well as for several days following. From there, we will fly to Chiang Mai and stay in an apartment just outside the old city walls for the remainder of our trip. We can enter Thailand on a 30-day visa free entry and then extend our stay another 30 days at the local immigration office. If we choose to stay longer, we can apply for a visa.

In typical Thai fashion, there were all sorts of problems with the new system initially. We fully expected this, so applied a week after the system opened for business. We figured that if there were any issues, we would have plenty of time to sort them out. Many people had their applications approved immediately. But one of the requirements was that your vaccination certificate have a QR code. In the US, we do not have a national system for vaccination proof and our state certificate had no code. In other words, our application would have to be hand-processed which could take up to a week. Exactly a week after applying, we were approved!

We had everything lined up for the trip. Given that, it was time to start all our pre-travel arrangements – notifying banks and credit card companies that we would be out of the country, securing travel medications, contacting a travel nurse to make sure that we had all necessary vaccinations, etc., etc., etc. We found that our typhoid vaccination had expired. No big deal, except that due to Covid, people have not been traveling and so the companies that make the oral typhoid pills (good for 5 years and fairly economical) were not producing them. The only option was to get a typhoid shot, good for only two years and quite pricy! But better safe than sorry so we went ahead and got the shot.

We are 100% set to go. So, what could go wrong? Why, another Covid variant! Omicron was just identified a few days ago. And, I must say, we are certainly glad that we canceled our South Africa trip! I do feel bad for the people I know that had planned on taking the cruise. I somehow doubt that any port in Africa will be allowing a ship to dock. The cruise prior to the one we had booked was supposed to go from Dubai to Cape Town. They have reworked the itinerary to focus on Middle Eastern ports and will go to India rather than Africa. And the cruise will return to Dubai rather than going to Cape Town. I only know this because a cruising buddy has a friend on the ship right now; the cruise line has not published the new itinerary yet. But they are allowing people to cancel and get a 100% refund. Who knows how long it will take for people to get their money back on the cruise, not to mention all the other travel arrangements that will need to be canceled? I have no idea what will happen to the cruise that was supposed to start and end in Cape Town…

None of this should affect us, but it still may. I read this morning that Japan is closing its borders which will most likely prevent transiting through the airports there on the way to Thailand. Our flight goes through Seoul, South Korea so my fingers are crossed that South Korea does not do the same thing.

So, will we, or won’t we? Only time will tell. We are flexible which is a necessary attribute these days when it comes to travel. If we can’t, it will be fine. This winter is not as restrictive as last in terms of Covid. We are quite cautious, but I do go to the gym daily, go to church weekly, and participate in a hiking group weekly. We live in a beautiful part of the world and at least we can get out and enjoy it!

Life during Covid

I think that this is the longest stretch of time that we have been home in several years, thanks to COVID. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to be at home since most of the world is not too interested in having any American visitors! With nothing but time on my hands, I thought I would update my blog from my last posting in March.

We were extremely fortunate to get seats on a flight from Cape Town to Qatar. The flight was completely booked. Clayton and I were not able to sit together on this leg of our return flights home. I was seated on the aisle (my favorite location) next to a very friendly Finnish couple. The husband was very polite towards his wife for the entire flight – rather than cough on her, he turned towards me to cough. Repeatedly. For ten hours straight. After being protected from COVID for nearly 3 weeks due to being stuck on the ship, I wasn’t too thrilled to be seated next to a guy with one of the primary symptoms that continued to “share” his germs with me. But there were no other options since the flight was completely packed full. Despite the coughing Finn, the flight was pleasant. Qatar Airways has an incredibly positive reputation and lived up to it. We were well fed and taken care of.

We landed in Doha, Qatar and rapidly passed through immigration and on to our boarding gate. The airport was beautiful. There were plenty of upscale shops for those inclined towards spending money whilst waiting for their flight, but we just wanted to get to our next gate. It was hard to keep track of time zones, but we had left South Africa in the evening and flown for ten hours, so it was probably (very) early in the morning. Our carry-on items were screened one more time before being allowed into the seating area. We had a short wait before boarding and were pleased to find that the flight to Boston was only about half full. Clayton and I had an empty seat between us (the good news) but were seated right by the restroom (the bad news). The flight was smooth and the service and food once again top notch. We arrived in Boston late in the afternoon.

We had hoped to be able to visit the Global Entry office when we deplaned. Both of our renewals for Global Entry had been conditionally approved but required a face-to-face interview. Global Entry allows walk-in interviews for those arriving on International flights. Unfortunately for us, the office was closed. It has been months now, but I still remember how eerie the airport was because it was almost completely empty of people. There were a couple of take-out places open, but sit-down restaurants were closed. The lounge was open but only as a place to sit, no food or refreshments. We ended up getting sandwiches for the flight to Seattle because we knew that food was not included on a domestic flight. We had a few hours to kill so walked around the deserted concourse, looking at all the cancelled flights on the arrival/departure boards. Boarding our flight was a breeze given that there were only about 8 other passengers! The flight attendants tried to separate Clayton and I – they were putting a couple of rows between each passenger. We explained that we were married and so were allowed to sit together, though they moved us back a few rows since we were supposed to be seated at the front of the cabin. The flight attendants were using that area to sit and didn’t want any passengers to be seated anywhere near them.

We were given a small botte of water and a granola bar immediately after take-off. That was the one and only interaction with the flight attendants for the entire 6-hour flight! I slept most of the flight; we had been flying for well over a day by now and I was quite exhausted. I don’t remember much about our arrival in Seattle; there were a few more people than in Boston but the airport was nonetheless pretty empty. We took a cab home and collapsed!

We came home to an entirely different world than when we left. Though we were not under a strict quarantine, our entire state was under a “stay at home” order. We could leave home for groceries and emergency medical care; that was it. We had to restock our pantry after having been gone for months, so our first few days were spent shopping. At that point, masks were recommended but not required. We didn’t have masks, so were careful to stay at least 6 feet away from others. It felt very odd to have to keep distance from people! And, it felt scary. Our area was the epicenter of the outbreak in the US so every interaction with others felt risky. We are both in our 60’s and I have underlying medical conditions that make me a “high-risk” person. We didn’t dare visit family or friends; we took the stay at home order very seriously.

I remember being especially exhausted those first couple of weeks but attributed it to jet lag. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Two weeks after returning home, I woke up in the middle of the night extremely nauseated and with chills. I was sick enough that Clayton took me to the emergency room. We were given masks upon admission and due to my heart problems, taken in immediately. It’s a heck of a reason to go to the front of the line, but that’s the way it is! After hearing about our recent travels, the doctor was quite sure I had COVID. I was given a COVID test as well as a battery of other tests, including a chest x-ray. I had IV fluids pumped into me and kept drifting off to sleep whilst waiting for the test results. It turns out that I had pneumonia. I thought that was exceedingly odd since I did not have a cough, nor had I had a cough recently. Of course, I had been exposed to a cough. After 6 hours, I was finally released with a bag full of medication and instructions to quarantine for two weeks and for Clayton to sleep in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. My COVID test would take a day or two to be processed, but they were quite sure I had it. If I had any trouble breathing, I was to return to the hospital immediately.

The next couple of weeks were a blur. What I remember most is the complete and total lack of energy I had. I had no desire to eat, though made myself take in a little food every day. It felt as if something heavy had been placed on my chest. It didn’t really hurt to breathe, but it was a huge effort. My heart rate was extremely high, perhaps due to the extra energy it seemed to take to inhale. Fortunately, my COVID test was negative. I had bacterial pneumonia rather than viral. Eventually, I started to feel like my old self again. By now, masks were required, so I got out my sewing machine and sewed a few for us. Unlike other parts of the country (and other parts of our state), virtually everyone where we live wear masks. I greatly appreciate this. I was sick enough with pneumonia; I have no desire to risk getting COVID.

So now, life is back to normal. At least as normal as it will be for quite some time. I love the senior shopping hours and hope they continue for the duration. I miss my children terribly. My daughter had a baby in December, right before we left for our trip. I was supposed to visit my new grandson in April, but that trip had to be cancelled (she lives all the way across the country). I miss attending church in person, and especially miss singing in the choir. Singing is a super-spreader event, so even when worship services return, we will not be singing. And, of course, I miss travel. Normally, between trips, I spend my days researching and planning future trips. Who knows when we will be able to travel again? I definitely have too much time on my hands.

We had purchased a 2-month Eurail pass for a trip around Europe in August and September. That obviously is cancelled. We were able to get a partial refund on the pass and were able to cancel all our hotel reservations at no cost to us. Just this past week, our flights got cancelled by the airline and so we were able to get a full refund. There were a few places we opted to fly between due to distance, and flights within Europe are still running, so we won’t be able to recoup any of those costs. Travel insurance doesn’t really help during a pandemic unless you have cancel for any reason insurance (we don’t). But, the cost of those flights is small in the grand scheme of things!

We had an amazing conglomeration of travel planned for the winter. At this point, it is unclear how much (if any) of the trip will happen. The plan was to fly to Kuala Lumpur for a couple of weeks in early November. From there, we would head to Thailand for a month. Then, on to India for a 2-week planes/trains/automobiles/camels trip before boarding a cruise from Mumbai to Yangon, Myanmar. After arriving in Myanmar, we were going to take a boat trip from Mandalay to Bhamo and then fly back to Thailand. From Thailand, we would fly to Australia for a 2-week cruise to New Zealand followed by a train trip around southern/eastern Australia. Finally, we would return to Thailand after stopping in Bali on the way.

What definitely will not happen: anything in India (no land trip, no cruise) and no cruise to New Zealand. After our last cruising experience, we are not too excited about taking another cruise. Realistically, even if we were, I doubt Australia and/or New Zealand will be allowing Americans into their country any time soon. We would love to return to Thailand as well as do the 5-day boat trip from Mandalay to Bhamo in Myanmar, but that will depend on whether either of those countries will allow us in. It all will depend on what happens with coronavirus between now and then.

Until life returns to normal (not holding my breath that will be anytime soon), we will not be traveling. So, no updates to the blog for quite some time! I hope that wherever in the world you are, that you are healthy and that COVID has not affected you. Drop me a note and let me know what’s going on in your part of the world!

Heather