It’s been a year since my last trip to Thailand, and things have changed.Â Last year, I left in the middle of an economic boom and a natural disaster (the biggest blizzards to hit China in a century).Â The airports were heaving with masses of frenzied travellers. Desperate to get on the planes, but no planes were flying.
Now, on 21 January 2009, the airport is blissfully quiet for travellers, while chaos surges through the world travel business.Â As a consumer it feels fine.Â No wait at immigration, only one person ahead of me at the airline check-in counter, and my choice of just about any seat on the plane.Â Now if only China Eastern would lower their airfares.
I’m travelling from my home in downtown Shanghai to visit Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Lipe (an island in the Andaman sea) in Thailand.Â This trip is my annual relaxation trip (as opposed to my annual visit to Minnesota, which qualifies more as a family relationship maintenance and shoe replacement visit), but this year the trip has a more special meaning too.
For the first time since the year 2000, I will be going back to the university where I studied in Chiang Mai during the 1983-84 academic year.Â For me, this was the beginning of a lifelong fascination with Thailand, not to mention being a lot of fun.Â It also did a bit to transform me from a typical teenage know-it-all, to someone who was ready to start learning more about how the world works. Before that trip in 1983, I had never actually heard of Thailand â€“ that’s how dark the planet was that I was living on.
Today I’m flying out of Shanghai’s Pudong airport, direct to Bangkok, and will be meeting up with my older brother Pete, who is enjoying the last day of his own Thai holiday with his wife Tara.Â I will be meeting up with them for drinks at the Oriental Hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya this evening.Â The Oriental is one of Asia’s greatest hotels (Jean-George was the chef at the Normandy Grill there a few years back) and a landmark spot in Bangkok.
Tomorrow will be time for meeting some friends in Bangkok before getting on the night train to Chiang Mai tomorrow evening (the 22nd).
I can only hope that the rest of the trip is as relaxing as this transit through the Shanghai airport.