Below is the first post of my journal for my trip to Thailand. You are welcome to post comments and questions as you desire. If I manage to complete the work - for once - in a readworthy manner, I intend to repost it all in edited form on a more public forum so my Non-Elli friends can read it too.
Finally. As I begin to write this first journey log entry, I am on the flight from the Vaernes airport in Norway to Schiphol, the largest airport in Netherlands and possibly in the entire Europe. It is the first stretch on my airborne journey to Bangkok in Thailand, the Land Of Smiles. Thanks to an unexpected tax refund and a flexible employer I am just starting on an 11-day holiday to a continent I have never visited before, and right now I am near giddy with explorer's anticipation. It was just 7 Celsius as I left my home this morning and plenty of snow to be seen on the road to the airport... while Thailand has just entered its most warm and humid period of the whole year. After six months of snow, ice and temperatures below zero I can barely wait.
Things were looking bleak for a while. A week ago all hell broke loose in Iceland and half the world's airports stopped all services, cancelling flights for noone knew how long. It took several days before anyone official would even make a guesstimate of when flights would resume. Well, eventually the air opened again as much by frantic pressure by the economically threatened airlines. as much as by the ash cloud receding. But flights couldn't pick up as quick as they were halted, and not all airports opened at the same time. And since Norway is relatively close to Iceland and directly in the path of the main ash clouds, our airports have opened and closed like fluttering eyes. For my part I have been glued to every news bulleting and visits to KLM's flight schedule list has been a daily occupation. In fact, for the last couple of days it has been a hourly occupation after Schiphol finally reopened. The flight from Schiphol to Bangkok reappeared on the list only two days ago, and the flight I am in right now didn't reappear until yesterday! So those who wonder why I've been too preoccupied lately to be social online much... there's the answer. If I had booked a flight only one day earlier I don't know when I would have been able to fly instead, because the airlines now have huge backlogs to deal with. I would not have been able to go just whenever possible, but would have have had to get a new agreement with my employer about my absence period.
As if the ashpocalypse wasn't enough, other things have happened that could give a more cautious traveler reason to reconsider. Thailand which has largely been peaceful since the military regime that ruled from the previous coup in, gave the power back to the civil politicians in 1992. But with the military ousting of the popular-among-the-poor President Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 a gradually more vocal grassroot opposition has been publicly visible with large scale demonstrations. Demonstrations like last year's occupation of the main national airpot, and which have been disliked among the country's middle class and elite for disrupting tourism and other business, but have been largely peaceful and courteous by most countries' standard. Unfortunately the peaceful aspect has been badly marred these last few weeks with fatal street fighting and shootings between the military and the demonstrants - more than 20 are dead and 800 wounded so far, and the blow to Thailand's reputation as an ideal country for family tourism and attraction for foreign investors will be long lasting. The good news is that both the demonstrators and the military are asking for negotiations, the demonstration leaders are willing to turn themselves in and the shooting incidents seem to have been started by individuals rather than being planned actions by either side. There could be a honorable end to this at least. As I write this however, the news of four grenades exploding in the middle of Bangkok are reaching me...
And the political disruptions in the poor north and the capital are not the only woes. In the far south, muslim groups desiring independence from a largely Buddhist country are possibly using the fact that the national security is fixated on Bangkok to stage their own pieces of action. Only yesterday someone threw a grenade into a police station. Reports conflict but one to three policemen are dead and more than 30 wounded. If that isn't enough action, there were clashes on the border between Thailand and Cambodia as military units fired on each other for fifteen minutes. It seems to have been a fairly isolated event though and probably the result of some triggerhappy private's overeagerness. But other than that, Thailand is a very peaceful country! Really! And in none of these incidents there has been any violence aimed at foreigners, so I have been more morbidly amused than worried.
Here at Schiphol, I have now enjoyed a good salad with bread. I'm not a salad fanatic but it looked good, a light meal is to be preferred when flying, and I won't be eating any salad while I am in Asia. Never mind the grenades; my greatest worry on this trip is food poisoning. By the time I was tipped that I ought to get some vaccines, it was too late for the local health centre to get me an appointment for injecting them. So I will be making do by watching my hand-to-mouth hygiene closely, avoid potential bacteria bombs like unshelled greenery and icecream, and stick to well done meat. Which is what I prefer anyway so no loss there.
So what are my plans, now that the flight is going as scheduled? For a start I'm spending the first night on the plane since it's 11 hours of airtime from Schiphol to Bangkok, with arrival at lunch - since there are 5 hours of time difference between Norway and Bangkok. So, I arrive tomorrow in a probably rather soggy state what with the warmth and the length of the total ride. Providing my last minute hotel booking works out I'll then head to a four star hotel - the hotel prices here compared to in Norway are riciculously low, I estimate that the same room would cost me three to four time as much at home - and the luxury of a long shower before considering what to have first, a dip in the pool or dinner. I will barely have the time to sample Bangkok initially because the next day I am heading to a coastal pearl, the Koh Samet island with hotel bungalows, palm trees, white sand beaches and water so warm it's actually pleasant to swim - a rarity for a Norwegian used to 15-16 Celsius in the sea in the middle of the summer. There are no snakes in this paradise but I have heard that there are mosquitos... we'll see. I'll spend two nights out there before heading back to Bangkok for some real exploring. Mmmmmmarkets, some of them floating... oh yes! The second weekend is still not decided on but there's Koh Samui which isn't just another coastal pearl but a national park with breathtaking sights if the brochures can be trusted. And a chance to go sailing... which could be the high point of the entire trip. In the words of Captain Jack Sparrow; "Give me that horizon!"