The adventure begins!
Boarding the December 6 Cathay Pacific flight from O’Hare to Hong Kong, we flew north through Wisconsin (and a bumpy jet stream), Canada, and over the frozen Arctic Ocean, and then south over Russia, Mongolia, and China before landing in Hong Kong. Though most of the route was flown in darkness, and we kept the plane windows mostly closed so people could sleep, we did get some great views of the ice cap and the Lena River drainage and Verkhoyansk Mountain Range in Russia. Siberia was already well snowed over, making the northern tundra look eerily similar to images of Tombaugh Regio on Pluto or something that belongs in a whimsical coloring book.
Two meals, five movies, and one newspaper were consumed en route.
Since we had a 12-hour layover in Hong Kong (and arrived at 8 p.m. local time), we opted to stay at the local SkyCity Marriott, which turned out to be decorated for Christmas with trees and life-sized gingerbread houses.
Despite the close proximity to the airport, we took a shuttle, and had our first taste of other-sided road-driving… only mildly disorienting.
We were on the first shuttle back to the HKIA (which turned out to be unnecessary since the departures doesn’t really pick up until after 8 a.m.). The airport is on a separate island from the most picturesque views of Victoria Harbour and the main downtown, but we still could see dozens of skyscraper condos on the surrounding islands from the terminal. Once we took off we had a good (if hazy) view of Tuen Mun, a city inside the New Territories bordering Shenzhen.
Flying was cloudy most of the way to Chiang Mai, Thailand, but we had some good views of the lush tropical hills and mountains that surround the city. Despite the shorter (this one ran just over 3 hours and 995 miles) flight, DragonAir supplied two choices of breakfast. The dim sum was decent, and we chalked up dragonfruit as the first new food of the trip (tastes like kiwi or a smoother-textured watermelon). We landed at Chiang Mai just after 10:30 local time on December 8, having lost about a day in transit and another by crossing the International Date Line.
We rented an apartment north of the airport, and were picked so we didn’t even have to worry about directions!
As of today, our current apartment is a simply furnished one-bedroom with wi-fi, cooking supplies, and a/c (should we decide we need it).We are off the main roads in a very quiet neighborhood. Tropical birds like mynas (with bright-yellow-rimmed eyes that make them look a little sinister), song sparrows, pigeons, and roosters start singing about 6 a.m., which is when Chiang Mai’s airport also wakes up (the city is under the flight path, but there are no flights between midnight and 6).
Settling in was straightforward – ATMs are all over and it took just two tries to find one that would happily take our card and was operational (a better record than Amsterdam). Street food is everywhere as are small, family-owned groceries and chains like Tops and 7-11. SIMs for cell phones are sold in quantities made for tourists (a 7- or 30-day card, for example).
English is a common second spoken and written language as there is a large tourist industry and many ex-pats living here. We learned a few basic phrases in Thai and that has gotten us through so far.
To end for today, here is Pete who was living in our shower drain until he was released to freedom outside: