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A Helluva Long Way to Do Nothing

A Thai Trip Journal, 1989
Part VIII: Ayutthaya, Bang Pa-in, and Home

I got up early on Saturday. I had decided to go to Ayutthaya, about 50 miles from Bangkok. Ayutthaya had at one point been the capital of Thailand, before being sacked by the Burmese in 1767. It would be nice, I thought, to have a guide for the day; my taxi driver volunteered to take me there, and to Bang Pa-in, a former retreat for the king.

He met me at the hotel at 7 AM. Before we left, I paid for another night at the hotel, acutely aware that it was my last.

The driver's wife and daughter came with us; they wanted to pray at Ayutthaya. On the way out of the city, the driver and his wife got into a fierce argument, I think about the best way to get there. Hearing them argue in Thai was strangely comical, and I had a hard time not laughing. We finally stopped at a gas station, and the driver got out to question the attendant. His wife quickly followed suit, firing off questions of her own. Inside the car, the daughter and I exchanged amused glances.

With the conflict resolved, we headed on to Ayutthaya. It was interesting, and there were few other visitors. I'll let the photos do the talking. Bang Pa-in, too, was very beautiful, with tranquil temples, sculptures, and topiary along a quiet little lake.

On the way back to Bangkok, I once again saw an elephant, this one working in a field. And once again, I was too slow to grab my camera. Ah, the price of unpreparedness.

We got back to the hotel in the early afternoon. I had lunch, then went out to buy a t-shirt for a friend. I took a few more photos, then had to go back to the hotel because I ran out of film. I grabbed another roll, then took a few more pictures along Rama IV Road. I headed back to the hotel, and when I arrived, I felt a little funny. I knew that the next time I left the hotel, it would be to go back to America.

That night, the mother of the family that operated the restaurant was walking out just as I was about to walk in. She smiled and nodded. "See you tomorrow," she said. It was the longest English sentence I had ever heard her say.

"No," I said. "Tomorrow I go home."

"Oh, oh," she said. I could tell that she didn't understand.

"Fly home," I said. I spread my arms and pantomined an airplane. "To America," I said.

"Ohhh! America? Tomorrow?"

I nodded. Honestly, she looked like she was going to miss me. Then she smiled again. "Goodbye," she said.

"Goodbye," I replied. And then she left.

I went to bed early, and double-checked and triple-checked to be sure that I'd set my alarm.

Goodnight, Bangkok.

At 5AM, I climbed out of bed and took a quick bath. I checked the room several times to be sure that I hadn't left anything, then went down to the lobby and called for a cab. There was an old couch in the lobby, and I sat down, looking at a set of dilapidated shelves alongside the stairway. On one shelf was a bottle of stomach medicine that I had gotten in Aranyaprathet. I hadn't opened it, and on my return, I had given it to the manager to pass along to some other poor sick bastard. I had a funny feeling that if I ever came back to Bangkok, that bottle would still be sitting there on the shelf. (A footnote... I returned a year and a half later, and I was wrong!)

It was still dark when my cab arrived. The cab was more or less a tuk-tuk, but a little bigger and with four wheels instead of the usual three. We threw my bags in the back and headed for the airport. I remember that just after we turned on to the expressway, I saw a huge lighted Coca-Cola sign, with "Coke" spelled out in Thai letters against a red background, the trademark ribbon curving across the bottom. I remembered seeing that sign the night I arrived in Bangkok. I remember, too, how beautiful Bangkok looked at dawn. The sky was deep blue, and a handful of skyscrapers in the distance were dotted with golden lights. I realized that there was so much I hadn't seen, and, more to the point, no excuse for the fact that I hadn't seen it.

The sun came up just as we arrived at the airport. I remember sitting in the lobby, waiting, waiting... sitting at one end of the lobby, then getting up and going to the other end of the lobby and sitting down again, checking the monitors that showed the departure gates. I can't remember how long I waited; it was a couple hours, at least. Finally, they opened a line for check-in for my flight, and I waited in line for a while, a fine change from the monotony of waiting in a chair. There was no organization; people were jammed together in a way that made it impossible to tell who was in what line. As I got to the front, I discovered that there was an "airport fee" of 200 baht. Luckily, I had kept some Thai currency.

They conducted a half-hearted search of everyone's baggage before we went into the departure lounge. It would be my last memory of Thailand, a bright, attractive but stark room, with huge plate glass windows looking out at the tarmac. I was anxious to get home.

I don't remember the flight home too well; I sat next to a woman who was smoking and reading a book about sex.

We landed in Seattle, where I had expected a thorough search from the customs officers, given that I was a young male, travelling alone to Southeast Asia. The search, however, was purely cursory. I had to hurry to catch my flight to Chicago, but that was just fine; I wasn't in a mood to sit around the airport.


I didn't finish the final entries in my journal until months after I had returned. That taught me a lesson: write it down, right away. Hurry, before it's gone forever.


I slept just a little toward the tail end of the flight. I remember being a little surprised when I woke up and heard the announcement that we were beginning our descent into Chicago.

It's odd, but so many things have already slipped away from me. According to the itinerary, the flight got back to Chicago at around 7:30 in the evening, September 3, 1989. I don't really remember much about getting home. I remember that I called my parents, and I suppose that I would have called my sisters, but I don't remember. I do remember that I was glad to be home. Jet lag plagued me for a week, but no matter... I was home.

As I type this, nearly fourteen years have passed since I made that strange, impulsive, inexplicable decision to travel halfway around the world. A reasonable person would probably regard the trip as pointless. Of course, I've never really been a reasonable person, so to me, looking back so many years later, it was all worthwhile. If anyone asked me for advice, I'd remember the long trip to Thailand, and I'd say: Screw common sense. Do it. Go. Get your wings.


This article contains eight parts:
Part One: Get Your Wings
Part Two: Orient Orientation
Part Three: The Colonials
Part Four: The Singapore Guys
Part Five: The Least-Laid Plans
Part Six: Doing Nothing at the Border
Part Seven: Back to Bangkok
Part Eight: Ayutthaya, Bang Pa-in, and Home