AH HA HA HA IT SPRAYED MY BUTT” Lily yells loud enough for me to hear in Men’s bathroom and just about everyone walking by. She has found a toilet in Tokyo’s Narita airport with lights, sound and a dashboard.
The Creekmores have arrived in Asia.
No trip has been more anticipated, planned or discussed than this one and we are finally here,. It’s exciting, even if we are only 2/3rds of the way to our desination, Yangshuo, China.
Our journey began almost 2 days ago, around 6am. Lily bounced out of bed excited and gushing with enthusiasm for the trip. Emma, as always, is low-key, but loves it too.
The packing went late into the night but was orderly and I don’t feel like we are scrambling to get out the door. In another post I’ll show my packing lists and gear planning spreadsheets that helped us a lot.
By far the hardest thing to do is to leave our dog, Monty, which we did sadly as we go out the door. Monty has been depressed all night, and slept alone, which he never does. He knew we were leaving.
He is truly the best dog ever, and if we could take him we would. He will be cared for well, and there will be lots of people at our house to keep him company.
The journey to the future.
Out the door we went to our fancy black car ride to the airport. One of the biggest advantages of travelling as a family is car/taxi transport is cheaper on a per person basis. It really helps us to keep the schedule tight and the costs managable.
Not two hours into our trip we are hit with our first problem. Our flight via Chicago, was delayed 4 hours because of weather and computer system problems. They told us we can’t connect in time in Tokyo for our flight to Bangkok and would miss our flights to China as well. This would put everything behind at least one day, and rebooking would be a huge hassle.
The woman at the counter was very helpful, and tried a number of things, including booking us on Delta, but when I checked with Delta and they said her idea wouldn’t work. (It pays to double check.)
Then I suggested we try for a flight out of Dulles, and she found a way to squeeze us on a direct flight with an upgrade! We will send a note of thanks to the United website for her hard work (get the record locator to do this, not just their name.)
She even gave us a taxi voucher to get to Dulles. It was a classic example of the ‘travel boomerang’ we have come to enjoy. You think all is lost and then it comes right back in hand. Sometimes it’s even an improvement over what you expected. There were at least 30 people in line behind us with the same problem that probably weren’t as lucky.
Our longest flight
The longest acitve non-stop flight in the world is between New York and Singapore at 18 hours via the polar ice cap. Our 14 hour trip to Tokyo from New York didn’t break that record but was still pretty damn long. Because we were the last to get booked, the adults and kids were separated by a few seats.
Next to Lily sat a stocky, short guy with a gold chain and a goatee. On his forearm and bicep were two faded and blurred, nearly identical tattoos, ironically, of ‘Lucky Lady.’ I guess the first one wasn’t so lucky. He pulled out an old clam-shell phone and started yelling to the person on the other side that he better ‘make contact in Tokyo blah blah blah’
Yikes. He lookes agitated.
Our kids are always great on planes, but this was an exceptionally long trip and Lily is right next to a guy that reminds me of Bluto from Popeye.
Long story short: they guy was a sweetheart and took care of the girls throughout the flight, helping them with drinks and bathroom breaks. He told me later that he has two girls of his own. The stewardess even complimented him on how well behaved our girls were, and he just let her think he was the dad.
Here we are in Tokyo. Lily comes out of the technology toilet beaming with excitement. Toilets with waterfall sounds? THIS is what travel is all about, right?
We head for the United red carpet lounge, which is generally free to international travelers even if you aren’t a paying subscriber, and camp our for a few hours. The Tokyo one is one of the best in the world with sushi and fresh fruit.
Dealing with Jetlag
As we get on the fight to Bangkok, which is a little delayed, I remind everyone to stay awake for the next few hours. We slept well on the flight from the US, but we could lose any advantage we have on jetlag if we take long naps. It’s imperative that we stay awake for flight from Tokyo to Bangkok.
Of course, we all fall instantly asleep. Oh well. At least the time goes quickly. We are shortly in the new Bangkok airport, which Trish finds amazing compared to the one she knew 20 years ago, her last time in Asia. She is a little wistful. Thailand is an old friend.
Even though we are only here in Thailand for 8 hours we pass through immigration, collect our bags and stay at the Novotel airport hotel, which is errily deserted and opulent for an airport hotel. It’s got a huge 5 story atrium and is covered in glass, brass and marble. They upgrade us to a suite. We often get better service as a family with two cute little girls.
It’s 1am. After showers, we all take melatonin and try to get a few hours sleep. Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pinial gland has been prescribed for everything form cancer to cocaine abuse. But it’s most known for helping deal with circadian rhythm disorders and jetlag. It makes you sleepy, a little. But the real benefit is it helps resets your body clock to the local time if you take it right around bedtime.
You still have to deal with sleep depravation, like tonight, when we will only get a few hours of rest. But we aren’t also fighting our brains in the middle of the day telling us that it’s midnight. Melatonin provides a noticable imprvement in jetlag adaptation.
Unfortunately a persistent call on my mobile at 2am woke me up. It was the Kennedy center asking us why we hadn’t renewed our contemporary dance tickets. (Because we missed half of them, is why.) Note to self. Shut off the phone at night when on the other side of the globe.
We are in the homestretch of the 3-day journey to Yangshuo, China. Our flight from Bangkok to Guangzhou is on China Southern Airlines, which is the fourth largest airline in the world. Yes, really it is the fourth, but you probably don’t know it. China has massive capacity but has struggled developing brands, partly because of quality control issues both perceived and real. But CSA does a good job with the food and service.
I expected huge lines, possible hassle and lots of checkpoints as we passed through health, passport control and customs into China at Guangzhou. I’ve read so many stories of long queues and difficulty, but we were only briefly stopped at each point and there were no waits at all. It was easier than any other country entry we’ve ever done.
My Chinese language skills are not progressing quickly enough. Trish, the girls, and the man at the registration counter laugh at my pathetic attempt to say the number ‘four’. Sigh. I will clearly have to give myself a few more days to learn Mandarin. One week is not enough.
With just one more flight to go, everyone gets a little cranky, but we hold it together. I’m reminded of the downside of being the planner: I am asked every question. Is this the visa number? “Will they have Shrimp Lo Mein?” “Do we need to keep our passports out?” “How long will this line take?” “Is there Wifi here?” I DON’T KNOW!
Speaking of Wifi, it’s a bit of a shock that we can’t use facebook because it’s blocked in China. We are very used to having daily access to our friends and family. I feel more isloated already. And I’m worried that Carol Ryder will get a big head without my daily snarks at her.
It’s 6pm on Thursday, and our driver is waiting for us in the Guilin airport. Trish and I remark that we havn’t seen sunlight in 3 days. We’ve only been up at night and inside airplanes with closed sun shades. The light feels good.
The drive to Yangshuo is beautiful. The karst topography, flat,flat land with small verticle mini mountains, is visible all around. For some reason we are asked to make a switch of cars after a while. The second one is a little small, and they can’t fit our luggage with the trunk closed, so they leave it open on the bumpy highway. Lily looks worried, but we make it to the hotel without any loss of baggage.
The giggling tree hotel is run by a dutch couple and is a few miles outside Yangshuo in a renovated farmhouse. It has hot water, a real toilet and air conditioning. Yay, that’s all we need. And the menu has decent stuff, although Lily’s ‘bolognaise’ is stirfried in a wok with chopped venegables and thickened with corn startch. We’ll order something else next time.