I really wanted to see the Buddha face hidden in ancient tree roots.

We had just returned to Bangkok from Angkor Wat and were settling in at the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel for the final two nights of our travels. The following morning we would be heading out on a private tour to Ayutthaya, the old Thailand capital about an hour north of Bangkok, filled with fascinating temples, ruins and the aforementioned Buddha face.

I was trying to simultaneously deal with and ignore the flaming sore throat that had paid me a visit just before leaving Cambodia. Herb and I had planned to explore the area around our hotel, but I seemed to be getting worse as the afternoon went on, and we decided to explore local pharmacies instead.

The streets outside the hotel were bustling. Food vendors, some with dining tables set up on the sidewalks next to their stands, lined block after block. We turned toward the Chao Phraya River – the same river we’d sailed on a few days earlier – and found a small pharmacy that was more like a pharmacy stand with a window. I was looking for a large box of Kleenex and more throat lozenges. The friendly woman at the window showed me a small pack of tissues – the kind I always travel with – and some unfamiliar-looking lozenges. We thanked her and decided to keep looking.

We headed to a mall near the hotel and found a Boots Pharmacy. No Kleenex there either, but the pharmacist suggested we try the nearby 7-Eleven. Herb and I couldn’t help laughing. 7-Eleven, of course! The chain seemed to be the go-to destination for just about everything, everywhere we traveled in Southeast Asia and Japan. And just like magic, there it was…a shelf with large boxes of Kleenex calling my name at a Bangkok 7-Eleven.

Before returning to the hotel, we stopped at an ATM to get Thai baht for the balance due for our tour to Ayutthaya. I had paid a small deposit by credit card many months earlier, and the company requested the balance in cash once the tour began. At the hotel, we ran into friends from our Angkor Wat trip who were heading out for dinner. We would have loved to join them, but the only energy I could muster was riding the elevator to our hotel room.

Loy Krathong – A Festival of Lights

Our first night in Bangkok fell on Loy Krathong, the annual Festival of Lights, celebrated across Thailand on the night of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. The festival celebrates the goddess of water, and people gather around rivers, lakes and canals to release lotus-shaped rafts decorated with candles, incense and flowers.

Bangkok was celebrating along the Chao Phraya River, with live music, boats decorated with colored lights and a fireworks display. It turned out we had a ringside seat to the festivities from our hotel room window that overlooked the river. Herb captured a few photos and a short video.

A Travel “First”

By the next morning, my sore throat had morphed into bronchitis. I always travel with medicine from my doctor which I’d started a day earlier, but this time it wasn’t enough to keep me going. And I did something I’ve never done in all my years of travel: I cancelled a tour.

The people at BKK Tours couldn’t have been more gracious. When Herb called and offered to meet our guide to pay the balance we owed, they wouldn’t hear of it, insisting that our deposit was more than adequate to cover the cancelled tour. Our contact Michiel even told Herb where to exchange the baht back to U.S. dollars to get the best exchange rate. I only recommend tours and guides I’ve actually used on The Modern Postcard’s Resources Page, but this may be the first company I recommend that I didn’t use. They were extraordinary to deal with and wonderfully kind, and I’m confident the tour we’d planned would have been terrific as well.

I slept all day, hoping to rebuild whatever energy I had left for our flights home. I had no idea how I was going to handle the long journeys the next morning – six hours to Tokyo and ten hours to Los Angeles – but at that moment nothing seemed to matter except sleep.

Herb spent the morning walking outside, checking in on me and bringing food back to the room. But by mid-afternoon, he was starting to feel sick. We dug out the Covid tests we had packed for the trip and thankfully tested negative – having no idea that a week-and-a-half later, Covid would find both of us for the first time ever.

We ordered room service for dinner and set our alarm for an early wake-up call. With a 7 a.m. flight, we were told to be at the airport by 4:30, which meant leaving the hotel at 4 a.m. The silver lining to the incredibly early departure was that we avoided Bangkok’s notorious traffic. Herb and I somehow powered through the long day, and with our flights cooperating without delays, we arrived home on time.

A Final Thought

Getting sick while traveling is one of the risks we take when signing on for the adventure. It’s especially tough when you’re far away from home or in a country where you don’t speak the language or in a remote part of the world. Herb and I have both been sick when traveling before – I even fell in France years ago and was taken by ambulance to a hospital for emergency stitches in my forehead. But this was the first time I literally had to surrender to myself and take a break from our plans.

Through it all, I learned that no matter how prepared we are with travel medications, travel insurance and every precaution we can possibly think of to keep things running smoothly on the road, the unexpected will happen. It will find us somewhere, sometime, somehow, challenging us to rise to our best travel selves. All we can do is accept it, try to make the best of it and know that we will somehow make it through whatever the travel gods have thrown our way.

Even if it means not getting to see the Buddha face hidden in ancient tree roots.

Ayutthaya Historical Park Buddha Head in Tree Roots. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, taken by Gary Todd from Xinzheng, China, CCO.

16 Comments

    • Thanks, Joan! We are fine and back to normal. I completely understand your fear of getting sick while traveling – especially after this last experience! Our only consolation was that we were as prepared as we could have been. Looking back, Herb and I both agree that we probably should have worn masks on some of the crowded bus rides. It has been so freeing traveling post-pandemic, but I think we may be more vigilant in crowded indoor places in the future.

  • Mary,
    Congrats on dealing with cold/flu while away from home. Most of us have fallen ill on vacation or on a business trip and it’s a test of ones resilience.
    Vic

    • Vic, thank you! It truly is a test of our resilience, whether it’s for business or pleasure, near or far. I was extremely grateful that this happened at the end of our wonderful journey and that we only missed one day of touring.

  • Omgosh! I felt the sore throat during our excursion of Mindelo and by the time 4.30 trivia came along, I felt seriously off with a fever! Day eight of twenty-five! I missed our first two stops on the African continent. Just looked from the balcony and beelined back to bed. Never fully recovered till after we got home.

    The coughing was wretched. We both got to know the staff at the med center very well. They were great! Before the end of the cruise, the ship was out of cough syrup. Long before we reached Cape Town, the spouse was just dreaming for home!
    11hrs to Frankfurt. 5hr layover. 11hrs to SFO…

    I don’t look back with much of a memory of the sad adventure. Getting sick while traveling is just a tumble of feelings! The dread of being abroad! How sick are we? Can we just get on a plane and be home in our bed?? Fingers crossed. Of course, we have more travels planned!!

    • Maria, I’m so sorry to hear how sick you were on your African trip, especially so early in the voyage. “A tumble of feelings” really says it all! I’m glad you were able to make it home and recover…and continue making plans for future travels!

  • Thank goodness you were done with group travel by then, Mary, and could do as you please without having to “keep up”. Bravo for listening to your body and accepting the need to take it easy too. Not easy when there’s so much to be seen and done. I’m glad your homeward journey was trouble free as well, given the circumstances but so sorry you missed out on a precious day at the end of your wonderful trip.

    • Thanks for the wise words, Gill. Listening to ourselves and accepting “what is” is such a valuable lesson – and one that isn’t always easy to follow! I was really sad to miss the Ayutthaya tour, but I knew I would be sort of “sickly sleepwalking” through the whole thing. And of course, I didn’t want to infect the guide or anyone else! That day of rest was critical for making it through the journey home. And if I ever have the chance to return to Bangkok, the first thing I will do is book that tour! 😊

  • Reading about your trip has been truly inspirational! You and Herb are the best travelers and I am always impressed with your observations. I hope you are recovered from Covid and already thinking about your next trip!

  • Herb sure captured gorgeous and professional-looking photos, right from your hotel room! Very impressive. Sorry you both got sick.

    • Thanks, Julie! The fireworks and our amazing view were so unexpected – it was as if I was too sick to go to the party, so Bangkok brought the party to us! I was thrilled that Herb took these great photos. A little memento from a surreal ending to our wonderful time in Japan and SE Asia.

  • Thank you for mentioning us on your blog! It was unfortunate that you had to cancel, but we completely understand. Happy to read that, despite some delay, you both recovered well! We hope you have the opportunity to come back to Bangkok, we will be very pleased to welcome you and show you all the nice places such as Ayutthaya. We can’t wait to create wonderful memories together on your next adventure.

    Best wishes from Michiel and Air

    • Michiel and Air, I’m delighted to hear from you! Thanks so much for your kind comment and the good wishes. We would love the opportunity to return to Bangkok…and you can be sure that the first thing we’ll do is re-book our tour to Ayutthaya! “Creating wonderful memories together” is the loveliest thought! All the best to you both.

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