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.