What Are You Going to do Next?

“You have jumped through thousands of hoops and flown for over 26 hours to finally arrive back in America after being stuck in a foreign country for two years; what are you going to do next?”

“I going to go to the CVS at the closest Target in order to get vaccinated.”

“Wait, you’re not going to one of the world’s most famous amusement parks?”

“Do they have vaccines there?”

“Well, no, but they have a lot of other exciting stuff.”

“Like what?”

“Long lines to really short rides.”

“Anything else?”

“Overpriced food, and cheap trinkets for sale.”

“Something more substantial.”

“Thousands of maskless tourists waiting to be your friend in the shared experience.”

“How about something more topical?”

“A heightened chance to catch the world’s most deadly disease.”

“And what do you call this place?”

“The happiest place on Earth! Can you think of any place happier?”

“Yes, the CVS at the closest Target where, if we all go to vaccinated for free, we can get back to a normal life. There is nothing happier than that.”

Vaccination Tourism

It does not take much observation to notice that the world is still frozen in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Walking into any business, you will see people socially distancing, and wearing masks to protect themselves from getting this deadly disease. There has been some hope lately with the release of the vaccines this year, and some countries are starting to see things opening up again because a good amount of their populations have been getting the vaccine. There are a lot of countries though where people are fighting to get the vaccines any way that they can.

Thailand is a great example of this. The first waves of this deadly disease did not affect the country much, and though there had to be some adjustments made to life, most people continued to live their lives the way they normally did except they would wearing that protective piece of cloth over their face when out in public. The government knew that relief would eventually come around, and they were playing a game to be able to make the most out of the opportunity that they could when it came around. They waited a little too long though and while other countries were vaccinating their citizens, they were still sitting on their hands.

This is when the second wave came around and really hit Thailand hard. Something that many of the people there took for granted became a really big problem that they were not prepared to handle. As the second lockdown started to stretch on and people watched as other countries started to open up, the desire to get vaccinated grew in this country, and people would do anything if they could get a shot.

Some people started turning to one of the places that had been ignored over the last couple of years, the airports. If their country could not do for them what needed to happen, they would turn their vision to other countries. They would take a plane ride to the United States to get vaccinated there.

It is not as easy as it sounds though. The airports are deserted right now for a reason. I just recently flew out of Bangkok and I got to see this first hand. The main reason for this can be seen at the departure board. A quick glance of what is going out of the country indicates that there are only ten international flights a day. With the numbers surging in Bangkok, and other countries struggling to vaccinate their populations, Thailand has become a red spot that makes it hard to prove that you are safe to fly to another country. In order for us to fly out, we had to obtain doctor’s notes saying that we were Covid free for the last 72 hours. We had to then go through the usual Thai bureaucracy before we could get to the gate. It took us almost three hours to do this in a place where there were no crowds.

The options of where to go were minimal as well. We ended up having to fly through Doha, Qatar and taking 26 hours in the air to finally arrive in Portland, Oregon. It was a very long day, and a very long time to wear that mask without it getting too annoying. But we made it, and there were a lot of the same conversations that were overheard along the way. The United States has become a new tourist destination for a reason that not many would suspect. They have an overabundance of vaccines and not enough people are snatching up the opportunity to get one. If somebody wants to get vaccinated, the United States is where to do it.

I don’t know if a country wants to build its tourism reputation on this kind of focus, but it is interesting to see how the focus of America has shifted so quickly. During the height of this pandemic, America was the last place that anybody wanted to go to, and now because of its excess of medicine, it is the place where everybody wants to come to. There is some danger to this. If these people keep showing up, even with the strict restrictions applied to international flying, there is still a possibility that some people who have been inflected with slip through and start the pandemic up again in the United States. But at the same time, a lot of money from around the world could give a booster shot that the economy needs right now, getting the U.S. back to the place it was four years earlier. But if we let the pandemic rampage again then we will just go right back to closing down the economy again to keep people safe. It is one of those conundrums that would take a month to take apart.

The bottom line comes to the fact that the more people that gets vaccinated around this world, the faster we gain control over this virus. So if people all across the world believe that they should continue to come to America to get vaccinated, I guess I am for it. It will allow me to get back to one of the things that I love to do the most, travel the world, and experience various cultures. So I say if nobody in this country wants to get vaccinated, and you have the opportunity to get out here to get the shot because they country you live in has not gotten its act together yet, then come on out. We will be happy to see you, and get the world back to normal.

Waiting for Transit

The other day, one of my students asked me what I did while they were writing their journal in class. They could see me walking around the room that has been my virtual classroom over the past couple of months, and I didn’t think that they were paying attention to me when they should have been doing their work. But it was true. I was not in my seat, and I was walking over to the window in my room to stare at the world as it continued to move. I was in a holding pattern, waiting for my chance to join the world again.

There wasn’t a lot that I could do besides wait. My school had announced a month ago that we would be staying online for the remainder of the year, and this meant that we could head back to our respective countries as long as we still tuned into our Zoom classrooms at the same time no matter where we were. My colleagues started to disappear. Everyday there would be another mention of a new one that had caught their plane out of the country, and we were left with less and less people. My wife and I had a date scheduled, but there was a lot of little things to do to get ready to get on that plane. We had to sell of our stuff, have our checkout on campus, clean up our house, and take care of so much paperwork.

The one that hung over our heads the most was the Covid test. International airlines will not let people board their planes if they do not have proof from the last 72 hours that they are Covid free. I get it. Nobody wants to be responsible for keeping this pandemic going, but it is nerve wracking knowing that this will come, and having to stay away from everybody in the meantime so we are not accidentally exposed to this disease. It caused the usual stress of moving from a country to another to amp up even more and made the eventual date of departure seem so surreal dream that we would never reach.

So we broke up the monotony of our mundane existence with walks around the neighborhood, and the occasional meal being delivered to our home. The rest of the time was in waiting as we slowly chipped away at our to do list, and it felt like the day would never come.

Finally, all of our bags were packed and we went off to the hospital to get our Covid test done. All we had left to do was wait for the results, get a cab to the airport and be off. Thoughts ran through my mind about what would happen if I received a positive result on my test, and could not fathom how all of this work would be put on hold for a couple more weeks while overcame the disease. But then the results came in, and it gave me the go ahead to finally be on our way.

It had been the most welcoming news to have had the last couple of days, and now all I need to do is load up my bags and head off to the airport. I am finally going to get to come home after these couple of years being stuck in Thailand because of Covid. I am excited to be out of here soon, and I can’t wait to see my family and friends again, and most importantly, get the vaccine that seems only available in the United States right now.

So get ready America, I’m coming back home, and I’ll be there soon.

Work in a Hotel Room

There are advantages to teaching online. I can take care of my classes from any location as long as it is quiet, and they have strong wifi. I am not saying that this is my first option when faced with teaching online, but it does help me get those last minute things done before I leave Thailand without having to take a whole day off to do it. I was faced with one of those situations. I needed to get some paperwork taken care of at the U.S. Embassy, so I went downtown the night before so I could get to my appointment quickly and still take care of my classes for the day.

The only difference with this trip downtown was that I never really left my hotel room. Yes, I went to my appointment at the U.S. Embassy and walked to the corner of the road from the hotel room to pick up some food as it was delivered to me, but otherwise, all of my time was spent staying in that small little room. I really did not want to risk being exposed to Covid as my time in Thailand started to wind down. My whole focus is to make it on to that plane out of the country so I can get back home and see people in the United States that I haven’t seen for two years now.

It might sound like a maddening way to experience downtown Bangkok. Nobody thinks of going to a nice hotel to spend their time inside, doing the same work they would have done from home, but considering everything is closed down right now, and there is nothing to do downtown, I had to look at the opportunity as something completely different.

It is an opportunity to get out of my house, and have a different view. I know the world knows what I am talking about right now. Cabin Fever has been a real thing over the last couple of years due to the way we have been forced to huddle inside waiting for the worst of this event to pass us over. Any opportunity that we have to look at a new landscape out of our windows will be a welcomed one. We also edge closer and closer to opening up again completely, and it is nice to know that there is light at the end of this very long tunnel. I just need to do what I need to do to make to that light and get back home where I have friends, family and a chance to get vaccinated, the one thing that will allow us to get out of this mess.

So as I wrap up my time in Thailand, I will take in any opportunity that I can and make the most out of it because as soon as I leave here, I do not know when I will ever come back. And considering the current state of the world, this means that a work day in a hotel downtown is one thing that I have to hold on to, that is what I will do. Otherwise, I look forward to the end of that tunnel, and getting back to the place I have been away from for so long.

Fizzling Out – The Last Hurrah!

It is not like I had grand plans for these couple of nights in downtown Bangkok. The whole reason I had come down here was to get some paperwork taken care of so I could move to Jordan next year. I also did not plan for it to be my last hurrah in Thailand as the rest of the year looks like it will be online and in my home. Like the rest of the world, it will be looking at the simple life and staying safe, and I just have to accept that this is the way of the end, not an a grand epic image, but a quiet fizzle sitting in my hotel room after getting some business taken care of.

Granted, things could open up again and I might have the possibility to have a quick trip to a nearby national park I haven’t been able to see yet, but the new cases in Thailand have stayed at a steady 1,500 a day, and the holiday of Songkron had sent people all over the country creating what will likely be a super-spreader event. Thailand has still not rolled out the vaccine yet waiting until the fall before they set their plans into motion, so it does not look like relief will happen soon. People will just have to hunker down and hope for the best.

Even my school is starting to dig into the trenches. There were a couple of close calls over the last couple of weeks, but finally a person has come down with the disease and nobody is allowed on campus anymore. Luckily, most people have not been on campus for a couple of weeks because of Songkron break, and the fact that we had gone to online learning right before the break, but it is still disconcerting to know that Covid is creeping ever closer.

But for a lot of other places in the world, this has been the norm, and nothing new. I have been lucky that most of the time I have spent in Thailand was Covid free and I was still able to get to know this country I had just moved to. But there is really no way to keep this pandemic from reaching the borders of all the countries in the world. Even though North Korea claims that they have never had a case, I’m pretty sure that it has visited there as well.

With all of this in mind, it just means that my time goes out in a fizzle. Rain kept me inside most of yesterday after I got my chores done, and even if I wanted to go out and explore, a lot of the businesses are starting to get ready for the oncoming onslaught as well and it just meant that things would be hit or miss to begin with. But with each ending, there is a new beginning. Things may be looking down right now in Thailand, but they are starting to improve in many places in the world. I have a new adventure to look forward to soon by moving to a new place in the world, and in a couple of months I will be back in the United States and get to see my family again. So even though this is not the ending I was hoping for, the beginning is looking good.

Staying on Top of a Mall – The Last Hurrah!

The view from outside my hotel window at the Centara Grand hotel on top of CentralWorld in downtown Bangkok, Thailand

The big department store in Thailand is Central. It is basically like any other department store that you would find in any other mall across the world. When you enter one, you have the option of many different levels you can go to with each one designed to meet the needs of certain individuals. There are usually two levels designed for women, one for men, one for children, a combination of all three for sports gear and sports equipment, and couple more for toys and knick knacks, and another for kitchen supplies. Central takes it one step further with having some of their department stores adding one more level that features many fine restaurants that you can dine at like a five star food court including glass ware and fancy silverware.

Central also takes things one step further than many of the other department stores around the world. Though all of their shops are found in malls like many other department stores, unlike the other department stores, Central owns a lot of the malls that they reside in. They don’t only make money off of their own store, but they also make money off of all of the real estate that they rent out to the other stores in the mall. These big monstrosities are in all the big cities across the country with Bangkok having a few sprinkled throughout the city.

The biggest of all of these malls that I know of is the one in downtown Bangkok off of Sukhumvit, the main thoroughfare in downtown, called Central World. Just like any other mall, it is filled with a bunch of the biggest brand name stores, and tons of restaurants to eat at, both quick and sit down. It even has a movie theater. But what makes it stand out over all the other malls would have to be the luxury hotel that has been built on top of it.

Granted, this is downtown Bangkok, one of the places in the world where any piece of real estate is worth a small fortune. Add on to that, that this is the central part of this downtown area. It makes sense to make the most out of any space that is offered. Building huge, multi-purposed skyscrapers makes the most perfect sense. The CentralWorld Mall has done a great job of capturing this aspect with a large sprawling shopping area, a convention center, and a Centara Hotel to top it all off. It comes with its own outdoor pool and two full-sized tennis courts. It offers comfortable rooms with amazing views of the Bangkok landscape.

It is a little weird having to walk through a mall with all of your bags to get to the elevator that will take you to the Hotel’s reception, but otherwise, it has been a great spot to get done what I need to get done in downtown Bangkok. It is close to all of the places where I need to go, and it is connected to a BTS station so I can get to any other place quickly as well. I know it is not the craziest experience of my life, but under the current situation and the fact that this will be my last hurrah for my time in Thailand, I will take it and enjoy it while I still can.

The Last Hurrah! (Maybe)

It wasn’t planned this way. Of course, a lot of what happened over the last couple of years have taken all of our plans, thrown them out the window, put the car in reverse so it could run over them and drive them into the mud, and then had gotten out of the car so it could have the pleasure of smashing them further with the heel of its boot. The common phrase I have heard during this time is that we will have to wait to see what happens, and then plan for the worst. And the worst is never the worst; the last couple of years have always found a way to make it worse.

But I have tried to keep a positive outlook on life, and luckily I have found myself in a place that was not hit as hard by the Corona Virus pandemic, so at least I could travel around the country of Thailand and enjoy it beaches and beautiful sights. I just couldn’t leave. It led to me making the decision for seeking a new position in a new country next year, and as the days ticked closer to the last days in Thailand, I kept anticipating the last trip I would take in this country. It would be my last exploration of this culture, the last run through the tropics, the last hurrah of Thailand.

But then Covid reared its ugly head again. It has come and gone many times throughout the last couple of years, but it was never a huge threat. It would just shut things down for awhile and then open them up again so we can go back to life with a semblance of normality. But it came again as I was taking on that final stretch into the end of my time out here, and now, what my be my last hurrah is not as exciting as I thought it may have been.

One of the things I needed to get done before I left was to visit the police station in downtown Bangkok in order to get a background check for my time out here in Thailand. It wouldn’t take that long, but I would need to take a day off in order to go through the process and considering that it is so difficult to drive down to downtown Bangkok and back, we decided to get a hotel room to take care of it. We could get a nice meal out of it, and hit our favorite spots down here one last time. But considering that everything is closing up again in Thailand, it might be the last time that we are able to get out of the neighborhood before we leave. It is not as exciting as I was hoping, but it is all I am going to get, so I have to make the most out of it.

It is a typical way of looking at what has been happening to not just me, but all of the people all over the world. The expectations we have had over the last few months keep getting put on hold, and we have to make these adjustments to allow for life to continue. Of course, it is not the ideal, but it is also not as bad as I thought it might be either. It just a lesson in being flexible and making the most out of what life gives us. It might not be the last hurrah, the amazing blowout, that I had hoped for, but I am still getting the opportunity to have a last hurrah. I should be happy that I am getting that because there are many people all over the world that are still stuck in their homes and haven’t had much to hurrah about over the last months at all.

And who knows? Thailand may get this outbreak under control quickly, and I will be able to have that last hurrah I was hoping for. Either way I will be ready for it.

10 Moons – Koh Lipe, Thailand

Most of the time I do not concern myself with the places I stay while traveling. I rarely spend time in my hotel and I am usually out and about, so why would I spend a lot of money at a place I would only use for the bed. But there are certain places in the world where the place can make the difference between a great stay and a forgettable one. The island of Koh Lipe is one of the places, and though I cannot compare the place I stayed with other places on the island, I was so pleased with the experience that I had at 10 Moons resort that if I ever came back to the island, I would stay here again.

10 Moons is located on the Sunrise Beach on Koh Lipe just over the edge where many of the other resorts park their longtail boats for the evening, so when you come down for breakfast or hang out on its sandy beach, you do not have this eyesore to look at. Instead you get to look at a clear blues water that stretches out over an expanse of coral reef. And if you get up early enough, the sunrise is worth the alarm clock. I did not do it every morning, but was happy that I had gotten up at least once during my stay there. The mornings are a calm time on the island and the view is just spectacular.

There are plenty of fish swimming around the coral reef which makes it the perfect spot to go snorkeling. 10 Moons have a plethora of snorkels that are free to use if you are a guest there, and they did a great job sanitizing them during this time of Covid, so it made me feel safe to use them.

And if you tire of the scene right out of the hotel, 10 Moons included a snorkeling day trip for us to an even larger stretch of the coral reef with even more fish swimming around it. It was a long day the day we went, but it was worth the effort. The sights I saw while swimming over this expanse of ocean forest was mind blowing, especially for a guy that has spent more time in the mountains than looking out over what nature has to offer in the oceans. If you like more adventure and prefer to do scuba diving, this is also offered at the hotel. Another group that was staying there with us went out every day scuba diving and went on one trip that was organized by 10 Moons itself.

There is a ton of wildlife that is able to be spotted on the shore as well. I came across many crabs, both soft shell, and hermit, as well as a ton of bird including crane, and monkeys and monitor lizards. You also have the soi dogs that can be found anywhere in Thailand, but they are friendly out here and not very teritorial.

10 Moons basically adopted the most famous of the all, Smiley. When I first saw her when we first arrived, I felt sorry for her and the obvious deformity around her mouth, but we were told her story about how a couple of the local boys tied plastic around her mouth when she was young and she lost her lips because of it. Once we learned this, we felt sorry for her, but that soon faded as well. She just became a part of the place, and was always wandering around with her tail wagging. She never really learned about the way she was mistreated because of the amount of love she received from the staff and most of the customers.

The rooms were very comfortable as well. There are a couple of them that are available right on the beach with their own deck furniture, and there are more on the hill that sprawls out behind the resort. Each place has its own patio with amazing views of the beach below though the higher up you get the more likely you are going to lose the view of the sea and the sunrise to the trees. But this is a small price to pay for the comfort of the rooms. The wifi got a little spotty if you left the resort’s reception which was a little annoying, but at the same time, I was not out there to be contacted by work, and this was the best excuse as to why they couldn’t get in touch with me.

The restaurant had decent food as well with option both in Thai cuisine and western dishes. I liked to eat there for lunch because of its convenience, but there are many other places on the heart of the island which served better food. But the staff was friendly and they got to know us pretty well and our tastes as well.

It is a little bit of a walk to Walking Street, the heart of Koh Lipe, and I would not recommend going down there during the heat of the day. But as soon as the sun starts to set, it is only about a fifteen minute stroll down there, and there are a lot more restaurants to choose from down there. You can get any type of food you want as well with restaurants serving Thai, Italian, Steaks, American pub, and breakfast 24/7, but my favorite was the Box. It is a Spanish tapas places with a couple of Mexican items on the menu, and the food is pretty authentic. If you plan ahead and make a reservation the day before, they can even put together an amazing paella dish that would rival some of the best I have had in Spain.

I do think that Koh Lipe is a place that everybody should add to their itinerary if they are planning a trip to Thailand even though it does take a little while to get down there. If you go, do plan on staying for a few days, and I would highly recommend staying at the 10 Moons resort while you are there. It is one of those places that will stay with you long after you have left.

The Three Beaches – Koh Lipe, Thailand

Anytime I find myself on an island, the first thing I ask myself is how are the beaches. Koh Lipe is no different. The island has basically three different sides, and each side offers its own beach, and each beach has its own thing to offer. The first beach I saw was Pattaya Beach. It stretches in a horseshoe on one side of the island and has a couple of docks along it. It is the place where the ferries drop people off and it has quick and easy access to the Walking Street. The sand is nice, and the water is warm, but every time I made it to this part of the island the shore was covered with boats and tourists wanting to get on and off the island with their bags. It is an extremely crowded part of the island, but I also came out here during one of the busier times of the year, the Songkron holiday, and I am sure that if I had planned a little better, it wouldn’t have been so crazy.

Looking out over to the west is the Sunset Beach. This is the least developed part of the island. Part of the main reason for this is that the beach is completely covered up here during the high tide, and the only thing that is left is a rocky shore with a couple of hotels. The beach is wide open during the sunset and there are a couple of ways to get there. You can follow the shore line until you get to the tip of the island or you can head inland and walk down the main road until you get there. It is a great place to view the sun as it dips over the large island just a little ways away from the shore, but it is usually crowded and once again that might be because of the time I was here. The people who stay on this side of the island like the quiet that is offered during the day, and the ability to quickly leave to head out to the many dive sights that around the area.

I stayed on the Sunrise Beach. The tide does take away a lot of the beach, but there is always enough room to find a nice spot to relax on. There are a bunch of resorts that line up and down the beach, and each of them likes to park their longtail boats just off shore during the night. During the day, most of these boats are used to pick up customers from Pattaya Beach or taking people out to the many spots on the other small islands around the area. Luckily my hotel was at the very end of the beach where there was a little more privacy and less boats, and offered what felt like my own sandy paradise.

All in all, it doesn’t matter where you stay in Koh Lipe, all of the places here are great. And if you are not supper happy with the place you find yourself, it does not take much time to move over to another spot, and enjoy the view from there. Koh Lipe is just a great place to be for vacation and I am glad to have been able to make it out here during my time in Thailand.

Dri-Dock, A Review – Koh Lipe, Thailand

It is a common sight to see people walking around the island of Koh Lipe with either scuba diving gear, or on a lesser note, snorkeling equipment. The island sits right next to a huge corral reef, and there are amazing spots to go check out the fish and what else might be hiding in between the nooks and crannies underneath its sea. We were able to go just off shore from our hotel to see some amazing sights, but yesterday we took a trip to another island to check out the reef in all of its majesty.

In anticipation of this event, I made an impulse buy on Walking Street, a phone case that claimed that I would be able to take pictures underwater up to 30 meters down by a company called Dri-Dock. Considering I was only going snorkeling, this seemed like the perfect thing to take out on this trip. I took my purchase back to my hotel and tested it out in the little bay just a few steps away from reception.

First of all, it did keep my phone dry. In fact, it did a really good job of this. I was impressed by the way the slip of plastic would seal up and prevent any form of moisture from getting through. And when it was above water, it did a great job of taking pictures. It did not look like the phone was in any case whatsoever, and the pictures turning out as great as the normally would.

But when I tried to take underwater pictures, it did not work as well. Now, keep in mind that my phone is an iPhone6 and I know that the technology has gotten better over the years since I bought it, so some modern phones might have a better ability to take these pictures. But I would press the button on numerous occasions, and sometimes it would click, and sometimes it would take a burst of photos sometimes up to 275 of them, or it would just not work at all.

When there were no fish in the picture, it did much better, but that is not why I wanted this addition in the first place. This corral reef had some amazing fish swimming around it and I would have loved to have gotten a couple of pictures of some of them. If I did get a picture of a fish, it was too blurry to really see what it was, and I just had to settle of photos of the underwater landscape.

I can’t complain too much though because I was able to get a couple of great pictures that I would have never gotten otherwise. It did do a good job of keeping my phone dry, and I only spent twelve dollars to have this ability. Overall, it was worth the purchase.

I don’t plan on going snorkeling again anytime soon, but I will use the Dri-Dock bag again on one of my many adventures on a kayak or out on sea. It will give me the piece of mind of have been looking for when I go out on these adventures and I worry about taking my phone with me. Now, I can get those shots that I have always hoped of getting. I just wish it worked a little better underwater.