Essentially, this is all I packed for my trip. A couple of must haves like aviator shades, Cubans, Arabian hotel key, Hong Kong Dollars, Iraqi Denar, Thai Baht, UAE Dirham, Philippine Pesos, and of course, good ol' US Dollars.
Have you ever found yourself in a strange place or situation with no idea how you got there? I have, many times. When confronted with this scenario, my default "go to" line is, "Hey, this is not where I parked my car..." and I proceed to find my way back to safety/civilization/hotel/America. This is how I felt most of my vacation.
It has now been a little over a week since I took my 10 day R&R from work in Iraq. Originally, I was not intending on taking a vacation. My contract with the Army, as it stands, ends in December and with all the responsibilities I have, I just didn't see it as an option. However, after careful consideration, and planning, I decided to see as much as I possibly could in one swoop. I also decided I was going to do it my way (Which doesn't consist of much R&R). 10 days, with stops planned in Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, and Dubai. My motto has always been..."Go hard, or go home".
Now the original plan was this: Take a MILAIR flight on a C130 to Baghdad. From Baghdad I would go to Dubai for the day. My flight was to depart Dubai for Thailand that night and arrive in Bangkok for 6am the next day. Stay in Bangkok for 3 days/3 nights and head for Hong Kong. Once in Hong Kong, I would leave for the Philippines for 4 days/nights. I would then head back to HKG for one nights stay. From HKG, I would start the trip back to the Middle East but not before stopping back in Dubai for 2 days/nights. Sound good!!???
Let's start with the Lockheed C-130 Hercules or "Fat Albert". Originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation and cargo transport aircraft, this bad boy was pretty cool to see up close and experience. Just being next to this massive piece of machinery with the engine roaring is startling, but imagine being in a helmet and bullet proof vest just to board a plane. Not just that, but it is 124 degrees in the Iraqi dessert this time of year. It's intense.
First stop: Thailand
Thailand is a place that really touched my heart and soul. I have always been fascinated with eastern philosophy, culture, and religion. In fact, my training philosophy or "Kaizen Philosophy" is an adopted (and adapted) version of the Japanese Kaizen philosophy.
Thailand has a King and Queen and I happened to be in Thailand on the Queen's bday. Some of the locals businesses celebrate this by placing pictures and flowers outside of the front doors. The king is officially titled Head of State, the Head of the Armed Forces, an Upholder of the Buddhist religion, and the Defender of all Faiths (which I think is so cool). Locals will wear the "colors" of the King or Queen to show their appreciation and patriotism. In this case for the Queen it was yellow and I throughout the day I noticed quite a few people wearing variations. The countries official language is Thai and 95% of the population are practicing Buddhists. It's a fascinating kingdom and culture. I was excited to explore.
Now the interesting stuff...
I stood out like a sore thumb and the natives were calling me John Cena to get my attention. I'd only been in Bangkok for a couple minutes and already experienced 1) solicitation of a Thai massage, 2) seduction by ladyboys and 3) a hustler trying to sell me a fake Rolex. It was like something out of a movie.
I stayed in a recommended boutique hotel called "The Glitz" in downtown Bangkok. It was beautiful and inexpensive. The staff was extremely attentive and kind. They made me feel like I was a guest in their home. I checked in around 2pm and prepared for a night out.
I took the SkyTrain (commuter rail) to an area that was also recommended by a friend. This was the same area made famous by "The Hangover". Where else would I go?? I stopped into a place called BedSupper Club which is an upscale restaurant and nightclub that was advertising an international DJ.
I had a good time here, but may have arrived a little early. I decided to walk a bit and explore.
Let me take a moment to suggest not walking the Bangkok streets alone at night. Bad things can happen to those who are unprepared. Take precaution. My "precaution" was about 3in long, very sharp, and easy to draw and conceal.
I ended up at a martini bar. I was a little tired from all the travelling so I had them make me an espresso martini (or 4). It was then I met some French expatriates who had been in Thailand for 3 years. We talked about everything from business to politics. They tried to persuade me to come hang with them as they moved on to the next bar. I liked the guys, but was apprehensive about hanging with them the whole night. Around this time, two amazing women walked into the bar and caught my glance. They smiled and I smiled back. The "Frenchman", in his Frenchy accent said, "Beautiful, no?" I said, "Very." He then responded, "Ladyboys." It was at that moment I decided that it was best to stick with them.
The rest of the night was great. The nightclub scene in "The Hangover II"?? Where Galifinakis shoots up the place? Yeah, that's were we ended up. The rest of the night was full of live Thai bands singing 80's American hair band music and bar hopping. What more can you ask for?
The next couple days I did some sightseeing which consisted of Buddhist temples, Chinatown, and shopping. The "knock off" market here is incredible, you can eat an entire meal for $1, Gold is abundant and of the best quality in the world (97% pure), and there are massage parlors EVERYWHERE (for when your legs can't take anymore walking).
Synopsis: In love with Thailand, but this is not where I parked my car....
CHECK OUT THIS SLIDESHOW OF THAILAND
NEXT: This is not where I parked my car....Hong Kong.