Traveling Indochina by Sedan Chair

Sukhimvit, Soi 18
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is as familiar to us as Vancouver or New York.

Since my first visit in the mid-80s much has changed in this noisy, chaotic city, but much is, reassuringly, familiar.

Old and New Bangkok. Enjoying street food with Canadian friends at Sukimvit Soi 38 in the shadow of Skytrain

Once dependent on crazed Tuk Tuk drivers, travel around the city is easy and inexpensive thanks to Skytrain and the Underground. But the rowdy atmosphere persists. Crowded streets are still lined with food stalls, rich and working-class sit side-by-side on primary-colored plastic stools at wobbly card tables under harsh florescent light eating 50 Baht noodles, $1.63 American ($1US = TB 30.18). A 20 Baht mango, banana, coconut smoothie with ice is nothing to fear, the city is remarkably clean. A one-hour visit in heaven, my “local” salon, Tarntip on Sukhimvit Soi 7/1, a foot massage is 250 Baht, the same price it’s been for as long as I can remember.

Once captivated by the markets and temples, the local color and food, we are now interested in one temple, well, two. His and mine. Our temples. Since 2005 our Thai vacations have been Medi-Spa vacations.

Looking down at Soi 38 from Skytrain

The 2011 Body Works Tour is being conducted in grand style. First Class style.

McGyver is the master reward points manipulator, the Hilton Diamond VIP status is nothing compared to some of the fabulous freebies he’s arranged. He carries a four-inch thick wad of loyalty cards in his briefcase, consolidating, transferring, working the various systems. In 1995, he asked Air Canada, how far we could fly business class on the points he had at the time. Damascus, Syria they said. Book it, we said. The adventures on that trip included our travel agent in Damascus, who told us he was once in import-export, “nothing special, tools, generators, some machine guns. ”

He flew me “Upper Class” to London on Virgin Atlantic in 2003, as a surprise, to see my all-time favorite band Boy On a Dolphin in Sheffield, England. Thanks to a snippet in the New York Times he discovered Virgin had, that day, signed onto American Express’s airline points program. Within minutes, he scored tickets to fly first class one week before Christmas.

This time, he confirmed uber First Class. He spent all-night on a layover in Los Angeles in December playing spin the points wheel, trying all the major US departure cities until he hit the jackpot — around the world from Dallas on 240,000 points, Lufthansa, Thai Airways and United Airlines.

Lufthansa’s sedan chair.

“You have a sedan chair,” McGyver said as I sunk into Lufthansa’s giant Lazyboy recliner-style seat, the flight attendant hovering, showcasing the elixir of First Class.

“Champagne Madam,” she smiled.

McGyver’s sedan chair remark was a reference to a lecture we’d listened to the week before driving across Arizona on our way to Dallas. Thomas Frank, who wrote the 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas” had been intrigued by this question: “How can anyone who has ever worked for someone else vote Republican?

The American middle – and working-class – has been on a determined march for the past 30 years giving up all the benefits bestowed to workers since the Great Depression in favor of policies that benefit the rich.

Frank found that the poorest county in America, which is in Kansas, not in Appalachia, is politically devoted to the Republicans. In 2000, George W. Bush carried the vote by a margin greater than 80%.

We thought that was changing. In 2005, we met a real Republican. A Cadillac-driving, former Marine and small town Pennsylvania businessman, hard work made Gene a millionaire, despite the decimation of the steel industry and other economic downturns. In the midst of an economic boom, just before the property crash, his retirement hobby was day-trading. He was making money yet he didn’t like where the country was headed, grouching about the increasing cost of healthcare and lusting after the Canadian system, which shocked the hell out of us.

“Don’t kid yourself. It’s not the party it was,” he said. “It’s the party of 100 CEOs. It’s about their interests, not about my interests. They’ve forgotten about us (Main Street America).”

Frank says America is suffering a political  “derangement”, a derangement that is guiding our public life.

“If you earn over $300,000 a year, you owe a great deal to this derangement. Raise a glass sometime to those indigent, high-plains Republicans, as you contemplate your good fortune. It’s thanks to their self-denying votes that you are no longer burdened by the estate tax, or by troublesome labor unions or meddling banking regulators. Thanks to the allegiance of these sons and daughters of toil you are able to buy two Rolexes this year instead of one and take that tour of Indochina by sedan chair.”

Last week, that would be us, traveling by sedan chair.

So what happens up there, behind the heavy curtain, in the one-place where the rich turn LEFT as they board the plane and enter First Class.

It’s a whole other world, the champagne and caviar are just a small part of the special treatment. First, proper attire is requested. In First Class, passengers receive a uniform, lounge wear. The Lufthansa uniform is gray cotton-polyester blend pajama bottoms and a black and gray striped with white trim, V-necked, long sleeve, luxuriously soft sweater – I’m wearing it now as I lay in the hotel bed writing this. It feels fabulous – this I’m keeping. There’s also a swag bag, a la the Oscars. Red for women, blue for men and includes the mundane, toothbrush and toothpaste but also a small tube of La Mer face moisturizer and a separate La Mer lip moisturizer, earplugs in a little case and a sleeping mask with velcro straps not elastic. All keepers.

The best part was the access to the First Class Lounge in Frankfurt. All free: a nap room, shower room, cigar lounge, office work areas, restful armchairs with ottomans, Bang and Olufsen TVs everywhere you looked. A restaurant and bar with a delicious buffet of everything. Lamb lollies, butter chicken, gnocchi and asparagus with parmesan, wok-fried scallops, cheeses, sausages, tuna tartare, chocolate mouse, truffles, petit fours, wines from across the European Union. For McGyver, a birdseye view of the Lufthansa ramp where we watched the air freight loading and unloading for each flight.

On the Thai flight, more luxury, the champagne glasses were iced, more caviar, more smoked salmon, so much food that only four days later I can’t remember my entree, topped by a lighter-than-air cappuccino mousse cake. Alas the First Class jammies, an insipid mauve and a poor design could not rescue the top-of-the-line cotton fabric. It’s only taken one flight and I’m already bitchy and picky.  The swag bag itself, an extremely cool, dark blue, hard shell, zipper closure polycarbonite, which is used in the most trendy of luggage.

Thai’s First Class service included a golf cart waiting at the gate when we landed, whisking us to a private immigration lane. Our luggage was the first to pop onto the baggage carousel. The porters walked us all the way to the public taxi stand — that must have been a surprise, the other First Class passengers climbed into waiting town cars — and loaded the luggage.

Once in the taxi, it was travel as usual for us, Meter-Taxi, Skytrain, Underground and a first in many years for me, a ride on the back of a motor scooter, yet another form of local transportation, which Thais take to outlying suburbs from the public transit stops.

Scooter commuter

No helmet, Bangkok traffic, high speed squeezing between other motor bikes, taxis and buses, clinging to the shoulders of the young driver — the acupuncturist lived 10 minutes by motor bike beyond the Lot Fai (the electric line, the local term for the Underground) — worried about brain injury and road rash. He was good a driver, easing up on the fuel, just enough to hold his speed and ensure my butt remained firmly planted on the seat on the speed bump.

I watch the young Thai women gracefully climb on the back, sit sidesaddle, elegant legs tipped with bejeweled, three-inch heels draped over the exhaust pipe, usually carrying a few packages and sipping a drink through a straw floating in a plastic bag – a typical Thai drink container.

My family doctor at Bumrungrad Hospital would have been horrified to see me.

Tomorrow our Medi-Spa itinerary, the doctors, the prices, the procedures, the professionals.

One thought on “Traveling Indochina by Sedan Chair

  1. This is so interesting and sounds so exciting. I love the idea of the first class travel all the way (especially after my horrid flight to Italy last year!), but I'm not to into the idea of traveling on the back of a scooter, sans helmet.I never thought I'd be saying this to someone, but….have fun at the hospital! See you when you get back!


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