Thursday, February 5, 2015

Some Thoughts on Money and Travel

We have gotten fairly comfortable with spending baht in Thailand. The exchange rate is very close to 30 baht per US dollar, so it’s easy to do quick math to determine the dollar cost of something. Most things are quite inexpensive, especially the fresh fruits and vegetables, and restaurant dishes are rarely as much as $5. 

We were surprised when we arrived in Cambodia that the chief currency is the dollar, at least in the tourist areas. (Even in the villages we visited from the boat.) The ATMs gave a choice of dollars or Cambodian riel. If we got less than $100 from an ATM, it came in smaller bills ($100 just gave a Benjamin Franklin). We used up most of the smaller dollars we had with us, especially for tips. Credit card use was rare, although our hotel did accept it (the manager said sometimes it goes through, sometimes it doesn’t).

Dan attempted to get some Vietnam dong from an ATM in the first large town we visited after crossing the border, but his card wasn’t accepted. When we got to Saigon he tried again with my card with the same result. We found out that our bank (credit union, actually) lists Vietnam as one of the countries that are always blocked (along with Cuba, North Korea, Liberia, Myanmar and some others). So we changed a hundred-dollar bill. Fortunately, one we had was the new type with the security strip — they would not accept the older type without it. A lesson learned; check out the money rules for any trip to a previously unvisited country! And get the latest version of the bills.

If you read my blog, it is obvious that we like to travel. But I can tell a difference in our desire to see everything possible. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s laziness, but my sight-seeing stamina has definitely decreased. And large cities can be overwhelming. I’m sorry we didn’t see more of the many interesting things there are in Saigon, but it was just too much. (And I don’t like being out in the heat.) Tom and Gayl were continuing on to northern Vietnam with a heavy travel schedule for the next 10 days or so and I found that didn’t appeal to me at this point. I would much rather spend some time in a place just getting to know it; I think that’s why this stay in Chiang Mai has been just right for us.

Speaking of Chiang Mai, the way to make a place feel like home is to leave it for a while! I’ve lived quite a few places and the return after a first trip away from a new location is what begins to make it feel like home. For me, home is in many places scattered around the world and not in one particular town or building (although I love Goshen and my home there!). Right now, we are happy to be back in our familiar room, Dan making chai in the early morning, having our own breakfast, and getting back on a regular schedule (I’m off to Tai Chi class pretty soon; it’s Thursday morning here). It was very hot in our room, which had been closed up. I was glad for a dip in the pool.

We traveled by Air Asia on this trip, as we did in Australia. It is a low-cost carrier that partners with airlines in many Asian countries (and Australia). We were impressed with the service — yes, it’s bare-bones (not even water offered free) — but it is efficient and gets you where you need to go. Our flight to Siem Reap and the one back from Saigon connected through Bangkok. Both times we were met as we got off the plane by Air Asia representatives with the Fly-Through program. We were escorted behind the scenes to a special immigration and security setup. There was almost no line and we transitioned between international and domestic both ways without a hitch. In most places you would need to go through standard immigration, pick up your baggage and recheck it with the next airline. This was a great service and worked very smoothly. Our checked bag arrived promptly at our final destination each way. (I always chuckle when the flight attendants on US flights remind us to get our baggage if we are at our “final destination” — that conjures up death in my mind and I’m not quite there yet!)  One sign of the low-cost nature of the airline was that all the seats with red backs (first 5-6 rows and exit rows) were mostly empty — you have to pay (about $9) for these slightly better seats and few people wanted to do that.

The Chiang Mai Flower Festival is this weekend; it’s supposed to be quite an event and it is in the park quite near to us. And the parade on Saturday will pass on the main road near us. I hope to get some good photos!

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