My mom’s recent trip to Thailand brought back memories of my trip there in 1991. Like my mom, I went to Thailand alone but had plans to meet up with someone from home there. In my mom’s case it was a close friend (also from Chicago). Mom and Mary met up in Thailand without problem and are in Burma as I type.
But finding my dad in Bangkok wasn’t so easy 21 years ago.
To put the story in context, this was well before the Internet, texting, or primitive e-mail. I contacted my parents–and made travel plans with them–via good, old-fashioned snail mail. It was almost unheard of to make international calls, except in the case of an emergency.
Late that spring, I left my university in Hong Kong and flew to Kuala Lumpur, where I met my mom. Here’s where we traveled for two weeks:
Kuala Lumpur–Jakarta–Yogyakarta–Bali–Kuala Lumpur–Penang–Kuching–Kuala Lumpur
She left for the US after that last layover in KL, and I went on to:
Saigon–Phnom Penh–Siem Reap–Phnom Penh–Saigon–Danang–Hue–Saigon–Bangkok–Nong Khai (because I couldn’t get a visa to Laos)–Bangkok
My parents either had great faith in me or weren’t aware that Vietnam was on a US State Department no-travel list and that Cambodia was a bit unstable then.
In Bangkok, I was to meet my dad at the White Inn. I found this hotel in a guidebook and had a Malaysia Airlines ticket office book the reservation. (Remember, this was before the Internet).
I arrived at the White Inn after a long, overnight bus ride from Nong Khai (up on the Lao border), but the hotel didn’t have a reservation for me. Luckily they had an empty room. If they hadn’t, how would I have contacted my dad to give him the change of venue? I barely escaped that one, I thought.
My dad’s flight was supposed to arrive at midnight, so at 3 a.m., when I woke and saw he wasn’t in yet, I grew worried. Maybe the flight was late? I called the hotel’s front desk and asked for the number of Thai Air so I could check my dad’s flight status. The local call was free, and I quickly learned that it had landed on time.
So where was my dad?
I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night, and by 7 a.m., I started to panic. This was now an emergency. My MCI (a now-defunct long distance carrier) calling card was useless in Thailand, so I did the only think I could think of–I called my mom collect in Chicago. No answer. I waited an hour before calling her again. This time she answered.
“Mom, it’s me. I’m at the hotel in Bangkok and Dad should have arrived hours ago, but he hasn’t shown up yet.”
She also hadn’t heard from him, and found it strange that he hadn’t called her if he was lost or had gotten into trouble. Had his wallet or passport been stolen? Did he leave them on the plane? Where was he?
We agreed we could call one another when we heard from him. A couple hours later, my room phone rang.
It was my dad.
When he was in the cab on the way to the hotel that night, he told the driver that he was going to the White Hotel. Not the White Inn, but the White Hotel. The driver said there were three hotels with “white” in the name. After the driver made a quick phone call, he said he knew where my dad wanted to go. The only problem was that it wasn’t the White Inn or another hotel that included the word “white”. So my dad decided to stay put for the night, adjust to the time change, and in the morning would figure out where I was. He called my mom shortly after I’d spoken to her.
One call led to another. Soon I was reunited with my dad. Here’s where we traveled:
Bangkok–Chiang Mai–Bangkok–Hong Kong–Shanghai–Beijing
He flew back to Chicago the day I boarded the Trans-Mongolian train for seven days.
Those were the days.