Some readers are beginning to notice the lull in my online activity.
I planned to do a lot more with this time in Chiang Mai, but a nasty bout of bronchitis put a crimp in that plan.
These things are bound to happen, I’m afraid.
Plans are like the weather, always changing.
Now I’m pleased to say that I’m now almost fully recovered and plotting my next excursion.
Medical care was a trip all by itself. The illness took hold quickly and when the hacking cough kept me awake all night for several nights, I went to Chiang Mai Ram hospital for treatment.
Initially, they treated me for symptoms, but my malady grew worse.
When I went back a few days later the staff quickly shifted into a higher gear. I was exhausted and vital signs showed too little oxygen in my blood. So I spent most of that morning on a gurney sucking oxygen from a tank. They x-rayed my chest and sent me back to my guesthouse in the afternoon with five good drugs and an inhaler to help keep me breathing. That did the trick.
I went back in a week feeling pretty good again with just some after-effects in the chest from so much coughing. Now my battery’s mostly recharged and I’m ready to roll again.
Thanks to the friendly staff at Chiang Mai Ram, a smartly run, private hospital where I was treated well for a total cost of $308, including medication, which is not much more than the monthly fee just to enroll in a mandatory medical insurance plan when I was newly retired and living in the U.S.
I paid cash at Chiang Mai Ram each time I went and I’m expecting my travel insurance (about $100/month with World Nomads) to reimburse me. Wish me luck.
On With The Journey
While air travel is efficient, fast and relatively inexpensive around southeast Asia, I don’t enjoy it due to the lines, stresses, baggage fees, security measures, look-alike airports, etc. I prefer alternatives that are more comfortable, less costly, and don’t require hanging out in chilly, sterile, impersonal airport waiting areas.
Since I’m rarely in a hurry to get anywhere, because I have the time to travel at a leisurely pace, buses and trains are viable options. Though long-haul buses, especially when crowded as they often are, can be a physical strain if you’re hemmed into a window seat with precious little legroom.
I’ve become fond of trains. I’ve previously taken trains in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Unlike buses, you can easily get up and move around on trains. The terminals are often older, with more character than airports. The views from a train are better than from a bus. And while slower, of course, trains are cheaper than airplanes, and more conducive to conversation.
(There’s a wonderful web site, The Man in Seat Sixty-one, that provides a wealth of information on train travel throughout Asia and the rest of the world.)
In a couple of weeks, I’m planning to leave Thailand again as my visa expires. This time I plan to take the overnight sleeper train out of Chiang Mai to Bangkok. Then I’ll continue by train south through the Thai peninsula, past Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, to the nation-state of Singapore at the peninsula’s southernmost tip. It will be my first visit to Singapore, where I’ll probably stay a few days.
Then I’ll have several options to get across the Karimata Strait to Pontianak, capital of the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo.
I was on Borneo just a few months ago but only in the Malaysian districts of Sabah and Sarawak, where I met many friends and had some wonderful adventures. However, the island is huge, third largest in the world. Besides parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, it also includes the entire Nation of Brunei. I’ve been wanting to explore some jungles in search of orangutan in the Indonesian part of Borneo ever since I departed Malaysia. Now here I come.
I could fly across the Karimata Strait from Singapore to Pontianak, but of course, that’s the easiest, most expensive, environmentally unfriendly, least scenic and least adventurous option. There is a much cheaper flight to Kuching, Malaysia, which I’m familiar with, and I could take a cheap six-hour bus ride from Kuching to Pontianak, which would be better.
Or, since I have the luxury of time, I could explore the various ferry routes, which sounds like the most fun.
Orangutans in the Wild
Pontianak is not my final destination, just the gateway to Gunung Palung National Park, one of the most remote and natural habitats for orangutan that I find in my research. I’ll be trekking through forests where few tourists go, and where the orangutans are not used to seeing humans, making it a more rewarding experience to encounter them.
Every other orangutan habitat I’ve discovered, except perhaps in Sukau, on the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, features orangutans that are being rehabilitated into the wild and have had extensive contact with humans, for good or bad. My goal all along has been to see them in their pure, natural habitat, where they are shy of human contact and unlikely to approach humans seeking food. Here, I believe, will be my best opportunity in all of Southeast Asia.
No telling how long I will stay here. But I am certainly looking forward to it.
From there, depending on how I feel, I may revisit Kuching, Sandakan, and Kola Kinabalu in Malaysia, or I may just make my way back to Singapore and Bangkok via the train.
From Bangkok, I could continue to Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand and take a boat down the Mekong River to Lua Prabang, Laos, which I’ve thought of doing a number of times, then make my way east across Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam, a city I enjoyed all too briefly for a few days in April 2018.
Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Sapa and South
From Hanoi, I’d like to see Ha Long Bay, which everybody says is wonderful, which makes it a tourist magnet that I am skeptical about. But I want to see it for myself. There’s also Sapa along the mountainous northern border of Vietnam and China that I’d like to explore.
But now I’m getting pretty far out in the planning. Tentatively I’d head south again toward Danang, Ho Chi Minh City, and Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, where there are friends in each city that I’d like to visit.
Returning west, I want to return to Thailand through Cambodia, particularly Sihanoukville, a coastal city that I didn’t get to the last time I was in that country.
All in all, this is an ambitious plan, including three new countries and some intricate planning that’s bound to unravel at any time. Anything can happen, plans can change quickly, and they likely will. Should be fun.
Travel well, my friends. Life is good.
I'm a retired journalist from Hawaii who tired quickly of retirement and hit the road as a slow solo world traveler in August 2016. I've spent time in 18 countries on four continents and right now I'm in Chiang Mai, Thailand, planning my next adventure.
I've been interviewed about my travels by Nomadic Matt, and Expat Focus, and here's a great story by veteran Borneo newsman and writer James Ritchie about our recent meeting in Kuching, A Confluence of Adventure Writers .
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