Brussels to Vientiane

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Three flights today: Brussels=>Frankfurt (1 hr.); Frankfurt=>Bangkok (10:15 hrs.); Bangkok=>Vientiane (1 hr.) — around 12 hours in the sky, which of course in reality is but a fraction of the picture before you add in layover and in/out time (~11 hours) and losing an additional five hours. In short, we’re due to depart Brussels around 10am and arrive in Vientiane around noon the next day, which nearly perfectly aligns with my birthday (Oregon time). Am I thrilled about spending the entire day on a plane? Well, no. But it certainly makes for a memorable one.

Our day started off with a bang. Actually our time at the Brussels airport was characterized by a never-ending string of frustrations. Due to the recent bombings at the airport, vehicle traffic (including taxis) were no longer permitted to drop passengers off in front of Arrivals. So we had to get off some distance away, load all of our luggage onto a luggage trolley, walk a few hundred meters and fight our way onto a lift, wheel all of that through a security tent, and finally, into the Arrivals section.

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We couldn’t leave the Frankfurt airport without a German pretzel, of course. Like the Belgian waffle that came before it, this one is bigger than Noe’s head! Something about comparing food to babies’ heads makes it that more impressive, I guess.

Our frustrations in Brussels continued when we arrived at the ticket counter. Man, oh man, did we have a time with our luggage in Brussels. Lori and I have visited our fair share of airports and have done the luggage shuffle a time or two, but never, ever, ever have encountered what we did with Lufthansa and Thai Airways. In retrospect, I will say that there is little else negative I have to say about the two airlines in addition to what I’m about to say, but the luggage fiasco is enough to make me question whether to fly them ever again.

So many international flights over the past twenty years on a variety of carriers — United, Continental, American, South Africa, Ethiopian, KLM, Turkish, China Eastern, Hainan, Vietnam, the list goes on — and never, ever, ever had we been confronted with anything quite like what we encountered in Brussels. For one, Lufthansa (and I presume Thai, because that’s what Lufthansa told us) weigh your carry on and personal items!!! Say what??? Carry-on and personal items have long been the sacred luggage sanctuary of the air traveler. Sure, watch that 23kg/50lbs. max on your check-on items, but as long as your carry-on items fit in that little trial cage at the ticket counter (or, really, as long as they just fit in the overhead compartment and under the seat in front of you…and you can lift it) then you’re good to go! Yes, of course, we should have read the baggage requirements beforehand, but for so many, many flights over the years it was a non-issue.

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To her credit, the lady at the ticket counter was very accommodating in terms of helping us figure out a solution (otherwise, according to her it would have been $55 U.S. dollars for any weight overages — mind you, that’s not total, but PER KILOGRAM!!!), which involved redistributing the luggage in fantastical ways (which is totally absurd because we boarded with the same luggage weight we would have had, but just redistributed differently across multiple carry-ons and snuck into various crevices of gate-checked baby gear). In the end, we didn’t have to pay anything additional, but did almost miss our first of three international flights (with a baby), which would have been excruciating (the effort involved in getting all of our stuff to the airport that morning with a baby, then having to get it back to the hotel and do it all again the next day would have surely elicited a nervous breakdown from one, if not the three of us).

Also to the credit of the Lufthansa representative, she was able to check our stroller/carseat combo all the way to Vientiane, which saved us the hassle of having to collect and re-check the thing at each on/off point. Though we did have three of our carry-on items flagged at gate security for additional scrutiny, just minutes before boarding. Amazingly, all of our baggage made it safely to its final destination with no noticeable tampering, and we made all of our flights.

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Thankfully, we did make our flight to Frankfurt, which was a pleasant one at that. Noe did what he was supposed to do, and, like the two preceding flights was able to feed during take off and landing (though it certainly is more challenging with a flight under an hour).

Our longest flight of the five from Portland to Vientiane was quite pleasant, certainly one of the more pleasant 10+ hour flights I’ve taken. Like the Brussels Air flight from DC to Brussels, we had a bulkhead seat with a bassinet. All three flights were gloriously devoid of passengers, so we had the entire row on the first two flights. Lori was able to put the armrest down and stretch out across two seats on the 10-hour flight, and there was plenty of room to walk around the cabin.

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I love discovering new gadgetry on various airlines. On Turkish, a few years back, we loved setting our monitor to the nose camera and watching takeoffs and landings. Thai took that a step further and mounted a camera on the tail, so you could see the plane too, which was nice, considering we were on a massive aircraft (our first time on an Airbus A380, the largest passenger jet ever produced), sitting in the center isle with no windows in our line of vision.

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The flight started with a Singha. In the middle of the night, long after food and beverage service had ended, I was having a hankering for another. As it was my birthday, Lori made a trip to the galley and unearthed another (a tallboy, nonetheless) to enjoy before the clock struck midnight. I thought I might be able to rack up my second birthday in Bangkok, but it was not to be as we were due to arrive the day after — though Lori, always one to look on the bright side, reminded me that it would still be my birthday when we landed in Bangkok according to Pacific Daylight Time.

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Nothing says Thailand like Alpenhein Bergspitz. I wonder what Frankfurt-bound passengers get on the way back…

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We weren’t sure what this was all about in the lavatory. Please, take a cup, fill it with water from the faucet below, but don’t ever, ever drink it.

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Poor little Noe had some raging baby acne going on on his cheek during our travel — likely a mix of stress and numerous brushes with semi-sanitary surfaces. It’s relatively easy to keep things spick and span at home for the kid, but when you’re on the move, it gets very tough, very quick. I wouldn’t say we’re obsessive about baby hygiene by any measure, but we certainly don’t like to see effects of our parental transgressions on view to the world. Or maybe it was simply stress related. I like to think that. It went away almost over night, but we had to deal with introducing him to all sorts of people the world over with a big bulbous zit (much worse than the one below). Sorry little dude. Given that most people are generally drawn to the Mister’s striking blue eyes, we’re probably the only ones that cared anyway.

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Happy baby. Happy mama.

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After a cool 9 hours and 45 minutes zigzagging our way around Asia’s hottest conflict zones (interestingly enough, a direct route from Frankfurt to Bangkok looks like it would have hit ALL OF THEM) we’re on our final approach into Suvarnabhumi International. Baby-butt smooth flight all the way until we hit Myanmar. Go figure. Five hours of layover, one more hour-long flight and we’ll finally be in Laos! Who said going the long way ’round wasn’t the funnest way…? All I can say is that our first trip back to the States (eastward) will seem like a breeze after all this.

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Back in Bangkok! Or at least the airport. Lori and I had fun reminiscing about our first time through here from India four years prior. Yep, on the heels of two months in India this place seemed like a five-star resort: Western-style toilets, toilet paper in the stalls, soap next to the sink! Oh yeah, and Starbucks, Burger King, Dairy Queen, blah blah blah. But TOILET PAPER!!!

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So what does one do in the Bangkok airport for 3+ hours between flights? Drink Thai Iced Teas and stare at each other like zombies, of course.

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And visit Starbucks one last time for a while. Look at that display case! That easily tops most I’ve seen in the U.S. lately. Same prices though. Same-same…but different.

Starbucks not your style? Go grab yourself a coconut and mango across the way.

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And don’t forget to do some shopping while your at it!

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It wasn’t all fun and games in Bangkok, of course. Lori had received her immigration letter for entry into Laos at 4am the morning we left Brussels. Naturally, the letter had to be printed off, which became my main mission in Bangkok. I did find a telecom shop 1,000 meters (a little over half a mile) down a very long pedestrian walkway (yes, the airport is that large), and returned victoriously, with Baht to boot.

Shortly before departure, as is often the case to such destinations, we boarded a shuttle to take us out to our aircraft, which was a ratty tatty B737-300 (I believe the original series from the 1960s) parked next to a gleaming new B737-800 also with Thai Airways livery. I couldn’t help but wonder where that one was off to…perhaps Malaysia? Seems fitting. Certainly not India, I thought. That spring chicken would be eaten alive there. Or maybe not…most of the country is vegetarian, after all.

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After a spritely 30 minutes, we dipped below the thick cloud cover and spotted our home for the foreseeable future — a completely different prospective from approaching the city for the first time by bus almost exactly four years ago to the day.

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Arrival & Move-In
Laos!
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