Visas are required for Americans to travel to China, Kazahkstan and Russia. GlobeBusters helped us fill out the required forms. They had had good experience with CIBT getting visas on earlier trips, but said we could use anybody. We needed to be in L.A. for Cathy’s surgery so we went to their local office and delivered our forms and passports. They said we would have them back by Friday May 13. The next time we heard from them was that our passports had been sent to Houston, and the Russian Embassy there required a form with different size margins and our information had to be typed, not handwritten. We filled out new forms, signed them and expressed them back. Our next status inquiry reveals that they’ve been sent to Washington, DC for processing.
We needed to leave for our flight to Bangkok by 10 am Tuesday May 17. Our passports were required to fly out, but they were still in Washington on Monday afternoon. “No problem” said CIBT. “We’ll send them for 8 am delivery.” From Cathy’s business experience we knew that no carrier could guarantee delivery to our zip code before 10:30. Fortunately, our UPS driver told us that once we knew the tracking number, we could request them to hold it at the local office and pick it up anytime after 09:00 on our way to the airport.
Perfect visibility weather was ours while flying across Canada from Minnesota. The fields in early spring color were visible all across Alberta and Saskachewan. Clouds shrouded the Rockies and everything in Alaska. While crossing eastern Russia, snow capped peaks peaked through.
One of our friends that worked for Delta airlines gave us Buddy Passes, that allowed us to buy standby tickets at a reduced rate. If space is available, we get to fly. As a bonus, if business class seats are open, we fly up-front. Business Elite seats were open on our flight to Tokyo and we got to sit next to each other. Great food, free drinks and fully reclining seats relieved the stress of the close call on our passports. Things were looking up again.
Twelve and a half hours later we landed at Narita airport. Heading towards our next gate, they made an announcement that our flight to Bangkok had been cancelled. Regular passengers were transferred to a Nippon Airways flight and continued their journey. Standby passengers like us could only fly on Delta flights and had to return the next day. We rescued our luggage, added a “Japan” stamp in our passport, changed money and took a shuttle bus to the airport Hilton. Cathy’s business travel earned Diamond-level membership at Hiltons and we got great room and free breakfast.
Our bonus day in Japan provided us time to explore the area. Narita is a city of 125,000 people, an hour out of Tokyo. Many residents are involved with servicing the airport and its workers and passengers. Tourists and Buddhist pilgrims come to visit Narita-san Shinshoji Temple, founded in 940. En route, we walked by a container vegetable garden similar to what we have in Georgia each spring. The gardens there were exquisit. A turtle-shaped rock in a turtle-filled pond guarded the entrance to the park. Occidental tourists in Narita are usually airline personnel on layovers. At shuttle bus stop we met a FedEx pilot and an Australian working for Virgin Airlines. One couple we met were on our cancelled Bangkok flight.
Thursday’s flight allowed us to fly up front again. We slept most of the flight trying to adjust to the 12-hour time change from the US. Our cab driver drove 140 kph in an 80 kph zone most of the way from the airport. It was after midnight and traffic was light.
Lebua at State Tower is the group’s hotel until we start riding north. Our suite is sumptuous and the view from the rooftop on the 64th floor is spectacular. “The Hangover, Part Two” has a scene filmed from the stairway leading to the restaurant/bar where the above pictures were taken. We made a quick visit to Bangkok in 2004 and are happy to be back. Chao Phraya River divides the city and the water taxis are an excellent way to get around. We tried to return to the Grand Palace, but it was closed that morning for royal family prayers. The king is venerated and Lonely Planet advised that if you drop currency, which has his picture, don’t stomp on the bill to keep it from blowing away! We went to visit the reclining Buddha and stopped at the massage school for a 50-minute foot massage.
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