My condolences are with the people of Thailand as they mourn the death of their king, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. I know he was loved by his people and his presence will be missed.
After seeing the awe-inspiring pictures of Thailand in various social media and blogs, I moved this country to the top of my ever-growing travel bucket list! I had to see their lush forest, gorgeous beaches and ancient ruins for myself. I started mentally planning the trip in my head (as I sometimes do), but never got around to making my plans into reality. Finally, in January 2016 I decided to stop dreaming and start doing! I’m so happy I did because I had an AMAZING time during my journey in Thailand!! Over the next few days (or weeks if work starts getting hectic again) I’ll share my journey with you from start to finish!
So let’s start with the trip planning…
Group v. Solo Travel
Before I started to plan my journey to Thailand, I had to decide which route to take: solo travel or traveling with a group. I’m a bit Type A so I like to plan every detail of my trips on my own (where to stay, what to do, where to eat, etc.). I’ve done this for several international trips, but I wasn’t sure I could navigate Thailand without a guide. I’ve never spoken a word of Thai in my life and I cannot read/understand the Thai alphabet, so I thought communicating was going to be extremely difficult for me.
The language barrier, coupled with the fact that I was traveling alone, made me realize traveling alone wasn’t the most practical option. So I scrapped that idea and turned my attention to finding a group travel option.
Selecting a Tour Operator
I searched the Internet to see what group options there were for journeying through Thailand. Ideally I wanted to see all of the country, but I knew I couldn’t swing that with a short window (dang 3 week vacation policy). After several Google searches, I found seven tour operators with great itineraries for my consideration. Being the nerd that I am, I created a matrix in Microsoft Excel so I could do a side-by-side comparison and decide on the best option.
After reviewing all the options, I narrowed the list down to 3 companies: Intrepid Travel, Gate 1 Travel, and Friendly Planet Travel. I wish I could say I used some great criteria to narrow down the list, but I can’t. My total decision was based on which ones looked the most fun 🙂
Originally decided to proceed with Gate 1 Travel (the green line on the spreadsheet). They were visiting the most cities, so I would be able to maximize my time in Thailand. After “green lighting” Gate 1 Travel, I realized maximizing my time meant sacrificing future trips in 2016 (I only have 3 weeks of vacation time to work with) so I decided to go with my second choice, Intrepid Travel. With their 10 day Highlights of Thailand tour (which includes travel time from Houston to Bangkok) I would be able to see multiple locations in northern Thailand and still have vacation days left for the rest of the year!
I’ve been married to United MileagePlus for years (a decade if you include my time with Continental OnePass) so I knew I needed stick with a Star Alliance airline for this trip. I couldn’t miss out on getting all those miles from flying half way across the world!!
To start I looked at the price on United. The price seemed reasonable, but when I read the fine print I noticed the flight was operated by All Nipon Airways (ANA). So out of curiosity I went to ANA’s web site and priced the same flight. Guess what?? It was MUCH less expensive on ANA than it was on United (44% less to be exact). Given that it was the exact same flight, I didn’t understand why the price was different.
I dug a bit deeper and realized the premium I’d pay to United just got me more miles. If you book a ticket from United for an ANA operated flight you get award miles based on the price of the ticket times the appropriate multiplier for your status. Whereas if you book directly with ANA, you get a percentage of the miles based on the type of ticket you purchased (economy, discount, etc). Of course, there’s so much fine print on the calculations I eventually gave up trying to understand it all and happily kept 44% of my funds by booking with ANA. I was so excited because with this purchase I was officially on my way to Thailand!!!
In Part 2 I’ll share how I got ready prepared for my trip and how I survived the 22 hour trek from Houston to Bangkok, Thailand!!