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The cold I got on Phuket mushroomed into the flu this weekend so I spent much of the last couple of days in bed asleep, alternating between trips to the bathroom and kitchen (for my medicine).  Oh, and talking to Tim on the cell who seemed genuinely concerned that I was still sick ("you eat lots of medicine", she kept asking me).

I'm feeling much better tonight and it seems I'm doomed to repeat my cycle of being awake all night long.  But I have begun some prep-work to prepare for my return to Thailand.  Mostly, that's been in the form of research:

1) Finding a good storage facility for my belongings — if I go to Thailand for an extended period of time, it makes sense to pay $100 or so (and probably a lot less than that) to store my stuff rather than pay rent/utilities on an apartment I'm not going to use.  There's a bunch of places here in Albuquerque, including a nice-looking one less than a mile from my home.  I'll make some phone calls tomorrow to find out what the fees are for the rental, shelving, packing materials, etc.

2) Airfare — the best price I've found so far is $748.50 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Bangkok on China Airlines (via Taipei), including all taxes, etc., which is good for departures in April and May and returns in July and August (the price goes up if I plug in a June departure).  I also looked into one-way fares and the lowest is $456.50 on China Airlines, again including all fees.  But if I booked a one-way ticket (I don't really want to be tied to a return date), I don't think I could satisfy the requirements to get a tourist visa unless I purchased a cheap flight to Cambodia or Laos from Bangkok (they really just want to see that you plan to exit Thailand on a given date).  If I purchased a round-trip ticket, how difficult would it be to change the return reservation?  I suppose I could use a travel agency in Patong to phone China Airlines, like I did to change my Nok Air reservation a few weeks ago but perhaps I would have to visit their office at the airport in Bangkok.

Of course, I'll use Nok Air for my flight from Bangkok to Phuket.  The low airfare outweighs the probability of flight delays (I don't mind spending a few extra hours in an airport, to tell the truth).  In fact, I just noticed that you can upgrade to first class on any of their flights for an additional 500 baht (that's $12); I suppose they actually serve you drinks in first class.  A first-class ticket from BKK to HKT with all the fees and taxes runs a bit over $58.

3) Once I book my airfare, I can then apply for a Thai tourist visa.  These are good for 60 days on a single entry and you can renew them for an additional 30 days at an Immigration office in Thailand.  Double-entry visas are also available — when your 30-day extension is about to expire, just cross into Cambodia, Burma, or Malaysia for an afternoon and upon return to Thailand your second 60 days kicks in (to which you can get another 30-day extension).  However, you can't legally be employed under the tourist visa.  My current thinking is that I can apply for a TESL course on Phuket and if I get an English-teaching job after graduating, I can have the potential employer file the paperwork for me to get a Work Permit and Non-Immigrant Visa.  More research to do on this front...

4) Finding a place to stay for two months or more — there are plenty of budget places in Patong and next time I'd like to stay within walking distance of the beach and Bangla Road.  I've found many choices in this area for between 400 and 700 baht per night ($10-$18) that include air-conditioning, en-suite bathroom, etc.  Most state that they offer discounts "long-term" stays (ranging from 14 to 60 days and over) but don't say how much that discount is (I saw one website that mentioned 10%).  There was one place (Paradizo Guesthouse) that mentioned a low-season special (April through November) of 5,500 baht ($140) per month for an air-conditioned room and free laundry; that seems too low to be good so I've posted some questions in an online forum to see if anyone recommends this place.  I've also found several apartment listings running between 10,000 and 15,000 baht ($250-380) per month, including electricity and twice-per-week cleaning but most of these seem to be too far from the center of town to walk easily.  This isn't really much of a problem; I just want to save on taxi/tuk-tuk/motorbike charges as they do tend to add up...

5) I've also done some research on the easiest and less expensive way to get from Phuket to Lamphun to see where Tim grew up, etc.  We could fly up but I'd rather see the country from the ground.  Phuket doesn't (yet) have a railroad connection so we would have to take a bus to Surat Thani (a cost of no more than 280 baht, or about $7) and from there take the train north to Bangkok and then on to Chiang Mai.  A second-class air-conditioned sleeping berth for the first leg costs 598-668 baht ($15-17) each way, depending on if you want an upper or lower berth (upper is less expensive and good for protecting small valuables), the various trains (express, rapid, etc.) all seem to be overnight trips of around 12 hours.  From Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the same grade costs roughly the same and most are also overnight/12-hour trips (although there are a couple of morning departures — 6:20 and 8:30 a.m. — as well as two trains leaving at 2:30 in the afternoon which don't arrive until 5:30 the following morning).  If we were to take a train that arrives from Surat Thani at 6 or so in the morning, we would have time to catch the 8:30 in Bangkok, which arrives in Chiang Mai at 7:45 that evening if not delayed making it much more convenient for checking into a hotel there; otherwise, we would have to figure out where to stash our bags in Chiang Mai for six hours or so before we could check into a hotel.  We would probably have to take a taxi or tuk-tuk from Chiang Mai to Lamphun; my research hasn't gotten me that far yet.

And that's really where I'm at right now.  I've found out a lot of information tonight.  The next step really is to start packing up my belongings.  I also plan to try and sell a lot of things on eBay.  Once I begin that process, the rest will fall into line.  As I clear out the clutter within my apartment (either through putting it into storage, throwing it away, or making some money by selling it), I'll be able to more easily organize the other preperations I need to make.  A big part of that is learning even more Thai — not only to speak it but to try and make sense of the alphabet as well; the grammar should be fairly easy to conquer.

I haven't had any second thoughts about my plans to return to Thailand so soon.  A big motivator are the daily phone calls with Tim.  Just hearing her giggle as I speak Thai to her is enough to make me want to hop on a plane tomorrow.  During one recent call, she told me that she was learning to make Western sandwiches, even hamburgers, just for me.  I told her that I missed her watching her put together Thai meals at the street carts — she would put the spices in separate dishes and then feed me the chicken, prawns, and seafood (all except squid which I didn't like the look of) out of her collection of bowls.  I have no idea what the names of most of what we ate were, but most were various styles of soup with all manner of meats and vegetables thrown in.  I did develop a strong fondness for coconut soup with chicken, however, made "Tim-style."

Tomorrow should be a big day (IF I wake up at a decent hour as I plan to (finally) pick up my mail at the post office and start uploading all of those photos I took.  I have the screensaver on my computer set to display them and I've been amazed at how good many of the photos are when seen on a large screen (and also disappointed that some favorites are actually rather blurry).  I'll also stop by Staples and get some bankers boxes to begin the process of packing my papers, etc.