Our last pre-pandemic travel began towards the end of January 2020 into early February. Talk about 2 people being clueless as to what was looming so closely to us as we traveled abroad! We literally made it back home the day before there was talk of borders closing. Whew! A friend had Facebook messaged me a couple of days after we’d gotten to Thailand & said, “There’s a big bad virus over there in China where y’all just left, be careful.” I remember thinking ‘Whatever, we’re not worried about anything!’ We were on vacay & nothing was going to ruin it! I told Sylvia thanks & that we would be just fine.
We typically take elaborate trips around each other’s birthdays & Floyd’s is Jan 24th. This would be his 50th so we knew we’d do something pretty grand.
I started planning this trip in September of 2019 & Expedia was offering a flight from JFK to China then to Thailand. WooHoo, it would be a 23hr layover in Beijing, & I was too excited as it would give us just enough time to see the Great Wall of China! I’ve never really desired to have an actual vacation in China, so this would be phenomenal. Of course, we do love going to countries to have their ‘authentic food’ & who wouldn’t love to go to China to have Chinese food?
Our excursion to the Great Wall was a private tour for 2 booked through ’China Highlights’. I made the reservation a couple of months prior & the payment ($233usd) was required to be made a month prior to the date of the tour, which made me nervous, but I had to do it. They tailored the tour to our specifications & the amount included entrance fee’s, a cable car ride up to the wall & a toboggan ride down the wall!! Yes, I said toboggan ride, & that is totally optional as you can take the cable car back down, too.
We usually try to fly out of bigger cities when we travel internationally & it’s normally JFK for us. We always arrive in NY the day before because it’s never wise to fly there on the actual day of your international flight departure. I’m always skeptical to stay @ any of the hotels that are really close to JFK as most of them seem super sketchy! We spent the night @ the really nice Artezen Hotel in a deluxe queen room & when I tell you all that it was the tiniest room ever @ 175-200 sq feet… There was barely enough room for our 2 full size suitcases let alone for us to even turnaround in the room! It was fairly new & very clean, but it’s also in a part of NY that seemingly had no nightlife in the immediate vicinity, nor were there many restaurants open @ all for ‘late night dining’ @ 10p (we even had a hard time finding an open pizza restaurant, BUT we actually did find just 1).
Air China – What an experience!!! & not in a really good way… We won’t fly them again, & we’re willing to give all airlines a try! This was our 1st experience with having a long layover & finding out that our checked bags would’ve gone all the way to Thailand!! We needed them for our layover & good thing we were told that prior to it actually happening.
Air China’s food wasn’t very good & there’s 1 other thing, but I won’t say. 🙊 It was, however, a very inexpensive flight.
We arrived in Beijing on Jan 20, 2020 & about 14 direct hours later. Beijing Capital Airport was huge & intimidating!! I say that because it was easy to deplane, get to & thru customs, but once we were done with that, nearly all other signage was in Chinese!! Good luck with finding the shuttle bus for the Hilton hotel we were spending the night at… Must’ve took us a good 15-20min, but we made it to the shuttle & our hotel was literally a stone’s throw away, very close!
The Hilton Capital Airport hotel was huge, grand & EXTREMELY nice!! We’re normally Marriott people, but that property in no way disappointed!! I’d reserved us a duplex suite & oh my goodness, it was super sweet!! Upstairs, downstairs with 2 king sized bedrooms & 2 full baths, both with tubs!! The sad thing was that with our almost midnight arrival in Beijing, we didn’t have nearly enough time to enjoy our very INEXPENSIVE, grand suite!! We do like to start our vacations off right, tho’!! The front desk staffer spoke English, check-in was a breeze & we slept oh so very good!
Breakfast the next morning was an included, delicious buffet of a few traditional American foods & lots of Chinese food!! We were both just as happy having chicken fried rice, lomein & dim sum with our bacon, eggs, croissants & OJ! When we came back from our Great Wall visit, we paid for their delicious lunch buffet, too! As we already know, Floyd’s always hungry!
The Great Wall of China (Mutianyu Section) – We were picked-up promptly @ our specified time by an English speaking, Chinese guide & his cohort, & were driven 90min to the wall. It takes about that amount of time to get there from downtown Beijing. Our guide(s) were very friendly, talkative & knowledgeable. Once there, know that if you have to use the bathroom, the toilets are odd & tissue is not free! It was very difficult for me to squat over this toilet in the floor & get my aim just right, smh!
It was winter in China & the 15min or so open air, cable car ride-up was quite cold!! It was 21 degrees fahrenheit, but we didn’t care because we were @ the Great Wall of China!! We toured a small section which was perfect, took a few pics & stayed there for about 2hrs total. That included the tour, the ride up & down, & then there were little souvenir shops as well. You know I love my souvi’s! We bought some Great Wall alcohol & a few other souvi’s. Our driver delivered us to the hotel in time for lunch & for us to get to the airport in time for our flight to Thailand that afternoon.
Phuket Thailand – We again flew Air China & it took about 6hrs to get there. It was an arrival time of a little after 11pm to the tiny airport, Phuket International. Our hotel driver was waiting & holding a sign with my name on it. We spent our 1st night @ a hotel close to the airport called Naiyang Park Resort. It was very cute & rustic almost, with a nice sized room, small buffet breakfast & a pool. It was across the street from a beach & very inexpensive.
The next day we were off to our 2nd stay at Sawasdee Village. What a beautiful resort this was & not cheap, but it was likely due to the time of year as it was ‘Thailand’s ‘high season’ & a good month to visit. There was not a drop of rain the entire time we were there! We had buffet style breakfasts included which was delicious every morning. They prepared a few traditional American breakfast items & then several Asian foods (Floyd was in heaven!) For his birthday we indulged in a 3hr massage package offered by the resort with facials & vichy showers. For less than $200 usd, & what an amazing package it was!
Arriving in Phuket on Jan 22, 2020, we were oblivious about what was beginning to happen outside of our little vacation bubble & in the real world. We typically don’t watch TV while on vacay. So let the good times roll!!
I’d been low key fascinated with Phuket since the day after Christmas tsunami that hit in 2004. Y’all Phuket did not disappoint & there was no trace of such devastation. Let me tell you, it’s a dirty, little town, but we absolutely loved it!!! We walked the streets, enjoyed the abundance of cheap street food (fried rice for me all of the time!), fresh, fruit smoothies, cheap cocktails or beers for Floyd. I cannot express how in love we were with all of the inexpensive things that surrounded us. This was the land of the freshest ever, fruits right off the tree, smoothies for about $1.65usd!! With full meals costing maybe $20 total, to include a cocktail or beer, for the 2 of us!! The most expensive restaurant we went to while there was Mom Tri’s Kitchen – great food with a to die for ocean view! Phuket was also the land where I discovered my beloved Mango Sticky Rice, but, sadly, that was toward the end of the trip because I would’ve eaten so much more! Due to the abundance of mangos, this deliciousness was <$2 there! Thailand is also where we first heard of smelly fruit called Durian. They wouldn’t allow you to eat it in your hotel room because of the smell, & for that smelly reason, we decided that we never wanted to try it, lol.
We had our heels razored & shaved for the 1st time ever, @ an insanely cheap price, & I’ve never seen that service offered anywhere in the US. Floyd indulged in a scalp & foot massage while I had my gel nails beautifully redone for $30 all together! Not to mention that the laundry service next door to our hotel washed & neatly folded 27.5lbs of laundry for us for < $20usd!
We had an easy, exciting walk to beaches where you’d come across tons of street food & a delicious fruit smoothie stand or 2. Massages were cheaply offered on the beach also. The beach water was clear & it was smoking hot for our entire January into February Thailand vacation.
While we purposely didn’t make it to the Phi Phi Islands, we did take a private, inexpensive excursion for 2 via one of those sketchy, Thailand speed boats to 4 small islands with beautiful beaches. The most memorable being Bon Island. Floyd swears he had the best ever Tom Yum Soup there! While my beloved fried rice (which is what I had for every dinner, lol) was just ok.
After 9 days @ the beach, it was time for our ‘1 night in Bangkok’ – actually 2! We flew Air Asia, which was a nice airline, very inexpensive & a short 1.5hr flight.
Bangkok – a huge, busy & bustling city! Our stay was @ the Banyan Tree & it was a large, lively & lovely property. We had a beautiful, club level, 1 bedroom suite & the hotel was within a 4-5 blocks walk to a food day market & a night shopping market. We also took a short metro ride to a ginormous mall there, Siam Paragon. Easily the largest mall I’d ever been to. Surprisingly, the Thailand Metro or MRT was NOT a difficult navigation for us.
The Bangkok Banyan Tree has been our best club experience to date & we’ve based all other ‘Club Level’ rooms on this property. They’ve certainly been a hard act to follow!
Thailand Shopping!! – What a 1st impression all of the ‘markets’ made on us! I was in ‘knock-off’ handbag heaven!! Floyd tried his best to keep me from bringing back the 5 or 6 that I did… MmmHmm, yeah right! 😂 I bought a couple back that I sold to friends, too. Let me tell you, what I brought back for myself & daughter, the fascination quickly wore off & we don’t even carry those purses today (2+ yrs later)! I honestly don’t care too much about designer things… Because I collect EXPERIENCES now! However upon 1st sight of these inexpensive, outdoor shopping markets, you’ll go crazy, too!! I even brought my son back a complete replica of some Airpod Pro’s for $40usd that he said ‘Worked very well for a little while’, lmbo.
Let’s go back to Jan 27, 2020 when we awoke to the internet news of Kobe Bryant & his baby girl passing away. Sad times. 7 days after our vacation started, we were still oblivious about the big bad virus. We did notice that hotel staff had started masking up more often, but we just thought of it as the Asian way. What we did notice during our stop @ 1 of the day markets in Bangkok was that there was a huge table full of different masks & people were going crazy over them!!! I couldn’t fathom why for the life of me………………..!! I do know that going in & out of the Bangkok Airport, our forehead temperatures were taken for the 1st time. Again, we thought nothing of it. At some point, before leaving Thailand, we bought 2 masks. At no point were they ever required & we really bought them ‘just because’. I really didn’t have any intention of wearing mine.
I work in an Emergency Department, I’ve been exposed to many things & I never get sick, so I wasn’t worried about anything. However, I did literally cough my head off for 3wks in December & into early Jan 2020. I guess that’s when I had ‘pre-Rona’… I never felt bad or had any other symptoms.
So after we shopped & shopped & ate & ate, after 12 days, it was time to head home……. Via Air China again, smh, with a 6hr stop in the Beijing Airport. The date was Saturday, February 1, 2020. We were still oblivious to what was looming, & I wore a mask for maybe an hour max on the 13hr flight home. We landed in New Jersey, with AT LEAST 200 Chinese people deplaning with us. No one was checked medically for anything. We were all on our merry ways. I realized a few weeks later, when they started narrowing down the symptoms of Covid, that our seat mate developed diarrhea during the flight & he had to go to the bathroom 3 or 4 times toward the end of the flight! He said ‘I’m sorry, but I have diarrhea.’ 🥴 Boy did we luck out!
Sunday, February 2, 2020 – talks of shutting down US borders begin. We wondered what could’ve potentially happened had our vacation concluded just a few days later? It’s very possible that we could have been stuck in either of those countries that we’d had such a good time in, AND no one would’ve been able to get us back home. 🙏🏾
Do you all know the greatest thing that I realized a day AFTER going back to work from this vacation???? That I could’ve legit taken 10 more days to ‘self quarantine’ & just chilled @ home…. With no questions asked! 😜