PREFACE: This is a series I wrote about a trip to Thailand in 2016.

Next month I am going to Thailand. I plan to share pictures and stories along the way, but thought I’d start with a behind-the-scenes view and a little back story.

How it all got started:
I have a client who does leadership development programs for an international company. They did a program in Atlanta at which I spoke, and that was well-received enough that they asked me to participate in one in Finland. The third one is in Bangkok. A visit to Thailand has been on my life list for a long time, so when this opportunity came up I was thrilled. I asked the client for two things: 1) A business-class ticket and 2) flexibility on my travel dates. I started planning even before final confirmation of the program date and location came through.

I have a tendency to go crazy with planning stuff. The first thing I did was to see if anyone else wanted to come along on the trip. Note to family, Facebook post…no dice. I am pretty comfortable with solo travel, but did a little research to find out whether Thailand is a good place for that. The bottom line: Yes. As long as you take reasonable precautions (don’t go to all-night parties alone and drink yourself out of your mind, etc.) and stay away from a few parts of the country that border on unpleasant neighbors, it’s pretty safe.
Then I started thinking about the itinerary. I had hoped to go on a trip to Thailand and Vietnam hosted by musician Mick Moloney earlier this year, but he didn’t get enough participants. However, his itinerary listed a lot of really interesting things. I took that list and combined it with the results of web and travel book searches. With unlimited time and money, this could easily have turned into a year-long trip! But I was shooting for about 2 weeks, which is about as long as I figured my husband and my business would be OK with my absence. I thought about Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. And I might have worked some of that into the plan if I hadn’t run across something really interesting.
I am an amateur photographer who has lately been on a quest to become more skillful. I love taking pictures when I travel. I thought it would be great fun to do some photography in Thailand, so I searched for photo tours and found a gem–a 10-day photography workshop adventure tour that has a small group led by a professional photographer and goes from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and then down to the islands, finishing in Phuket. And it started the day after my business event. Expensive, but since my airfare was already covered I decided to splurge.
I decided to go over a few days early so I could spend some additional time in Chiang Mai. I knew my (late) Great-Aunt Katharine had taught school there, and wanted to see if I could find out more. This gave me enough information to book my plane flight–Atlanta to Tokyo, Tokyo to Bangkok.

Detective work:
Mom and I embarked on a quest to figure out more about Auntie K’s time in Thailand. She searched through bookshelves and drawers at the family cabin where much of K’s memorabilia was still stored, and reached out to the Presbyterian Church historical society, since she recalled that K’s time over there was under the auspices of the church mission board. She also found a notebook where K had written down addresses and other information. Ultimately, we figured out that she had taught at the Chiang Mai Coeducational Center, an English-speaking school serving children of missionaries and other international families that has since become the Chiang Mai International School. I contacted the school and received a warm note from their alumni coordinator, who was able to uncover scans of some old yearbooks that had pictures of Auntie K, who was teaching first grade in 1970 and 1971. He invited me to come visit the school while I was there, which I plan to do.

With the outlines of the trip in place, I started working on the details. Where to stay? How to get from one place to another? I researched trains, planes, hotels, AirBnB, and ultimately ended up with an itinerary that looks something like this:
Arrive Bangkok late evening
Car service to hotel near train station
Train to Chiang Mai (12 hours, but I love train rides)
3-night Chiang Mai stay in AirBnB in old town, with plans for night market, cooking school, temple visits, and a trip to the Chiang Mai International School
Flight to Bangkok
Business event
Free day in Bangkok
10-day photography workshop tour ending in Phuket
Flight from Phuket to Bangkok
Hotel near airport
Early morning flight home

An interesting twist:
Last week (just a few weeks before the trip), His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s beloved long-time monarch, died. This, of course, led to questions about whether there would be political instability, disruption of travel, etc. I’ve been following it very closely, but so far everything looks OK. The country is in a period of mourning, which is creating a somber mood and a reduction in entertainment, but my friends who know about these things agree with me that there are no signs of trouble. For a while I thought the Yi Peng/Loy Krathong festival, one of the highlights of the photography tour because of the release of lighted lanterns into the sky, would be cancelled (and for a while it was!) but they will hold it after all, just without the fireworks, concerts, and beauty pageants that usually accompany it. I’ve checked with the client and the photography tour company, and all is going as originally planned.
I feel very fortunate to be going to Thailand during this time, when I will get to see a country at a turning point in its history. Stay tuned for more thoughts along the way.