Traveling Abroad: Finding my way to Thailand for the First Time
Haven’t we all wanted to travel overseas and see as much of the world as possible? I know it has always been a dream of mine! In September of 2018, I was able to realize that dream and travel to both Thailand and India for the first time. (on the company dime!) This was an amazing experience, but I was traveling alone. How would I get there? What should I pack? I had so many questions and a long journey ahead of me.
- A little about me: who am I and why am I going to Thailand?
- Travel preparation: what do I pack and what do I need to know?
- Flying out of Toronto and arriving in Bangkok
- Navigating to my hotel on my own with 1000 Baht
- My first day in Bangkok
- What to expect on this trip
A Little About Me and Reeds
Hi, I’m Jerry. Several years ago I left my career in local TV news where I produced news graphics, commercials and promotions to join Reeds Jenss as their Marketing Director here in Buffalo, NY. It was quite a change going from a large corporately owned business to a local, family owned business. I was sold on the idea of making the change after meeting with Reeds owner Jeffrey Zimmer. I learned about how he was the third generation owner of a company that started in Niagara Falls, NY. His father had retired but would still stop in to the office quite often to say hello, offer advice and see the latest jewelry designs the team was crafting. The family values, ethics and commitment to doing what is right for the customer was refreshing, and exactly what I was looking for.
Not long after I was hired, Jeff left to go overseas for 10 days. I was fascinated to hear stories of his travels and thought about how great it would be to be constantly seeing new places and experiencing new people and cultures. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s what I need to do to keep our business going. The extra work is what makes all the difference. I’ll show you some day.” he said.
That day came in September of 2018. Jeff asked if I would like to accompany him on his next trip to Thailand and India. He wanted me to film his process and see what goes in to his diamond and gemstone buying. I jumped at the chance, however, my excitement quickly turned to doubt as I knew I would be leaving my wife and one-year-old son alone for two weeks. After working things out at home, the excitement and wonder came rushing back. I needed to renew my passport and get a travel visa asap, and I had a million questions. How much do I pack? Where are we staying? What do I avoid? What equipment should I bring? How hot will it be? Do I need money? The list was endless. “Stop worrying.” Jeff said. He quickly filled me in on how he travels. You see, Jeff has been going overseas to buy diamonds since the 1980s and has certainly worked out his travel over those decades. We discussed it all over dinner and I was ready to roll!
Packing for Two Weeks
The travel date came up in no time and I needed to pack. I bought a new 27” hard side suitcase and my plan was to fit my two weeks worth of clothes in that and a small backpack. I did not want to check a bag, which a lot of people thought was crazy but I managed to do it. I watched several videos on YouTube for tips on how to pack for a two week trip with only a carry on. I liked this video by Exploring Alternatives. Keep in mind, I was going on this trip to document Jeff’s diamond and gemstone buying so I needed to pack my video and audio equipment. After much thought, I ended up ditching my DSLR in favor of my Sony RX100V and a Zoom audio recorder. I did not want to lug around a large camera in 95° heat and 100% humidity. I also wasn’t sure some of the places we were going would allow cameras. The Sony was small enough to fit in my back pocket, so I thought that the better option. The only issue was sound quality. The little Sony has two small microphones on the top and the audio is not great. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that wind noise would be an issue. Ashley, one of my marketing assistants, had some fur from some crafting project. I was able to glue it to the top and use it as a makeshift windsock. It looked like a mustache on top of my camera, but it worked very well! I finished packing and said my good-byes. My son is one and didn’t understand that I was leaving. That was the hardest part as I walked out the door. Buffalo Limousine had sent a car to take me to the airport, which was a huge help! It was time.
I had a direct flight out of Toronto to India and was flying alone. I would meet Jeff in Bangkok at our hotel. He was already in Hong Kong with our VP of Inventory, Kris. They were there for the week at a jewelry convention, picking out the latest jewelry styles for the holidays. They determine what will be on trend and make purchases for our stores or get ideas on what we can manufacture ourselves in Buffalo, NY. “Are you nervous to fly alone to Thailand?” my wife asked. Of course I was, but I was more excited than anything.
A long 15 hour flight quickly settled my excitement. I don’t think I’ve ever sat still for that long in my life. I managed to watch three movies, eat several meals and sleep as much as possible, which probably totaled 5 hours. I had never been on a flight longer than 5 hours, so this took some getting used to. I had an aisle seat with only one person next to me, so at least I could get up easily and stretch out. Those in the front of the plane looked to be having a great time in their sleep pods. “Next time… first class.” I said to myself.
Navigating On My Own
I finally landed in Mumbai, India and had a 2 hour layover to Bangkok, where I arrived at 8 am local time. As I’m getting off the plane I’m trying to remember what Jeff told me to do. “Exit the airport and find the line of taxi cabs. Tell the driver “Peninsula Hotel, please.” and he will take you right there.” he assured me. I found a man who indicated I needed a numbered ticket that indicated which cab I would take. I followed some regulars to an electronic booth and got my ticket. As I approached my numbered lane, the driver opened the trunk and tossed my bag in. My first mistake was hopping in on the right side of the back seat. I was sitting directly behind him, not thinking about how that wasn’t the “passenger side” I was used to. “Peninsula Hotel” I stated confidently. The taxi driver spoke very little English and had no idea what I was saying. He started driving and talking to someone on his headset as we swerved in and out of traffic consisting of bikes, motorcycles, trucks and cabs. He kept repeating back to me “Pe Nin Suu La?” It was clear he didn’t know the hotel. Jeff had assured me that was all the info I needed, so I didn’t have an address or phone number and my phone didn’t seem to be working on the international plan that was set up on it. I was at his mercy. We hit pretty heavy traffic on our way to downtown Bangkok and it was a bit of a tense ride. At this point I should say that Jeff gave me a $1,000 Baht note before he left for Hong Kong. It was my only currency and I honestly didn’t know what it was worth. (It’s about $32 US) He assured me it would be more than enough to cover my cab ride and anything else I needed prior to his arrival. We were nearing a toll booth and he reached his hand back to me. “Money!” I reached in my pocket and gave him the 1000 Baht. We went through the toll and he handed me back two 100 Baht notes. “What just happened?” I thought. How much was that toll?? Did he keep the rest? Do I have enough for the ride?
Almost an hour later we were in downtown Bangkok… at the wrong hotel. “Millennium Hotel, you ok.” he stated happily. “Peninsula, not Millennium.” I implored. He yelled something out the window to a man on the street. Thankfully, my hotel was only another block away We pulled in to one of the most breathtaking hotel entries I have ever seen. Four employees came out to greet me, opening my door and grabbing my bag. I was still unsure as to the cab fare. I thanked the driver. “Are we good?” I asked. He did seem to know one more English word. “Tip!” he stated firmly. I handed him one of my two remaining 100 Baht. I was now down to 100 Baht for the day. Jeff was not arriving until 5 pm local time. At least I had my AmEx!
My First Day in Bangkok
I arrived at my hotel by 9 am local time. I wasn’t able to check in for another hour. They did take my bags and said I could roam the beautiful grounds until my room was ready. That was fine with me, but I was hungry and exhausted and only had 100 Baht left. I still wasn’t sure how much that was, so I got on the wifi and looked it up. I had about $3.20. I ordered a coffee in the lobby and had to use my credit card to pay for it. It was a bit embarrassing but the staff (the Thai people in general) were so kind and helpful.
Jeff called and said his flight was delayed so he wouldn’t get to the hotel until around 5 pm. He was in Hong Kong and there was a crazy hurricane that hit the coast the night before. They all had to take refuge in their hotel bathrooms for several hours. Thank goodness they were all okay, but that meant I had the day to myself with no money or any idea where to go or what to do. So I had lunch by the river at the hotel. I had a salmon tartar and quinoa salad. My first meal in Thailand was outstanding. It was also the first meal outside of an airplane I had in 30 hours. At that point I checked into my room. It was one of the nicest rooms I had ever stayed at. I was at a 5 star hotel after all. I then relaxed by their beautiful pool and had a beverage and an hour nap knowing it was my last chance to do so. Jeff arrived soon after and we went to the other side of the river and had dinner. He explained what we would be doing the next day. First thing in the morning we would head out and begin visiting sapphire cutters. I knew I was in for a long day and hadn’t slept in what seemed like days, so we called it an early night. It was the start of a long but very educational trip.
The Real Work Begins
So that was my first day in Bangkok. It was a bit of a bumpy ride, but I made it in one piece. Next up, Jeff Zimmer and I get to work. We spent almost two weeks in Thailand and India sorting through thousands of sapphires, rubies and diamonds. Jeff spends countless hours inspecting thousands of stones to find the very few that live up to his standards for our customers. I have seen this first hand. He looks for luster, cut, clarity and brilliance in each stone at each carat weight. He then negotiates the price and brings home only the best stones at the best prices. You really can’t do better than a diamond from Reeds. We do the work for you, so you can be assured that you are only seeing the highest quality diamonds. The stones he leaves behind are the ones that end up online, and you can’t see them in person. Stop in to one of our stores today to experience the Reeds Difference for yourself.
Learn more about how Jeff picks out gemstones here.
Watch the video of my first time getting from Buffalo, NY to Bangkok, Thailand here: