I’m so looking forward to the National Bar Association’s International Affiliates Meeting in Singapore and Thailand the last two weeks of May 2023. The region offers a varied topography: mountains, rivers, the ocean, rice paddy fields, ancient cities, and shiny new ones—so much for the senses to take in. I look forward to experiencing the architecture, music, art, and food. I want to enrich myself with knowledge of their economy, values, and legal system. I also intend to experience the pace of Thai life and master a few Thai phrases—at the end of this article, I explain a funny trick I like to play with my new language skills.
But before I suggest fun Things to Do in Thailand When You’re Not Dead, allow me to share my 5 rules for so called “Bleisure” (business + leisure) travel abroad.
5 Rules for Bleisure Travel Abroad
Rule #1 Pack Smart
Rule #2 Embrace the Journey
Rule #3 Avoid Traps for the Unwary
Rule #4 Accomplish Something
Rule #5 Learn a Bit of the Language
#1 Pack Smart
I don’t take so much luggage that it becomes a hassle. I remember a trip to South America when I took 5 bags for a 5-week trip. Huge mistake. First, the locals thought I was relocating permanently. Second, lugging that stuff from country to country greatly reduced my enjoyment of the trip. After a while, I started gifting my things to people I met along the way—just to reduce my load. Since then, I’ve learned to fit everything into one checked bag, one carryon bag, and a tote. For the return flight, I sometimes need to buy another bag (due to the obsession foreign airlines have with weighing luggage). However, by then, I’m on my way home and can turn the luggage over to the airline staff to manage. Here is my packing checklist:
- 2 Power adaptors (hotels often run out and you can lose hours searching for a vendor)
- Passport wallet (passport, yellow card, lounge membership card, 1 credit card, 1 debit card)
- iPad, Journal, and pen (in lieu of laptop)
- Phone and chargers
- Meds–homeopathic or prescribed–the trip takes 30 hours, after all (naturally, please leave at home any substance that could trigger a law enforcement situation)
- Book downloads (real books are too heavy). Travel book is an exception.
- Swimming cap, goggles, and other fitness equipment
- Magazines (glossy, print magazines to be lovingly discarded after use)
- Visor and Parasol (it’s hot over there!)
- Selfie Stick
- Eyewear (contacts, sunglasses, eyeglasses)
- Insect repellant
- Real camera (easier to store and use the pics)
- Jewelry case (in your hand-held luggage)
- Beauty regimen (2 weeks without my creams and potions at my age would mean totally wrecked skin upon my return)
- Attire for every occasion (meetings, teatime, touring, lounging, beach, hiking, dinners, travel, and so on).
#2 Embrace the Journey
I fly from Miami to Doha, sit there for 7 hours, and then continue to Singapore. In all, the one-way flight itinerary is 23 hours in the air and seven hours on ground. Naturally, it’s necessary to make the journey part of the bleisure experience. At the Miami airport, I’ll grab hard copies of Harper’s Bazaar & Inc. magazines. It’ll feel nostalgic to leaf through physical media whilst curled up in my PJs and travel socks up in the clouds with a cup of tea and a plate of fruit and biscuits.
The seven hours in Doha are a bit too long to sit in an airport lounge. So, I’ve researched restaurants nearby and will be commuting 3.1 miles to Al Nafourah Lebanese Restaurant and then heading downstairs for live music at an onsite jazz club. Hopefully, there’s a locker in the airport lounge where I can stow my carryon. That would make the security check-in easier upon my return. But if there isn’t a locker, no matter. I’ll roll my carryon to the restaurant with me and have access to whatever’s inside. (That’s the key with travel. I just take whatever happens in stride, not letting anything or anyone ruffle me. I’m on an adventure for goodness’ sake! It’s all good.)
On the return journey, I’ll do a stayover at Anantara Resort on Banana Island to experience a bit of Doha. I have a cute head covering I can wear out of respect for the local culture (and to protect my scalp from the oppressive desert heat). It would be a missed opportunity to fly so long and not spend a night or two in the Middle East. I mean, what’s the rush? I have no doubt that the USA will still be here when I return. Secretary Austin and the Department of Defense are on the job.
#3 Avoid Traps for the Unwary
When it comes to money and shopping, I always charge in local currency, and I decline the conversion when withdrawing money from an ATM. The foreign banks seriously overcharge for the conversion. I have seen fees that are 12 to 15 percent too much. That’s money I can spend on mementos for myself or gifts for my cute little nieces. (The latest one was born this past February, and isn’t she a doll!)
(Meet Winter. She’s already crawling at 11 weeks. Ready for a travel adventure!)
Also, you’ll notice that I pack only one credit card and one debit card. I prefer not to have access to all my cash or credit. It removes the temptation to overspend. So, when I arrive home, I have happy memories, lots of photos, and very few bills.
#4 Accomplish Something
While it may be tempting to treat this trip as a tax-deductible holiday, I’m in business development. So, schmoozing is part of my job. It’s like professional athletes who get paid to exercise and stay physically fit. I get paid to be friendly, to engage with people, to learn about them and their needs, and to secure the opportunity to make their law practices and firms more profitable. Therefore, if I leave this trip without a host of new friends and a to-do-list of steps to take to help them grow their revenues, I will have had an unsuccessful trip.
Moreover, my clientele is global. I already serve clients in India, Western Europe, and the Americas. Perhaps there are Southeast Asian attorneys I can assist with growing their practices in their homeland and in the States.
Of course, if I were attending in my capacity as a practicing attorney, I’d measure success a bit different. I’d want to use the conference as an opportunity to cultivate referral sources, to interface with others in my practice area to ensure that I was aware of the latest tools and best practices, and to take something back to the firm that leadership wasn’t already aware of, thereby demonstrating that there was value in their sending me on the trip.
Things to Do in Thailand (& Singapore) When You’re Not Dead
This trip isn’t all work and no play. Nor should it be. I’ll be mixing business with pleasure. For some, the word “pleasure” entails eating poorly and drinking to excess among other regrettable behaviors. However, I prefer to pursue health and wellness when traveling. I intend to learn Tai Chi and have a Thai message. I’m going to take afternoon tea (and dress for the occasion). Thai is among my favorite cuisines, and I love cooking with herbs and produce instead of salt, sugar, and fat. So, I’ll take a cooking class to learn the proper mix of plants for flavorful, healthy Thai dishes.
I look forward to some water activity in the Bay of Bengal. Plus, I’m bringing some bath salts with me to have a long warm soak while gazing out at the sea. And if that’s not meditative enough, I’m sure the group tours of Buddhist temples will provide an opportunity to slow down and deeply experience life instead of constantly being on the go or trying to get ahead.
I don’t often travel in groups. Therefore, I expect some of my most enriching experiences will occur during the free time. I’ve been hiking all across the world. I find it’s a wonderful way to clear my head and let my creativity and imagination rise to the surface. So, I’ve researched the best trails and will ask to have an excursion arranged. Just me, the guide, a sandwich, and my whistle. Take in the sunrise. Connect with the universe.
I’m also an architecture buff. So, I’m super excited to see the 12th-century ruins in Thailand and the fanciful modern buildings in Singapore. Then, there are the buddhas, pagodas, and stupas, oh my!
#5 Do You Speak Thai?
Remember earlier I said there’s a trick I play with foreign languages? Well, I’m an American who speaks native English and broken Spanish. And sometimes, when I’m in an elevator and someone is speaking Russian or Dutch or German (insert any other language), I feel a bit stupid. The people who are speaking their native languages do not intend to make me feel stupid. It isn’t their fault that I’m inadequately educated. Nonetheless, when they slip into their comfort language, I like to get on the phone and speak a language that’s foreign to them. It always gets their attention. Some of them even apologize for having excluded me from their conversations.
So, I’m going to learn three or four things to say in Thai and use them to shock multilinguals in the States. It doesn’t matter which phrases I learn because these people don’t speak Thai. So, “I’d like turndown service and a chocolate on my pillow” will do the trick if I say it with the right accent. Then, as I’m exiting the elevator, I’ll look back, smile, and say “have a great day” in English as they stare after me. Aren’t I a stinker?