In the hill country of Thailand we met this woman patiently watching the world go by. She's 94 years old.

We did not expect to spend much time in Thailand. It was a place we didn't know much about, although we'd heard tales of Bangkok traffic and beautiful but crowded island beaches. Just a stop from hither to yon. A couple of days, maybe a week would do.

But fate has a way of dealing an interesting hand—and we discovered an interesting thing about our round-the-world tickets: Sometimes you can't leave when you want to. Not even CLOSE to when you want to. It can be a good month after your desired departure, and weeks after your visa expires. Hmmm.

We called the airlines on December 1, expecting to be able to leave within a few days. The first available flight was Christmas day. We took it.

At first this seemed like an utter disaster, our visas were to expire a week before our flight. We'd read a letter in the Bangkok Post from a man who had been arrested and thrown into immigration jail for overstaying his visa after his onward ticket was stolen. His story wasn't nice. It made the black hole of Calcutta look good. We pleaded with the airlines. What could they do? Full flights, you know. Maybe they could find seats for one or two—but four? No chance.

But what a gift this turned out to be. It forced us to explore Thailand. We would have missed the King's Birthday party, George's Elephant Trek, Chang Mai, the cave of Chang Doi, Bangkok klongs (canals), markets, palaces, snake farms and new friends. We would have missed most of Thailand.

And we would have missed the expensive experience of having our visas extended long enough to make the flight and stay out of immigration prison. (We had to patiently wait for a grumpy visa clerk to stop picking her zits while looking in a hand held mirror and pay attention to the ever increasing line in front of her.)

But more than anything we would have missed meeting our new found friends Joan Riley, a magical quilt-maker, teacher and computer guru from Juneau, Alaska and Thailand who helped us through some psychic rough spots and gave us language and map lessons; Moira Woods, a film maker from London who told us tales of her adventures in Thailand, including an archaeological dig, and shared her heart with us; Wootz, our gentle trekking guide and all our fellow trekkers, but especially Fiona Bock from Australia, and Patricia and Zette from France who continued our shared adventures around Chang Mai and back to Bangkok; and meeting our first traveling families (from Alberta, Vancouver, Seattle), who shared tips and tales about traveling as a family.

And we have to give special thanks to our adopted Thai family Sorn and Da (and their cat Oowat, or Baby) for taking us into their restaurant-home ("Sorn's") and hearts and making us feel so at home—especially at Christmas. They have put up with our upsets from stomachs to psyches, taken the girls shopping, played games and become good friends. Late night and early morning discussions of everything from the wonders of modern Thailand, Tiffany's, photography (Sorn is an accomplished photographer, editor and teacher of photography) and life have made it very difficult to leave.

And thanks also to the wonderful manager, Siriwan, at the White Lodge (next door to Sorn's) who is scrupulously honest, storing our luggage when we went north, giving us good directions and notes for cabs written in Thai, making phone calls and translating Thai if necessary, and always always making sure that our family is safe and has what it needs, from a hug and smile for Cassidy to arranging clean laundry.

Sorn, a man of the world, noted photographer, a champion Scrabble player, and our favorite restaurateur.
A photo of the beautiful Da, sweet Baby and debonair Sorn taken by our friend Chris on a visit to Thailand.

We depart our little soi (alley) in Bangkok, our adopted neighborhood and friends with hearts heavy. And while you read this, we continue our odyssey further west, in a new and much different land.

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