How does one start a travelogue? This is certainly my first attempt, so I’ll just dive right in with some backstory: I’m actually not much of a traveler. I always wanted to be, but a variety of things always got in my way. My wife Amanda changed all that. Prior to being with her, I was a very homey person. I’d been to England a few times, but in terms of international travel, that’s pretty tame. Amanda has traveled the world many times over, and also lived abroad in Asia for several years.
Since we got married, she’s been coaxing me out of my travel-fearing-shell. We subscribe to a travel deals site, and when cheap tickets to Bangkok came up early last year, I said, why not? (Actually, she said “we’re going!”, and I wisely went along with it.) And so, I found myself on the longest plane trip of my life, heading to parts unknown!
The following isn’t going to be a traditional travelogue, even though we experienced some amazing stuff in Bangkok and Phuket. It will, however, be a chronicle of the games I played, bought, and saw, the game books I read, and the many, many beers I drank (and some of the food I had as well).
Let’s get back to that long-ass plane ride. In preparation for the trip, I definitely had some decisions to make. I was a launch-day Nintendo Switch buyer, and that system has been my constant companion ever since. Per my wife’s recommendations, taking a boutique piece of electronics with us on this trip wasn’t the best idea. Her advice was not taking anything I would be heartbroken losing. In retrospect, it was definitely more about the potential mishandling of all our baggage than anything safety related.
So, I broke out my DS Lite, long since relegated to obscurity. I no longer had a travel case for it, and we were travelling light, so I dug up a AceKard 2 system I had gotten in a lot purchase of handheld games and systems many years back. This, along with my Kindle and phone, were the only electronics I brought on my journey. I’m definitely not an advocate of piracy, but I do use EverDrives and flash carts quite a bit for convenience and to save wear and tear on my cartridges when capturing footage to review games. If I’m going to make a legit attempt at a game, though, I’ll always pull the cart off my shelf.
I selected several games from my shelf backlog to mirror digitally onto my system, since we were travelling for almost 60 hours round trip. The games I brought with me were: Castlevania – Dawn of Sorrow, Chrono Trigger DS, Phoenix Wright – Ace Attorney, Retro Game Challenge, and Mario Kart DS.
Plane Ride to Tokyo
The first leg of our flight was Washington D.C. to Tokyo. 14 hours. Yeesh. We secured a multitude of snacks and boarded. Fortunately, the flight wasn’t full, so we had a whole row to ourselves. While my wife took a nap, I pulled out the DS Lite. [Note: all the screens here are from an emulator, as I don’t yet have a DS capture solution!]
In the past few years, I’ve really gotten into Castlevania. I had played entries in the series here and there when I was a kid, but discovering these new-to-me titles has been a blast. Dawn of Sorrow was very fun. The souls mechanic was a bit difficult to pick up on, and since I had no internet on the flight, I was totally on my own to figure it out. I played this for many hours on the flight to Tokyo, and watching the story unfold in between the action really pulled me into the game.
The next title I fired up was Phoenix Wright. This game definitely surprised me with how dark it was. It’s a visual novel, which felt like an interactive version of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. The twists and turns kept me riveted, which was good, because I didn’t find the game challenging at all. But I think that’s the point of such games, experiencing and taking part in the story. I wouldn’t play it again, but I am thinking of checking out some of the other games in the series.
At this point in the flight, it was time for a break. My wife informed me that alcohol was free(!), so I queued up a Sapporo (in honor of my imminent first time being in Japan) from the flight attendant. I’ve had it many times before, and it’s one of my favorite Japanese beers. Nice bite, refreshing, light. Excellent accompaniment to the… pasta with mayo(?!) we were served en route? Whooof.
I will take this opportunity to mention Mario Kart DS. It’s Mario Kart and great fun. I played it here and there over the trip in a lot of quick bursts when I needed a change. I always recommend traveling with a Mario Kart title if possible!
Then I fell asleep.
Narita Airport, Japan
Landing in Narita, I was struck by how quiet it was. American airports have a constant rumble and hubbub, even in off hours. In contrast, Narita was silent. My wife assured me this was normal, and just a Japanese thing. I suspect it was a combination of careful design, in addition to something cultural, since once we went into a shop or restaurant, things picked up, despite not being audible from the hallways.
Ravenous from our untimely encounter with the mayo pasta, we quickly selected a food court. It was here that I first experienced my new love, Japanese curry. But, curry is an Indian thing, you say? Go eat Japanese curry. Right now, I’ll wait.
…okay, you’re back? Incredible, wasn’t it?
At this point we both needed a pick-me-up, so we got coffee. I had almost as much coffee on this trip as beer, and I could write another article just on Coffee & Curry… but suffice it to say, every single coffee I had was awesome. If you go to Japan and Thailand, don’t hesitate to dive into it.
Our next flight came too soon! On to Thailand!
Flight to Bangkok
In my travel inexperience, I figured the trip from Tokyo to Bangkok would only be a few hours. Oh no, definitely not. It was about 7 hours, definitely longer than DC to LA. Back to the games!
Hungry for a meaty RPG, I booted up Chrono Trigger. I’d missed this game in the 90s, and I regret it. I dove right in and instantly fell in love. The story, the battle system, the graphics… and the MUSIC, my god the music. Even though I only had crappy headphones with me, the score was still transcendental. I enjoyed it so much, I’m going to restart on the Super Nintendo shortly so I can experience it in its original form!
I also dove into Retro Game Challenge. If you know me, you know I love retro games, and this inventive take on a collection was immersive and challenging. I loved playing these games in odd ways to complete the objectives. It reminded me a bit of NES Remix on the 3DS, but more accessible.
A few hours and a few more Sapporos passed, and I got the urge to read. Before we left, I purchased a few new books for my Kindle. The first was the excellent Service Games: The Rise and Fall of SEGA by Sam Pettus. Pettus delves into SEGA’s history from the first day to the final fall with incredible granularity.
Not so much a book about the games (though there was a lot of new information and detail on them), it focuses more on the people behind the company, development, and business moves. If you want to learn more than you ever thought you could about SEGA, check this out. I worked on this book on and off over the entire trip, finishing it up just as we were arriving home.
Once arriving in Thailand, I packed away the DS Lite for the most part. I continued to read the SEGA book, and also started Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan. It is also an very good read, but admittedly reading that and the SEGA book at the same time proved hard to parse, so I stuck to the SEGA book and a novel series I was working on during the rest of the trip.
That’s not to say there were no games happening. I made a deal with my wife about massages and game shops in Bangkok prior to our trip. More on that in a minute!
Throughout my time in Thailand, I enjoyed many fabulous meals and beers!
First up, Tiger beer. An American style lager, it’s light and very drinkable. Given the heat in Thailand, most of the beers I came across were very light. Their mildly sharp, quenching taste paired nicely with the sweet, savory, and spicy food I was having along with it.
Next, Chang beer. Another American lager, this was a great beer, and I had many over the course of the trip. It’s like a great Budweiser… which might sound odd, but picture a beer the style of Budweiser, but a micro that actually is, well, good. It’s light, a touch sweet, and once again, very refreshing.
I appreciated that all these beers were served ice cold. On my trips to England, I was continually confronted with room-temperature beer, which I understand, but dislike. I was concerned that Thailand might be the same. Not so!
My last Thai beer of note is Singha, the most popular beer there, and for good reason! It’s a Euro Pale Lager, and was my favorite by a pretty wide margin. I do love lighter beers, and this was one of the best I’ve ever had. It went with everything I had it with, from curry to pad thai, from soup to snacks. It has a slight tilt of flowers to it, and is so crisp in the best way. I also found the amount of carbonation in this beer to be spot on, whereas other beers like Tiger came across as a bit too bubbly for my taste.
One evening we dallied with our friend Kate, an expat who’s lived in Asia for several years. She took us around town to some amazing spots, including a rooftop bar for drinks, and a little out of the way restaurant in her neighborhood that featured Thai pub food, which was a treat!
Speaking of treats, she also made me try “mango sticky rice”, which I had no idea was a thing. It was amazing. You’d think, rice for dessert? No, no… but man, does it work.
The Nerd Mall
So, back to that deal with my wife. I had done a quick google and reddit check, and found a game shop that was a mere two blocks from our hotel. Little did I know that it was a very, very tiny shop in a 5 story complex that we immediately dubbed, “The Nerd Mall.” Comic shops, toy shops, knockoff LEGO shops, figurine shops, paintball gun shops, and YES, game shops (and a very inexpensive massage shop to make good on the deal I made with my wife). I was especially interested in seeing what retro items they had at the Love Game Shop, where I had been directed by my research.
I was not disappointed in the selection, but… the guy knew what he had, and it was nice, nice stuff. Boxed new Famicom systems, sealed copies of Rondo of Blood for PC Engine CD and Nocturne in the Moonlight for Playstation, high end PCE Hu-cards, Neo Geo AES… you get the idea. Evidently, the proprietor bought out a warehouse at some point and struck gold, and has been trickling stock out of that. I did not purchase anything there, but it was very, VERY cool to see it.
Slightly disheartened, we wandered around, and thankfully, I did find another shop called “Games” that had an amazing retro selection (well, honestly, my eagle-eyed wife spotted the N64 logo while I was picking out Pokémon figures for the kiddo). I spent about 30 minutes on two different days perusing their Famicom, Super Famicom, N64, and PSX selections.
It was odd, pricing was inconsistent, and I did have to remind myself that these were also imports for Thailand, just a little more nearby. The owner was very friendly and appreciative (and open to haggling), and I ended up purchasing a stack of Famicom games, including a few Japan-exclusive releases. I walked away with Goonies, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. USA (2 for us), Super Mario Bros. 3, Twinbee, and Castlevania III. I also snagged some goodies for Chip, Rockman 5 (for 7.00 US!), and a Super Mario Bros. I was especially excited about Castlevania III, as the Famicom version has the Japan-only VR6 mapper chip, which adds several sound channels to the game, greatly improving the music. Also, Grant throws daggers in this version, making him a lot more useful!
I also picked up an interesting block Mario kit that I’m still trying to assemble. The man-down of this excursion was a mint, used, red Sharp Twin Famicom… for $40 US. There was just no way we could get that in our suitcase, but it physically hurt me to leave it behind!
Pro Tip: If you ever find yourself in Bangkok, with your SO, who is supportive of your hobby, but not at all into it, and happen upon the Nerd Mall, there’s a massage shop on the top floor that offers 60 minute foot massages for $3 US. Drop your love off there, (or join in!) and go exploring! [Note: You can find it by googling the Love Game Shop, that place isn’t going anywhere!]
After taking a rad purple train adventure to the airport, we set off for Phuket, where we were staying at a resort.
I had many more beers there, and it was a wonderful time. I also departed from my beering to have an afternoon of Mai Thai cocktails, because, well, Thailand! It’s the drink I’ll be featuring in the next Carts & Cocktails article for Digital Draughts!
Phuket was beautiful, and aside from beaching, we also visited a cultural and nature center, where we learned about traditional Thai cooking, their main exports, and we got to take an elephant ride. Overall an amazing time!
The Long Journey Home
I’ll be lying if I said that the trip home wasn’t sad. Thailand is an incredible country to visit. Our trip back took 31 hours total over 3 flights, which was brutal. All of our flights were full, sometimes that’s just how it goes. I played more Dawn of Sorrow and Chrono Trigger, and finished a couple of books, including the SEGA history.
The highlight of our return jaunt was definitely hanging out in a 24-hour diner in Narita from 11:45 AM to 6:45 AM on our layover, having snacks and desserts and coffee all night, just talking about the trip and looking at all our pictures and spoils.
This vacation was a formative experience for me, both in expanding my travel horizons, and rekindling my interest in the original Nintendo DS library. Diving into SEGA’s history highlighted my interest in all things gaming, not just playing. These experiences are a part of me now, and I’ll forever remember this journey!