CURRENT LOCATION: Sukhothai, Thailand
We arrived in the smaller, older airport in Bangkok, Don Muang at around 4pm and decided to try our hand out at some of the alleged trustworthy public transport that Bangkok has to offer. On our first visit to Bangkok, we were very green South East Asian travellers and were a bit gun shy when it came to this sort of thing. As it turned out, the BTS monorail, or Skytrain as they call it, was clean, comfortable, cheap and like travelling at light speed compared to trying to navigate the street traffic of Bangkok. All of the stations have their names written in Thai and English so it was easy enough to figure out how to get where we needed to go. Our hotel was only a few minutes walk away from the downtown Asok BTS station. This was no mistake - we learnt from our last experience in the public transport deadzone.
Our hotel, Grottino Residence was situated behind a Swiss restaurant with the same name, down a side road in the bustling shopping district of Sukhumvit. The room was spacious, stylish, and had wicked air conditioning, which was a definite bonus given the offensively sweaty climate of Thailand in June. We ventured across the road to a big old mall called Terminal 21, which housed a huge number of eateries and restaurants, in search of some Thai food. Success, a green chicken curry, chicken with cashew nuts and some very sought after stir fried vegetables saw us leaving with full, content bellies. On the way home we stopped at an ATM where I suffered a currency conversion brain fart of epic proportions and withdrew way too many Thai baht... Around $1000 NZ worth... Whoops. With our pockets dragging on the ground we walked back to our new, temporary home to call it a day.
The next morning we found ourselves exhausted from the previous day of travel and decided to take advantage of our nice room and get some admin tasks completed and watch some coverage of the French open. We did venture out at meal times - breakfast saw us eating a huge plate of waffles, strawberries and whipped cream, and lunch consisted of a burger and Caesar Salad. That night we continued the with the very slugtastic vibe and went to see Pitch Perfect 2 at the cinemas. A very entertaining film, I might add.
Day 2 in Bangkok was a much more hit-the-ground-running sort of day. We woke up super early to make our way to the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar. Our research suggested that applying for a visa in person was not only cheaper, it was more versatile and reliable when it comes to entering the country. We used our new found confidence to use the local public transport to make our way across town to find the Embassy. This was all a breeze using some tips we found on the Internet. We holed up in a copy centre next door to the embassy and filled out the visa application forms, while a helpful lady took care of the photocopying of our passports. In fact, we were so efficient we finished all this with 15 minutes to spare until the embassy officials opened for dropping off of said applications. We strolled in the doors to find that we were very much not alone. The waiting room was already full. There were people sitting on the floor as all the seats were already taken. Damn. We were given a number C019. Okay, so were #19, that's not too bad, right? I mean how long can it take for people to drop off their application form? The embassy was scheduled to open at 9am and sure enough at 9:02am the curtain behind counter number 1 (1 of 3 possible counters) was pulled back and they were open for business! The big display board that housed the number being served buzzed to life and the we were off. "A001" the computerised female voice exclaimed. Wait. What? What does A...001 mean? Surely the letter doesn't mean anything right. Wrong. So wrong. All of the local Thai applicants were given numbers that had an A... Where all the tourists allocated with C... And there was only one counter in operation. At 9.15am counter number 3 springs into life, so the display board now read A008 and E001. Okay... What is this E crap? Who the hell are these E people anyway? Didn't really ever figure that one out, perhaps business visas? Who knows. Finally at 9.21am counter 2 opens and the white people in the room all sit forward in their seats (we couldn't do this as we were on the floor). C001! Yusssss! We are good to go, now we just need to wait til C019. We can do this. At 9.45am, team C was well in last place only up to C007. Very big sad face. But at least we knew we would accomplish what we had set out this morning to do. We would be one step closer to visiting Myanmar! As we were sitting there feeling a bit sorry for ourselves, and hungry, a Thai man walks up to us and holds out his hand. With a big smile on his face he gestures towards us, he was giving us his ticket. C012. Oh man! Thank you so much! We immediately paid it forward by giving up our now obsolete number 19 to a European couple laboured with C039. Needless to say, they were pretty thrilled. At 10.10am our number was called, we paid our money, handed in our passports and completed applications, and received our receipts. We were to return to the embassy the following afternoon to pick them up! Victory!
We celebrated by making our way to the riverfront to visit the famous Temple of the Dawn, or as it's locally known as Wat Arun. We had missed this attraction when we first came to Bangkok, but had heard glowing reviews from other travellers we met along the way who singled it out as a favourite spot. At the riverfront we stopped to fuel up on some delicious Bangkok street food and fresh fruit before ferrying across the river to Temple. Our delicious brunch was somewhat spoiled by the sight of the Wat Arun on the opposite bank. It was completely covered in scaffolding. Grrrrrr. We had the same experience in Rome with the Trevi Fountain, and Sam has been to Paris twice, and on both occasions she has found Notre Dame in the same state. Perhaps we are (she is) cursed? We decided that we would head over anyway to check it out. This was the right decision as the base of the temple was uncovered, so would still appreciate the intricate ceramic work that ordained the large, iconic stupa that flanks Bangkok's skyline. It would have been cooler to see it without the scaffolding, but worth the $5NZ entry fee for sure!
That night we went another public transport adventure in search of an esteemed BBQ restaurant, The Smoking Pug. We had a completely awesome experience here. They sold craft beers - I had a Tricerahops IPA from OR, USA and it was the best beer I have had since leaving NZ, and perhaps the coolest brand name for beer out there. Not to mention the BBQ ribs and sliders we had, which were mouthwateringly scrumptious!
The next day were kinda slaves to the allocated pick up time of 3.30-4.30pm in which we were required to return to the Embassy of Myanmar to collect our passports with visas. This was an ideal opportunity for us to make our way to the Purr Cat cafe. We had learned of this cafe in an episode of The Amazing Race, and were not lying when we say, one of the main reasons for coming back to Bangkok was to go there... Is that sad? I don't think so!!! Bring it on! We arrived at the cafe, ordered our food, removed our shoes, brushed up on the cafe rules and proceeded to spend the next 2 hours surrounded by 20+ cats! It was awesome. They even had a few Maine Coons, which for those of you who aren't crazy cat people, these cats are the biggest domestic breed and weigh close to 10Kg! They are spectacular! The cats largely ignored us, but occasionally their curiosity would get the better of them and they would be subjected to some pats or play time or kitty selfies. We had a blast. The food and drinks were great, the cats were all clean, happy and well looked after, and the whole setup of the cafe was really fantastic! This was definitely a highlight.
From here we made our way back to the embassy. Let's be honest, these guys we teetering on edge of being in our bad books after our experience yesterday, but we had given them the benefit of the doubt, seeing as their system was generally good and we did in fact get sorted. Today was a new day, and we were pros. We knew the system. This would be quick. In and out. Give them the receipt, take our passports, boom. Right? WRONG!!!!
Again, we arrived about 15 minutes before we were supposed to be there, and as busy as it was yesterday morning, double it, and that's how busy they were today. The entire room was FILLED with people. People on the floor directly behind the counters. People crammed at the back end of the room. Probably close to 225 people in this one room. Luckily they had the aircon going, but the back half of the room was not receiving any of it. To make matters worse, there was no man giving out tickets. Their morning system and afternoon protocol were not synonymous! There wasn't even a semblance of a line. As we walked in an official Thai man looked at our receipt and told us to go sit on the floor. We followed his instructions. We spent the next 15 minutes theorising on the systematic ways in which it was all going to work when they opened. Would they call out the number on the receipts perhaps? Would they call names? Maybe the display board will have our receipt numbers? This was all in vain. Because as 3.30pm rolled round, opening time, we realised they weren't going to be getting this show on the road on time. Ok, no problem. They were only a couple minutes late yesterday, let's not worry. 3.45pm...nothing. 4.00pm nothing.... People were starting to get a bit antsy. A couple locals who looked like they worked for a travel agency started pacing near the front, trying to peer behind the shut counters and curtains. Finally at 4.15pm something we recognised. Counter 1 was open. This was both good and bad. Sure they were opening (45 minutes late!), but also at this point began the frantic, disorganised melee to assemble into 3 organised lines from the mess of people. Sam and I did not make it into the front of the line at counter 2. Being decent, considerate human beings found us in no line at all! Not that it mattered because the only line that was actually moving was counter 1, for the local tourist visas only. Eventually counters 2 and 3 opened and up and the lines began to flow. Sam and I staged a bit of a protest by way of obvious grumbling and storming off outside the embassy. This, as you would expect, was not successful. We convinced ourselves that we needed to get in the line if we wanted our passports back, so we quietly did just that. After about 30 minutes in the line we finally made it to the front, picked up our completed visas (which actually look pretty cool) and got the hell out of there. We cheered ourselves up by stopping at a local food stall to grab some Thai deep fried chicken skewers. This helped, and we very rapidly saw the funny side to our experience. Isn't it amazing, the optimism generating properties of fried food?!
That night we decided to tick off another box in the Bangkok experience by visiting the party/ red light district of Soi Cowboy. We did some people watching, ate some average, over priced Thai food, drank some outrageously priced beers and may have struggled to identify the gender of a number of scantily clad individuals. Overall, an interesting and humorous evening!
Our last day in Bangkok we actually spent taking a day trip to Ayutthaya, a UNESCO world heritage site situated north of Bangkok. We chose to travel by train, which is a 2 hour journey from the centre of the city to the temple filled ex-capital of Siam. The train was hot, but after the first hour, when we had left the outer suburbs of Bangkok, it was a great way to see the countryside of Central Thailand. When we arrived at Ayutthaya, we hired a couple of bicycles and headed off on a tour of the various temples and ruins. We started off at the tourist information centre to get a decent map of the area and to check out the historical museum they had set up on their second floor. This was a great way to learn more about the history of the area and the significance of the of the various temples and site we were going to visit. Once we had our bearings and were armed with more knowledge than the zilch we arrived with, we set off to the first site. Immediately we saw the similarities to our experience at Angkor Wat. The temples and ruins were impressive, despite the many Buddha statues missing their heads, but it was much, much less busy than the temples of Angkor. In fact, for a portion of our time, we were the only tourists at particular sites. It was stiflingly hot, so we basically moved from shady spot to shady spot in an attempt to avoid melting. The ruins were pretty close together, so easy to get around and the bikes made it a lot more tolerable in the heat. We had a thoroughly enjoyable day, broken up by a stop at the local market to get some rice and noodles (surprise, surprise) for lunch, and got on a 4.30pm train back to Bangkok for our last night in the big city before heading to the north of Thailand.
We enjoyed our last night in our cushy guest house, and headed off midmorning the following day on a bus bound for Sukhothai!
Lots of love,
Z & S
(Original post date: 8th June 2015)