Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bangkok, and the Burmese Embassy

Showers, lunch at You & Mee in the Grand Hyatt

Then we walk down to Lumphini Park. Interestingly at 6pm the national anthem is suddenly played from speakers everywhere and everyone stops. Bizarre to watch all the joggers freeze. One Thai girl doesn’t, but attracts filthy looks from everyone else.

We cross over to Lumphini Night Market to meet Supi and Krit for beers and food. It’s hot, we sit out in the large food-court area.

Pottering about
Up early, just the way Yumi likes it (groan!), and down for a swim in the very cool pool (sun’s not out yet). I have to say in general the Holiday Inn Bangkok (i.e. the one near Chit Lom not the Silom one) is one of the most friendly places I’ve ever stayed at, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone. In fact I’m considering breaking my Tripadvisor lurker status (I use but don’t contribute, which is rather bad form) to commend the place. Every single member of staff is all smiles, and bend over backwards to help you in any way. It’s a breath of fresh air when arriving from anywhere else. Shame it’s not the cheapest place, so on my own I’ll be switching back to the fun Dynasty Inn.

Next Paper Scissors Stone decides we go to Yumi’s choice for breakfast, McDonalds (McDonardurrr in Korean-speak). Second time I’ve been on my RTW trip.

Ah well, I find out they have free wifi, so I think I’ll be back. At the HI it’s 300 baht for 1 hr internet or 600 for 24hrs! Let me debate which of those to go for! After finishing breakfast, we head along to Siam Square into one of the large shopping complexes so I can get passport photos and the Burma Lonely Planet book. Next back to Chit Lom, and we walk across the road to the Grand Hyatt where Supi and Krit have been working out (some sort of freebie) for lunch, though given that we have just eaten, it turns into just drinks at the tiny CafĂ© Malongo in the basement.

Burmese planning

The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo and the Kao San Road
We just in a taxi to the Grand Palace. He takes a highly-suspicious circuitous route but it’s still so cheap that I can’t bring myself to argue. Taxis in Bangkok are dirt cheap – perhaps 2p a minute or so – one can be driven around the city for an hour and it would cost a couple of pounds. We get out into the heat outside the gate, and someone immediately points out Yumi’s shorts and top with string shoulder straps. Not appropriate. It’s okay though, they lend you clothes inside.

Yumi goes Thai

The Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo are fantastic. They are in my “Places to see before you die” book sitting at home. Last time I was here the roads in the area were shut down and the King whizzed through. No king this time, but the temples are wonderful, both in outline and close up. Various shots without silly comments:

It is roasting hot though and we’re happy to make it out and 20 minutes walk away to the Khao San Road, where lovely highly-chilled 7-11s and Starbucks await us. Khao San Road is the backpacker street - when I first came to Bangkok with Quy all those years ago we stayed here in a room for about a dollar or perhaps two for the night. Granted our room bore more than a passing resemblance to a prison cell, but there you go - we were impoverished students of course.

The infamous..

What’s that you say, Starbucks on the Khao San Road? Will have hippies turning in the graves! Don’t worry, still lots of room for bars, massage parlours and tattoo shops!

Strong ac, gimme gimme

Pad Thai


Boat on the river

What the hell..? Sculpture in the garden of the Art Museum

Rains sweep in, preceded by strong winds as is the way in Bangkok. We walk down to the riverside, looking out over the muddy water slowly winding its way through central Bangkok. We discover a nice bar tucked away looking out over the water, stop for a quick drink then head to the next of the frequent piers on both sides of the river. There’s a stepped boat service, with express boats stopping only at main stations, down to the local boats trundling along and stopping every through yards. There are also lots of boats which cross back and forth at certain points.

We want a yellow boat, and one turns up. Could be going in either direction though (the sign on the roof implies it’s going the right way). Just to make sure I ask the ticket girl as we prepare to hop on whether this is the boat for Central Pier. She nods and says hop on. The boat pulls away from the pier, as another orange boat comes in going the other way. The same girl I just spoke to says to me that the boat we’re on is not in fact the boat we want, the other one which is now pulling in is, but don’t worry, there’s another one in 20 minutes and we can get off at the next stop! WHAT?!! Why the h*ll did you just tell us to get on then???

So a wet wait at the next stop, the pier surrounded by thousands of large dark fish with whiskers (cat fish?) looking for food. I presume they must be fed here.

The last boat comes along shortly and we’re on, grabbing the wet empty seats near the front that have a better view out from under the plastic windows which have been pulled down in the rain.

It’s a nice way to see Bangkok, from the river. Previously I’ve eaten with Supi on one of the many restaurant boats that ply the water in the evenings. Most of the famous hotels are large towers sitting by the water, including the Peninsular.

Off at Central Pier where we connect with the Skytrain, something almost surprising given that in general transport doesn’t link up much here – I suspect it was accidental!

Been raining

In the rain, the taxis come out en masse

Back to the hotel, and straight into the Charm Thai restaurant, which has very tasty and some quite unusual dishes.

We have large betel leaves that we wrap up into a parcel and fill with nuts, little dried shrimps and other bits and bobs before pouring tamarind sauce, closing the parcel and munching.

Airport Taxi Fun
To the airport! I thought we’d be alright with the taxi that the front desk at HI call, as they speak to the driver, and give you a little card to keep with the registration number of the cab (so you can complain about them later – there are obviously plenty of problems!). We’re in, the chap seems friendly, and he drives off. I notice the meter isn’t on. Meter? No, he wants to charge us 500 baht. No meter. He doesn’t switch it on. I have to threaten to get out of the cab before he switches it on, though unlike the woman the day before he doesn’t go crazy on us and start making us pay the toll road fees. Ends up costing about 300 baht.

I think the reason most of them do this is, well firstly because they can get away with it, but also the way taxis are organised at the airport looks terrible. I think they have to wait a long time in the queue to pick up a return passenger. Ironically, so do the passengers! The bottleneck is the layout and logistics of the taxi service, where one queues for a ticket which is given to the cab driver. You still pay the cabbie at the end of the journey, so what’s the purpose? Anyway, large signs explain that the cost should be meter plus 50 baht surcharge for no reason except this is an airport and they can screw you, plus all the toll roads. Anyway, Yumi flies off, and then I have the same battle on the way back! Incredible!

Suvarnabhumi airport has been plagued by problems since opening. They’re sorting it out, but there are lots of signs still there. One example is passport control layout. Based on which destination gate you are heading for, you are supposed to go through East or West passport control, which are at either end of the terminal building. But there’s no sign indicating which is which! It’s clearly something that has been introduced because people are going through then finding they’ve got 20 minutes to get to the other end!

The real need now is for the Skytrain extension to be finished. Please! It will be wonderful going to the airport without a fight with bloomin’ cabbies. The concrete raised tracks seem to be mostly built, though I notice that the tracks do meet the motorway and just stop. It looks to the untrained eye like the people building the tracks didn’t notice that they were heading straight for a large road at the same raised level. Oops. Would be in keeping with the way the rest of the airport is!

Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok
It’s Myanmar, or Burma Embassy day!

Up early, taxi there, round to the side door that handles visas, only to face this sign!

The horror

I glumly stare, and consider my options now, until another Western couple walks past me, and pushes the door open. Eh? Then the penny drops. It’s not the 19th! Hurrah! Inside I find I need passport copy, which I have to head off down the road to get. Back again, and I join the seated queue for the tourist visa window. Perhaps 15 people before me. It’s slightly funny in that every time the next person goes up, each person shuffles along to the next seat. Non-musical chairs. I chat to a couple of American girls in front of me who are going the day before me. I thought I was cutting it fine with a flight on Thursday, i.e. 3 full days before the flight to get visa sorted out. They only have today and tomorrow. All seems okay though. Perhaps I’ll see them over there!

So I get up to the window, and my bits are collected without question. Two forms, big and small, one of which I think I will be taking with me to Burma with the appropriate stamp. Passport photos on both, and I, of course, signed to say that I would not interfere in the domestic affairs of the country. That’s the bit they use to boot you out if you, for example, visit Aung San Suu Kyi’s house where she has been detained for the past twenty years or so, punishment for winning an election that she was never supposed to. Anyway, I am to return Wednesday, the day before my flight and the day the embassy is closed. Phew!

In case you’re thinking of applying, here’s what you need:
1. Two application forms, big and small, that you can pick up from the embassy or presumably download and print out.
2. Two passport photos, stuck on to the relevant places on the forms (pots of glue in the embassy!)
3. 810 baht
4. Photocopy of your passport – the main page obviously
5. An address of somewhere in Myanmar. Presumably your first hotel.
6. Your actual passport for the period of application. I’ve been told it’s a full-page visa (groan).

NB one field I fretted about was the "referee or guarantor in Myanmar". The answer is that this is obviously a legacy field, or perhaps for business visas. For tourist applications, leave blank. I was also armed with an itinerary, scribbled out on paper, along with my flight details. I was asked for neither. Come to think of it, I wasn’t even asked about my dates of travel.

Standard turnaround for the visa is 48 hours, though in reality this means two working days. I.e. you submit Monday, you pick up Wednesday. They have express services, making 24 hour or same-day turnaround for an additional 225 or 4-500? Baht respectively, on top of the 810 baht base price.

Nothing smelly on the train please

Noticed in the afternoon that Thais love wearing yellow. About half of Bangkok wears a yellow t-shirt at work. Why? Will check with Supi later.

Update: it’s something to do with the King and Mondays?!

Even Supi’s a member of the yellow t-shirt gang!

Tasty Thai food for dinner

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I miss the photo comments;
"a tree" "the temple" "a door"