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Passing through... We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves--Pico Iyer---Passing through from Europe to Africa to Asia to Oceania etc.& back again! 9 mos. of dreaming and exploring!

Bangkok

THAILAND | Saturday, 20 April 2013 | Views [536]

Bangkok you have surprised me!! I knew you were a major southeast asian hub but I did not fathom just how done up you are! If New York and Vegas had a baby (with some Thai flare) you would be it. All the shopping, eating, partying, more eating, more shopping, and city views you could ask for! Definitely a backpackers haven but also a city lovers dream. Glad we met!  I really like the BTS skytrain—you could just sit on that thing for hours and watch the city go by.

Our entire time in Asia we have encountered only amazing hospitality from old and and new friends alike! Bangkok was no exception to this rule. Our friend Padmini from Kuala Lumpur insisted we stay with her dad while we were in Bangkok. He was quite the character! But one that we embraced happily! He showed us some great eating spots and shared some great stories over a few glasses of aged Scotch :P As I always say,  having a friend in a new place can make that new place that much better! In addition to ‘Uncle Naga’ as we liked to call him, I was also excited to meet up with my old friend Deserea that I knew from Poland (long story). She happened to be living in Bangkok as her fiancé plays on the Asia tour in golf. We were very excited to meet up and see their new city too!

We arrived on Saturday afternoon and the day just flew by. Ofcourse, everything takes longer than expected and we arrived at Naga’s apartment late. He lives in the center of Bangkok, right on the main road, the location could not have been more perfect, with breathtaking views from the 10th floor! Luckily, Des and David were running late too so our tardiness didn’t affect anyone. They joined us downtown and we went to one of the biggest malls in Bangkok [called Terminal 21] because they wanted to show us around a bit--- not to go shopping but to EAT! The food court at Terminal 21 is heaven! It is not what you think--- it is all Asian food up there for pennies!!! You have your Tom Yum soup next to your chicken fried rice next to your sushi next to something else!! It’s like a street food parade in a nice mall but the same prices as street food! A plate of food will set you back $1.10! We were happy little mall rats at that place!

After that amazing late lunch, we all wanted to rest before going out for the night (we obviously wanted to check out Bangkok night life- Bangkok or bust right?). We had some quality time with ‘Uncle Naga’ and heard all of his mountain climbing stories. We then (not yet hungry) ventured out for dinner, Naga style---street food extraordinary! We went across the street from his condo to a popular Northeastern Thai joint, with very few empty seats ;) As is our usual mode of action, we allowed him to order everything and we just sat back and smiled! In addition, he decided to add to the meal by bringing his Dewars 18 year old Single Malt Whiskey to dinner! What a combo! The food, the spirit, the plastic chairs, the atmosphere, all in the glittery backdrop of central Bangkok! Another one of those memorable food moments (I anticipate Bangkok having a few of these, as does Thailand in general!!). After dinner, Des and David joined us at Nagas for more Dewars and the night began. They took us to a very popular street of clubs/bars that was yet another reminder of Vegas—funny enough the place we were at actually looked like Body English and Des and I joked that it was one of the last times we hung out –at Body English in Vegas! Funny comparison! A popular thing to do in Bangkok is to grab a drink at

‘drink stalls’ just scattered along the road--- street bars just like street kitchens!! Great idea again! The drinks are cheaper than the clubs/pubs (obviously) and you can bring it into the club from the outside as well as walk with it on the street! Another Vegas memory. Anyways, we had a fun, albeit warm, night out in Bangkok and it was a blast! We didn’t have the energy to make it too long of a night but we got the gist! Either way, we knew we were in Bangkok when we would walk by what seemed like very HOT girls, only to walk by and hear their very masculine voices……ahahahah hello ladyboys!

 

The next day in Bangkok was yet another busy day (all of our days in Bangkok were hectic, crazy and fun!). It was a Sunday and we wanted to sightsee. The Golden Palace was on our itinerary! We took the BTS skytrain to the river, then took a boat taxi to the Golden Palace complex. It was incredibly hot by midday and we were wondering how this was going to happen. I think I was sweating the entire day non-stop---so hot & so humid!!! Des & David were running a bit late so they told us just to go in and start the tour and they would catch up. The golden palace was impressive!! The designs, the architecture, the GOLD everywhere! I haven’t seen that kind of architecture before and I have never seen structures that were so shiny in the gleaming sun! An amazing sight! It was RIDICULOUSLY hot and we had to take frequent breaks. However, it was beyond worth it! The sights were incredible! A must do in Bangkok. We were in the area so we decided to check out another temple complex near the Palace—Wat Po. This is where one of the largest reclining Buddha statues is located and there is also a Massage school and meditation centre here, among more beautiful, shiny, intricate architecture. The Reclining Buddha is incredible- 47m long it is just too massive to describe. Every piece of it so well planned and laid out, we just stared at it at length! Then the complex of Wat Po itself is full of more gorgeous buildings, Buddha statues and gold gold gold. We got lucky and observed a group of monks praying in one of the temples- we just sat there and took it all in---beautiful!!! And so surreal as they sat there in their orange robes meditating!

Since we were having such a productive day we decided to keep going and finish our day with a view of the  sunset at the Wat Arun temple. We weaved through some side streets looking for a restaurant that overlooked the complex. Eventually, down a small alleyway we found a fantastic restaurant that had a perfect view of the temple! We enjoyed some awesome food and with drinks in hand watched the sun set over Bangkok. The day could not have been more perfect –discovering Bangkok with great company and interesting random finds along the way! With some great food and much needed catch up chats along the way, we were ready to call it a day. We shared a rickshaw ride back to the BTS and headed home! It was quite impressive that the 4 of us fit into the rickshaw at all! Considering Tom and David are not small guys!

Monday in Bangkok was a day of absolute, successful CHAOS. This was the moment of truth--- how to get a visa for Myanmar?? Without too much explanation, let me just explain to you that getting a visa for Burma/Myanmar is not easy. There claims to be an online service, but the service is often down or having ‘technical fixes’, and costs much more. There is a claim that you can get it on arrival-however, we learned that is only at Yangon airport (which we were not going to) and only for certain nationalities (not for Canadians unfortunately---not sure if this changed recently?!?!). So, the next best thing (considering where we were in the world) was to go directly to the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok and process the visa there. Even that was not a sure thing, as we kept reading about the embassy being closed for random holidays and then we weren’t sure how long it took to process the visa. So our goal was just to go to the embassy that Monday (we were in Bangkok) and see where it goes from there. If we could get the visa within a few days, great, if not we just stay in Thailand longer and forget about going to Burma. The ‘embassy day’ as I like to call it, began at 645 am.  Barely awake, we hopped in a cab at 720, hoping to get to the embassy by around 730am even though it doesn’t open until 9am (we read that we needed to go early because the line ups get LONG---and the embassy had just been closed for a full week before that due to a Myanmar holiday—how does an embassy close for an entire week?!?!?!). Unfortunately, we didn’t actually make it to the embassy until after 8am—our cabby seemed to understand (and repeated) that we were going to the Myanmar embassy, but somehow managed to drop us off at the German embassy (?!) and drove off before we oriented ourselves. So then we had to catch another cab to actually take us to the right embassy. This delayed our trip slightly! We arrived at the Myanmar embassy to see a line of well over 100 people that wrapped around the embassy!!! *(#&%#(*ROIH#J(8YJE{(*{!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We found our place at the end of the line and Tom told me he would go find more information (ask people) about the application form, processing times etc. while I keep our spot in line. He returned a good 20 mins later with some fish and pork balls and a rice stir fry that he bought off a street vendor somewhere. He failed to get any information about the application, but instead decided we needed breakfast first! Go figure ! We were no steps further to figuring out what was going on, except I was less grumpy with an ice coffee in hand! We eventually found out how to get the application forms while waiting in line (so things took less time while you were inside the embassy) and also learned there were different processing times for visas. Apparently you could get a visa as quickly as the same day (in the afternoon) or the regular wait time was 2 working days. Much better than we had anticipated! However, in order to get the same day visa you had to show a flight itinerary for the next day. We decided (last minute and after scoping out a part of the line where you could scam free wifi from the adjoining building) to buy the ticket for the next day while in line, hoping this would be enough. After a few stresses—Air Asia glitches, checking price differences, moving in line and losing wifi—we were able to book a ticket on one of Tom’s credit cards, but the transaction kept saying it was on hold and pending (?!?!?!?—this has happened to us on Air Asia bookings before). So now we are standing there in line, about 15 people to go before we get in the embassy, after standing in line well over an hour, and we aren’t sure if we have a booked ticket or not?!?! In true Tom fashion, he leaves the line again and tells me he will be right back. I joke with the Danish couple behind me that I would punch him if he returned with lunch!!!

Not knowing what was going on, Tom conveniently returned as I was stepping foot inside the embassy, with a confirmed, printed, next day itinerary in his hand!!!! Not with lunch! I could just kiss him right there!!! With all of our ducks in order we applied for the same day visa, which cost us about $30 each. We were to pick it up at 330pm same day, so we had about 4 hours to kill. We decided not to go back to the condo but instead explore the city and eat lunch. We went to the Siam BTS stop (central Bangkok) and looked around. We wanted to check out the market in the area but it was pretty dead for a Monday, so instead we ate lunch and hung out at the Siam Paragon mall. There was another great food court there (albeit more expensive) so I had some great Tom Yum soup for lunch.

Then the day got even better. Tom made me so happy when he showed me his Adidas flip flops. One flip flop was almost completely torn on one side. I smiled. I had been asking him to get rid of those dirty, worn down Adidas flip flops for months but he just kept wearing them. They were just so gross but he was stubborn and wouldn’t get new ones--- typical stubborn guy!! Now, in front of me, was a broken pair of shoes, forcing Thomas to buy a new pair of sandals!!! How happy I was! :P

Off we went to Siam Paragon mall on a mini shoe shopping spree, in Bangkok, Thailand, looking for new sandals for Thomas who has a foot about twice the size of any Thai male!!! So here the challenge begins! Eventually, after plenty of too-small try ons and plenty of not-so-nice fitting shoes, we found a great pair of comfy Birkenstocks. They cost a hefty penny (definitely not Bangkok market prices) but they were stylish, comfortable and fit well. Alleluja!! The Adidas sandals are history--- although not entirely because Tom insisted he keep them still so he can wear them sometimes, in order not to ruin the new ones (ofcourse Thomas, go figure!)…..

The other important thing we needed to do was a money exchange. When it comes to Myanmar, this can get fun. Myanmar currency is called the kyat. The kyat can only be exchanged in Myanmar and the country only has a few ATMs at Yangon airport (no other ATMs in the whole country!). To exchange to kyat, they want crisp, new American dollars—no bends, no folds, no faded notes! Ridiculous!!! So we had to find a bank in Bangkok that met those criteria so we could get the US bills.

 

SIDE NOTE: I find this whole US dollars thing hilarious. Most of us know that the US dollar is no longer a strong world currency. The Euro, the pound, the Australian dollar, sometimes even the Canadian dollar is stronger than the US dollar as economies fluctuate. Yet, I gotta give it to the US, the currency is still an important stability factor for many countries---we see it with Myanmar now, we saw it with Tanzania in November, and I hear it or have read about it with other countries as well (Rwanda, Uganda, Vietnam, Cambodia….) No matter how crappy the US dollar can be on the global market, there are still quite a few countries that swear buy it—they will take it as their own currency and they think it is the strongest and best in the world! It’s amazing! And impressive….the mindset they have about the US and how important the money still is to them---I realize the history behind it but I am genuinely surprised that they still hold so strongly to it!

Anyways, we read up on some forums about this money exchange business and went searching after we obtained the visas (there was yet another line up to obtain the visas but at least much shorter!). We tried a few recommended places downtown but by the time we were there it was after 430 and some of the banks were closing!! On our 3rd try we luckily found a bank that could help us. The major banks in Bangkok are familiar and well versed in this Burma business, so you just tell them what you need it for and they know what kind of bills to give you. We got our money, and then the focus is making sure you don’t bend or damage them!!! Have you ever tried to keep your bills in pristine condition?? Well, try it for a few days, see how that goes!!!!! :P

We got our visas, our plane ticket, our money exchange (US dollars) and new shoes for Tom. An amazingly productive day if you ask me!!! We ended the day off on a calmer note, going out to eat with Uncle Naga to yet another fav restaurant of his !! mmmmm good!!! We walked through some markets on Sukhumvit Road after dinner but crashed pretty early….

Off to Burma in the AM……!! A different world….

 

SIDE NOTE: The official name is Myanmar, officially changed by the government years ago to get rid of the name ‘Burma’- a name coined by the British (wrongly coined--- its supposed to be Baram?!) during their occupation of the country in the 1800s. Changing the name officially was the government’s way of creating a new independent identity for the country. As for what the locals think about this—I am not entirely sure, but I am assuming neither name particularly appeals to them as the name Myanmar denotes the current oppressive regime, and the old name is a reminder of previous occupations…..more on this stuff with the Burma/Myanmar post…

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