Hey everyone, how’s it going? It’s going real fine this end, as you might have noticed I’m in higher spirits of late. I’m currently in Laos, Luang Prabang, another former capital of Laos (pronounced Lowe - now louse like some stupid ignorant motherfuckers I’ve heard in this part of the world; easy assumption to make I guess, but for fuck’s sake read up…!)
Anyway, a quick rewind and reminder of where I’ve been so far. I left Kanchangaburi to get my arse to Bangkok in order to pick up my British passport and from when I handed in my application on the 16th of April I was told a new one would be provided by May 5th at the earliest (!!!). You can perhaps imagine Johnny’s reaction to that one. They very kindly put it on an urgent processing call. However, I again had to reiterate my urgency when I called the Embassy from Kanchangaburi so I was hopeful I’d get it by the end of the week of me being in Bangkok.
In the meantime I returned back to Bangkok, and as my accommodation was covered under travel insurance I checked into an up market traveler’s
guesthouse called Wendy House (yeh, I smiled too) and which was near to the Embassy. I had cable T.V., air-conditioning, free breakfast (with croissants ffs), free wireless internet and as it was very well located in the city I didn’t have to traipse around everywhere by bus/water taxi/skytrain/tuk-tuk like I did in Kao San Road area. I also felt strangely protected there whether I liked it or not, because the hotel informed its guests that it didn’t put up with any sex tourists or drunkards or despoilers of their country as they were a “conservative and traditional” Thai business. Moreover, if you didn’t like it you could piss off somewhere else where they put up with jerks like you. Charming.
So, I had a pretty good time in Bangkok. I managed to meet up with Kristen for a day’s outing at the massive 8,000 stall Chatuchak Market, which puts Camden Market to shame. As there wasn’t any maps or signage we could follow we were wandering around for hours despondent at all the hundreds of tourist, rip-off, clichéd t-shirt stalls. When we did get handed one we gravitated towards the fashion and gardening stalls. I got my mum a
pair of white ceramic plant holders, for her birthday. So I posted this home a couple of days later from Bangkok General Post Office, but oddly they didn’t have any bubble wrap. This despite the regulation that they package it for you and they are the biggest post office in Thailand. Anyway, I’m really chilled out these days, Jesus, I didn’t even tut, I just put it down to this being Thailand. It was bloody terrific!
Anyway, we ambled around this huge market, Kristen bought a t-shirt for her brother, a cool Thai inspired one, with the old Siam flag on the front -a red flag with an elephant, pretty cool flag, huh? I bought some fake Puma swim shorts that were super cheap (100 Bhat - 2 bob) but admittedly they are crappily made. Anyway, we knackered ourselves out, Bangkok is a real shoppers’ mecca it has to be said. I managed to do a few bits of shopping such as as get the water out of my mobile phone following Songkran and to buy some speakers for my *still* functioning (if temperamental) Microsoft Zune MP3 player.
Anyway, That night Kristen and I agreed on meeting up
at one of the most spectacular bars in the world, on top of the 64th floor of the State Tower, at a bar called Skytower. And what a view it was, an open-air bar, very upmarket with lots of bar staff in smart suits and equally upmarket cocktails and farang chatting about oil and other important stuff. Kristen was late so I just sipped on my “Skytower cocktail,” took pictures and admired the view - which really is one of the highlights of Bangkok. When Kristen eventually turned up, she was with her mates Dan and Yoko, from Switzerland and Japan respectively. And to make up for the lateness Kristen thougtfully bought me a cocktail, aww what a nice girl!
Pat Pong and Minor Observations
We soon got kicked out of that place so we got a taxi to Pang Pong, a notorious area of Bangkok full of go-go bars and falang boozing it up and taking them home. (Originally is was a real den of vice having been set aside for the American GIs during Recovery and Recuperation during the Vietnam War (American War as it’s known to the Vietnamese) but now it’s just full of heroin addict hookers
and dodgy falang men. Nevertheless we had a few drinks in a bar and I we had a really good chat about Thailand. Dan, has been living in Thailand for the past four years running an online graphic architecture company. Suffice to say he has some interesting things to say about the Thais and Thailand, and without pussy footing around either. My kind of guy!
Anyway, a few things of note, Kanchangaburi should be said exactly how it is written but the Thais are lazy and don’t bother with the ‘r’ and use an ‘l’ instead - Kanchangaboli. Also, in his experience designing houses in Thailand he builders simply obey orders and do what they are told, but because of this they lack such a thing as common sense. Example, putting electricity sockets willy-nilly regardless of height because they had seen approximate markings for it on a plan. Anyway, I’m kind of in awe of someone who can live out in Thailand all that time, I just don’t get the appeal, and even now as I write this in a humid night outside a café in Luang Prabang Laos, I kind of see the appeal of
autumn and winters now. I also miss proper pubs and narrow streets with small shops. Oh, snap out of it John!
The other thing we observed and agreed about Thailand was how characterless it was in a lot of places, and the comparison I made was with Middle America. My theory is that because it is such a new country, everything has been put together quickly and over a very short period of time. Everything in the street seems like it’s been made with concrete with no aesthetic appeal or architectural ideas whatsoever. The wide asphalt streets with KFCs and banks and mobile shops are simply soulless; modernity in a country can be really rather ugly. Anyway, thought I’d share that with you. We eventually left the bar at about 3am because Kristen had to get up at 6 am for her 8am flight to Hong Kong.
Passports and Coincidences
So, the passport. I phoned up the Embassy from my bed one morning and low and behold the thing is waiting for me to collect. I rush down to the Embassy and wait in a ticket numbered queue. Picked up my passport and who the hell goes in front
of me but Nathan, the crazy Sydney to London by motorbike chap who we’d met (well, I’d spoken to and sparked up a conversation) whilst in Krabi, southern Thailand. Coincidences eh? He was there getting letters from the Embassy to take to the Nepalese and Pakistani embassies. We agreed to meet later but it’s difficult to do that when a guy is resistant to telephoning mobile phones!
Floods and Visas
Anyway, next stop was the Immigration Bureau to get a new Thai visa. Of course on the journey there by Skytrain and Metro, the mother of all downpours occurs and I’m kind of marooned at a Metro station. Yeh, the roads were so full of water, they were like canals, it was pretty funny to see the traffic go across like boats and creating wakes. I tried walking a little bit to the bureau but there are no bloody decent drains in Bangkok! The city literally must turn into one big lake during the monsoon. So, I’m walking along the pavement but the roads are impassable so I jump in a taxi. We sail down through Bangkok and get stuck in a traffic jam. Where I watch with incredulity the
river scene in the middle of downtown Bangkok. I manage to get to the immigration bureau where I was quickly seen and filled out a number of forms. Then the lightning struck the building with a loud bag and all the electricity went out, including the computers. A couple of hours later and I finally get my visas for Thailand. But not without some complications such as:
Having to explain why I had overstayed my visa because I didn’t have a passport to leave the country with or to renew my visa with. Having to convince said evil woman in authority that I planned to leave the country once I had the visa, but she wanting to see a purchased ticket. Having to pay 4400 Bhat for a new visa and the fees for having overstayed. Having to get money out from an ATM, that because of the water everywhere was giving me electrical shocks every time I touched the buttons. Having to wade across the street in my flip flops to get new photos done and photocopies of my new visa application.
Other poor bastards
It was pretty stressful dealing with all of the above, but I guess it’s
just one of those things you have to go through in these kinds of places. I count myself relatively lucky too after hearing the story of one German guy there. He had lost his passport a year and a half ago, but somebody had handed it in a year later (I wonder if anyone will ever do that with mine?). After checking with the authorities in Germany and other countries, he was able to travel on his old passport. Arriving in Thailand, he is welcomed in, but the problems begin when he goes to get a visa extension (beyond the 30 day tourist visa one) at the Burmese border and they try to take his passport away because it is invalid. There goes a week and a half of (repeat) trips to the immigration bureau, the tourist police, the German Embassy and there he was in the bureau again, all day long getting shooed from one desk to another, having to explain himself 12 times and he showed remarkable restraint. This guy told me that according to his Embassy Thailand is the only country in the world that doesn’t acknowledge lost then found passports, once they are canceled that is
it. I was glad to be getting the hell out to be honest.
The only things I had to do before gong I also made a visit to the Grand Palace complex, basically the Vatican City of Thai Buddhism. Details:
The Grand Palace (Thai: Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang) is a complex of buildings in Bangkok, Thailand. It served as the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th century onwards. Construction of the Palace began in 1782, during the reign of King Rama I, when he moved the capital across the river from Thonburi to Bangkok. The Palace has been constantly expanded and many additional structures were added over time. The present King of Thailand, King Rama IX, however, resides at the Chitralada Palace.
Anyway, I went on a free English language tour which was informative, despite being distracted by the uniformed guide’s trouser flies that were low. The place has some very distinctive Buddhist architecture which makes for good photos. However, despite their age (1780s) the nature of Buddhist wats, it seems, is to constantly repaint and refurbish them and as a consequence lose all sense of age and vintage. Anyway, this was
probably going to be my last trip to Bangkok other than flying out directly onto somewhere else. Quick trip to the train station to buy my ticket to Laos. So next stop train journey through Thailand and onto the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos.
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