A day at the embassy

Day 54, Monday 27 Feb 2012, Bangkok

Grrrrr, lousy sleep again, so tired again today, I really wish I could just go to sleep any where and any time and sleep till I wake up or the morning – whatever is more important at the time. It is so frustrating.

Today was Myanmar visa day, so Mike and I set off soon after 8.30 to the Myanmar embassy, it is conveniently located close to the Surasak Skytrain station which is the station before Saphan Taksin, where we caught the boat yesterday, in fact the skytrain almost goes over the top of the embassy. (subtle hints for anyone thinking of a Myanmar visa)

In rush hour being a monk would be a good thing, as long as you were first on.

 The embassy opens at 9.00 and we arrived at 9.15, there was already a big queue waiting to get in.

The word on the street was to go up to a small shop just up the road to buy the visa form for a few cents so it can be filled in on the street while waiting. The shop will also photocopy the front page of your passport and take the required two passport photos (and sell you a pen) if you need all that stuff. It was a nice little business for them, and handy for tourists, so good for us travellers to support those who show initiative – and don’t try to rip us off…

It took about thirty minutes to get to the door of the visa section, luckily we were in the shade as it was hot already. Mike getting excited about getting into the air con !

Once inside we queued for another thirty minutes or so, just to get a number so we could sit and wait some more…. after almost another hour our number was called, we handed over the passport and the money and left, two hours after we arrived. Passport pick up was between 3.30 and 4.30. it was now 11.30 so Mike and I decided to catch the boat again and head up to the infamous Khao San Rd to check it out.  KSR is not infamous for its girly bars it is primarily famous as the backpacker hub of Bangkok, but for the beer guzzling, party all night type of backpacker, not the forty somethings interested in temples and stone heads type, hence we are not staying there.

This monk was obviously second on the train this morning!

KSR is a couple of streets away from the river and we stopped for lunch at one of the big backpacker cafes, I had a very nice chicken cashew and banana/coconut shake. We started to see the first signs of KSR habitués here, a few dreadlocked and tattooed teenagers drinking large bottles of cheap Anchor beer for lunch. It is definitely a more bogan area than the hostel we are staying at– and I imagine a hell of a lot noisier at night, though the day time liveliness is good. We only had an hour so it was a quick walk around.

Loved these phone boxes.

While waiting for the boat I had a wee walk around and found Phra Sumain Fort, built in the late 1700’s. As part of the defence of Bangkok –  a moat was built around the city, with fourteen forts at strategic points. Only two forts now remain – unfortunately you cannot go into them.

While reading some ones blog on applying for Myanmar visas this morning I found a reference to Bangkok’s ghost towers. Apparently there are (were) a number of unfinished and therefore deserted towers scattered around the city, they have collectively been called ghost towers and are popular with a certain type of photographer. We passed one today….

We got back to the Myanmar embassy just after 3.00 to join the (not so) happy throng waiting to collect their visas, it was stinking hot so we all gathered on the shady side of the road, away from the visa section door. At about twenty past a couple of people started to gather near the door and then there was a sudden rush to queue in the sun, luckily they opened the doors a few minutes early!

And here the story turns – well, not bad, more – frustrating.

After five minutes of queuing I got to the counter and handed over our ticket to collect our freshly visa stamped passports, and….. was advised that ours would be ready on Wednesday as we had paid for a three day turn around and not a one day…. F**K. There was not one single sign or notice of any kind inside the embassy advising on visa turnaround times or how much the visa cost, when I handed in the forms was I was told 1820 baht so that is what I handed over… Oh well, back to the hostel and hope we can get two more nights (we could). We had planned on another day in Bangkok as I want to do some shopping for travel things, insect repellent for instance and I also want to post some stuff back to New Zealand, all the clothes are clean mum – honest. Guess we get another day of sightseeing – yay more temples!

We headed back to the hostel and I managed to find a cardboard box at the local hardware store, I have tried a few places lately, so I can package up things to post – going to send the tri-pod back as it is getting heavy to lug around and I am not using it enough , along with some clothes and all the tickets and brochures and crap I have collected over the last few weeks (most of which I am sure I will toss when I finally get home !).

After a wee lie down we wandered up to the supermarket where I bought a bottle of whisky – no need to rush out of bed tomorrow and a packet of Pringles.  Though I did stop and get some satay chicken and salad for dinner on the way back to the hostel.

Another night in, blogging, emailing and drinking cheap scotch!

The music bit.

Loves Ugly Children were a Christchurch band from the late eighties to mid nineties, they released two or three great EP’s (I have two and may be missing one) and a couple of great albums and remain one of my favourite NZ bands.  Flying Nun records are apparently about to release a compilation CD, which I will look fwd to getting.  Their sound moved around a bit, but underneath the noisy/punky/thrashy sound was some great pop song writing. Simon McLaren has to be one of NZ’s best un-heralded musos, he was in The Subliminals as well, which I will do tomorrow I think. I will also confess to a wee crush on the bass player Fluff back in the day….

Sights, sites, pets and food

Day 53, Sunday 26 Feb 2012, Bangkok

Not my finest blog post, certainly not a post the day deserves, I really enjoyed the temple and the palace visits, but have run out of blogging steam tonight. Will let the pictures tell some of the story – so warning – lots of images in this post…

As I sat down to type this post and entered the date I realised that today is my second month anniversary of travelling – well done ME !  Five weeks ago I wasn’t sure I would make two months, but in a reasonable groove with it all now.

I had a good sleep last night for a change so up at a reasonable time, a quick breakfast and then out the door by eight for a day of playing tourist and visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, two of the key sights in Bangkok.

We took a couple of trains to the Chao Phraya river where we waited a while to get a ferry bus up river.  The river boat was pretty full with tourists though it was a good ride upstream. Saw Wat Arun out the side of the boat which I will aim to see another day. Today was supposed to be 33 degrees and sunny, so two sights today was going to be plenty.

Wat Arun

We got off the boat near Wat Pho, and were fortunate to get there early enough to miss the worst of the tourists, though the same cannot be said for the Grand Palace later in the morning…

I loved Wat Pho, if it wasn’t so hot and there wasn’t so many people I could have spent the day there wandering (and wondering) around looking at all the stone statues, the buddhas, the stuppas and the buildings, it was just very cool.

It is the largest temple in Bangkok and its key feature is the temple of the reclining Buddha, the Buddha is 46 metres long and covered in gold leaf and was spectacular.

As you would expect there were many Buddhas!

More on Wat Pho – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_Pho

After a couple of hours at Wat Pho and suffering an increasing number of tourists, we took a walk up the road through a solid line of hawker stalls to the Grand Palace.  Mike is easy to spot with the bright yellow dive bag !

The palace has a strict dress code of no shorts or open toed shoes, so it was long pants and shoes for the day. It is rigorously enforced.

The Grand Palace was started in 1782 and was the home of the Thai King and the centre of government for 150 years. The detail work, both here and at Wat Pho was extraodinary.

It was really crowded here and I kind of gave up trying to get shots without hoards of people in them.

One of the key sights of the palace is Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the emerald Buddha. The Buddha is carved from a solid block of jade and was made in the 15th century. The temple is the most sacred Buddhist site in Thailand. I am wondering if the hitting yourself on the head with a bit of wet fruit is a tourist thing…Painting the walls of the temple.

The walls of the ordination hall are covered in panels detailing Buddhist history, the murals are quite ornate.

I was trying to get a photo of this soldier and finally gave up waiting for this group of kids who individually getting a photo taken, so I shot them too.How’s my blue bandana 🙂

Mike decided to head back to the hostel and I wanted to return to the market from yesterday to see if I could pick up some more t-shirts and see the pet section as Mike heard about it last night and heard stories of snakes and baby crocodiles. We parted at the train station and I jacked into some headphones and gave my ear drums a blast of punk rock for a while. The market was more crowded than yesterday morning and a lot hotter inside as well, I was already pretty warm after the sweltering morning so it was a rather sticky hour spent wandering around the mass of stalls. SadIy I didn’t get any more t-shirts, only found a couple I liked today and nothing was in my size !  I did find the pet area, no crocs, but I did find some small snakes, and some piglets.  There were a lot of “no photo” signs, round the snakes so I grabbed a hasty and pretty bad shot.

After a couple of hours chillin in the hostel and getting a whole load of washing done and shooting a sunset, Mike and I went out for a meal at the local hawker stalls just up the road from the hostel.

 

Making my Pad Thai..

The hostel street from the Skytrain bridge.

Auckland band Kitsch have been around since the mid nineties and still gig now and then, a great pop-punk band, they deserve way more recognition than they ever got. This song 11 11 is off the great 2002 release “love songs for romantic punks”

The worlds biggest market

Day 52, Saturday 25 Feb 2012, Bangkok

As seems to be the tradition lately I had a lousy sleep, if I  slept at all.  Up earlyish for an explore of the hostel and to see if they had free breakfast at or at least coffee –  they do.  The hostel is nice, roof garden, good views and a nice little shrine out the front. We are on the 4th floor, under the roof garden and there seems to be a good number of, mainly young, people here. It was a good choice I think, hard to choose hostels on the internet.

After breakfast I got the wireless log in and checked my email and had a message from an old friend Trudi.  I travelled Europe in a Volkswagon Kombi van in 1987 with Trudi, two of her sisters and my then wife, Deana. Trudi is Australian and is working for their immigration service out of Colombo in Sri Lanka and has come to Bangkok for the weekend with her daughter Bella. We made a plan to meet for a meal later in the day, it will be great to catch up as I have only seen Trudi a couple of times in the past twenty five years.

The plan was to go and see some of the key sites this morning and then head to one of the big malls for some aircon, lunch and for me to get a few things, zip lock bags, new board shorts, t-shirt and more USB drives being top of the list. However the hostel manager told us to go checkout Chatuchack, supposedly the worlds biggest market, which is only open on the weekends and a convenient ride away on the Skytrain – so we did…

The market is huge ! 9000 booths selling a mix of clothes, shoes, bags, shoes souvenirs, fake watches, jewellery, household items and general tat. I loved it and could have spent a day there perusing and shopping. The t-shirts were amazing, the best range I have ever seen of t-shirts that I would buy for ME to wear, I may go back tomorrow and buy a load to post to NZ, at about $5 a shirt you cannot go wrong. I did buy some new O’Neil brand boardies ($10) a t-shirt ($5) and a pair of shorts with zip pockets ($6), that I wore tonight and may be a bit small, damnit – i think it was all the beer 🙂

Not one of the shirts I would wear, but i did like it.

We walked around for a while and then stopped at a food stall for, what was an awesome, chicken noodle and cold drink lunch.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the market, especially after the Philippines, was it was entirely smoke free, even outside ! Bangkok – you are awesome.

We then caught the Skytrain to the MBK mall which was on the way back to the hostel, this mall is again huge with over 2500 shops!

But similar stuff to the market, though I did pick up another dry weight t-shirt for a couple of bucks and will send some other less useful clothes back to NZ tomorrow – though mum,  I will wash them all first time ! I sent mum a package from Miri in Malaysia with some not quite so clean articles in and it just arrived the other day, I think mum had to wait a couple of days to build the courage to open it.

On the subject of packages, earlier this week I also received an email from the shipping company in Auckland advising that the box of stuff I delivered to them before Christmas to ship to the UK (my good camera, laptop and winter clothes) finally left on Feb 24th!

 Outside the mall there was a group of what appeared to be uni students, doing something, not entirely sure what, there was a small march and some “singing” and dancing and some dressing up, I dont think all the girls were girls 🙂

After the mall we went back to the hostel and I did the usual catching up with blogs and emails and talking to friends. I also gaffer taped over the video record button on my camera as I keep accidentally pressing it and recording hours of video of the inside of the lens cap – and flattening the battery. I finally found a use for the small amount of gaffer tape I brought with me! Some bits around the hostel.The neighbours.

I caught up with Trudi and Bella at Asok station, couple of stops up the line from where I am staying, we had dinner in one of the local food places and it was the hottest noodles I have had – had to have a couple of Singha’s to wash it down. Great to catch up with Trudi and I am tempted to go to Colombo on the way over to Europe. I will see what flight options there are.

The view from Asok station.

After dinner I had a beer on the hostel roof with Mike and then called it a night.

A good first day in Bangkok, clean, easy to get around and reasonably hassle free – it was much better than I expected.

Auckland band Muckhole were around in the late nineties but I only saw them once. It is a big call but I think they are my favourite ever Auckland punk band, I mean I loved the Spelling Mistakes and the Scavengers, The Warners and a string of other bands, but these guys were cool and their records were well made and sounded great. Muckhole – Cool guy