Sunday, September 17, 2017

Initial impressions of Bangkok

1. Visa: If you do not do your visa from India, it could be a very time-consuming process in Thailand. The same visa is valid for 30 days in India but 15 days in Thailand. Always carry passport-size photos to avoid the hassle of getting new pictures. You have to show 10,000 Baht/person or 20,000 Baht/family to get a visa. That is a ripoff if you are staying only for a few days, because you may not end up using all of it by the time you leave. I took a chance and converted only half that amount. No one even checked it. They only ask you to convert a certain amount of money, but may not even care to see if you followed instruction.

2. The city: Bangkok is very clean, organized, crowded, and not as polluted. Public restrooms are very clean. With wide, multi-lane roads, Bangkok looks like a cleaner and more developed version of southern Kolkata. The river provides an important means of transportation for both tourists as well as daily commuters. I did not see a single beggar or homeless person.

3. At 500 Baht/person, the Grand Palace is a ripoff (given that other attractions are between 50-100 Baht).

4. Bangkok is a food lover's paradise. Street food is out of the world. And Thai food in Thailand is so much better than Thai food in the US.

5. People speak minimal English. Thailand was never invaded by the Europeans, and you can see it. Everything is written in Thai, with occasional translations in English. It makes you realize that one does not need to rely on English to be self-reliant or attract tourists. Far from being a challenge, it was very refreshing to be somewhere where people are unapologetic about not knowing English. When spoken English did not work, I mostly used sign language. Our host wrote down the addresses of major attractions (as well as our home address) on a piece of paper in Thai. We met many cab drivers who could not even read or interpret addresses written in English. That was another interesting experience. We navigated solely based on the squiggles written on a piece of paper that we did not understand.

6. Every third shop is a massage shop. The one before that is a shop selling food.

7. The world in this part of the world does not revolve around Trump, Ivanka, Melania's heels and wardrobe, and US politics. Living outside this toxic circle of US politics for a change was very calming. I did not follow news for a while, and the world was still fine and running by the time I came back.

8. You get to a point where you are tired of seeing Buddha statues. Standing Buddha. Sitting Buddha. Reclining Buddha. Laughing Buddha. Serious Buddha. Solid gold Buddha. Youngish Buddha. Oldish Buddha. Jumping Buddha. Swimming Buddha.

9. Things around are written mostly in Thai (including advertisements). Road signs are written both in Thai and English. Thai first. English below, and in a smaller font. I developed immense respect for this country. Not because I hate English (I don't hate anything except half-cooked or poached eggs). It is truly a mark of a country that has a strong sense of identity, not swayed by foreign identities. I don't think I have seen another country where English is in a smaller font in road signs. If you have seen one, I'd love to hear from you.

10. If you are hopping multiple countries, I would highly recommend you buy your tickets on the same PNR. If possible, but your tickets directly from the airline instead of some travel website. It might seem more expensive, but it actually saves you a lot of money and hassles. We were in Thailand, and then Cambodia. While coming back from Cambodia, we had a six hour layover in Bangkok. We thought that we would wait at the airport. What I did not see is that our tickets had different PNRs. Long story short, they do not let you wait at the airport for that long without a tourist visa (even if you are not planning to step out of the airport). They will not check your bags all the way to Kolkata (in our case). So we had to step out, spend money and get a visa although we only had a few hours and were not planning to step out of the airport. The visa from the previous trip the week before was valid for 15 days, but was single entry only. The system is built so that there are traps where vulnerable tourists can be easily tricked into spending money unnecessarily. I guess that is also how they generate some of their revenue. Long story short, if hopping multiple countries, buy your tickets directly from the airline, and make sure that every leg of the trip is on the same PNR.



Sid said...

I had the same issue with the PNR when travelling to Vietnam via Malaysia. Basically they have a weird rule that you cannot transit through the airport if you're not on the same PNR. I found that weird because I've earlier done it successfully at airports like Dubai. But I guess those countries have the oil money!

sunshine said...

Sid, well, it was a lesson learnt the hard way! Who would have known? BTW, you do have a nice collection of pics on your blog.