The Great Dollar Hunt

Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
Trip End Feb 01, 2013

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Friday, January 4, 2013

While in Chiang Mai, we began what became “The Great Dollar Hunt” in preparation for our trip to Burma. Neither of us thought that getting hold of one of the world’s most prevalent currencies in a major city in Thailand would be much trouble. How wrong we were.

We had finally booked our flights into Burma and, as the time nears to our departure, needed to get the perfect dollars required by the Burmese central bank: yes, we don’t just need a lot of dollars, we also need a lot of pristine dollars (the entry in the the Lonely Planet for ATMs is “dream on...”). By pristine, we mean no tears, no marks or stains and post-2006 notes. Given that Chiang Mai is a fairly major city and has numerous banks, we didn’t think that this would be a problem....

That was our first mistake. Our second mistake was believing a woman at the bank we have come to loathe the most, SCB, who said that we could pay for all the dollars we needed using our UK debit cards (we checked that on the day we arrived in Chiang Mai, as if not, we’d have to get cash out every day for a few days in advance to get around the daily withdrawal limits - A’s being even more harshly restricted as HSBC doesn’t believe that he was in Cambodia, despite having told them in advance that he would be and them phoning them to confirm all of the transactions made there were his)). Our third mistake was, after having trawled the exchange counters and banks on our third day in Chiang Mai and discovering that none of them even held the full amount of dollars we needed, let alone notes acceptable to the Burmese, was thinking that we had successfully managed to order in (from, yes you’ve guessed it, SCB) all of the dollars we needed, in the denominations we needed and Burmese compliant. BIG mistake.

After feeling pleased with ourselves that we’d organised the dollars for Burma, we spent the following morning ziplining, completely oblivious to what was awaiting us at our appointment with SCB that afternoon. We’re not sure why they said they could order in dollars or why they claimed to know what was Burma-complaint, given that when we turned up (1) they didn’t even have the full amount we had ordered (2) what they did have was smaller denomination bills which would cost us more to buy from them and more to change on arrival in Burma and (3) the few larger bills that they did have were no way near Burma compliant - filthy and with creases and folds all over the place. The women at the bank didn’t seem to understand our frustration as “there was no obligation to buy them”. They didn’t appreciate the fact that (1) they’d said they have the dollars we needed and (2) we now had a serious problem.

The only solution was for us to skip our planned trip to Sukhothai and hot tail it back to Bangkok. This meant more flights (we’re busy propping up the Asian airlines here) and a very early start to be in Bangkok for open of business on the Friday morning to make sure we got the dollars before the weekend. Stress, stress, stress...This also led to numerous tirades from A - “what kind of a backwards country are we going to? How can they not have ATMs? Why do the dollars have to be pristine? The rest of the world takes any old c**p from the Americans.” Happy days.

While A was in meltdown (not for the first time on this trip and not helped by the fact that his Strawberry Beauty smoothie took 45 minutes to turn up - “are they growing these strawberries from scratch?”), V jumped online and found flights and some info for where we could get hold of the perfect dollars in Bangkok. And so, after an early flight, three failed attempts at Bangkok airport to find pristine dollars (including an encounter with a cashier with more hair on her upper lip than A currently has!), we found ourselves on the second floor of the Silom Branch of Bangkok Bank. Heaven (and thank you to the man who recommended it on Tripadvisor as a place to get good Greenbacks!).

We got the dollars we needed and almost walked out without having to pay as the cashier forgot to ask for the Baht. Being her greatest fans - it’s a wonder we didn’t shower her with kisses - we handed over the dosh freely and skipped off into the Bangkok early morning traffic - with a free eraser she had given us so that we could “perfect the dollars even more”. Beautiful.

So, at 10am on Friday 4 January, we went for coffee and banana muffins in the Siam Paragon shopping centre, content that we had managed to get our hands on the best dollars we could....let’s see if they work in Burma...

With all the focus on “The Great Dollar Hunt”, we had completely forgotten to check the expiry date of our Burmese visas...this only occurred to us yesterday and we were relieved to discover that, by sheer fluke, we had booked our return flights on the same date of the expiry of our visas. Totally dropped the ball on that one. It could have been embarrassing and somewhat problematic...

The earlier than planned return to Bangkok gifted us three days in which to organise ourselves, catch up on sleep and, for V only, enjoy some more Thai massage (A didn't fancy being assaulted again). Plus return to our favourite food market for the best dessert in the we really have to say it? Mango and sticky rice with coconut milk!! Yum!!

Our best meal from the market previously was from “Duck man” followed by dessert from “Mango woman”. Imagine our disbelief when we returned to find that the only two stalls which were not open were those run by “Duck man” and “Mango woman”. Over some delicious Pad Thai at another stall, we concluded that they must have run away together - scandal at the market!! Don’t worry - we found another street vendor selling our top dessert and it was just as delicious :-)

As we had a few days in the capital, we decided to take in a film at one of many multiplexes in the city.  We chose “Jack Reacher” starring Tom Cruise as A is a fan of the novels and we were both curious as to how a shorty like Tom would portray a character described in the books as over 6 feet tall!

The Thais know how to do cinema!  Not only are there a huge selection of movies but also a huge number of options for viewing them all in the same multiplex.  For example, Jack Reacher was offered in standard (your everyday seats), Paragon something or other (sofas to watch the film on) and Enigma (private cinema including as much food and drink as you wanted), with the prices increasing in accordance with the more extravagant you wanted the experience to be .  After the usual trailers, an “advert” featuring the King of Thailand, with his anthem playing in the background, came on the screen, and without prompting, everyone in the cinema stood up. To us non-Thai speakers, the footage seemed to show the King solve an energy crisis in Thailand.  Afterwards, everyone retook their seats and the film began - so, a rather strange prelude to the film and one which was amazing to see!  We shall not spoil the film for those of you wanting to see it, but A enjoyed it despite the little lead man.  We also discovered that there is a fifth Die Hard film coming out soon, which if the UK release date is the same as in Thailand, will mean a lovely Valentine’s Day trip to Westfield for Mr and Mrs L!!

Throughout the trip, we have been playing Rummikub to pass the time day or night when we are at a loose end for something to do.  Up until our return to Bangkok, A has been dominating the tally. He had however not been keen to play it for a few weeks as he was “too tired to play” and in Chiang Mai confessed to V that this was in fact an excuse to cover the fear he had of losing to V. So the games recommenced. After a few games in Bangkok, V is now “in the zone” and has, for the first time, taken the lead in the overall tally...wonder what the final score will be at the end of the trip?

Assuming our dollars “work”, we will be in Burma from tomorrow until January with limited, if any, access to working mobile phones or the internet.  A is a bit worried about “going off the grid”, has some reservations (he’s under the impression that nothing has developed since the British left) but is a little bit excited. V is looking forward to a rare opportunity for “enforced disconnection” (it’s like when you can’t use your blackberry as you’re underground/ on a plane) and visiting a country which welcomes just 1% of the number of tourists annually received by Thailand. Who knows what we’ll find?

In the meantime, we’re off to enjoy our last night in Bangkok. 

Burma...we hope you prove to be worth all the effort, trouble (and expense) we have gone to...

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Tom Sullivan on

Velv - who is the bearded local man looking at your sticky rice.

Rob on

That facial hair is worse than mine! - thinking hostage victim..

But great blog - BTW pretty sure you can travel on the expiry day of your visa - we left Vietnam the day it expired. Can also usually extend it locally or pay fairly small fine..

SYF on

Im loving "the Twits" looks Lammers...V im assuming its Lammers? At least you dont have a ginger Moustache like Rob. Your trip sounds awesome akes me want to jet off again.

ps. how where and when do you find time to update your blogg. You guys are putting us to shame!

Juz on

Happy New Year V&A (that's you two not the London Museum!)

Sounds like an amazing trip and I think Burma will prove to be an unbelievable experience! And am sure it will be worth the hunt for dollar bills! Not sure what the standard of train service will be like over there but I imagine you'll give it a go! Hopefully everywhere will be open to tourists now Aung San Suu Kyi is in charge.

I'm certainly getting the urge to jet off too and the sound of this trip makes me even more eager! So far my travels have taken me to Berlin this year - great city but the airport is exceptionally boring when you're delayed 4 hours! Next stop Zagreb next month and then I'll have a further flung trip planned by the time you get back just so I can make you feel jealous like I am of your trip!!

Great beard! I hope that's going to be a permanent fixture!

News from home:

Quincy is dead
Paul Daniels is a kiddy fiddler
Alfa Romeos are expensive to maintain!
There's a really annoying bloke playing the bagpipes outside my office, which I originally thought was just a Christmas thing.

Peace out!

londongirl27 on

Thanks for the news from home Judd! Burma was awesome - you would love it there.

The beard is most definitely going when we return. He gets more food stuck in it than he gets in his mouth. Not pretty!!

londongirl27 on

Three musketeers!! Yes, Tom, Rob and Soh, we mean you! The bearded local man is some guy who's been following me round SE Asia for a while now. And Rob, he has some ginger hair in his beard - must be the norm.

Soh, perhaps we are making it look easy, but it takes us AGES to do. We just use down time in airports,when travelling etc (we brought a laptop which makes all the difference!). Still can't wait to hear all about your sabbatical (and engagement!!) when we get back. xx

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