The Bangkok Post
Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
196Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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Seventeen Days in Bangkok, Thailand
February 20th to March 7th, 2012
Return to Bangkok
We have passed through Bangkok a half dozen times during our travels in Asia, usually for just a few days at a time. It's a major airline hub and good place to pick up visas for onward travel to other countries.
Our strongest memories of those visits are Bangkok's highlights:
1) Grand Palace complex and Emerald Buddha (carved from a single block of emerald in the 15th century) at the adjacient Wat Phra Kaew (วัดพระแก้ว)
2) The 43 meter long Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho (soles of his feet)
3) Weekend market (bazaar) at Chatuchak - great for souvenirs
4) River boat taxi rides along the river for the views and visits to random neighborhoods to observe daily life
5) Wandering the cluttered streets and markets in China Town
We'd skip all that this time and etch new memories:
1) The booming medical tourism scene (Bumrungrad Hospital, Saint Louis Hospital, and Thai Smile Dentists)
2) Reuniting with friends we met on the road who happen to be passing through Bangkok (Drew, Caroline, Henrik and Sander)
3) Food scene from Pad Thai street food stands to Sizzler Salad Restaurant
4) Seeing the inside of an American Embassy post 911
Just the Facts Ma'am
We took one of Bangkok's M&M colored (pink, orange or yellow and green Toyotas) taxies from the train station to Khao San road, 60 baht ($2) on the meter. The drivers who refused to use the meter wanted 200 baht. Many tourists pay the 200 because $6.67 seems pretty cheap for a taxi ride at home. On this visit to Bangkok, we planned to stay for month or more because a) we needed to allow time to schedule medical checks and have time for any follow-up and b) to see what the city has to offer for longer term visitors. We'd end up staying 17 days, well short of our 4 to 6 weeks idea.
We walked up Khao San road checking out a few places. Khao san area has some incredibly cheap accommodations. But what we found in the 'cheap' category were dreary, dimly lit cubes with a bed. It was still considered high season and the pickins were slim.
We crossed a main road north-west to Thannon Ram Buttri and sat down for breakfast at the always busy Sawadee Guesthouse and Restaurant. After downing a delicious American breakfast, I took off or an hour and a half and scoured the adjacient neighborhood. I checked out 20 to 30 hotels. Prices of the more decent places ran $40+. I finally picked one for $28 without seeing the room because a customer in the lobby said it was a "great" place. Michelle, in the mean time, started chatting with a Dutch expat and got a recommendation from him for a serviced apartment called Tanatawey Place. It was across town so we decided to first try the Thai Cozy House. Our small windowless room had TV, fridge and powerful aircon, fine for a day or two, but not longer.
We moved to Tanatawey the next day for the same price as Cozy. The room was spacious and had a work table and small couch. Best part was it was near a giant mall that had a fantastic floor of restaurants. But we had zeroed on the Sizzler Salad Bar and Restaurant. We had been deprived of good salads for soo long. It had loads of roasted vegetables Michelle was thrilled about.. They kept it well stocked and clean. Good salads are a novelty in Asia in general.
As we researched Bangkok for longer term stays, we found you need to do a month lease to get a good rate. And for 6 months, you can get a very good value place. Our Irish friend Mike, who we met Luang Prabang, has a one bedroom apartment in a very new condo development. He pays $300 per month, plus utilities. Well, we were not ready to stay 6 months……….not in Bangkok.
Bangkok has a Sky Train (overhead) and Metro (underground) systems. The two systems connect but do not share the same pass or prepaid cards. We got a 60 year plus prepaid card for Michelle that gives her rides for half price. I got a normal card that doesn’t save money but it is very convenient. And they refund the unused balance when your turn it in at any station.
Appointment at the American Embassy
Michelle's passport is full of visa stamps and we needed to have some empty pages added. When I had some added to mine at home, I recall only paying for postage. Now there is hefty fee, $82 at the American Embassy in Bangkok. We filled out the form on-line and made a required appointment on-line. We took the MTR and Skytrain to the embassy zone. The razor wire on the high-walled compounds distinguish the embassies from the other residences and normal businesses. There was a very long line of folks waiting to submit applications for USA visas. A second shorter line is for US citizens. We were asked to turned our electronics over at the desk and they were zipped in a pouch for stowage and we went through the metal detector. Location of surveillance cameras or bomb sniffing equipment weren't obvious. We got through easy enough and went to another building where the Americans could take care of business. It was like the waiting room of a small bank. Staff were behind glass windows. We turned our paperwork in given a bill, paid it at the cashier window and waited. We couldn't understand the necessity for an appointment. It was all very routine and we needed to wait regardless.
While we waited, we heard and observed the other business going on. One frequent traveler was complaining that they would not add pages more than four times. He needed to get a new passport. He demanded to see the manager! The regs are the regs and despite his huffing and puffing he needed to apply and wait a week for a new passport instead of receiving new pages in the same day. A Thai/American couple was in to get a passport for their newborn. Another guy was getting a divorce decree notarized so he could marry his Thai girlfriend. Then another confused guy wandered in to get something stamped for an International Drivers permit. After an hour wait, the passport was finished and Michelle now has 40 more pages to fill up.
We returned to the Embassy zone a few days later to find the Cambodian Embassy for a Cambodian visa. It was marked on our Bangkok map. We got there to find a US Embassy plaque. It was now a second US Embassy property. The Thai guards just told us it was not what we were looking for. Nearby, there was a moto-taxi driver who helped us. He didn't speak English but he pulled out a well worn paper which explained the Cambodian Embassy has moved to a new location 19 km out of town! We decided to get an e-visa for Cambodia painlessly on-line. The approved visa link arrived on the second business day after our transmittal and we printed it out at the hotel.
Basic Medical Needs
On the morning of February 23rd, Michelle went to Bumrungrad hospital for comprehensive physical. I went to the dentist on the 28th and Saint Louis hospital on the 29th. We were deemed healthy and we'll write about the experience on a separate post about medical tourism.
November 2009, we put our belongings that would fit in an 8 foot x 8 foot x 16 foot PODS storage container and got rid of the rest. We have been on the road 27 months since then. When people ask us if we miss home or our families and friends we tell them we have Skype and email. Before we started our current lifestyle, our families and friends were already scattered all over the world, Michelle having resided in 7 countries and four States and I; two and four. We certainly don't miss the long winter weather at our last residence in Michigan. We do miss something else. I think Drew hit the nail on the head when he said we lose a sense of community when we travel so long. It is probably obvious to others but its a good point. We do miss our friends at the OPC, work, our friends. And at some point, when we do become more stationary, it will be somewhere where we feel we will mesh with the community. Good weather, affordability, low taxes, good airport, and community; that's the ticket! (We are not ready for "Farmville" yet.)
Continuing with that thought, we now have a mobile community. We have an affinity group of long term travelers, long distance cyclists, friends and strangers who follow our blog, and to a lesser extent, expats in general. That's probably why we were thrilled to catch up again, face-to-face, with our newer friends Drew, Carrie, Sander and Henrik.
Carrie and Drew; Frequent Fliers Carrie and Drew flew back from Sri Lanka and invited us over to their suite at the Radisson. On the way over, I got going on the Sky Train the wrong way. Then we reversed our track and got off at the correct station. Again, I got turned around and walked the wrong way on Sukimvet road. The moto taxi drivers and other people on the street gave us conflicting instructions. Such is life in the big city. We eventually got to the Radisson Hotel late where Drew met us in the lobby. Drew and Carrie were staying on points and had gotten an upgrade to a suite with their Club Carlson premium status. They had the biggest room in the place. Big enough that they invited Miriam, a 20 year old German, to couchsurf with them a few nights.
We chatted and went for tasty noodles at street stall stand. Another stall 30 meters away had fresh squeezed OJ. Yummm. We hosted the gang at our place for mojitos the next day and went to the Sizzler Salad Bar Restaurant together. The Bangkok Sizzler is a great deal for our often missed salads at just six bucks per buffet. We ended up going 5 times in our 17 dinners in Bangkok.
Drew and Carrie are staying in Thailand for up to a month to work on their websites. It is really incredible that you can do that kind of work almost anywhere. They have plans to fly all over, including getting to Easter Island in the summer. This is a long stay for them. They will get to know airports around the world very well.........
Miriam on the other hand, is new to independent travel and is reluctant to be alone. Up till now she has traveled with family. We agree that it is much more difficult when traveling alone. Miriam is a cheerful person and Michelle encouraged her to face her fears and doubts and soon she will be traveling like an old pro..... As bad luck would have it, a week later, Miriam was in a terrible bus accident where a traveling companion was hospitalized and another passenger was killed! Understandably, she returned to Germany quite shaken. We hope she realizes life is full of risks and will continue to travel with reasonable precautions. I know she will not get on a overnight sleeper bus again. I'll give those a second thought too......
Henrik; We left Henrik in Luang Prabang, Laos. He was going to Nepal next. Then we got an email that he would have a lay-over in Bangkok a few days before catching a flight to Kathmandu.
We got together for dinner and coffee. Michelle had earlier talked to an Israeli who told us about an Israeli restaurant in Khao San area. We weren't after kosher but we were after good Middle Eastern food. I don't remember the name but it is in an alley off Chakkaphong Road just north of Khao San. It was the best Babaganoush (made of roasted eggplants, tahini and garlic) and hummus (chickpeas and tahini) we have had since we left southeaster Michigan, the real home of the best middle eastern food.
Henrik caught shit from the Israeli staff. We were alone in the second floor dining room. The Israeli staff stormed in and demanded excitedly "why, why are you smoking". "Ahh, cause I am a smoker?", Henrik responded. "No smoking allowed", the Israeli sputtered. "You should have a sigh" Henrik said helpfully. "This is inside! You never smoke inside!" the Israeli spewed as he exited.... We wholeheartedly agree with the Israeli but we cut our friend some slack and let him smoke in peace.
Henrik finished his article on the "book boat" in Luang Prabang and has submitted it for peer review and to his translator. His journalist colleague said is was a very good article that is highly marketable. The translated versions will permit Henrik to sell the article to magazines in multiple languages. Henrik expects that article to fund his travels for quite some time.. Henrik sent us a copy of the article and it is a great human interest piece with fantastic photos of the student book borrowers. We look forward to sharing a link to the story once it get published.........
Henrik is a bit anti-establishment and rails against abuse of government power. He tends to bash the American government rather than Americans and he simpathizes with the occupy movement. He get his news from http://truth-out.org/ and http://readersupportednews.org/ . It is great that there are alternative outlets for news and opinion, but I can't read these. Truthout leans heavily on sensationalism with lazy journalism. RSN is the more illegitimate of the two in my view.
We expect we will meet up again with Henrik further on down the road.
Sander; It was quite strange how many times we accidently kept running across Sander in China and Laos. But this time, we knew we were going to be in Bangkok at the same time and we had a chance to get together for dinner and beer.
He salts his conversation with good nature biting humor, albeit smart aleck. Sander is quite articulate in English, Dutch and undoubtedly Swedish, French and German. He is working on his Mandarin Chinese. His main job is freelance translation and Michelle ruffled his feathers by suggesting he get a 'real' job. She really meant he needs to worry more about his middle years, pension, healthcare. If he intends to translate permanently, he must run it like a real business. As we talked, we can tell he does think about is future but for now he is enjoying his footloose and fancy free lifestyle.
Sander came to Bangkok for a week for LASIK but he left a small bag with his passport in a Bangkok taxi while totally distracted by a female companion and a bit too much to drink!! So he expects to spend an unplanned month extra in Bangkok getting it replaced then reestablishing his Chinese resident visa. That's going to be a nightmare!
We may meet Sander again the next time we are in Kunming.