8 August 2017 - cloudy, 29°
So today is the day to head into South East Asia proper and tick another country off our list.
We had a lie in this morning ( up at 7am ) , watched the sunrise from the hotel room, then wandered downstairs to the cafe under the hotel for some breakfast ( for a more reasonable S$16 ) then back up to the room to pack (doesn't take long when you are travelling light ). We checked out of the Peninsular Excelsior at 9:15 and headed for the MRT station ( we will be staying at a different hotel when we are back in Singapore, both because the cost of all hotels go up for the Grand Prix, and also to be a bit further away from the crowds and road closures )
We jumped on the MRT to Changi Airport (changing at Taneh Merah station ) and arrived at Terminal 2 at about 10:30. We redeemed our 3 day MRT passes ( S$20 for 3 calendar days usage, and S$10 deposit for the card ) and got our S$10 back. Walked into the checkin hall and checked our bags in, then straight through the immigration ( I got pulled aside to be put through manually for some reason, not uncommon; I must have one of those faces! ) and into the shopping mall otherwise known as the departures area.
We wandered around a few shops then grabbed a drink, grabbed some wifi and waited for an hour or so. We then started our long walk out to the gate ( F60 ) right at the end of the terminal and arrived about 15 minutes later. This is where we put our bags through scanners, which because they were only checking 1 plane load of people, was very quick. The plane boarded early and we left on time at 12:50. Another bumpy flight but not too bad, arriving in Bangkok from the north at 2:20pm local time ( 2 1/2 hour flight ) over the flat farm lands of this part of Thailand.
We walked off the plane towards immigration... to be met with an enormous scrum of people waiting to get into the queue for the immigration desks. Yep, we are definitely not in Singapore anymore. After a few minutes a man yelled that there was a better queue at a different location for foreigners, so a horde of people headed the 500m further down the terminal to a shorter, but still slow, queue. After an hour of waiting, and more frowning and careful looking at my passport by the officials we were through to baggage claim.
We drew some local cash, grabbed our bags and headed downstairs to the train station, bought our ticket for B45 ( NZ$1 = 25 baht ) each on the slow train ( the express was out of action ) and jumped on the next train to Paya Thai. It took about 1/2 hour to get to Paya Thai, and then we transferred to the BTS system and caught a train to Siam then changed line and went through to Surasak (B37 ea for the ticket ) and then got off and walked the few hundred metres to our hotel a Hotel Pas Cher.
It was certainly a shock to experience Bangkok traffic, with pedestrian crossings not having right of way for pedestrians, and scooters going through red lights if nothing was coming. The Bangkok traffic was summed up for me by the ad I saw on the train on the way onto Paya Thai which explained what to do if an ambulance came up behind you with it's lights on; I mean who needs this explained to them? But having seen the way they drive ( and a couple of instances where ambulances were trying to get through traffic ) I can see why they need educating with this situation.
After checking into our Hotel and dropping our bags at 5pm we wandered along the street the hotel was on ( another culture shock to see food vendors on the side of the street, fish with flies, dogs wandering the streets, a 2 way street with cars parked on 1 side so it became one way in the direction of the person who got there first, scooters, scooters, scooters... ) and grabbed a drink at the Starbucks at the Robinsons Mall ( just to get some wifi ). We figured out how to get to the main train station ( Hua Lumphong ) to see if we could get sleeper tickets on the train to Chiang Mai. This journey would involve a bus trip ( some of the buses look like they are left over from the 1930's ) and a short walk. Time for a learning curve.
So we jumped on the next bus, asked the lady conducter if this was the bus to the Hua Lumphong, she nodded in agreement, but didn't seem to want to get us to pay. In fact no-one who got on the bus paid money, and there were no ticket machines. So after a 20 minute bus ride the conductor let us know we were in the right spot so we jumped off. Into rush hour traffic.
After negotiating a few crossings ( some of which had lights, but that still seem to indicate the it was safe to cross ) and crossing one of Bangkok's many canals, we arrived at the station.
As we were trying to find the front door of the station a 'nice' lady asked us where we were tying to go, that she was from the Thai Travel Authority and that we needed to go to the counter and ask for the tickets. She wrote down all the information we needed on a piece of paper in English and told us which counter's to go to. Then she added that if there were no spaces left on the train then to come back and see her, and she would take us somewhere that would have tickets on the same train, at the same price. So we dutifully went to the counter, joined the queue by picking up number, and when it was our turn we asked about train ticket to Chiang Mai. No, nothing available for the day we wanted or the next day, so back outside to see the lady. She then walked us around the corner and took us into a travel agent, sat us down with a nice young man, and explained what we wanted. When we said that we just wanted a one way to Chang Mai as we were going to fly to Myanmar, he said no, no flights do that journey ( we have since booked flights that do that trip ). Then he said he could get us tickets on the train we wanted, but it needed to be booked as part of a package (including accommodation or an elephant park ) otherwise 'they' would overcharge us by B500 for the train. At this stage we started to smell like it was a scam ( we thought it might be earlier on, but thought we would let it unfold ) and left, telling them we would organise something ourselves.
So, back out onto the street at about 6:30pm, walked across the roads to a 7 Eleven, bought some water and chocolate then negotiated the price a tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel ( B170 ). A fun ride through the traffic ensued, most of the time we were not moving, but had fun watching the scooters weave between stationary cars and buses, or if necessary use the 2 lanes in the opposite direction as their own. We even saw 1 scooter rider who, when he was using the opposite lane as his own, and a car came along in the right direction, he just stopped and refused to move, forcing the car to go around him.
We arrived back at the hotel at about 7:15pm ( probably would have been quicker to walk, but a lot hotter and less entertaining ) and dropped our shopping then headed across the street to a little restaurant ( Baan Glan Soi ) for some dinner ( 2 dishes, rice, and 2 large Chang beers = B450 ). A very tasty meal.
We headed back over the road to the hotel and spent the next couple of hours looking at our options from Bangkok, given that the train to Chiang Mai wasn't available. We booked flights from Bangkok to Mandalay for the 11th August, Mandalay to Chiang Mai on the 17th ( through Expedia for NZ$661 for 2 people on both flights ), and 2 nights accommodation in Mandalay at the United Hotel ( NZ$70 ). Once we had that organised then we looked at the quickest way to get a Visa to get into Myanmar, and found that ( luckily ) the embassy was about 10 minutes walk along the main road, and that we could get a same day visa; we just had to be there at 9am to fill in the forms etc, and go back at 3:30pm to pick the visas up. So that sorted tomorrow's plan, which we had originally intended to fill up doing touristy things. So we figured we would need an extra night in Bangkok ( which is why we booked a flight on the 11th ), which we organised with the hotel for a cost of B1190.
With all that organised and a plan for tomorrow we went to bed.