The best surprise so far, diverting to Bangkok!
After springing loose from airport quarantine, I immediately got a taxi to The Peninsula Hotel – a five star hotel at one star Jackson prices in high season. In other words, things are really cheap here. Got $150 USD worth of Thai Bhat, which is a pretty thick wad, and can’t spend it all. Skyscrapers as far as you can see, next to shacks; huge traffic jams and little infrastructure; 15 million people; nice cars on the roads, everyone on a cell phone. A real dichotomy between haves and have nots.
Sunday I hopped on a river boat from the hotel to cross the Chao Phraya river, and then to get a water taxi to several parts of town. The fare was 14 Baht, or $.45 US! The river is a main commercial and even spiritual artery of the city, now used by taxis, party boats, barges and anything else that needs to go up or down river.
Got off the boat near the Grand Temple and once away from the water, the temperature went sky high. I read “93 degrees, but feels like 103”. It’s hot! So walking around and trying to stay in the shade was the plan. The temple was interesting, but now I have done temples. The street scene is chaos, and really fun. As many of you have experienced, everything is for sale on the streets and bargaining is expected. All that real silver and gold - I just didn’t know where to start.
Today, Monday, my plan was to get to the Vietnam Embassy, get my visa corrected and catch a flight at 4:00pm to Hanoi. So, to get there (I was told to allow 30 minutes by train because there is way too much traffic for a taxi), I:
Get on the hotel shuttle boat to cross the river;
Find the Sky Train then spend 10 -15 minutes figuring out how to buy a ticket and which train to catch. A ticket was 40 Baht which I thought was too much until I figured it is $1.12;
Get on the train by jamming myself into the door opening full of hundreds of Thais, all of whom are short;
Get off the train at the Central Station to transfer to another train and take that one for two stops;
Get off of that train and then try to find the street that I need to walk on for five minutes to the Embassy. (Wireless Street – check out the photo);
Arrive early so find a place for coffee.
These things are fun – when they work as anticipated!
The Embassy staff tells me that I am screwed: the original visa was purchased through an online processor, with two documents – one showing the correct date of entry 26/09/2015 and the other showing 1 October (01/10/2015). The Embassy supervisor points me to the sign on the wall that says the best they can do is take a new application and that I can come back at the end of the next day to pick it up. I kept working on her for other options but came up empty. That won’t work.
So, then reverse the train, transfer, train, boat and it’s back home only a couple of hours later.
So, no Hanoi. My disappointment is that I was to meet Marc Domsky and Lisa Finkelstein there on the 29th and surprise the Sydneys (aka Tony and Meredith Aveling). Would have been great fun.
Hey, some people prefer the pre-packaged cruise, some prefer to negotiate the forks in the road. Bangkok was an unscheduled, pleasant surprise. And I suspect that other parts of Thailand may be too.
But now onto Hong Kong.
On another note, I didn’t name this a walkabout casually. The thing I have found about traveling solo is that you have lots of time, interspersed with the excitement of new experiences. I guess I knew this and a big purpose of this trip was planned to be a time to reflect. I have believed that a life changing event can be bittersweet: out of the crushing blows comes an opportunity to reflect on your life and turn the realizations into a resolve to figure out new, positive paths. Not that I have found answers, but the time spent thinking about diverse things – successes and failures, grief and loss, faith or fate, family, philanthropy, legacies – has been rich.
Something I have found you can’t experience in group travel. But at the end of the journey I think I’ll be ready to jump back into to social frenzy. Hopefully I won’t come back as a hermit!