Bangkok rocks!

(Emily) Our second day in Bangkok found us eagerly awaiting our good friend Darren’s arrival. Back in the UK, Darren was at a loose end with six weeks off work after prior plans had fallen through so we’d said something to the effect of, ‘Get your arse out here!’ His flight wasn’t getting in until late afternoon so we spent the morning at the hostel catching up on admin, the lion’s share of our time being taken up writing a letter to the solicitor who’s dealing with my accident in Istanbul (we’re still nowhere close to getting any compensation…) We took the metro to the airport and arrived about five minutes after Darren’s flight had landed – perfect timing – so took up position by the arrivals gate to wait. We amused ourselves by guessing the nationalities of the hoards of arriving tourists, trying to spot the obvious English. None seemed to be forthcoming just yet so we resorted to taking bets on silly things like what colour shirt Darren would be wearing, or whether he’d come through the right or the left door. As fun as our little time-killing games were, we did eventually become more than a little impatient when time and again, the doors opened to reveal a distinctly non-British stream of people. It didn’t help that the electronic board above arrivals wasn’t working so we didn’t have any status updates. Eventually, I went to ask someone if there had been some sort of delay only to be told that there were two arrivals gates and that, in all likelihood given the time, Darren had probably come through some time ago at the other exit, just 100m metres away!!! Doh!! (James: I mean, seriously, who builds a brand new international terminal and then has two separate, but unannounced arrival areas?!!) We felt terrible, especially as we hadn’t actually confirmed that we’d be coming to the airport to meet him – Darren must have thought we were right gits not showing up! Luckily, he’d actually been the one to book the accommodation in Bangkok so at least he knew where he was going…

When we got back to Lub-d, we were relieved to spy Darren, beer in hand, having made it safely on his own and, luckily, he was smiling! He laughed at how we’d gone on about the hostel in an email the day before – he agreed that it was a cool place but I think our level of rhapsodising indicated a sense of wonder akin to just be released from prison! After taking Darren to get some street food where we’d eaten the night before, we went out to a local bar to catch up properly and ended up rather over-doing it on cocktails, oops – our first night with Darren and already we were drinking more than we would normally in a whole month!! At least we didn’t having anything challenging on the agenda for the next day. The main thing was to get our bikes in for a proper dealer service, having not had one since Istanbul (about 14,000km ago!) We’d looked into possible places on the internet (a bit tricky when many of the sites are in Thai only) and asked around on overland traveller websites and in the end went for a Yamaha dealer in the central Bangkok – the guy sounded nice on the phone and, more importantly, spoke English! We got on our bikes and followed Darren in a taxi (though I think James knew the way better after looking at the map just once – the taxi drivers in Bangkok are generally lovely and the meter is cheap but they never have any idea of where anything is!!) Once we neared the place, a local on a moped spotted us on our bikes and, guessing where we must be going, indicated for us to follow him down a side street behind a huge shopping mall where, sure enough, there was a big, shiny new Yamaha service centre. Yet another example of the friendliness of Thai people. It was a relief to leave our bikes somewhere so professional and, although there wasn’t really anything obviously ‘wrong’ with them (aside from my leaking fork seal which, having to wait to Darren to bring the parts from the UK, we’d been studiously ignoring for two months now…), it would give us peace of mind for them to have an overhaul of new oil, brake fluid etc.

The Yamaha guys also advised on bike hire for Darren, or rather told us that we should look in Pattaya, about 120km to the south east, instead of Bangkok as the town was a bit of a bike hub and, for one reason or another, there weren’t really any places in the capital that rented out to tourists. It was a shame not to be able to get Darren on a bike straight away but in many ways it was a better option as it meant he wouldn’t have to ride in the city (he’d got his licence years before but never got round to having a bike so experience on the road at this point was pretty much zero – doing your first day in one of the busiest cities in the world would be a pretty tall order!) We spent some time that afternoon devising a rough plan which comprised of a few days sight-seeing in Bangkok while we waited for our bikes to be ready, a quick nip down to Pattaya (us riding, Darren on the bus) to get Darren a rental bike, then riding up north to Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas which were, by all accounts, biking nirvana. That would give us a couple of weeks on the bikes before coming back south to go sailing in Phuket with my parents, then flying on to Vietnam on Christmas Day where we would spend the remainder of Darren’s holiday. Not a bad itinerary, I’m sure you’ll agree!

After a few easy days with little to do but plan the coming weeks whilst Darren acclimatised and got over his jetlag, we spent a day seeing the sights in Bangkok with Lee-ann, a lovely girl from Yorkshire who Darren had met on his flight and was staying at the same hostel as us. We took the ‘river express’, a hop-on-hop-off boat service that runs up and down the river all day which gave us a chance to view the cityscape from the water. There were many traditional looking long-tail boats that had been fitted with turbo engines and were hurtling up and down the river at great speed – there was something very ‘James Bond’ about them that the boys loved! We had our own entertainment though, in the form of the guide on our boat – an absolute comedy act and as camp as Christmas!! He was so funny it was tempting to stay on the boat all day just to listen to him, but we forced ourselves to get off at pier nine which gave access to most of the main temples. We went to Wat Arun first, meaning ‘Temple of the Dawn’, which was a tall, steep structure decorated, rather interestingly, with crockery incorporated into the stone work. The steps up to the top were somewhat precipitous to the extent that some of the visiting tourists were breaking into a bit of a sweat! On the other side of the river, we visited Wat Pho, home of the famous (James: and bloody huge!) gold reclining Buddha and then made our way to Wat Phra Kaeo, which included a cool mini replica of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. At the Grand Palace we nearly got caught out by a bit of a scam when an official looking guy with a badge told us that it was closed for lunch and to come back in an hour. Meanwhile, he suggested that we get one of the awaiting tuk-tuks for a short tour of the area. We didn’t want to get a tuk-tuk but we were starting to talk about going for somewhere for something to eat when I remembered reading somewhere that con artists will tell you somewhere is closed in order to drum up business for themselves, a practice we also recalled from India. Sure enough, when we carried on walking along the palace walls we discovered the main entrance where, of course, everything was open. Grrr, scamming gits! The palace was impressive but it was quite expensive and it’s fair to say we were getting a bit templed out by this point (cultural cretins that we are) so we wandered back to the river and got some cheap food at the market before boarding the (absolutely rammed) boat back.

That evening the four of us went out to Koh San Road, the infamous backpacker hangout. It was quite funny to see the bars brazenly advertising ‘we don’t check ID!’  and conversely, the street touts offering any fake ID you could think of – ever wanted to pretend you were a journalist, student or even a policeman? On the whole though, it was a pretty uninspiring place, full of ‘far out dudes’ and old guys with their little Thai girlfriends. After a bit of t-shirt shopping (Darren are you really ever going to wear the Mr Jihad Mr Men one you bought?!!!) we did find a cute street hung with lanterns where we got a decent curry and more than a few pina coladas. Walking back to our hostel that night we had a quick wander round Patpong market (inviting the inevitable ‘Ping Pong, mister?’) before indulging in, not a late night kebab but… a late night massage!! Massage parlours of the legitimate kind can be found every hundred yards (and I’m sure there are more than enough dodgy ones in the back streets too) where you can get an hour long treatment for about 250 baht (£5). Lee-ann and I opted for a foot massage while James and Darren went for the head and shoulders option (they had to fight it out over who got the female masseuse, ha ha!) It was bliss and far better than a kebab!

The following evening we had another great night out. Remember the British biker, Andrew, we’d met in Nepal? He’d told us that Simon and Lisa Thomas, a biking couple who are somewhat infamous in overland circles for being seven years (yes, you read that right!) into a round the world trip, had arrived in Thailand a few days before us. He evidently  told them about us too as when we got to Bangkok, we received an email from them saying hello and did we want to meet up for a drink or two. We got a taxi over to their hotel on the outskirts of town where they had their own private little bungalow overlooking a koi carp lake – a bit flash for overlanders but it turns out they were staying there courtesy of Touratech Thailand! To give a bit of background, Simon and Lisa left the UK in 2003 after selling their business and pretty much everything else they owned and have since been travelling  the world on their motorbikes. I assumed that in such a long time frame they must have gone round the globe several times over but no, they are just doing it once but very, very thoroughly! During their epic trip, they’ve obviously built up quite a following and have also generated a fair bit of sponsorship (such as Touratech, a well-known motorcycle equipment company, who alongside BMW are one of their main sponsors) which has allowed them to stay on the road for so long. We were really interested to meet them and swap anecdotes and war stories about our different experiences. That evening, we were also joined by Peera, the owner-director of Touratech Thailand, and some of his friends so it made for a big group round the table and plenty of chatter, helped along nicely by the two bottles of very expensive single malt scotch that Peera produced! (He also provided tons of food at his expense, what a generous guy!) Simon and Lisa were great fun and indeed amazed and inspired us with some of their stories (er, such as Simon breaking his neck in a fall in South America and not reaching medical treatment until three weeks later!!!) and Peera was absolute quality, a real one off and a pleasure to get to know. The three of us agreed, having finally managed to get a taxi at 2am, that it had been a brilliant night.

On the day that we were leaving for Pattaya, we got up early doors in order to apply for our Vietnam visas as soon as the embassy opened – it was so easy, and they didn’t ask to keep the passports! With that done, Darren left to catch his bus; we, on the other hand, were going to be leaving a bit later and meeting him in Pattaya in the evening as we had to go to immigration to get our visa extension (see previous entry for why). From what we’d read on the internet, it was a fairly standard procedure so we had no worries that we’d be able to get that sorted quickly, head over to Yamaha to pick up our bikes and then be on our way to Pattaya before dark. Hmmm. Immigration was about an hour away, based at the site of the old airport, but the taxi only cost a couple of quid (imagine that in England!) The building was, as with so many things we were finding in Bangkok, an incredibly efficient and sensible use of space – all the government departments were located within the one huge mall-type building, with a mass of shops and cafes on the bottom floor to serve all the employees (this may not sound particularly impressive, but our experience of immigration offices and embassies so far tended to be shacks in the middle of nowhere!) We found the relevant office, filled in the application and took a seat to wait for our queue number to come up (again, a sense of order which we’d never seen before!) Handing it in at about half eleven, we were pleased to be ahead of schedule. ‘You need a visa extension? That’s fine,’ said the smiley helpful woman behind the desk. ‘That’s 1900 baht for seven days.’ ‘No, no, we need 30 days – see here (pointing to form), 30 days.’ ‘But you can only have seven days,’ smile, smile. ‘Say what?!’ And it turns out that, as holders of a ‘visa exemption’ rather than an actual ‘tourist’ visa, all we were entitled to was one more week. This was bad, very bad. It was fine for us: we would be leaving for Vietnam before our time was up and then could get a new visa on arrival when we returned. It was the bikes that were the problem. They needed to remain in Thailand while we were in Vietnam as we weren’t permitted to take them into the country. However, even with the extension, their ‘visa’ would run out while we were away and we were all too aware of the document we’d signed acknowledging a hefty fine – around £2000 each – if we were to exceed the export date. Crap. Well, we were currently sitting in the Thai Immigration office, so surely, if we explained our situation, there was something they could do. Her suggestion? ‘You must apply for a proper tourist visa, which you can then extend for 30 days’ (smile, smile). ‘Ok, can we do that here?’ ‘No, you must go to a Thai embassy in another country.’ WHAT?!!!!! Seriously? (James: We tried to reason with them that surely the consul at an embassy was just an agent of their department but apparently not….) I have to say at this point it was all getting a bit much and emotions were running high. Yes, we’ve had visa issues before (the debacle that was Uzbekistan being top of the list) but now there was much more at stake – namely, Darren’s precious holiday time. ‘Oh, sorry Darren, I know the plan was to ride around northern Thailand for two weeks but it turns out we just have to ‘pop over’ to Laos to get a visa…’ James could see that I was about to crumble so he took control and reminded me of our travel mantra – ‘It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity.’ There didn’t seem to be much for it but to accept what they said and head back into town. Gutted.

It was now gone 4pm due to combination of the immigration department breaking for a lunch hour half way through our negotiations, and us phoning up customs from the office several times to see if they could help resolve this blatant lack of co-ordination between two government departments (James: they couldn’t). By the time the taxi arrived back at the hostel it was clear that we wouldn’t be getting to Pattaya that evening so we booked into Lub-d for another night and emailed Darren to say sorry but we wouldn’t be there until the following day. Hopefully, it would give him enough time to get a rental bike sorted and we could all hit the road together as soon as we arrived. We decided to wait and tell him about the unscheduled trip to Laos in person! All that remained was to pick our bikes up from the Yamaha centre so that we were ready for a quick departure the following morning. After a comedy/hair-raising taxi ride with a completely psychotic driver (James: he would see how hard and late he could break on purpose and then laugh hysterically at how close a shave we’d just had!), we arrived to find the bikes waiting for us out front. They looked great and, an added bonus, they’d managed to find me a new front tyre which we’d asked for but hadn’t really expected. Another unexpected surprise was that there was a film crew there waiting to interview us!!! They wanted to do a piece on us in association with Yamaha Thailand about our trip and why we’d chosen the XTs. Apparently it would be shown on a Thai sports channel as well as the company’s website and on Thailand’s most popular website. Awesome! We probably came across as complete berks as we had no time to prepare and well, we are a bit dorky at the best of times, but it was good fun and made us a feel a little bit famous just for a moment! As soon as we get our hands on the clip, we’ll post it up – so far, no luck but we’ll be revisiting them when we’re back in Bangkok. Our long day meant that for the second time, we were riding in the city in the dark. All good though, and James even managed to take a few action shots when we slowed down in the traffic! I did a mean bit of filtering too – it had to be done as the alternative was to melt in the heat or choke to death from exhaust fumes – but I may have knocked a few people’s wing mirrors along the way, oops! Needless to say, we were shattered when we got back and welcomed an early night. Come the morning we would finally get on our way to Patt-eye-YA, as the locals calls it, and the biking part of Darren’s holiday could begin…

7 Responses to “Bangkok rocks!”

  1. Mama/Kate says:

    First up for Mamma!
    Having heard this story from the horses’ mouths, it was great to see it in print. I think your wtitten word is even more impressive than your spoken – and THAT is pretty riveting. Never mind the 7-year celebs with all their sponsorship, you guys are the real McCoy! You deserve to be famous!
    PS. A taxi driver that was breaking? That’s a worry.

  2. Jackson says:

    Ooo haven’t we been busy writing…again with rather vague and incomplete reference to ping pong balls. Perhaps you have just been playing a bit of table tennis and that’s it

  3. Mama/Kate says:

    Best not to explain the ping pong balls to Jackson!

  4. Darren says:

    I saw some guy at Bangkok airport with the exact same T-shirt not sure he made it onto his flight. Happy memories.

  5. M&M says:

    Hi,

    Can’t wait to see you being dorky on the film clip! I hope you managed to get the visa issue sorted…I thought things were going a bit too smoothly for you recently so you were due another challenge or ‘opportunity’ as you optimistically call them!

    Miss you both sooo much!!

  6. julian says:

    Greetings from rents in Devon. Where’s the movie?
    love from dad x

  7. joanna says:

    Always knew you were film stars anyway!!

    love xx

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