Monday, March 22, 2010

Bali, Cambodia, and Thailand: September 22, 2010

All material including photographs are ©2009 Ronald Dunlap / Doglight Studios

We were up at 5 a.m., getting ready. I showered, dressed, finished packing, took one more look around the room to make sure I wasn't leaving anything behind, and opened my door to find a light rain was falling. I sat on the porch waiting for Ann to open her door so we could go over to the dining room to have our last helping of pancakes and honey.

We had just finished eating when Mr. Poy Pines arrived. It was a little before 7 when we loaded up the van. We were supposed to use tuk-tuks this morning, but the rain had spoiled that plan.

Unlike when you arrive, when you depart you are taken via a route that goes past Angkor Wat. It's a nice visual send-off that echoes for days to come. We shook hands with Mr. Pines, thanked him for his excellent service, and complimented him on his knowledge. Waving good-bye, we entered the terminal and began the security process. It's not as noxious here as it is in the larger western airports, but it's still somewhat intrusive. Especially if you're carrying a lot of camera equipment.

We found the Bangkok Airways check-in counter, checked in our bags, and got our boarding passes. Next was passport control, where we paid another 25-dollar exit fee and then went through another security check and on into the main seating area. We found seats near our gate and piled our bags in one chair, and I sat down. Ann left for the smoking lounge but I just sat, staring at the assembled masses. We took turns watching the bags while the other cruised the high-end shops.

When it was my turn, I saw that there was an Artisans d'Angkor shop here; I went over and purchased a nice silk scarf. It was a nice dark gold pattern and worked much better than the cotton one I'd been wearing. I was a little tired and needed extra carbs so I stopped at the bar and had a plate of microwave spaghetti and the usual Diet Coke.

When the flight to Thailand was called, we walked out and boarded without much hassle. The flight was smooth and uneventful. About 20 minutes out from Bangkok the flight crew handed out the landing cards and we filled them out.

Once the plane was down, we disembarked, made our way into the terminal, and cleared customs. We only got an entry stamp in our passport (not the nicely printed visa decals we got in Bali and Cambodia).

We got our bags and started looking for the taxi stand. I had read that it was on the lower level, so we had to drag our bags around until we found one of the escalators that you could take your baggage carts on. We stopped at a money changer and I got $100 worth of baht (about 3,255) just to have enough to pay tips and for the ride into town. Unlike in Cambodia, you can't use dollars for everything.

Downstairs we found the taxi stand and got in line. From what I’d read, it was 500 baht to get to Bangkok proper. I'd dug through my documents and pulled out the print-out of the hotel information and showed that to the woman who was dispatching the cabs. I doubled-checked the price with her and she said that it would be something around 500 baht, but they couldn't guarantee an exact amount. Our driver was in his late 40s or early 50s, with long salt-and-pepper hair, a goatee, and almost no English. I gave him the printout and he went back to the dispatcher and spoke with her a while. When he got back, he grunted, put the car in gear, and headed for Bangkok.

To me, Bangkok is laid out very similar to Los Angeles. Spread out, crowded, and bumper-to-bumper traffic. It took an hour and several stops for the driver to ask directions before we arrived at Aspen Suites Hotel. We paid off the driver, which was 600 baht (500 for the ride and a 100 tip = $18.50). The first thing I noticed was the very nice portrait of the King and Queen behind the reception desk. The receptionist took the print-out of our reservation from Expedia and a copy of our passports. I gave her my Amex card to make an impression of to cover any overages and signed the hotel registration form. We finished the check-in process and they told us that our room wouldn't be ready for a while. The bell captain took us back to the lounge area next to the pool and gave us a couple of cold, refreshing glasses of hibiscus tea. We relaxed, reliving our past few days in Cambodia while Ann smoked a couple of cigarettes. The man at the next table heard us discussing our trepidations about the size of the city and our ability to get around. He and his family had been here about three weeks, and he told us that it was easy to get around using either the SkyTrain or taxis. He said that the price of both were almost comparable, so we should use whatever was most convenient.

At 2:30 they came to take us up to our room. I had reserved a junior suite for 63 bucks a night through Expedia and had no idea what to expect. The room was beautiful; it had a living room, kitchenette, and bedroom. The place was almost new -- bright, modern, and clean, with large flat-screen TVs in the living and bedroom areas. I tipped the bell cap and flopped on the sofa. The place was better than I could imagine.

Ann said that because I was so old, I should take the bedroom and she'd take the couch in the living room. We unpacked a little and took turns using the bathroom. We napped for about an hour or so then decided to go out and explore the neighborhood. The room had a nice-size safe, and we put our passports, most of our cash, and some camera gear in it and closed it up. I found the room’s laundry bag and knew I’d be sending in a few items tomorrow.

We found that Bangkok was just as humid as Siem Reap, and after an hour of walking I had sweated through most of what I was wearing.We walked down to Sukhumvit, turned left, and started walking. It's a little more exotic than L.A. but also very similar in feel. After walking about an hour, we turned around and headed back. The hotel is on Soi 2 street and where it meets the Skytrain, there's a mall that has a Mickey D's, a drugstore, and a market. We stopped at Mickey D's and had lunch. Then afterwards we went to the market to pick up some bottled water, Diet Cokes, and some salty snacks, so we didn't have to take things out of the mini bar.

Aspen Suites has a couple of Internet-connected computers in the lobby. I sat in one of the club chairs and waited for one of them to be free. When I got on, I went to Google and looked for a professional camera store in Bangkok. I found a couple of stores through some travel blogs and wrote down an address. I went out to the cab stand outside hotel's entrance and found a driver. Showing him the address, I asked how much it would be to get there. He said about 150 baht, and we agreed to meet tomorrow at 9:30.

I found Ann in the smoking lounge and told her I was going back up to the room to relax. She said that she'd be up in a while and we'd have dinner and discuss our plans for Bangkok.