Thailand Day 1: Venice

I thought my credit card issues were over! But this morning I tried to pay for my room and it was declined. I still had ok internet so I was able to call the specialist number. It took a lot of tries for them to get my card number from me because the phone connection was poor, but in the end they got it. It seems because it’s not chipped it needed to be activated (which none of the paperwork said) and it needed to have travel advisories added to the card. After like 45 minutes I’m done with my call and try again, but again I’m not successful. I guess maybe it takes more time? I have Chuck pay with their card, my tab with them keeps going up. I’ll try again in Bangkok.

We arrange to go to the airport, but we’re told that the free transfer is by tuktuk, and its $10 extra to get a car. Pam isn’t convinced but I tell her we have time and it’ll be fun, and she relents reluctantly. It turns out to be quite fun. It seems like each country has their own style of it. Here they’re little mopeds with a 2 wheeled cart strapped to its back on a pivot, but not cannibalized like in Thailand or India. They aren’t much slower than the car traffic until we got to the main road which is split for cars and tuktuks and bikes separately.

I’m still regretting my visa choice as it’s just another normal stamp. I might print my e-visa in nice paper and glue it in place, it is one thing we were recommended by the Cambodian embassy to keep from losing the evisa.

In Thailand we land at the BKK airport which is quite large. I’ve flown through this one before with my trip to China, Thailand and Bhutan, returning through it on my way home. Customs is efficient and while we wait for our bags I grab like $150 out of the ATM to cover the 4 of us for the next 24ish hours.

I’ve put us at a hotel that should be right on the major transportation route. But for some reason Google has me getting off and taking a bus? I’ve gotten so used to trusting Google I just go with it. Bad call though. I had planned it out so great at home, take the airport train to its last stop, then take one of the BTS trains 3 stops, change lines and go down another 1 and you’re literally looking at the hotel. Only I have no internet, and google thinks it’s faster because of the line changes to get off one station before and take a bus. Only the bus doesn’t seem to come too often and we just barely miss the first one trying to figure out where we go.

We give up and catch a cab. Except he refuses to go on the meter, and wants 200 baht at 36 baht per dollar. We only have to go maybe 2 miles, but we’ve been befuddled by Google. We tell the driver Ibis Bangkok Siam.

The hotel is part of a chain, owned by a larger chain, and the rooms are simple but not uncomfortable. Bangkok is now so much more expensive than 6 years ago. Last time I was here $120 got you a 3 room suite with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Now $80 gets you a tiny room in a chain hotel. I’ve paid for the room in advance, so I don’t have to worry about the credit card problems there.

But we have decided we want to do the dinner cruise at 6pm as it had moved up people’s list, so I had asked in Siem Reap if there was still room and now I get to learn that surprisingly they have room. I book and pre-pay which allows me to put it on a card, fingers crossed. And yes! The card works! I guess it just needs for the travel advisories to be updated?

I planned for us to go to the Amphawa floating market which is like 80km out of town and supposed to be pretty special, but apparently that doesn’t work time wise, normally the tours getting back in time for our dinner cruise would leave at 7:30am and its midday now. So back to the rooms for more planning. The internet seems good here, and I’m able to find my source for the Amphawa markets, it also rated other markets, and surprisingly Taling Chan though listed third, was their personal favorites because of its nearness and authenticity. So that’s where we’re going. I asked the front desk about a taxi and how much it should cost, about 200 baht. Google says it should take us about 30 minutes each way. We’re on the north side of town, so we should be able to easily get on the expressway and then shoot across almost directly there.

Only our taxi’s main plan wasn’t to get us there as fast as he could… His goal was to make it more worth his time. So instead he starts driving towards the water taxis to the south and trying to sell us on them. He keeps thinking that since Chuck is in the front seat, he’s the one planning things, so it takes us a lot to discourage him. Especially since Chuck will respond “what is this water taxi? How much?” No, he’s trying to rip us off, and we’re headed in the wrong direction. We finally get him to understand we will not take his friend’s water taxi, that we want to take a taxi. Only now we’ve gone like 15 minutes in the wrong direction, and instead have to cross busy Taksin Bridge. All the way I’ve been arguing with him that he’s going the wrong way. He says too much traffic, but google didn’t show traffic on the expressway, and even though it treated us like regularly riders of the public transport and led us astray, it’s pretty good about figuring out the absolutely quickest route even when that route is inconvenient. Across the bridge, and the road he wanted to take is closed, so we have to make a loop, then take another loop up side street, to catch it a bit further up. By now we realize his license picture doesn’t match him. He misses his turn and goes left instead of right further up and realizes he’s not sure where he’s going and pulls off to call a friend. But now we can’t make a right, we’re stuck on a freeway on ramp, have to go down an exit, turn around and go back. Then we miss another turn and drive further than we are supposed to. All in all, our 30 minute 200 baht max ride became an hour and 300 baht. And now we don’t have as much time here before we have to leave on our river cruise that’s already paid for.

Taling Chan was pretty neat, though small, and we spent our small baht on bits of food and drink snaking our way along trying different things. Some little deserts, Thai tacos, some skewers of sate chicken or mined pork. But with it so small we had to do something else. We had just enough time for a private longboat tour, 1000 baht for 1hr. That should have us done around 4:30 I think so we can be down by the dock around 5 hopefully? It sits up to 6, so we found an Israeli who was curious and got him to give us 200 baht to join us.

Our Israeli was pretty nice, a traveler, and a software engineer. He had such an unusual name though there was no way I was going to remember it. We chatted for the first half and then kinda fell into silence as we enjoyed the pleasant cruise. At some point both he and Chuck fell asleep.

The tour was around the canals in this part of Bangkok which are much like streets. Houses go right up to the water with parking spaces for the family longtail. Dogs sitting out on patios as we go by, one of whom as very enthusiastically going at the wood of the steps reminding us of our little Kiema the Destroyer at home. Every so often we would see Komodo Dragons swimming in the water, but never easy to catch a picture of. And there are plenty of Catfish, and fishing lines to try to catch them I presume. In some areas there are even sidewalks raised above the canal with people driving along them on scooters.

We’d started a bit late, and got back to the dock at 4:45. I’m a bit anxious about time now. I wasn’t given a specific time to be at the dock but I know the cruise is supposed to leave at 6, and the earliest pickups are 5:15, so I’d wanted to be at the docks around then, but that looks tough. I quickly walk to the end of the road and surprisingly have no trouble hailing a cab that will do it on the meter. I tell him Taksim Bridge but he’s frustrated because where the fuck do you drop someone on Taksim Bridge? Damn non-Thai speakers. He keeps saying BTS and I keep saying yes, but it takes a few times before he gets Taksim Bridge BTS is our target. Along the way we stop in traffic for a moment and I’ve got the email up from the cruise company and I show him the name Loy Nova. He can’t hardly read my phone but eventually gets it and says something in Thai with an affirmative nod of his head and a motion of a circle to the left. I tell him yes yes, and he understands. We should be going right to where we want! And sure enough that’s exactly it, he drops us as close as we can, and I just keep asking people the same question showing them my phone and asking where is Loy Nova until I run into a tourist police officer who flags down the guy checking everyone off for our cruise near one of the docks. That was the best taxi I’ve ever had in Thailand, I had tipped him well, like 50% because that’s how you get less of the first kind of taxi and more of the second in the future, but I wish I could go back and tip him 100% it was worth that much to me to get there on time.

In the end our schedule today worked out impeccably. We made all of our stops in the end, saw everything we had planned to. And now we just need to take the BTS (Bangkok Sky Train) back to our hotel. In the end we had 20 minutes before we got on the cruise and headed out, so about 5:35 I think in the end.

The dinner cruise was pleasant, and I’m glad I didn’t spend more on it. Our table already has appetizers and water with ice that I’m unsure about and these bracelets of amazing smelling flowers and Christmas elf hats. It’s too hot to wear the hats though. The food was good, though not top notch or anything, and incredibly plentiful, I think we ate maybe half of what was put in front of us. I understand it’s a tradition in SE Asia for the most part to make sure the guests always have plenty to eat and leave food on the plate. There is a cultural show side to the cruise too, with 2 young women dancing traditional dances while a third plays the music. It feels a bit like a luau, not particularly authentic. It sure makes for an unusual but pleasant Christmas Eve though. The cruise goes up the river past Wat Arun and the Grand Palace all lit up, under some bridges before turning around and heading back. A few sights are lit up, but the shoreline is dominated by brightly colored shops and hotels. The waterway filled with neon cruise lines, and on occasion large barges being pulled up and down river by tugboat.

The BTS back to the hotel was almost perfect, except I ended up getting us off one station early and walking the remaining mile through shitty traffic. Damn it. It was sort of fun though to be out and about in the thick of the nightlife though. And now I swear I know my way around on the BTS.

Back at the hotel I tried to do my next journal entry posting for Halong bay, but my Photoshop trial expired. It didn’t work especially well anyway on this little 32 bit Atom processor with too little memory. I could normally get 2-3 images processed and then it would run out of memory and I’d have to restart the app. All I really cared about was processing the camera raw images, but you can’t seem to do that without buying the whole suite. I found a free opensource program called RawTherapee, only it crashes when I try to save the output… I tried another program without luck. I think it might be my duty as a programmer to download the source for RawTherapee, debug my particular issue when I get home and do a push request to them with the fix. But I don’t really have the time for that on this trip I don’t think. My plan now is to free up enough space, install GIMP for image processing and just use the jpegs I’m having my camera also save out to, and then ones I can do better from RAW handle when I get home to my non-travel laptop that has photoshop.

 

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