7-Elevens and Trains in Bangkok

Bangkok is city of 7-Elevens and tons and tons of people. Most people stop in Bangkok to enjoy the nightlife and as a home base for short trips outside of the city but still within Thailand. The main reason for my travel party and I to stop for a few nights in Bangkok was to get our Vietnam Visas. Unless you apply in your home country and know exactly what days you will be in Vietnam, getting a visa can be a little difficult. For most backpackers, all you know is your departure and return date to your country of record. For everything else, you go with the flow. You can have ideas of where you want to go and when, but a majority of the time, when you get to a destination, you barely even know what you are going to do the next day. Typically, you check into your hostel and meet fellow travelers, and from that, you get advice on what to see not only at your current location, but also in your future travels.

My friends and I had a set schedule. We knew exactly where we were going and when. I still considered us backpackers because we didn’t know our program of activities and we traveled on significant budgets, using public transportation, and traveling through and staying at hostels. Two of us had our visas, but Amy and I had also been working overseas for the past two years, so applying for a visa in Madagascar wasn’t an option.

We arrived in Bangkok after a little longer than expected overnight train from Chiang Mai. It wasn’t significantly late, but it did throw a wrench in our plans that we wanted to get our passport visas the day we arrived. By the time we got to the hostel, checked in, and delivered our luggage, the cut off for next day processing had already passed. We had factored in an extra day for official travel documents so we just rearranged our program of activities.

For Vietnam visas, you must apply at the Vietnam Embassy in Bangkok. If your next destination is Cambodia, you can apply in Phnom Penh, but if you are just passing through, you won’t have enough time to get it approved. Bangkok is your last chance. Getting to the Embassy can be a little confusing. If you are coming from the Phloen Chit BTS Station, it isn’t well marked. Make sure you take Exit 2 that will spit you out next to the Mahatun Plaza. Keep walking down that road and on the corner of Phloen Chit and Wireless is the Embassy. There is no sign hanging over the tourist entrance, but the door is protruding on the corner of the building, nearly perpendicular to the street, with blue walls on the interior. Honestly, follow the tourists and most likely the line. You won’t miss it.

As for prices, they vary. On multiple websites, it’s listed as follows:

1800 baht for four business days

2300 baht for next day

2800 baht for same day

I personally paid for next day and paid 3300 baht, so just make sure you have enough cash on you to pay a little extra. 5000 should be a safe amount.

Unless you are waiting at the Embassy first thing before they even open, you will most likely not get your passport back for same day processing. My friends and I arrived at 9am and barely made it for next day processing since the line was so long and next day processing requests have to be submitted before they close at 1030. Remember that while you might be on a go with the flow mental attitude, businesses in Thailand typically are not, so if you have a strict schedule you have to follow, don’t take chances with running late. You also have to leave your passport there for processing, you cannot leave the Bangkok area, but there is plenty to see in town.

Bangkok is home to the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace was the official residence of previous Kings until 1925, and since then has been preserved as a national monument. The size alone is a little overwhelming. The number of people is even more such. It doesn’t seem that the Palace has a capacity, but rather allows anyone that pays the admission price to come through the gates. If you’re looking for raw tourism, the Grand Palace is not the place to visit. However, if you’re looking for some of the most gorgeous buildings plated in gold and precious stones, then the Grand Palace is a place to visit. You can spend anywhere between a few hours to your entire day there, so plan accordingly. Make sure you visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to see just that, the Emerald Buddha. Cameras are not allowed within the temple, but you can still admire it while taking in the rest of the décor.

IMG_4120

IMG_4123

IMG_4129

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha

IMG_4139

The Emerald Buddha (sans flash) taken from outside, from the steps

Around the corner from the Grand Palace is Wat Pho. If you can, it would be productive to see them in the same day. Proximity. Wat Pho is where the 46 meter long Resting Buddha lies. No pun intended. You will have to take your shoes off to enter, so make sure you wear socks or are completely fine with walking around bare foot and possibly contracting Athlete’s Foot. There is something to see at every angle, intricate details even on the backside. All in all, an hour would be the right amount of time to allot to this visit.

IMG_4168    IMG_4176

If you are traveling to Cambodia, it is cheaper to travel on your own. By taking the train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, tuk-tuking to the border, and walking across, you save a considerable amount of money. We met people at the border who paid 3000 baht to be driven to Siem Riep. We paid 50 baht for the train and 100 baht for the tuk-tuk. There are two trains: 5:55am and 1:30pm. It should take a little over five and half hours to arrive at the border. But, as you will come to know, unless you are traveling in countries with great infrastructure and set transportation schedules, you are going to be late. A couple of hours late. If you plan to take the afternoon train, make sure you have all of your transportation mapped out. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the border, and not knowing how to get to your destination. Once you get into Cambodia, you have to find your own transportation to Siem Reap. This is the place to be careful about scams. A lot of people will promise to drive you for a certain amount of money and then not deliver you to where they were supposed to. Check with your hotel or hostel before leaving Bangkok. A majority will set up a private car to pick you up at the border, regardless of what time you arrive and drop you off at the hotel.

I really wish we had a little more time in Bangkok to enjoy the overpopulated city and see all of the sites. To enjoy the free museum at the end of the BTS line near the Vietnam Embassy. To see a few more temples. To find the large market. To maybe take a few days and travel down to Phuket, or out of Bangkok to another destination. But we had a schedule to keep to and the best of our trip was to come. Cambodia was the country we were all looking forward to, especially Angkor Wat. Two countries down, two to go.

Advertisement

Navigating Airports Through Malaysia to Kota Kinabalu

When you join Peace Corps, you are bitten by the travel bug. You want to go everywhere, see everything, and experience it all. I traveled through four different countries on my way home after finishing my service. First stop was Malaysia. It was a bit unfortunate that I visited the country a mere month after the Malaysia Air flight went missing after takeoff. That was all anyone could converse about. I was even a little hesitant myself to get on a plane when more than 5 countries and 13 military ships couldn’t find the wreckage of the plane that supposedly went down. With that being said, I tried to not let the conspiracy bring down the expectations I had for traveling. A little easier said than done. The nearly two months of traveling involved 9 flights. I took one flight at a time, and enjoyed the each destination reminding myself nothing ever comes from being worried.

If you know me, you know I have everything planned out. I want to know where I’m going, and when I’m going to get there. Something I didn’t research, that now I look back and realize I should have, was airports. I assumed that when you arrived into one airport and you have a connecting flight in the same city, you just need to walk to the gate…wrong. Note to any backpackers who might be traveling through Southeast Asia, or more importantly Kuala Lumpur, and happens to stumble across this post, there are TWO airports. One for any international flight and one for regional transportation/Air Asia. They are not in the same airport, and more detrimental, they are not close to each other. I allowed two hours in between arriving in Kuala Lumpur and catching a flight to Kota Kinabalu. I believe a little over one hour before our flight was supposed to take off, a nice gentleman told us that we needed to get to another airport, 30 minutes away. Queue panic mode.

Air Asia terminals are laid out strangely. They screen your bag before you get to the counter. You check in online, preferably twenty four hours prior to your flight, which is when your seat is assigned unless you pay the extra few dollars to pick your own seat. I have also noticed that when you fly with Air Asia, the first seat they assign you tends to be the seat whereabouts you are assigned for the rest of your travels. I never sat in a row less than 22 which my friend always seemed to be sitting around row 9. When we arrived, t-minus 30 minutes to the terminal, we rushed through the lines trying to get through security before our plane took off. Success!
After a short three hour flight to the island of Borneo, we landed at our first destination, Kota Kinabalu. After checking into our hostel, we went searching for food, and our first meal outside of Madagascar ended up being chicken livers and rice. We found some small hole in the wall place right around the corner from our hostel, and the cravings for rice lead us into this little establishment. Filled with Malay individuals who all gave us a puzzle luck as to why two Americans were eating there, we ate our meal, discussing that although we may have left Madagascar, we never really left our picked up habits.

The entire reason for visiting Kota Kinabalu is to climb Mt. Kinabalu and visit Tunku Abdul Rahman Park second. In order to climb Mt. Kinabalu you need a climbing permit and reservation, something we didn’t get, so that was out. Second choice, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. A national park of four islands, it is a relaxing place to snorkel and enjoy the ocean. Tour companies will try to sell you a package tour for nearly triple the price of what you would to walk down to the port and buy the boat hopper ticket and snorkels yourself. Backpackers are all about pinching pennies, so walking and figuring out the program yourself means adding a nice meal to your schedule later on. When visiting islands however, make sure you mind the hundreds and hundreds of jelly fish that hang out on the shoreline.

IMG_3276

IMG_3317

IMG_3341

IMG_3299

Kota Kinabalu also has an amazing food night market, one of the best I saw in the two months traveling. Descriptions can’t even do it justice. Just look at the photos. Fresh fish and seafood, coconuts, and very hospitable people working the stations.
IMG_3253

IMG_3261

IMG_3262
(photo creds to Amy Wallace)

There are so many tours taking off from Kota Kinabalu to other locations. We opted to see the summit of Mt. Kinabalu and the Poring Hot Springs for our last day in town. The massive size of Mt. Kinabalu alone was worth the trip, but personally, I felt Poring Hot Springs was completely overrated. It had been commercialized to the point that it lost its raw tourism aspect and felt more like a water park than anything. For those that want to really “experience” the island, I don’t think I would ever recommend it as a destination. For a family outing, it would be perfect. But if you do end up venturing out that direction, you can get a free pedicure in the waterfall behind the rope bridge at Poring from the little fishes that eat dead skin.

IMG_3172

IMG_3175

IMG_3186

IMG_3216

Kota Kinabalu was a fast first stop on the two month adventure, stay tuned for part two: Sepilok and Kuala Lumpur.