As I settled into my TWO seats on the minivan shuttle headed back to Hua Hin, I could feel the tension finally melt away – and the fatigue set in. Little did I know that my challenges were not over, but let’s start at the beginning.
Last night, I ventured out from my dingy “hotel” room for dinner and to see what was going on in the bars I had discovered during the day. I was not prepared for the crowds of tourists and the chaos on the streets, however.
Walking around, I found another street with mostly restaurants and food stalls on it and picked out one for no particular reason – except it had my favorite Asian dish – roast duck and noodles. The food came quickly, as usual, but not before I went across the walkway to order a drink from an outside vendor. Asked for a Jack and diet and got something fruity with Jack in it. Oh well, go with the flow.
Duck for dinner
The dishes you get for, in this case, 65 baht are not American-sized portions (thank goodness) but by the time I was licking the bowl I was satisfied. Eating noodles with chopsticks is fun, don’t you think?
Then it was time to find a good place for a drink, some music and people (girl) watching. Almost all the bars were filled with white people, and I was looking for Thais, but I finally found one, with an Irish name of all things, with lots of locals – and there was a pool table. Unfortunately, there was a long line waiting to play but I put my name on the board and waited, and waited, and waited. I finally gave up, figuring my fatigue outweighed my desire to play, and knowing I had an early day in the morning, with a 7 am wake-up.
Of course, I didn’t sleep much, in fact waking up at 5 am and realizing I had left the key to the apartment in the lock when I left. At least I hoped that was where it was. Finally, I gave up the ghost of actually sleeping and took a shower in that tiny bathroom and went looking for a taxi. There were many out front so that wasn’t too hard.
Choosing a taxi
The Bangkok taxis all have signs on top saying “Taxi metered” but, in fact, most of the drivers don’t want to use their meters, particularly the pink taxis. That’s right, I said pink. There are also all-green and green-and-yellow taxis. The taxi I took from the minivan drop-off the day before was pink and he cost 300 baht ($10), and this time another pink taxi quoted 300 baht, so I figured that was the going rate. So, already for two short rides I was paying three times what the 200-kilometer ride from Hua Hin cost. This would play into my thinking about the minivan back home later.
The Bangkok traffic is horrendous – crowded and chaotic – but we arrived in about 30 minutes. I had started out early after experiencing it the day before because I figured it was going to be rush hour. It was a good choice, but I still arrived early for my appointment. There was a crowd of Thais waiting to get in, but as I learned in Costa Rica, there is a special no waiting line for U.S. citizens.
First, I submitted my passport and my appointment confirmation through a thick glass window. I then had to turn off my phone before I was allowed inside. Now it was time to do the airport security routine – empty out your pockets (they take you phone to be picked up as you leave), go through the metal detector and then be wanded.
The U.S. citizens service area is separate from the Thai area and I found about 10 people there and four clerk windows, again with the thick glass windows, behind which was an office of people working at their desks. A somewhat surly American woman (hey, I tried to chat her up but she wasn’t interested), took my income affidavit and returned it to me with a couple other forms and told me to go around the corner to pay the 1,850 baht fee and wait to be called.
Once I paid the fee it was just a minute before my number was called and a very pleasant American woman greeted me. We talked about the weather a bit after I told her I had only been in-country a month. She was the notary and did the notary stamp thing and I was done. I picked up my phone at the front security area and went outside to flag a taxi.
Now, I have to confess that I’m somewhat confused, in that all I needed to do was put a monthly income number on the application ($2,100 as was suggested by my Hua Hin consultant) and there was never any request for documentation or for my new Thai bank account information. Maybe that comes later in Hua Hin when I apply for the 90-day visa extension in a couple of weeks.
Some unexpected help
I was able to flag down a taxi right away as he dropped off a passenger, but the driver could not read my index card with the hotel name and address on it. Fortunately, the outgoing passenger basically hijacked a woman who was walking by, asked her if she could read English, she could, and this stranger proceeded to tell the driver where I wanted to go. Nice. We exchanged wai, the traditional hands together prayer-like greeting.
This driver was using his meter and the fare back turned out to be 115 baht, almost one-third what I paid to get there. He got a nice tip. I should also say that my embassy appointment was for 8:30 but I was out of there before 8:30.
At the hotel, I had some of their free breakfast. It was what it was, but I figured I needed to eat something because there would not be any food until I made it back home.
Now I’m thinking that trying to tell the next taxi driver that I wanted to go to the minivan station at Victory Monument was going to be a challenge. So I asked the front desk clerk if he could write it down in Thai. Good move.
Packed up, I left about 9:30. A pink taxi driver approached me and offered a ride for – you guessed it – 300 baht. When I tried to haggle, he said to check with the green-and-yellow right behind him. This guy refused to take me, I think in solidarity with the first one, so I went with the pink guy. He turned out to speak good English and we had a conversation as he negotiated the heavy traffic.
When I arrived the day before, I had expected to be dropped off at the Victory Monument, but wasn’t. This time, I was, except I couldn’t see where the minivan ticket counter was. The driver, seeing my concern (I got loud because he didn’t seem to know where it was. (“You’re the driver, you’re supposed to know!”) This motivated him to park, get out and find someone to help me. I doubt I would have found the nondescript ticket counter otherwise.
After all the money I had paid for short taxi rides, I figured paying an extra $6 for an extra seat on the minivan was a wise choice. I was not going to be squeezed in again. And at least a couple of my friends who prefer going upscale would agree.
When I boarded, there were only two Thai woman on board and I settled into adjoining seats, my camera occupying the aisle one. For awhile, the van did not fill up and I feared I had “wasted” my $6, but eventually there were only two seats remaining – one next to the driver and the second in the very back in a cramped corner. Here’s where my last challenge occurred.
“You’re a bloody liar!”
An older man, turned out to be British, and his Thai lady go on last. She sat in the front and he came into the back. Now it had occurred to me that if the van filled up, my basically empty seat might be an issue, and this jerk fulfilled by fear. He looked at the seat, looked at me, and indicated he wanted to sit there. I told him the seat was taken.
I could see him out of the corner of my eye that he was eyeing the empty seat and when we finally got underway he let loose.
“I thought you said that seat was taken.”
“It is. It’s mine.”
Then it gets interesting.
“You’re a bloody liar!” That’s when I knew he was British. He really didn’t want to see my Italian temper go off, but it did.
“Excuse me, sir? A liar?”
He muttered something.
“This is my seat! I paid for it! I bought two tickets.”
“Oh, alright then.”
“No, it’s not alright,” I shot back, leaning forward and looking at him directly. The guy was too old to beat down but he wasn’t going to get away with calling me a liar.
“Okay, I’ll retract the statement.” …pause… “I apologize.”
I enjoyed a bit of perverted pleasure on the ride back, knowing that he had to watch me spreading out over two seats while he was cramped in back.
The van dropped us off where it all began, I caught the songtoew taxi home. End of story
Cheap vs. closer
One final point. I chose my hotel based on price and proximity to the U.S. Embassy. There were a number of hotels much closer but all the cheap ones were in the area I chose, which turned out to be backpackers’ central. If I had chosen a hotel maybe within walking distance of the embassy, even at three times the price, I would have come out even, and had a better experience. Live and learn.
Embassy dress code
There doesn’t appear to be one. I wore slacks and a nice shirt, but it was unnecessary. Shorts, t-shorts and sandals are fine.