The first bit of advice I want to share with all you out there who may be planning a trip to Thailand. By all means, come – but be aware of the difficulties of getting around Bangkok, if that is your plan.
I have just returned from an overnight stay in the heart of the business district. We only needed to get to three destinations in different areas of the central city in a span of 18 hours. The traffic was horrendous, even on the tollway, especially on the tollway (more later). It was so bad I was feeling bad for the taxi drivers, who were metered. The amounts for the time and distance, especially the time, was not enough.
This is in off season, so just be aware of the ‘getting around town’ problems. And tour vehicles are in the same traffic.
Now, after that sour note, let’s shift to a doubly successful trip to Bangkok, which started, not so unexpectedly, on a sour note. No, really.
I had researched the bus schedule online, which listed hourly trips between Hua Hin and Bangkok, originating and ending at the main bus station in Hua Hin.
So we went to the station about 9, confident we were already on the 10 am trip. Except – wait for it – they not only did not have hourly trips to the southern bus terminal in Bangkok, as stated on their website, they didn’t actually do bus trips to the Bangkok bus terminal.
I was not in the mood to argue with, but, Non to the rescue. She called her ‘cousin’ who had dropped us off at the terminal 10 minutes earlier, and he came back to pick us up.
They obviously had a plan. Non had been briefed by a worker at the station about where to go. We ended up at a roadside bus gathering point I walk past/through on my way to the fresh market. At this point, I thought we were taking a minivan. They are very cramped with 12 passengers and luggage and dangerous on the roads. (So, I don’t like them.)
But a large bus arrived. I was relieved. Tickets were 155 baht each ($4.50). The minivans are 180 baht.
The bus and the Bangkok bus station
Now, this wasn’t like the VIP buses that take you to and from the Bangkok airport. This was a well-worn veteran of the roads. The ride was fine, if you take away the additional fact we were hurtling down an 8-lane highway in a tube on wheels, all the windows covered by blue shades to block out the afternoon sun. Almost like a rolling hearse.
Just funning with you.
So, we get dumped off at a large bus terminal I think is one and turns out to be another. 0-for-2 now.
I first wanted to find out when the bus would be going to Hua Hin the next day, so we set out to find the ticketing area. I think three people were asked for directions.
Ticketing turns out to be in the middle of a mall, on the third floor, surrounded by retail – cheap clothing, trinkets, phone accessories, massage, food. I’m guessing the bus company or government owns or rents the floor/building and gets rents from the vendors benefitting by the presence of the ticketing area (traffic). Anyway, its location was not logical and difficult to find.
We had three choices for the following afternoon – 2, 4 or 7:20 pm. Excellent, given I was concerned with how long it might take Non to get her passport, which was our second goal.
Next, we needed a taxi to the Chidlom area of Bangkok, I’m guessing the swanky area from what I saw. Also an absolute parking lot during the day.
Lunch of pork and noodles at the Bangkok bus station, and an orange soda
We were finally headed in the right direction but it would still be 30 minutes until destination.
But the hotel was worth it. The fare? 200 baht.
I booked the Centre Point Chidlom online on booking.com. They were offering a special rate of $87 per night. It was a good price, given the location, which was .3 kilometer from the U.S. Embassy.
Last year, when I traveled to Bangkok on the exact same mission, I opted to go cheap. The $20 room you wouldn’t want to sleep in in the Khao San Road backpackers haven was not to be repeated. I vowed that this year I would go 5-star, and with Non along there was really no other choice.
And a really good choice.
First, at check-in, they upgraded us to a 2-bedroom suite, with kitchen. Three TVs. A large bathroom with two showers. Free tuk-tuk service to the Embassy. They even had a cellphone recharge cord for Non, whose own malfunctioned. She would be totally lost without her smartphone.
The room was awesome. I could have moved in. Flat screen TVs in three rooms. And really plush king-size mattresses, and, I think, down pillows. Good choice, Ken.
We barely had time to relax a bit from the trip, however, before heading out for dinner. I thought Non would like the Chao Praya dinner cruise that my friend Jack and I did two years ago. So off in another taxi we went. This trip was even worse than the first, and by the time it was finished I felt compelled to give the driver a lot extra. And Non did not disagree.
The dinner cruise vessels seem to be multiplying. I was afraid that since we were late we wouldn’t get on, and the large crowd on the dock did not make me confident there would be seats available. I was already trying to figure out how to get to a really nice restaurant on the river.
To the contrary, there were so many boats available they were going out with half-filled seats. Our boat was delayed about 20 minutes, but it was a nice night with a good breeze, and we had a wine and a Thai whiskey. Also some chips on the table.
Did I mention the table? It was at the very front of the boat’s seating, and labeled #1. It did have its downside, in that a few people wanted to have their picture taken basically at my back. But it was a great seat!
These cruises are very popular with the tourists, and I guess we were technically tourists. They are relatively cheap (1,500 baht), the buffet is comprehensive although still a buffet, and the environment is both relaxing and releasing. Is that redundant?
The taxi ride back to the hotel was much faster, although we had to agree to a non-metered taxi for 300 baht. The luxurious bed beckoned. But first – catastrophy!
Non had been working her phone constantly all day and it needed a recharge. But the cord I use wouldn’t work for her phone, even though it had before. I thought she was panicked, and maybe she was, but she thought enough to call the front desk to ask if someone had a compatible cord. It is a 5-star hotel, after all.
I was skeptical. It was midnight. We were in Thailand. But someone came to our door, took the phone, and it was recharged when we checked out the next morning. This hotel impresed me, and I’m pretty much a curmudgeon.
The next morning was a 7 am wakeup and checkout. Since we were not sure that we could make it back to the hotel by the noon checkout time, we checked our bags and took the tuk-tuk to the US Embassy. It is fortunate that I had been there before because there was still a bit of a walk through alleys and parking lots, and across a main street.
Unfortunately, Non couldn’t go inside and had to wait with the maybe 50 Thais there for visas, I guess. My papers were in order but I was early. My income certificate has to be notorized (my only reason for the trip) and the notary doesn’t arrive until 9 am. The certificatefee is $50 or 1,800 baht, and all you do is raise your right hand and swear that the amount you declare is truthful.
Outside, we hailed a taxi and succeeded in telling him where we wanted to go. This ride, too, was terrible for the gridlock. The driver decided to take the expressway and we ended up on a two-mile-long “u-turn bridge” that was bumper to bumper and took us back where we came from, where they should have put in an exit in the first place.
But we made it to the Ministry of Financial Affairs passport office. It was located in a retail shopping center (mall) on the third floor, with minimal signage.
Non went in and I retreated to a coffeee shop right outside the doors. I wasn’t halfway though my coffee when she came out – with her passport certificate! I was so pleased. Her passport card will be mailed to her. Passport – 1,000 baht; mail service – 40 baht.
The ride back to the hotel seemed much quicker, but maybe it was because we had succesfully completed both of our missions. Back at the Centre Point, we needed food, so down the street we went.
The sidewalks were cluttered with pop-up restaurants, under umbrellas, and serving fresh-cooked Thai dishes. I let Non choose.
We ordered and sat down on plastic stools at a plastic table, under an umbrella that was under a tree, on the sidewalk. I was the only farang eating but I noticed how busy they were cooking for a full house on the temporary seating.
Non ordered us some chicken with wide flat noodles in a brown sauce. I don’t know the name because the menu was in Thai.
Duly recharged, we walked a bit, found a semi-mall, and returned to the hotel to order a taxi. I was hoping to make the 2 pm bus trip but given the time necessary to get anywhere was not hopeful, as it was 1:15.
We didn’t make the 2 pm, but did get on the one at 4. This was a more comfortable bus.
Three hours later, back in Hua Hin.