We resume our story much as we left off – on a Boeing 777 somewhere over the middle of the journey. Truth is I didn’t sleep that much, a few hours and then some in and out of sleep tossing and turning on the plane as we approched Bangkok. The seats on the BA long haul 777s are pretty reasonable but I was longing for a Premium Economy seat by the time we approached Bangkok. I’m kind of out of practice with the long haul flights now and 11 hours felt really really long… But finally we approached and were served a standard airline breakfast of Omelette, Tomato, Baked Beans and some mystery passion fruit cereal yoghurt thing which looked, tasted and felt weird (yes, even the texture was blurgh). Before long we were on approach to Bangkok and I got quite excited seeing all the cities on the trip appearing on the in-flight map – spotting Chaing Mai, Siem Reap and Hanoi made me realise the adventure really was about to begin.
Once we landed in Bangkok the plane taxi’d really quickly to the gate and amazingly we walked a short distance to the immigration which had virtually no queue. I’ve become familiar with immigration processes in many different countries and had anticipated some hassle entering Thailand as I did not have a visa (UK Passport holders don’t need one) – but shockingly the guy just scanned my passport and landing card and stamped it and handed it back – the whole process took less than a minute and immediately after the passport control we were presented with the baggage carousel, which was already rolling with the Priority luggage. I didn’t have priority luggage (boo, I miss my premium status!) but my bag came out within 15 minutes of us landing in Bangkok. If anyone has ever immigrated to well, basically any country, they’ll know that this is a CRAZY short amount of time for the clearing process. I was in shock!
I headed out of the ‘Nothing to Declare’ lane all ready to spot my G-adventures sign and being my adventure. And then… There was nobody. Well, that’s not quite true… There were LOTS of companies looking to pick up their tour guests and ferry them onto their adventure, but nobody from G-adventures. Did I screw up? Did I forget to give them my flight details? Did I give them the wrong date? Should I phone them and find out where they are? What do you do in this situation?? I have to admit that I was a bit panicked by it…. But tried to remain calm and double, triple, quadruple checked that my name wasn’t on ANY of the boards by the exit gate. It wasn’t.
Hmm… I decided to wait it out, and hung around, looking suspicious by the exit gate, when I spotted an equally bamboozled looking person with a G-adventures paperwork in their hand. I headed over and asked and yes, she was also looking for G-adventures… Okay, good, so it’s not just me!
We panicked together for a few minutes before a friendly tour operator from another company came over and asked who we were looking for. We told her G-Adventures and she pointed us to ‘Door 4’ – we had no idea, but we were at door 1… About 500m from where we needed to be! Thank you tour operator lady – I’m not sure what we would have done had you not popped up and helped us!
We made our way down and were relieved to find a lady in a bright purple ‘GAdventures’ t-shirt who told us to go sit down and wait. Hmm. Okay. Anyway, it gave us time to talk and I got to know Louise, who is a student in Bath and just finished a year in industry working in London. We chatted – she’s on a different tour, hopping the islands in Thailand and snorkelling and doing generally relaxing things, which sounds awesome but definitely not the same as my temple packed adventure.
Did I mention yet that Thailand is really hot? Because even in the airport, we could feel it and I headed over to a touristy store in the airport and bought myself a 35 baht bottle of water. Little did I know that this was THE most overpriced water – 35 baht is about 70p ($0.50) and even that felt super cheap compared to the UK!
Louise and I were eventually herded into a GAdventures car and told we’d be dropped off at our respective hotels. Since neither of us had any plans during the first day, I suggested to Louise that we regroup after our post-flight showers and buddy up for the day to go be tourists together. She was thankful, since she really didn’t have any plans, and we exchanged numbers (although stupidly, not names – I think I’m still stored in her phone as GAdventures guy).
I checked into the hotel and was given a room key, together with the information that I’d received a free upgrade to a suite! GAdventures pricing policy is that everyone shares rooms, but glancing over the passenger list posted in the hotel reception I quickly realised that I was likely the only single guy on the trip – and this I was confirmed when I go to the room and it had only one double bed – win! Another trip with GAdventures where I get a free ‘single room’ status! On this trip, that’s a saving of £750!!
A short shower later and a few texts and I was back in a Taxi (arranged by the hotel) to Louise’s hotel, where we met and began our adventure. We decided to walk around and try to get a feel for the area surrounding the Central Station – mainly China Town it turns out, which was really interesting and fun to see. We walked quite a long way, exploring little back streets and figuring out how to cross the roads (suicide run seems about the only option!) before stopping off in a small shopping mall food court for lunch, where we ordered Thai food – I had Tofu and Basil with Rice, which cost 40 baht (80p, $1.00)! It was amazingly cheap and pretty good for the price. I also had a iced coffee and some water – much needed as we had already been out in the Bangkok heat for a good couple of hours by this point. It was around 33c and humid as hell, and we were both sweating like the just-arrived unacclimatised tourists that we were. Louise bought a pair of Elephant trousers to enable her to visit the temples with relatively cool legs, and we were both shocked that they cost 150 baht (£1.50!).
As you probably guessed, our next step was to find a temple. We had literally just planned to find any old temple but managed to stumble upon Wat Pho, the home of the reclining Buddha and many many many other Buddha statues too. A 100baht entrance fee (£2) got us in, and we spent a happy couple of hours exploring the amazing sight of so many gold Buddhas all in one place. There we small Buddhas, big buddhas and the biggest Buddha of them all, the reclining Buddha. It would have been nice to have a guided tour of the place, since we were pretty much guessing and taking photos, but still it was an amazing place. I couldn’t believe the colour and vibrancy of it all, with such beautiful architecture and decor in amongst the fairly dusty dirty city just outside of the walls. Below are some photos from Wat Pho – in no particular order and with no particular sense, since I didn’t really understand all the significance. Time to get out my guidebook and read!
Feeling like expert tourists to have found such an amazing place, Louise and I decided we’d had enough exploring for day 1 and we should probably head back to our hotels so that I could freshen up before the welcome meeting, scheduled for 6pm. Our initial thought was to grab a taxi, but after trying 4 taxis and coming up dry on a good one (word has it that you should never get into a taxi in Bangkok which refuses to run on the meter), we settled on the idea of getting a Tuk-Tuk. Our logic was that if we were going to get ripped off, we may as well make a life experience of it! And what a fun life experience it was – bouncing around the streets of Bangkok on this crazy Tuk-Tuk for 150 baht to get back to Louise’s hotel before I then battled and failed to find a taxi willing to take me to my hotel on the meter and ended up spending another 100 baht to do the short 10 minute ride to my hotel. Anyway, I made it back to my hotel in one piece and for that I was pretty thankful!
A quick recharge of the camera battery, shower and unpack of the essentials and I was back downstairs at 6pm for the welcome meeting. After a short wait in the lobby I introduced myself to the group who I will be touring with over the next few weeks:
- Dek – our Chief Experience Officer (CEO) from gAdventures
- Steve, Yvonne, Fred and Carol – two married couples from Victoria, Canada
- Karl and Petra – a married couple from South Africa (Petra is German and Karl is Canadian)
- Jaqueline – a student from Colordao, USA
The make up of the group is really similar than the one I had in Peru, although the age dynamic is a little different – in Peru we were all age 25-30 whereas here we spread between 19 and 50+. That’s fine though, we seem to be getting along okay!
Dek, our CEO, called us together and suggested that rather than sit in the hotel and do a briefing, we should go somewhere to see a bit of Bangkok whilst we talked. He told us there was a sky bar near our hotel, about a 10 minute walk and we all concurred that this was a great idea, although many of the others then had to head back to their hotel rooms to grab money or deposit passports and other valuables. I seem to be the most relaxed on the trip when it comes to my baggage and valuables, although I’m listening to their advice and tucking things away a bit more than I normally would.
So, our first outing as a group was a quick walk to the Sky Bar near the hotel – hidden away in what looked like an office building, we reached Cloud47. It’s an outdoors sky bar but luckily the weather had held all day (I had feared the start of monsoon rains due to the crazy humidity). What an amazing view! It’s hard to describe Bangkok since at this point I’d only really seen China Town and Wat Pho, but the view showed me all of the different areas, from the river right through to office buildings, and the city stretched as far as the eye could see.
We sat and talked through as a group the itinerary and Dek added a lot of useful titbits about Thailand, as well as the other countries we’ll visit on our trip. I hadn’t realised that both Laos and Vietnam are communist countries – 2 of only 5 in the world (the other 3 being Cuba, North Korea and China). Dek is from North Thailand, quite near Chiang Mai (although he then told us it’s a 3 hour drive to Chiang Mai from his home, so I’m not sure I understand the Thai definition of Quite Near and will be watching out for that next time he tells us a bar is Quite Near our hotel!!).
After a really long but interesting presentation from Dek and filling out some required paperwork, we finally got to order a beer. I wish we could have done that before the talk, because by this point I was REALLY thirsty with the humidity and heat, but it was well received when it came, along with the small dinner of vegetables in oyster sauce with rice which I ordered to go along with it. I like the Thai dining style – light meals and lots of vegetables, that works for me!
During dinner we chatted and go to know one another better – Karl and Petra are really interested in doing a GAdventures tour to Peru so they were very interested to hear a few brief stories about that, and Jaqueline has already been in Tokyo and Indonesia before arriving in Thailand for this tour, so it was interesting to hear a little of her stories as well.
As part of the briefing, Dek had informed us that we would be required to cover our legs during the visit to the Grand Palace tomorrow and this caused a bit of a stir from some of the group who hadn’t prepared for this – luckily nearby the Sky Bar is a night market which Dek happily showed us to and most of the group tagged along whilst people bought Elephant Pants (yes, those are a real thing, no they don’t make you look like an elephant – they have elephants printed on them, and no, I don’t know why!)
By now it was getting late, or at least it felt like it – it was only actually 9pm – but we headed back to the hotel (via some cockroaches and rats in the alleyways) before saying goodnight and arranging to meet between 7 and 8 for our 8am set-off tomorrow.
I headed to the room and forced myself to stay awake a coule of hours, in desperate hope that it would stave off jet lag and allow me to sleep through the night. Eventually around 22:30 I headed to bed, and rested, excited for the first proper day of the tour tomorrow!
Read about day 3 here!