Getting out of the airport in Bangkok was simple enough. Immigration had dozens of stations open each with a line of one or two people, so that only took a minute or so to get through. No questions, no hassles just a quick looks at my visa and another stamp in my passport. It does make me wonder how soon I’m going to fill up my passport… but I’ll worry about that if/when it happens.
Next was picking up my baggage, which came out onto the carousel rather quickly. I’d already spied several other backpackers and was a bit jealous how much smaller their baggage was than mine. I’d really tried to pack light, but it’s clear I’m carrying a heavy load compared to many arriving here. I’m going to have to work on that and whittle down what I’m carrying.
Between the baggage carousels was an ATM and a money exchange counter. I don’t know that I’ve ever changed hard US dollars into foreign currency; it’s also just always been easier and often at a better exchange rate to just take money directly out of an ATM. For major purchases I just use a credit card which again is usually a better rate than exchange desks. Recently though Amex changed their policy on my card and are now charging a few percent fee on foreign currency purchases, which is stupid and means I’ve hidden my my Amex away as my “just in case of emergencies card” (ie. if I lose my Visa credit card). Anyway, while I waited for my bag to come out onto the carousel I got Thai money out of the ATM.
It’s pretty money, rather like Canadian money, color coded and size coded. Thankfully unlike Canadian money, there are only three coins 1/5/10 baht. The current exchange rate is about 35 baht to 1 US dollar, although I’ve seen as bad as 30:1 being charged some places. With money in hand my bag popped out from the depth of the airport and it was time to leave the secure international area.
Right at the exit of the international area there were several shops including a mobile phone provider which was what I needed for my last task I wanted to get done at the airport. I purchased a Thai pre-paid phone card for my GSM cell phone. I’d discovered that T-mobile, the global phone company (yeah right), only charges US$2.99/ minute for international roaming calls from Thailand back to the US… Conversely with a pre-paid phone card purchased her in Thailand I can call the US for 9 baht/minute or about $0.25/minute, and calls inside Thailand are just a few baht per minute. Especially nice was that a initial card purchase was just 1000 baht and came with 800 baht in credit, meaning the start up fee was just US$6. I can top that up anytime with more credit which then goes 100% towards phone calls. Compare that with Canada, where I didn’t buy a card. The cheapest card their was CAN$75 and came with CAN$50 in credit. CAN$25 wasted just on the card.
I was finally time to leave the airport. I think I’d been off the plane less than an hour by the time I’d gotten all of this done… not so bad.
Outside the secure area there were several people offering to “get me a taxi”. Fortunately, from the advice I’d been given and read frequently I ignored them and went straight to the metered Taxi stand. I think it might have been possible and slightly cheaper to get to the hostel by subway/sky train, but carrying my ridiculously big backpack it’s was worth it to take the taxi and get dropped at the front door. The taxi ride was under 250 baht, including the 50 baht airport fee. I wasn’t really clear if the 50 baht was already shown on the meter or not, but I paid the extra 50 when the taxi driver asked me too. I think the meter showed 187…
The hostel was is wonderfully located on a large alley just behind Sukhumvit. Sukhumvit is a major street with a big night market on it and lots going on. I arrived at night so the shops were all set up and people were bustlingly around all over the place. I was a bit worried the hostel was was going too close to all the action, but it was just the right distance off Sukhumvit. SUk11 is maybe 50 meters from Sukhumvit and the alley itself is not a seedy dark alley, it’s a rather nice large pedestrian alley. Settled in I was excited to find WiFi in my room which I made use of for a few minutes before my first dorm mate came in. Surprisingly he was American (there aren’t that many here lots of Aussie’s and Euro’s). Paul, a student at CU Boulder had differed his last credit to travel while still a student and was half way through a year in Thailand. He’d actually been to Thailand many times and had lots of great advice. With that I headed out the check out the night market, get a bit to eat and try to find a padlock to lock up my computer in the drawer I had next to my bed. Dinner was from a street vendor selling meat on a stick, I opted for fishballs and shrimp. Yummy.
I expected it, but was still shocked by the prostitutes everywhere. It’s disturbing who prevalent and on the surface it is. The old guys walking down the street with 16 year olds don’t have a hint of shame on their faces, and frankly the 16 year old (or less) girls propositioning me didn’t seem the slightest bit shy about it either. I’m sure since I was walking around alone I got propositioned even more than normal. It was nearly constant until I started to recognize and avoid them and then it was just less frequent. I was happy when I got back to the hostel to see a sign above the front desk reading “Sex tourists are not welcome here”. It’s important to keep it in perspective. It’s certainly not most tourists and it’s not just tourists. Somewhere I read 95% of the sex industry here caters to locals… not that that justifies it but it does put a slightly different perspective on it.
I called it an early night, sort of, which meant I sat in bed on my computer working on photos and wishing I felt sleepy. I finally got to sleep around 3am and was up again at 6am. I’ve never felt the slightest jetlag going cross country, not even to Europe, but here the time difference is exactly 12 hours… it really couldn’t be worse.