Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 237 (47)
Sunday 31st October
Although getting slowly better, Sandy’s bout of ill health has not yet completely abated and I allowed her to lie in this morning to rest and recuperate. Actually, it was more of a question of her simply not waking up as early as she normally does. Given half the chance, I’d gladly lay in till noon if I could and I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity this morning. Once again, we planned on today being a rest day with no touristing (I think I made that word up) whatsoever on the agenda. With nothing waiting to propel us out of bed, our bodies were treated to a few extra hours of restful slumber.
I was awake and alert by mid-morning but Sandy still had her eyes only half open so I went out to locate the post office. I knew it was probably going to be shut, what with today being a Sunday, but I wanted to locate its position so that come tomorrow, I’d be able to go straight there with a bag full of things to send home. We have to check out by noon tomorrow and we will also need to catch the early evening train so it’s important that get we as many things done as possible while we still have the luxury of the room. When we check out at noon, we will leave our bags here whilst we idle a few hours away until we have to make our way to the train station. As it turned out, the post office was literally just around the corner from here. The stuff that we have accumulated to send home is quite heavy and I shudder to think how much it will cost to ship the resulting package – even by sea.
Whilst out and about, I also took the opportunity to pop into a few travel agents up and down the Khao san Road to inquire about visas for Laos and Cambodia. Up till now, I had assumed that we would simply be able to get these on arrival but it turns out that this isn’t necessarily quite so straight forward. Not all land borders are equipped to handle visa issuing and it’s starting to look like our best option is to get them ahead of time whilst here in Bangkok. The problem now is that we are leaving Bangkok tomorrow already and all the travel agents are telling me that they need at least five or six days to get all the necessary visas. This now presents me with a dilemma, which I’ll have to devote some more thought to. What I found particularly annoying with all the travel agents was that there was a fairly wide range of prices that I was quoted, yet each and every one of them has told me that the price will be the same wherever I go. Even though South East Asia is, by all accounts, a very laid back and relaxing place to travel through, I still clearly have to be on guard for anyone and everyone that sees me as little more than a walking Dollar sign (or Euro sign as the case now is). Everyone seems to be out to make as much money from us as possible. I can’t really say that I blame them to tell the truth. At the end of the day, a few extra Baht is an insignificant nothing to us but means very much more to them. I still have to bear in mind that we are on the Khao San Road, where it is always Christmas as far as the locals are concerned, what with all the new and green tourists passing through on a daily basis.
Sandy was by now nearly awake and I spent a half an hour or so sorting out some of our China photos from the huge library of shots that we accumulated whilst there. It’s a necessary evil and a by-product of having digital cameras and not being afraid to use them. The digital cameras are proving to be both a blessing and a curse as far as the quality of our photography is concerned. On the one hand, simply pointing and shooting out the window of a moving train or whilst wandering around the streets can often reap incredible rewards when you capture that one moment in time that would otherwise not be possible. By shooting enough of these, we often capture some brilliant shots. One the other hand, however, it tends to make us lazy as photographers and we sometimes shoot indiscriminately as opposed to taking time to compose each and every shot. We are getting better at the whole thing still so I dare say the number of photos that we take per day will steadily decrease as we become more and more selective with what we shoot at.
Sandy was fully awake and mobilised by the time I had deleted about five hundred photos from the two thousand, five hundred I have in the China library. As is the case with myself, she is the most groggy in the mornings when ill and she was only now starting to perk up a bit so we set out to see if we could find Matt, the guy at the dive shop that sold us our dive package, to make sure that we had everything we needed before leaving Bangkok. Unfortunately, he was not in this morning so we will return later to find him.
Lunch for today was at one of the many hotel bar restaurants that abut the street here. I thought I’d give the egg rolls a try and they were quite delicious, if a little greasy. Eating here is very cheap and, much like we expect for accommodation to also be the case, will probably get even cheaper when we move out of the capital and farther into the country as a whole. For desert, I couldn’t resist some more sliced melon from one of the many street vendors. I tried a new, orange coloured, type of melon today and it too was absolutely delicious. I really don’t think I’ve ever eaten so healthily before – the greasy egg rolls asides.
It was now early afternoon but Matt still wasn’t at the dive shop when we next tried to call in. This time, however, the Thai man sitting behind the counter decided to give him a call when we showed our faces again and we spoke to him on his cell phone. He seems to be quite on top of things and was actually hoping that we’d call into the shop today. Sandy has had high blood pressure in the past and always mentions this on the medical history form that you have to complete when signing up for SCUBA diving. Whenever you answer ‘yes’ to any of the ‘have you ever had’ type questions on the questionnaires, they typically require that you present a doctor’s certificate stating that you are fit to dive before allowing you to continue with the program. It might sound like a hassle but it’s actually a very encouraging sign when they go to the trouble to adhere to these procedures, as it is a good indication that they are a respectable outfit and are not prone to bending the rules. SCUBA diving is a fun activity but a lot of things can potentially go wrong and respectable dive operators devote a lot of time and effort towards safety, and rightly so. Somewhat expecting all of this, Sandy had already obtained a declaration of good health from her doctor in Holland before we commenced this trip and has this certificate with her for exactly this reason. Matt apparently needed to fax over a copy of this certificate to the live-aboard dive operators and needed us to bring it in today. It was encouraging to learn that our best interests are well and truly in mind so we were quite glad to return, again, later in the day with the certificate as requested.
In the meantime, we decided to take advantage of the rooftop swimming pool back at our hotel. We had little else to do anyway and it would be a good opportunity to sit and relax for an hour or two as well as getting out the underwater photography equipment to give it a bit of a dry run, pardon the pun. Whilst lounging around in the pool, basking in the warmth of the sunny Thai climate (yes, it’s a hard life but somebody has to live it), we struck up conversations with some other travellers about our past travels and theirs. We were particularly eager to hear travel stories about Laos and Cambodia since we are planning to visit those countries next. In return, we were glad to pass on some useful tips about India to a couple of travelling Australian girls. An English woman, that has been here in the region for almost a year now, was telling us all about the best places to stay and how to beat the travel agents at their own game by buying train tickets to places that they would otherwise charge a relative arm and a leg for but for a fraction of the price. I love it when we talk to other travellers and I’m constantly on the lookout for any opportunity to do so. It really is the best way to keep informed.
A bit of cloud cover hid the sun for long enough to start to bring the temperature down a bit and we dried ourselves off before once again making our way to the dive shop. This time, Matt was there waiting for us and faxed over Sandy’s health certificate there and then. It is written on the surgery’s headed paper but in the doctor’s own handwriting. Sandy’s doctor is no different to any other doctor on the planet and has near indecipherable handwriting so we had to re-write it for clarity just to be on the safe side.
It’s Halloween today and there are all sorts of preparations under way here in the Khao San Road to mark the occasion. Up and down the road, there are decorations, lighting and huge speakers going up as each bar is vying to outdo the next with louder music, various gimmicks and more alcohol being served. For the partygoers, it will certainly be a night to remember but I dare say that the two of us will have long since fallen asleep before the festivities really get going. Neither of us are night owls and our wild disco days are long since over.
Matt had directed us to a place where we could top up on batteries for our underwater camera strobe and along the way there, I noticed another travel agent I hadn’t yet tried so we went in and asked about the Laos and Cambodia visas. This particular travel agent had a huge notice board with the prices clearly posted. As I was talking to the woman behind the counter about the prices, another traveller piped up and suggested we might be able to get into Cambodia with a visa on arrival being automatically issued at the border, although we would still have to pay for this, and we could then get the necessary Laos visa whilst in the Cambodian capital. She had obviously had a few unfortunate experiences with corrupt officials at border crossings throughout this region. She was quite insistent that officials were all very corrupt and advised us to steer clear of trying to get visas at the boarder whenever possible. Her advice made me wonder whether I should bite the bullet and simply pay one of the local travel agents to arrange the visa for us so that we would not have to worry about this when we passed through each border crossing. It would mean leaving our passports here in Bangkok whilst we travelled down South for some diving. We still have to return back here to Bangkok on the way up North again so it is possible, provided there will be no need for us to have our passports whilst down South. I’ll have to look into this tomorrow.
We picked up twenty-four AA sized batteries for about the cost of a packet of four back home at the place Matt directed us to. We don’t know how many flashes the strobe is good for so we made sure to get enough to change them every day that we dive just to be on the safe side. I still remember the time we were in Egypt with our previous underwater camera and the only batteries that we could find there locally were the older types, which were good for just a few shots before completely giving in. Having a really nice camera but no batteries to power it was an extremely frustrating situation that I’m not keen to repeat.
On the way back, several others and ourselves were stopped by a friendly group of people with clipboards. They were from the local university and were asking tourists and travellers to complete a quick survey about their experiences with the Khao San Road. It was just a couple of pages of questions with no strings attached so I was glad to pass comment on our own experiences.
It was now time to eat again and atmosphere was really starting to liven up a bit in the now very densely packed Khao San Road with the Halloween celebrations starting to get underway. We found a busy looking restaurant where there were no windows, doors, or walls for that matter, separating the diners from the rest of the crowded street. Essentially, we would be eating outside and it was pleasant enough just sitting there and soaking up the ever-increasing atmosphere. All up and down the road, there were people representing various bars and discos, handing out leaflets to everyone that passed them by. The atmosphere was quite jovial and everybody seemed to be having a really good time.
After we saturated ourselves with the atmosphere, we decided to go back to the same massage parlour that we visited the other day to partake once more in a relaxing massage. Sandy elected this time to go for the foot massage whilst I thought I’d try my luck again with the Swedish oil massage. The masseuse that I had the last time was a gorgeous, slim young Thai woman with very sensual hands and I certainly didn’t mind her applying her rather talented trade again. This time, however, I was called upstairs into the massage room, where several other travellers were already delirious from the effects of their massages, and was suddenly confronted face to face with the huge and extremely ugly old battle-axe that started to rub her oily hands together with a contorted grin on her face and I was rather unceremoniously told by her to remove my top and lie face down on the mat. ‘Holy shit’, I thought! More out of freight than anything else, I quickly did as I was told and suddenly felt the full force of this woman sitting on my bum as she started to go to work on my back. The previous massage was very relaxing but for some reason I was quite tense this time around. The younger woman from the other day was very sensual and I relaxed somewhat in the hope that she would prod and poke just about everywhere. This time, my muscles must have been tensed with fear that my assailant might do just exactly that. She said something to the woman working her trade on the next bed and although I didn’t understand a word of it, I’m sure it was something to the effect of ‘This kid is tense and I’m going to have to really work him over’. The previous masseuse delicately pulled my shorts down just a bit so as to expose more of my back and it felt warm, inviting and relaxing. This woman ripped my shorts half down my legs, nearly fully exposing my bum and I felt shit scared about just where she was going to rub and poke next. The whole thing was over in just half an hour but I laid there with my eyes wide open for the most part wondering just when the whole thing was going to end, all the time worrying about her huge hands slipping down my crack. Well, if this trip is all about new experiences, then I can certainly say that today was one of those.
Back at the hotel, we settled in for the night. A nice warm shower did wonders to unwind me from my ‘relaxing’ massage. I collected all the bits and pieces that we are going to send home tomorrow and was quite surprised to feel just how heavy the whole lot is. It has to be a good ten kilos at the very least. No wonder we are constantly in need of a good massage every few days.