Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 238 (48)


Monday 1st November

I got up early this morning, fully expecting to have to check out at noon. We had a lot of logistical chores on the agenda today and we needed to get these done before our evening train and high-speed catamaran to the island of Koh Tao for the start of our Thailand diving experience. When we carefully looked over the documents, however, we realised that we had made a mistake in thinking that we would be travelling today. The dates on the train and boat tickets are actually for tomorrow. This gives us an unexpected additional day here in Bangkok. It also means that we are now confused about the dates that we have booked for the three-day live aboard. The problem is that there are no dates written on the receipts we have for the money we’ve paid so far. We will have to go back to speak with Matt sometime today to clear things up.

The first task of the day was to take the bag full of stuff we need to send home over to the post office. I had to first buy a box at the post office to put it all in and was quite surprised to see the package come in at just over six kilograms. They round up to the nearest kilogram and I was told I would need to pay the seven-kilogram category, which for the three-month surface mail option was going to cost 2,000B (€38,50). I took out the coins I bought at Heng Shan in China and this dropped the weight down to just under six kilograms and he was happy to let me pay the lesser price of just 1,850B (€35,50). I’ll send the coins home with the next package we send, whenever that will be.

Since we were now going to spend another day and night here, we decided it was worthwhile handing in some laundry to be cleaned. There are plenty of places up and down the Khao San Road that offer laundry service but we simply went with the first one we met on the way out of the hotel. Our bag of clothes weighed in at just about two and a half kilograms, for which we will have to hand over 75B (€1,45) tomorrow afternoon when it will be ready to be collected.

The next of the chores on our list was to visit either the local hospital, or the travel health clinic that we were previously advised to visit, to make sure that we were still OK with the malaria prophylaxis that we are currently taking. Since both of these places are either a bus or taxi ride from here, I thought it best to first give them a call just to make sure we wouldn’t be wasting our time by getting there and finding them shut. I called the travel health clinic and told the nurse that we were currently still taking the Chloroquine and Proquanil regimen we started before entering India and asked if we should continue to take these here. Apparently, there are strains or malaria in Thailand that are resistant to both these forms of medication and she told us that we should now either take Lariam, which we took whilst travelling through Africa, or Doxycycline. Lariam is one of those drugs that have the worst side effects of any drug on the market. Sleep disordered and vivid dreams or nightmares are the most frequently complained about problems. I personally had no problems whilst on Lariam in Africa but Sandy did complain about sleep disorders and depression, especially the first couple of days after taking each weekly tablet. We decided that since we had the choice, we would start with the Doxycycline regimen. It’s now been just over four weeks since we left India so we can stop taking the previous anti-malaria regimen as of today. A good thing to since today was big tablet day. Yuck!

Having figured out that we now needed to start on a regimen of one daily Doxycycline tablet to protect us from the risk of contracting malaria, I asked the nurse how much they charged for the tablets and she told me they were 5B (€0,10) each. Based on when we expect to leave the region, we will both need to take these tablets for the next fifty days we will thus need to procure one hundred of these tablets to see us through. Armed with this knowledge, we shopped around locally to see if we could get them here and what they would cost. After nosing around a little, we found one particular pharmacy that was selling a bottle of one hundred tablets for 500B (€9,60). This was the same unit price offered to us by the travel health clinic so we decided to forgo the transportation costs and went ahead and bought a bottle. The pharmacist was quite good and showed us a leaflet outlining the correct usage of the medicine and they also had a map of the region on which the spread of the various resistant strains of malaria was depicted. This whole region has plenty of areas that have Chloroquine and Proquanil resistant strains of malaria so it was a good job that we checked up.

We next found a place that Sandy liked the look of to get some breakfast. They were serving a buffet style English breakfast. The only meats on offer, however, were spam and a sort of boiled frankfurter sausage, which I’d tried before and not really liked. I had a hankering for some bacon to go with my eggs today so we both ordered from the set menu instead of the buffet. At 70B (€1,35) each, our menu choices were the same price as the buffet. The two miniscule rashers of bacon that accompanied my eggs and small squares of toast were somewhat of a disappointment. Indeed we’ve noticed that meat of any description always seems to be served here in very small portions. I predict that by the time we leave Thailand, and perhaps South East Asia as a whole, we will probably be on the lookout for a nice juicy steak again. Fortunately, Australia is our next destination after South East Asia and I doubt that we will have any problems finding a decent slab of meat there.

Our diving salesman, Matt, was not in the office again when we checked. He was probably recovering from the previous night’s Halloween festivities but whilst we were there, I had the Thai worker behind the counter call the live-aboard dive operator and spoke with them myself. They had apparently received the health certificate that we faxed over yesterday and were quite happy with it. I also asked him to confirm our departure date and it turns out that our three-day sailing commences on the sixteenth. After the refresher course and the next couple of days diving that we’ve already booked, this will leave us with ten full days on our hands with which to explore Southern Thailand. We are both very much looking forward to a lot of beach relaxation and just chilling out in general. Life is hard!

Next up on the day’s busy agenda was to see about getting out visas for Cambodia and Laos. We will have limited time to visit these countries but I wanted to go ahead and arrange the visas anyway so that we would have the flexibility to pop across the border whenever we were ready to do so. I’d already decided yesterday that we were going to pay to have one of the many visa arrangement services here in town take care of procuring the visas on our behalf and we went to several places to compare prices. Ultimately, it was the first place that we checked that had the best rates. This was the same place that we stopped in at yesterday as it happens. After making our choice, we found a shop with a photocopier and had the relevant pages of our passports copied. We would need to leave our passports here in Bangkok whilst we continued to travel down South and the guy at the dive shop told me that copies of our passports would be all that we would need for checking into hotels and such whilst we were down South. The Laos visas were 1,900B (€36,54) each and the Cambodia visas came in at 900B (€17,30) each. We each had to complete a couple of forms and I handed over our passports along with a couple of passport-sized photos. I still have about forty of these little photos of each of us that I printed out before we started our previous trip. It’s proven to be extremely useful in having such a large supply of them with us for just this sort of scenario.

Since we liked the look of this place and the staff seemed to be quite honest and genuine (the fact that they had the cheapest prices was also comforting), we decided to book the half-day tour to the floating markets with them also. This cost us 130B (€2,50) each and we will need to make our way to the front of their building tomorrow morning at seven o-clock.

The sun was by now high overhead and we had spent the bulk of the day thus far tending to various, necessary, logistical chores. We both agreed that we had earned a little time by the pool to soak up some sun and went back to the hotel to get changed.

At this point, I realised that there was still one last important chore that needed tending. To allow ourselves enough time to explore both Cambodia and Laos sufficiently, I needed to push back the date of the next leg of the round-the-world ticket from Bangkok to Sydney. Currently, it is booked for December the tenth but with the live aboard being when it is, maintaining this flight date will mean having to sacrifice either Northern Thailand, Cambodia or Laos and it will be a shame to get this far and not see them. As it is, we are already going to have to forgo the opportunity to visit Vietnam and all the other countries here in South East Asia so I don’t want to miss up the opportunity to see as much as we possibly can without having to rush so fast that we won’t have time to appreciate the places that we do see.

So, armed with my laptop full of flight details and ticket information, I set off to find somewhere to make a local call to the airlines. I had already looked up the phone number for the British Airways office here in Bangkok at an Internet café earlier in the day and I thought it would be a simple matter to find one of the many outlets advertising the ability to make international calls where I could sit and make a cheap, local call. All the places I tried, however, were going to charge me nearly the same rate as an international call for the privilege so I decided instead to ask the smiling women at our hotel reception desk if I could use to phone there. It was a very old model phone, about the size of a couple of shoeboxes, and I needed to put in a 5B (€0,10) coin for each few minutes. The woman insisted on dialling the number herself and operating the phone but went through several of my now diminishing supply of coins before giving up on making a connection. I think she got confused when confronted with the various options to press this button or that depending on what service was required. I ended up giving up here and decided to try my luck at one of the public payphones up and down the street with the few remaining coins that I now had left. I took the laptop back to the room and wrote down all the necessary bits on information on my handy little notepad. Armed with everything I needed, I set out to find a payphone.

Finding a phone was not difficult. Finding one that wasn’t located very near to a market stall with thunderously load music bellowing from loudspeakers all over it was quite another challenge. I found the quietist corner of the Khao San Road that I could and made the call. After figuring out the right path through the British Airways phone menu, I spent the next ten minutes in the stifling heat listening to the most brain dead and boring sales pitches for expensive offers whilst waiting for the next operator to take my call. When I was finally put through, I spoke with a Thai man that was very difficult to understand and he seemed to insist that I have the physical paper ticket in my hand before he could help me. I told him that I had all the information with me but I just couldn’t get the message through and ended up giving up on him in the hope of getting a much more reasonable operator when I called back again. After another stifling ten minutes in the humidity of the hottest part of the day, I once again made it all the way through the same sales pitches to the next operator. This woman was much more helpful and managed to pull up our entire itinerary of flights with no problems whatsoever. Once all the information was present, I asked her to change the date of our next flight from Bangkok to Sydney to December the eighteenth. Unfortunately, the flight on that date was fully booked. OK, then, how about the nineteenth? Fully booked. Twentieth? Fully Booked. In fact, all the flights up to and including the twenty-third were fully booked. We plan on spending Christmas with family in Melbourne and still needed to get from Sydney to Melbourne so this was no good at all. OK, let’s try the other direction and the seventeenth? Fully booked. Sixteenth? Fully booked. Fifteenth? Fully booked. We had to go all the way back to the twelfth before we found a flight that had just two remaining seats available. This was just two days after our currently confirmed flight date of the tenth and would scarcely give us enough time to visit the places we wanted to visit. I kept thinking of our Delhi to Hong Kong flight and the horrendous nightmare we had getting onto that plane too. The agent and I decided that the best thing to do was to go ahead and confirm the change to the twelfth and to put us on the waitlist for the eighteenth and nineteenth. Should two seats become available on either of those dates, she will go ahead and confirm them straight away for us. I will have to call back from time to time to see about the status of the waitlist. It will through a huge spanner into the works if we cannot get any better flight dates. The problem is that each time we have to adjust one of the flight dates, this has a knock-on effect on all the subsequent dates that we also have to push forward as well.

With the Bangkok to Sydney flight dealt with as far as possible, I now wanted to confirm that the other flights on our agenda were still OK. Our confirmed Hong Kong to Bangkok flight had originally been cancelled for some unknown reason but the Cathay Pacific ticketing staff could not confirm if the subsequent flights had also been cancelled since those flight legs were with other carriers and they could not see them in their system. Fortunately, I was able to get reconfirmed when I called in to Cathay Pacific a few days before our scheduled departure so everything worked out well in the end that time. The British Airways agent and I went through all the flights on our agenda and I was relieved to learn that all the date changes that we had previously made were still confirmed in the system. There was, however, another problem. One of our many tickets takes us from Fiji to Vanuatu, Vanuatu back to Fiji again and then from Fiji to the Cook Islands. For whatever reason, the British Airways agent could find no record of a Vanuatu to Fiji flight in the system. All three of these flights are on the same ticket so there’s no reason why one of them would be any different from the others but even though I insisted that I had a physical ticket for that leg of the journey, she could find no evidence of such a booking anywhere in the system. I decided that best thing to do was to go back to the hotel to get the ticket and to call back again. I stopped off at the rooftop pool, on the way back to the hotel room to collect the ticket, to inform Sandy what was going on. By now, she had been sitting by the pool on her own for over an hour, wondering what had happened to me.

Armed with the evidence of the missing flight, I went back to the phone and stood, again, for over ten minutes under the hot sun, waiting to get put through to the next operator. I was by now practically dripping with sweat and thinking just how relaxing it must be to be sitting by the pool right about now. The customer service agent that I spoke to this time listened to me explain the situation in the most patient and articulate voice that I could muster. She too had no explanation for the missing flight but must have taken me at my word as she simply added this leg back into the system for the two of us. When all was said and done, she told me we were confirmed for all the flights and it would not be necessary to call back and re-confirm. I dare say I will completely ignore that particular piece of advice.

With our RTW flight legs once again sorted, save for the confirmation of our desired flight date into Sydney, I sat and looked over our itinerary on the laptop to see just where we stood with Cambodia and Laos in the event we don’t get the flight change we want. The simple fact is that something is going to have to give if we can’t push back the date any further than the twelfth. We still have another couple of weeks before we will be ready to emerge once again from Southern Thailand so there will be plenty of time to relax between now and then. I was finally able to join Sandy at the pool but she didn’t seem too pleased to have been left behind for over two hours. I wondered which of us enjoyed that time the most, but decided not to pursue that argument any further. There might not be a lot of sunbathing time left in the day and I wanted to enjoy as much of it as I could without and further stress. We sunbathed and swam around the small pool for the next hour or so and chatted idly with some other travellers before tummy rumblings indicated it was time to eat again.

After a quick visit to the local Burger king, we went to visit Matt again and this time here was there, albeit a bit hung-over. Everything is now settled as far as our diving is concerned. We spent the next hour listening to Matt and couple of other English guys talking about all the wonderful experiences that await us down South.

With little else to occupy us until bedtime, we wandered around the streets neighbouring the Khao San Road for the next hour or so and Sandy was tempted to buy a couple of tops but decided to try to see if they could be found elsewhere first. Still relatively early, we decided that another oily massage would work wonders for us right about now and we went back again to the same place as yesterday for another full body rubdown. Fortunately, that tank of a woman from yesterday was nowhere to be found and I was assigned a very skilled young man who knew exactly where to rub and squeeze. I did have to suppress a bit of a chuckle as he went to work on my nipples, however.

With just about as much relaxation as any one person can stand, we made our way back to the hotel to pack our things after first buying those tops that sandy had earlier seen. She paid 300B (€5,77) for two tops. We will be checking out very early in the morning to catch the transport to the floating markets and will be leaving our bags here in storage for the remainder of the day. We should get back from the half-day excursion by around one o’clock and the one remaining thing left for us to do then before catching our early evening train, will be to collect our laundry. We may sit by the pool for for a few hours before catching a taxi to the train station.

Whilst packing, I went over our outgoings again since we arrived here in Thailand. We had originally thought that we were doing very well with everything being so cheap. The little things are starting to add up, however, and we are actually running dangerously close do going over budget. We’ve decided that we will need to keep a much closer eye on things over the next few weeks.