I find that a good time to make an assessment of how my life is travelling for me is when I return home from a holiday. I can remember times in Canberra when I could feel the weight of my everyday life descend on me, especially the return to my work, a job that paid well but I hated with a passion. The dreaded Monday routine quickly overwhelmed all the benefits of the holiday.
Well we have just returned from three days in Bangkok and I can happily report that no such negative baggage was collected as we returned through Udon Thani airport. I am in exactly the right place situated as I am in a small Isaan village in the North East of Thailand and that a retired life with no Monday countdown is an absolute joy.
This is a bit of a mixed post with no big highlights or hidden Bangkok treasures to pass on. As always I will just ramble along and hope that there are some aspects to our trip that helps fill in a coffee break for you.
My reasons for going to Bangkok were twofold. Firstly I wanted to formalise my relationship with my Thai partner Gaun. She has been an absolute delight and although we have had a social marriage, which you can read about HERE, I wanted to acknowledge the long term commitment I have to the partnership by marrying her under Thai law. I did have a previous go at getting the paperwork organised for this, which can only be done in Bangkok, but failed my test of bureaucratic aptitude and missed out on getting the required paperwork. You can read about my embarrassing attempt HERE.
This is one of my usual side tracks off topic here. I am in Thailand on what is known as an OA retirement visa. The main requirements are you have to be over 50 years old, be retired and have either an income of 65,000 THB a month or an amount of at least 800,000 THB (A$32,000) on deposit in a bank (Thai or Australian the variations discussed in the comments section of my post on the retirement visa thanks to blog readers Michaela and Jay HERE). If you formally marry a Thai and have the documentation to prove it then the age requirement goes and you only need half the financial commitment. The other main benefit is that you can apply for a work visa, an option that’s not available under the retirement visa for obvious reasons.
My second reason for heading to the big smoke (and with the Indonesian bushfires still happening there was a bit of real smoke involved) was that I felt like a break from village life something you may need to build into your schedule if settling into a very slow rural pace in a town like Si Bun Ruang. Going to a city like Bangkok would not normally be on my list of places to have a holiday break from my permanent retired holiday. However I needed to get a statutory declaration signed at the Australian embassy and the paperwork has to be lodged with the Department of Consular Affairs on Changwattana Road in Bangkok. Although I could get everything done in a day we decided to spend two nights and explore a little of the area around Silom Road in the centre of Bangkok.
Getting to Bangkok is so easy from where we are. The airport in Udon Thani is a one hour drive and all of the major domestic carriers fly from there. Nok Air, AirAsia, Lion Air, Bangkok Air, Thai Smile and a couple of others. We booked on Nok and the return fare for two people was 3,400 THB or A$135.00. Nok’s online booking is easy to use and the original fare they show you is the final, unlike AirAsia which keeps adding things on screen two. Various payment options are offered and I prefer to print out the receipt and pay at 7/11 within 24 hours. Immediate confirmation of payment and the booking is received by SMS. 15kg of luggage per person is free and you can select your seats online.
Most domestic airlines fly into Don Mueang which was Bangkok’s international airport before the opening of the massive Suvarnabhumi airport in 2006. At one stage Don Mueang was looking a bit run down but these days is a bustling place with good amenities maybe reflecting a more mobile and increasingly wealthy Thai public.
Getting from the airport to Bangkok central is pretty straightforward although it looks a bit daunting. You have a couple of easy choices. On the ground floor you will see signs pointing you to the taxi allocation area, which is inside the terminal. On the way there you pass a couple of limo hire places and this is another option. A private limo from the airport to the centre will cost you around 800 THB (A$32.00) including all tolls. If you go the taxi route than you join one of six queues and wait to be allocated a taxi, which can take 15 minutes or more depending on the demand. The taxi fare will be around 250 plus a 50 THB booking fee plus tolls (the first one is 70 THB and the second 50 THB – you pay so have some change ready to give the driver). The taxis are metered and the flag fall is 35 THB.
If you are a Bangkok taxi virgin then don’t try to put on the seat belt in the back like I did the first time. The shoulder strap may be there but the buckle isn’t hidden down the back of the seat (as I now know). It just isn’t there 🙂 Bangkok taxis NEVER have accidents so don’t worry!
I also got a taste of why we tourists can find it hard to get to where we want to go. Silom Road is off a major road signposted in English as Rama IV (4). However to Gaun the Thai script of the sign was Palam Si (Si is four in Thai). If you get into a taxi and ask for Rama Four you are going to get a blank stare. Palam Si might get you close!
We booked a hotel called Baan Glang Soi, which is located towards the river end of Silom Road and reviewed on Trip Advisor HERE. I wanted to be in the Silom area, not just for the girlie bars at night (!) but the Australian embassy is in the area as well as the people I was going to use this time to do all the running around for me with the marriage documentation. The top of Silom Road close to Rama IV Road is very touristy and busy so I picked the other end, which had the reputation of being a lot more “Thai”. The hotel is close to the BTS – the Bangkok Mass Transit System – the wonderful overhead train system. If staying in Bangkok always make sure you are within walking distance to one of their stations. So easy to get around compared with the alternatives.
If in the unlikely event you are going to book Baan Glang Soi then direct the taxi driver to the soi (the lane) directly opposite the Centre Point building and the department store Robinsons as shown in the photo below. The Trip Advisor map has the hotel correctly marked, an unusual event.
If you want fancy then you won’t find it in this area. It is backwater Asian city with small interlinked streets full of food stalls and small combined home/business shops. A strong Chinese influence in this area. Lots to interest newbies to Thailand because it is so different from your home country. However scenic in a western sense it definitely isn’t.
Next door to the Baan Glang Soi is a bar/eating place called BKK Bistro & Bar reviewed HERE. Bangkok prices are a bit of a shock for us Isaan residents. A large beer that costs 70 THB back home was 135 THB here. The budget was being tested to its limit! Go to BKK Bistro 4 – 7 pm and happy hour brings the prices down to 80 THB for a beer! Phew.
We arrived at Baan Glang Soi at around 3.00 pm after a late flight out of Udon Thani at noon. The first stop was the embassy, which closed at 4.30 pm.
BTS stations are on three levels. The ground floor entrance, then level one, where you buy the tickets and go through the entry gates and then level two, which is the actual station where the trains stop. The ticketing system is very easy once you have done it once.
One level one you will find several ticketing machines. Most of them are coin only but there are a few touch screen machines making an appearance which accept coins and notes. If you don’t have coins just go to the manned ticketing window and either exchange a 100 THB note for coins or just buy a ticket. The ticket machines have a display next to them like the one shown below:
The station names are in Thai and English. The numbers aren’t station identifiers but the ticket cost of getting there from your current location. In the photo above we were at Sala Daeng and wanted to return to Saphan Taksin, which has a 28 next to it i.e. the ticket cost is 28 THB each.
On the ticket machine you just select the 28 button and then feed coins into the slot. The ticket is dispensed and you are given change. Once again thank you Thailand for clearly giving us English prompts.
I haven’t got a ticket to show you as the machine swallows it once you’ve completed your trip. The secret is that it has a little arrow on one end only. That’s the end you feed into the barrier gate to gain access to the platform. The arrows are a bit hard to see sometimes but the tickets also have a small hole at the correct end presumably to help visually impaired people (like me), and this is a much easier way of not looking like an idiot trying to get the gate to accept your ticket with a queue of Thais behind you.
Just inside the gate the stations had a security guard doing a quick inspection of bags with a torch, a result of the latest bombing I suspect. Make sure you know the end destination of the direction you want to go otherwise you’ll end up discovering a whole new aspect to Bangkok. Have a look at the rail map above and you’ll see that to get to Sala Daeng station, which is at the top of Silom Road, the end destination is the National Stadium. The station will have two platforms if it is a dual track (and not all of it is) with separate steps going up to level three for trains travelling in opposite directions. The platform we want will therefore be marked National Stadium as will the train.
Having got to Sala Daeng it was a short walk across to Sathon Tai Road and the embassy. Once through security the admin part of the visit is very efficient and we were out of there in 15 minutes. The embassy only accepts baht cash so it doesn’t have to pay Australian tax on income! Come prepared.
Statutory declaration and divorce papers all stamped at a cost of 2,000 THB we headed back to Silom Road and International Translations, a place that had been recommended by a friend, who will deal with Thai bureaucracy for me rather than battle it out as I tried to do last time. This is a very small operation situated adjacent to the Sala Daeng BTS exit on the left if you have your back to the river.
The office is on the second floor and will shortly be accessed through a restaurant, which they are building at the moment, facing onto Silom Road. You currently walk through the building site.
These people will do the translation of the now stamped statutory declaration and divorce papers at 600 THB a page (1,800 THB) and lodge them with Thai Consular Affairs, which is located close to Don Mueang airport, collect them when done and post the approved document to my home. The total cost including all Thai government fees was 4,450 THB. I will report back with an update on their final performance and the requirements to complete the marriage process at the local amphur (council) office in Si Bun Ruang.
Updated 23 November 2015:
I can’t give International Translations a 100% recommendation. We hadn’t received the paperwork after two weeks. When I rang them they had held onto the forms because they thought we still owed them 200 THB, which we had already paid. They were most apologetic and we received the paperwork three days later but a simple phone call would have solved the problem a lot earlier. This is most likely a once off but in my case things didn’t go as smoothly as they might.
We ended up eating at Baan Glang Soi and having an earlyish night to recover from the jet lag 🙂 while planning to have a big night out the following evening in what would end up being a big mistake. Read on.
I find Thailand a disappointment when making a list of things to do. If you take out anything related to temples then what you are left with can be pretty limited. Bangkok is more varied with its major attractions but we had already covered most of them before. We visited Bangkok in 2013 to meet up with my ex-step daughter who wanted to celebrate her 30th birthday with me in Thailand. It was Gaun’s first plane trip and we flew out of Phuket, which is where I started my time in Thailand before heading North. She’s now up to eighteen plane trips and counting.
A few photos of the major attractions on this 2013 trip:
Having done the major sights I did a lot of internet searching to see what I could find within easy walking distance of Silom for day two. Well not a lot if you exclude the shopping.
Our only full day. Breakfast first and I wanted a western kick-start to the day without resorting to McDonalds.
Thankfully there was a very active Thai food market just to the left of this photo doing lots of business. Hopefully Thailand can hold onto it’s fresh street food and not let this rubbish take over. Wishful thinking maybe.
The area around Robinsons is full of street stalls selling food, of course, but clothes and other everyday things as well. I didn’t see a lot of foreigners in this area. It was mostly Thais going about their lives.
We started the day’s sightseeing at the river end of the Silom. We had spotted a wat (temple) from the train and decided to drop in for a look. Wikipedia has it described as:
Wat Yannawa (Thai: วัดยานนาวา) is an old Buddhist temple (wat) dating back to the Ayutthaya period, located in the Sathon district of Bangkok on Charoen Krung Road, Bangkok,Thailand. It has a unique junk shaped chedi and viharn built by King Rama III. The idea behind the construction was that Chinese junk was quickly disappearing and the pagoda should show present descendants what it looked like.
…….and this is what that junk did look like.
The temple wasn’t anything special in itself but it did show the complex mix of cultures here. The front part was Chinese Buddhist, the central junk structure carried on with this theme but mixed in a bit of Thai Buddhism. In front of the junk was a statue of the previous king along with a couple of canons while the Thai temple occupied the rear.
This massive apartment building close to the temple hasn’t been completed and is looking pretty sad. Maybe left over from one of the boom/bust cycles.
Moving along if you are into semi-precious stones and silver jewelry then have a wander through this river end of the Silom/Bang Rak area. Lots of small shops selling many temptations to part you and your money. A more relaxed part of town too. Wide streets, less traffic than Silom Road and decent footpaths.
Having seen such a range of wats while in Thailand I thought we’d have a change and go Christian.
It’s not just the church but there’s a huge complex here with several schools, a convent, administrative buildings and goodness knows what else. It takes up a couple of city blocks leading down to the river.
If shopping is your thing then you are spoiled for choice in the Silom area. Down a small soi completely hidden away at this river end of Silom was a very upmarket mall called Op Place with uniformed people to open the door for you. Lots of information HERE. We felt very underdressed and as I’d left my Gold Card back in Isaan we tried to look eccentric rich and left quickly.
Heading up Silom Road with your back to the river there are a huge range of shopping experiences for you to enjoy if that’s your thing. Thankfully for my budget I am over it and Gaun only likes to buy plants and flowers! Rather than cover this topic myself if you like to dream of “what if” then check this page of links HERE. My cutdown photo version of Silom Road, including some of the shopping looks like this:
I only include this photo because this Indian temple is one of the sights of Silom Road. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any inside photos because the place is literally covered with large bright yellow signs saying “No Photos”. The end result is so ugly that you wouldn’t want to take any photos, so I guess a win win for the temple. A mish mash of concepts inside but lots of worshipers. Pop your head in the door if passing by.
After the success of Bike for Mum, which was Thailand’s way of celebrating the Queen’s 83rd birthday, we are now counting down to Bike for Dad, the King’s birthday in December.
We finished off our explore by quickly calling into Lumpini Park, which is a relief from the noise, people and traffic across the road.
We had planned a big night out as I mentioned earlier, but unknown to me Tuesday 27 October was the last day of Buddhist Lent and had been declared an alcohol free day for the first time ever!!!!!!!! I had planned on visiting a rooftop bar called Cloud 47 shown HERE but going to a cocktail bar without the cocktails just didn’t seem worth the effort. We ended up having a decent western meal at a franchise called the Wine Connection and then went for a walk through the Patpong night markets looking for a couple of dresses for my step daughter Peng.
There are street stalls set up at night all along the upper end of Silom Road but the actual Patpong markets are the stalls on Soi 2 briefly covered HERE. The markets are mixed in with a number of nightclubs and bars staffed by girl dancers and others many of whom are open to being especially friendly to foreigners with money.
I had a dejavu moment in Patpong and I could have been walking through the night markets of Chiang Mai on Chang Klan Road. Everything on display here had come from exactly the same warehouse they use in Chiang Mai and originality was definitely the loser. I am getting jaded as I get older but it seems that so much of modern tourism is for show rather than giving a “real” experience of the culture. Markets like this are full of Chinese replicas – rubbish that give no insight to Thailand, its people or its culture. Visiting hill tribes in the North of the country has villagers dressing up for the tourist buses like showtime in Disneyland and elephants are taught, often brutally, to play football. Outburst over.
The whole Patpong area was pretty quiet as the normally lively bar trade wasn’t happening due to the fact they couldn’t sell drinks. In one of those happy traveller moments we were going to head back to the hotel but I wanted to find an art gallery I had read about, which only opened in the evenings. That lead us to Silom Soi 4, which for those of you new to the area is the gay and katoey (ladyboy) area of Silom. The art gallery had closed – true, but one of the bars was selling beer and cocktails on the quiet. Mojitos for 100 THB (A$4.00) got my attention and the night was looking up.
Soi 4 is actually one of the more pleasant lanes in this area. The bars and restaurants are attractively presented and it is a walking street with no traffic. If you aren’t bothered about the main customer base then you could do a lot worse than spend some evening time here. Lots of “regular” customers stop here too. We visited when we were last in Bangkok and one of the fun things to do is people watch. I especially like to base myself about halfway down the soi and note the reaction of people who suddenly wake up to the fact that this isn’t your regular drinking area! Many photo moments. If you are eating you might notice that many of the bars offer a menu that seems surprisingly similar to other places on the street. Mostly they don’t cook their own food. It comes out of some central kitchen and delivered to you. Another illusion for the tourist trade.
Well four cocktails later I was feeling quite relaxed and we decided to pack it in.
Our last day in Bangkok was a short one mainly involving airport time and getting back home. Flying out of Bangkok was a reminder of just how bad the bushfires in Indonesia have affected Southern Thailand. Although Bangkok wasn’t hit as badly as Phuket and further South it still didn’t look too healthy from the air.
I enjoyed my time away but I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to drive through our gates again. It’s not for everyone but it’ll do me.
Well I promised you a ramble and we have covered a whole range of topics as usual. I hope you’ve enjoyed our very modest trip to Bangkok. Keep an eye out for Isaan – the Small Stories 8, because after my trip away I may be on a roll.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. A regular reader has included an interesting link on the Khon masks in a comment below. I have moved the link he provided HERE for anyone interested. It sounds like it is another ancient craft about to die out like so many others.
In the same comment Mikey also mentions the Chatuchak markets. They are definitely worth a visit and are easy to get to on the BTS (last stop I think). Remember that they are a weekend market, something I didn’t know so we missed out.
I have been there before and you can spend all day there. To be avoided in the hot season. A very useful link to the markets HERE.