Here's the first of a series of articles during a trip to south-east Asia. Couldn't make it back for the infamous SteemFest (AKA ThaiFest!) this year but a fine place to visit and I'll be back before long I'm sure…
The opening gambit…
I’m now sat in a rather plush (for traveler standards anyhow) & cheap (western standards, though somewhat expensive for the ardent traveler considering what you can pay here) guesthouse in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand… in fact I’m so comfortable I’m half expecting the travel police to knock at the door, having taken umbrage with me not fully embracing the budget traveler ethos and booking me in for excessive lavishness.
Anyway, time for an update…
Firstly something to bear in mind. When I got to the airport I was told I needed a visa or an onward ticket within 30 days. Since my return ticket was for 3 months down the line, there was a potential problem.
I am well aware (as I’m sure you are) that you get a 30 day visa given to you on arrival to Thailand. It is generally simply case of nipping out the country before that runs out in order to re-enter to get another 30 days should you wish to stay longer. I believe you can do this twice in any 6 month period.
My idea was to leave the country anyway within the month, visit surrounding countries and return with less than a month to go… so no issue I thought. Common practice I thought. It turns out though you should have something arranged in order to show when entering immigration if they ask for it.
She seemed fairly jolly and upbeat when she mentioned that
“The problem is, they may not let you in the country”
Ok, so I get to Thailand and they say “no, go back”, could be fun or I don’t get on the flight and head home with tail between my legs.
I didn’t panic but just allowed her to do her thing. She called her colleague and they made a kind of fake print out saying I’d be leaving the country on the 31st back to London. Something to show if I was asked.
I was never asked.
Turns out the airline (Air India in this case) get fined if found travellers are let through past this so they were covering their own backs too. Could have been a little issue there…but no, crisis over.
Turns out some other people in the flight had a similar thing happen. 2 girls frantically booked an onward flight to Cambodia whilst another guy booked something to Malaysia. I’m unsure if they will use these tickets but they were now covered. I think I got a good deal. Like I said, at border control we were never asked, just filled in the standard card and had our passports stamped.
Just something to think about if you plan to do something similar. Make sure you have an onward journey booked for within the 30 days so you’re nicely covered and no surprises await at the airport!
Air India are ok…but not the best. Wouldn’t recommend them as such but they appear to be cheaper than most. Last time I flew with Qatar who I quite liked. This was a little more average.
There was a little ‘confusion’ and ‘discussion’ over seat allocation which wasn’t really resolved in my favour…with an Indian in a blue tracksuit seeming to think he was captain of flight AI332. He wasn’t but he did make himself quite comfortable, spreadeagled, encroaching onto my seat…throwing the occasional burp into the mix, which is always nice.
There was an unmistakable whiff of curry emanating the air vents which gave a little clue as to the on flight meal which I thought was ok actually, although the ‘continental breakfast’ left a little to be desired.
I did also get to see a delightful romp involving Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz along with Liam Neeson running around spinning out trying to put his life together and something to do with Reese Witherspoon and a circus elephant. Great times ;).
Met a couple of girls and a guy…so we played some cards between flights and got a taxi from the airport to the (in)famous Khao San Road area of Bangkok…
As soon as we landed we checked in our respective hostels and went straight out on the town. By sheer coincidence the 2 girls from the plane were staying 2 doors down from me and we started our evening there.
2nd day met my sister who is also traveling south-east Asia on her way to New Zealand. She swung back by Bangkok and appeared randomly at my room following her own wacky journey from Cambodia. We then met up with the people I was with the previous evening, but this time there were more of us.
An ever increasing organism.
With people meeting friends, brothers, sisters etc there was a party posse of 12 of us out for dinner and subsequent drinks.
My new friends were heading south to Phi Phi the next evening. My sister and her friend’s next move was to Myanmar (formerly Burma) and as for me…north to Chiang Mai…
The Fun Bus
The word fun is used slightly ironically but it does help to jazz up a slightly less than inspiring situation.
Now, I’ve been to Thailand before and experienced an overnight sleeper train, an overnight boat (please, never do this) and a long bus ride so I know a little what to expect. I went for the ‘VIP’ bus, whatever that actually means and ‘set sail’ Sunday night.
Firstly, they took me to the wrong bus so we were traipsing across town to the correct one. No same same. I was slightly concerned I may have missed it but there was still plenty of time to actual departure.
I nervously counted the people on as I didn’t particularly want anyone sitting next to me…now is not the time for a new friend. Sure enough, I had the 2 seats to myself.
Although there was a moment of high drama when a woman (in her 50s I’d say) from a couple of rows in front, who had done nothing but fidget the whole time started making her way towards me. I could see her previously adjusting her chair constantly (felt sorry for the poor sod next to her…really did get the short straw there) and putting her feet up on the one in front with her horrible socks tickling the guy in front’s head and backing in to the guy behind her (who was in front of me).
Anyway she must have thought she may have it better back beside me. She spoke in French but it was quite clear she wanted to worm her way in on my territory. I tried to point out in the politest way that she had made her decision and she must stick with it or it throws the whole bus into disarray but she was having none of it.
She had one of those silly dentist’s masks, trying to avoid pollution or whatever. Fortunately, that seat wasn’t any better and she said as much to me in broken English to which I replied,
“Probably worse I expect”
…trying to guide her in the direction of thinking she had it better in the first place. I then pointed at a leak from the roof behind me – which was another concern at one stage – and told her that would plague her whole journey. Thankfully, she realised the error of her ways and twaddled back to her original enclave. The status quo restored and all well again.
It was a slightly bumpy ride but all fairly painless nonetheless. A little long and boring but that is the nature of the beast.
Jumped on one of those red minibuses where I had a nice chat with an Italian girl who had been traveling for 4 years and was heading back to Europe to see her family for the first time in that time. She was heading to Berlin in a few days…had spent a significant time in Australia (hence her mixed accent) and she was just heading to Chiang Mai simply to get out of Bangkok until she leaves Asia.
An example of the mixed bag of folk you encounter on the travel trail…
CM is quite a good place to hang out. I haven’t done much yet but there is plenty to do and a much more chilled out vibe than Bangkok. There are many activities (trekking etc) and plenty going on without it being too ‘full on’.
Yesterday I met with my Aussie friend Dan who I met on a Pueblo Inglés program a while back. Wandered the markets, ate some food and basically chilled out. Essentially he’s traveling the world indefinitely and doing lots of different things…this guy has the right idea!
This is also a place where a lot of digital nomads and the like hang out and work/play. It has a reputation of being fairly cheap and also a middle ground of being a city with everything you need but without the raging lunacy of the capital and some places in the south.
People who earn their money online or those who are location independent can earn their money in a 'stronger' currency and spend it where it goes a lot further, hence making them richer for less.
Also known as 'geoarbitrage' - a concept well known to anyone reading this I'm sure! And something that will be expanded upon going forward with Steem and blockchain technology.
There has been a term coined in recent times called the “new rich” (I believe by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4 Hour Work Week and more). These are people who aren’t so concerned about money per sé. They would like a lot if possible, but more importantly it’s about having enough to live on, living a great lifestyle, good weather, food, activities, social, having cool experiences etc. Chiang Mai and south-east Asia in general is a haven for this as this situation can be achieved…and fairly easily.
Something to think about.
So we’ll see how it goes here. I intend to stay a few more days, sneak in a trek, then probably head up to Pai before leaving the country into Laos…
Next up, chasing waterfalls!