Around the World 1998; Bangkok Part 2

Note; this post is recreated from the original wired2theworld website post with the dates below. The old posts were reformatted in 2018 and 2019 for the 20th anniversary of wired2theworld. As much as possible, the content is unchanged and unedited from the original, only some formatting, spelling, and link errors have been corrected.

Note from 20 years in the future; in 1998 and 1999 we used Bangkok as a “home base” for our travels around Asia. There will be several installments covering our time in this amazing city. This is Part 2.

November 24-30, 1998  Bangkok again…

    We’ve spent yet another week here in Bangkok, and looking back on it, we’re not exactly sure what we did during this time. Certainly no sightseeing. Mostly business stuff since it takes so long to get anything done in this bureaucratic nightmare of a city. We decided where to go next, shopped around for the best price on tickets, bought the tickets, cashed travelers checks for US dollars (not easy), Christmas shopped, mailed packages (another endurance test), ate good street food, and stayed in two different hotels. 
    Here’s a good tip for finding an inexpensive “nice” hotel in Bangkok. Go to the STA travel office in the Wall Street Tower, one block east of Patpong 2 on Surawong Blvd. STA is the student travel office that arranges student exchanges, but also books discount flights, tours, etc. They also offer severely discounted rates at local “tourist class” and international hotels. The one of the best rates they had was 1050 B for the Asia Hotel, including breakfast, which is normally 2300 B a night, not including breakfast.. So we stayed there, unable to face Khao San Rd. again. If you can afford a little more than bare budget, this is by far the best way to go. We also wound up staying at the Mandarin Hotel (not the Mandarin Oriental) for two nights, because the Asia didn’t have room, which was a little more expensive, but better TV.

    We did all our Christmas shopping in one night at the  Patpong Night Market. By the end of the evening, Dave and I had become quite good at team bartering with the vendors. We played good cop/bad cop and managed to get some good deals. The best way to get the price you want is to be willing to walk away and usually, the vendors come after you with a better offer (as long as your offer wasn’t completely unreasonable to start). 
   The hard part came when we tried to mail our gifts home. We found two used boxes from behind a grocery store that were the perfect size. I wrapped the presents (try finding Christmas paper in Bangkok in November), we wrote the cards, and packed everything up nicely. We took the boxes down to the hotel’s business center to ask for packing tape, which they were supposed to have but didn’t, and they gave us directions to the post office. By this time we were working on a deadline, it being Saturday and the post office closing at 11:30 and us leaving Bangkok early Monday. We walked to the post office where they looked at our boxes and just said, 
    “No.” 
    “No, what?”, we said. 
    “No use box.” 
    After much discussion, we figured out that we would not be allowed to use the boxes we had, because they had printing on the outside. This post office had no large boxes for sale, or any plain brown wrapping paper. They sent us to another post office, 12 blocks away. By this time it was 10:30. We hurried, sweat dripping, choking on the smog. When we got to the next post office, found only by divine intervention I believe, we were pointed upstairs to the wrapping area. At first the “wrapping guy” just looked at us and shook his head. I was about to blow a fuse, but we finally figured out that we could buy new boxes from him, repackage everything, he taped them up, put plastic wrapping straps around them and we were ready to go! Almost. Next it was downstairs to secure postage.  Customs forms. Air mail. Much money exchanged hands (more to mail two boxes than the cost of all contents!). Then, unlike in the US where they just print one stamp for the total mailing cost, we had to wait while literally dozens of stamps, ranging from 5-200 B each, were pasted on the boxes. We then insisted that they hand cancel the stamps before we left the post office (the stamps most likely equaling more than a month’s wages).

    We also made our decision on where to go next; Nepal. It seemed more effective to go some place where we could spend 25 full days instead of coming in and out of Bangkok if we had gone to Cambodia and Phuket. Vietnam is currently out of the question since the entire country is under water due to monsoonal flooding.

    The best airfare deal we found was on Royal Nepal Airlines for 13,200 B round trip (barring 10,500 B on Bangladesh Airways with a night stopover in Dakka-no thanks). We went to the RNA office to purchase our tickets with a credit card. First we were asked to go downstairs to the bank to get a cash advance to pay for the tickets. We declined and were told there would be a 3% surcharge for using a credit card. Fine. Then we went around and around about how they actually calculate 3% (too difficult to relate) and it took almost a half an hour after that to get our tickets in hand. 
    After that we went to the American Express office to cash American Express Traveler’s Checks in US Dollars for US dollars. No such luck. They don’t do that there. Only Thai Baht. They told us to go to the bank downstairs, change the traveler’s checks to baht, and then the baht to dollars with surcharges on both ends. AAAGH! We went to Citibank where we were still charged an absurd amount, but at least it was our own bank. We wanted US dollars because we had heard that we might need them in Nepal, especially for our entrance visa in the Kathmandu Airport. We checked out getting a visa at the Nepalese Embassy here in Bangkok, but it cost 1500 B ( $US 43) versus $US 25 in Nepal.

David’s Diary: 
November 26            Thanksfornothing

    The night of the 26th of November was one of the most difficult evenings I have had since we left the USA.  I know this probably sounds soft and sentimental, but I never thought that I would miss Thanksgiving as much as I did .  Kristina and looked around for some signs of a turkey dinner, only to find a succession of blank stares and confused looks.  One hostess at an American restaurant, responded “we have Ladies night tonight” to my queries of a special Thanksgiving menu.  I was so depressed at the thought of not having turkey and mashed potatoes that I was near tears.  We even checked some of the big American hotels, thinking that our best chance for some kind of turkey dinner was likely to be at Ramada or the Holiday Inn Crown Plaza, but to no avail.  We had heard that the Oriental hotel had an annual Christmas dinner, but we had heard nothing of Thanksgiving. I know for certain that what most upset me was knowing that somewhere, far far away, were gatherings of family and friends- my parents and grandparents in our family’s cabin in the San Bernadino Mountains, and Kristina’s mother and our friends Dina and A.J., Eugene, Drea, and Dino all at Sharon’s (K’s mom) home in Los Angeles.  We were 15,000 miles away, practically on the other side of the world, and all we could find was the same same dinner we had to chose from every night in Bangkok. 
    I am supposed to be the strong one here. Kristina gets homesick and I tell her its OK, she’ll get past it.  I’ve spent years away from home and family in the past, and I’ve missed two Thanksgivings because I was overseas.  I must be getting old.  I even missed my mother in law! We wound up in TGIFridays, of all places, where we enjoyed the fine cuisine of institutional America: a half slab of ribs and a chicken chimichanga. It was a poor substitute for roast bird with all the trimmings, but I finally resigned myself to the fact that it was all I was going to get.  At least I was able to share my misery with my darling wife, without whom I would not have made it through the evening.  Luckily for both us, it was Ladies Night, and happy hour, which meant that Kristina’s margarita was free, and I had two for one Jim Beam on the rocks.  We really haven’t been drinking hard liquor this entire trip, but it sort of  made the bitter pill that was Thanksgiving a little easier to swallow.  Come Christmas I don’t anticipate such a downer, as I already know that we’ll be on an airplane from Kathmandu back to Bangkok.  I have a whole month to prepare myself emotionally.

November 29             It was bound to happen…

    We spent our final day in Bangkok making last minute preparations for Nepal, and planned a sightseeing stop at the Royal Palace. Although we had discussed the probable need to wear long pants, we were both in shorts, and sure enough, there were rules beyond strict concerning the dress of visitors to the palace.  We decided to pass on the palace, as neither of us wanted to rent the jesters wardrobe that they offer to uncouth farang,  that we might parade ourselves around the King’s residence  with the mark of the disrespectful.  We will have at least two more opportunities to see the Palace, so it was not a great loss, and perhaps it was the way it was meant to be…

    We wandered over to Khao San Rd. in order to exchange some books for new ones, as a good novel is a necessity when you travel. Even though The Lonely Planet touts the bookshops of this area as such an incredible deal, but in our opinion, they are all overpriced, even the street vendors, who want around 7 bucks for a used paperback!

Billy Rojo Nichols

    We are sitting at a table on the street, eating some Thai curry and Pad Thai, when it happened.  From the throngs of western farang all around us, one voice became distinct above all the rest.  Kristina looked up from her food, with an expression of distant, but unconfirmed recognition.  I began to listen, and experienced the same thing. She looked again, and I turned around, trying to place a face and voice, when it hit me like a brick wall.  He was looking at us with the same bewildered look, when suddenly, he smiled ear to ear, eyes twinkling.  “Dave!!” , he shouted at the top of his lungs, and I replied with an equally hearty “Bill!!”  Standing there on Khao San road was Billy “Rojo” Nichols, one of those friends who makes a lasting impression on you, the kind you never forget. I’ve known Bill for years, since he first came to UC Santa cruz, and was a resident in one of my buildings (I was an RA at the University for two years). Bill taught me at least half of what I know about playing basketball, and we played in the under-six-foot league together on a team of five guys, that reached the finals of the intramurals.  Those were the days! 
    And there is more. I am not just talking about bumping into an acquaintance, here. Bill and Kristina and I actually  lived together for a whole year.  We finally moved off campus in 1989, and the three of us rented a house in town together.  We lived through the Loma Prieta earthquake together with our two other house mates, Eric Wilcox and Brian Shulze.  The last time we talked, Bill was just about to enter acupuncture school, his bold choice of graduate studies.  This time, Bill had finished his four year course of study, and was traveling around Thailand waiting for the results of his final examinations.  Congratulations Bill, we always knew you would do something big! I don’t think I have ever met anyone with as much natural energy and motivation as this guy.  He hadn’t changed one bit. 
    It was bound to happen.  We knew that somewhere, sometime on this trip we were going to run into someone we knew, quite unexpectedly.  It is, after all, a small small world. Both Kristina and I did remark, however, that of all the people we could have possibly encountered,  it came as no surprise that Billy Rojo in Bangkok would be the magic combo! 

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Lucy I. says:

    I’m really enjoying these, Kristina! Some things are so familiar, but long gone now, like using traveler’s checks and going in person to travel agencies to shop & purchase air tickets. Thanks for reviving your tales!

    1. I’m enjoying the look back too and so happy to get the format of the old posts updated!

  2. Lucy I. says:

    And thanks to David, as well! I enjoy your portions, especially since sometimes you two have such different points of view.

    1. Thanks Lucy! I love reading what we both wrote back then too. I’d love it if David still contributed. 🙂

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