Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Thailand - The first mosquito bites

Hello everyone!

Saturday morning comes around, and I'm giddy with excitement. The knowledge that soon I would be in a country where the temperature was 30 in celcius rather than fahrenheit brought a giant smile to my face. I set off early, with my trusty backpack, to go to the bank to acquire some Thai baht before getting to the airport. Should have realised that the bank wouldn't have been open on in Siheung on a Saturday morning, but never mind, I was too excited!

One of us had to be. Kelly didn't sound particularly thrilled when I called her to say I was on my way, probably due to her being out drinking a few hours earlier. In spite of this, we were soon on the bus on the way to the airport. Snow covered the land mass between Bucheon and Incheon, and indeed laced the airport itself. The check-in and immigration passed off without incident, though I took a bit of a hit at the foreign exchange desk. This was also the most foreigners I had noticed since I came to Korea. Have to say, I didn't really like it. I guess I like being the odd one out, or the centre of attention, out here.

Our flight was via Guangzhou, so I also got to visit China for the first time. I will more than likely be going there on my summer vacation, and I am excited for that, mainly because it didn't give me a great impression of the place. The Great Wall of China is nearer Beijing, but the Great Wall of Immigration Issues seems to stretch over to Guangzhou. Kelly was up first. They initially talked to her for a little while, then took her passport, and finally told her to go and stand at the side. Without her passport. I assumed that the Chinese didn't have a personal vendetta against my friend, and so it proved, as I suffered a similar fate. I asked for an explanation. I didn't get one.

A group of around ten foreigners were packed off to the side of the immigration section. There was a slight concern, but nothing too major. We talked to a trio of friends, one of whom had just finished a teaching stint in Korea, and they were also on the flight over to Thailand, so we were all in the same boat. It took over half an hour for a skinny Chinese woman, cellphone tucked in under her shoulder, to hand out our passports, but we then thought that we were on our way.

Not quite. We were then whisked away up to a higher floor, where we had to go through a security checkpoint. I was told to leave my wallet in my pocket, so it was no surprise when I set off the alarm. Note for anyone going to a Chinese airport - their method of frisking is rather aggressive, and very, very thorough. She stayed in what I can only describe as the below-the-belt region for just a little too long. At least there was nothing bad in my bag, unlike one of the Canadian girls, Ashley. They became alarmed at something in one of her bags, so went through both of them with the Chinese equivalent of a fine tooth comb. They found something, something serious. It was...mosquito spray. Bought in Incheon Airport. Ashley told them they were free to chuck it, but they seemed intent on making a point. They took the spray, and a tissue, and sprayed the latter with the former. They then motioned lighting the tissue, and started shouting 'FLAMMABLE!' in her face, with an unnecessary degree of hostility attached. Needless to say, it got binned.

We then waited in Guangzhou 'we don't use heating' airport for a while. We looked at souvenirs, and Kelly found some postcards she wanted to buy. The woman typed in 16 on her calculator, and we worked out the exchange rate. 16Y, about $2US, for 10 postcards seemed like a decent deal for an airport, so Kelly offered them some US dollars. They looked confused. It took us a while to realise that they were actually asking for 16 dollars, rather than 16 yuan. About a quid per postcard? You know what, we can manage without them. Ridiculous.

Our gate resembled a bus shelter, which didn't add any warmth to it. Our flight was delayed by about an hour for some reason. On top of this, we were also sat on the bus connecting the gate and the plane for a long time. In spite of passing on what I had heard about China Southern (essentially, that their safety record wasn't too great), the flights themselves were reasonable, though had rather a lot of turbulence. Telling Kelly about their safety concerns whilst in the air wasn't my brightest moment.

So we arrived at Bangkok's airport a little later than planned. As we weren't scheduled to land until 2130 anyway, we were getting in in the dark. Which made the scorching heat a bit more unexpected. Being told on the plane that it was 32'C raised our spirits, and we were soon on a bus heading for Kho San Road, the backpacker's haven and location of our hostel.

Kho San Road on a Saturday night is rather busy, as you would expect. It wasn't so much culture shock that set in, more a realisation that we had moved to a different universe over the course of the day. A hotter universe. It felt great. We looked at our directions and headed down Kho San Road, then back the other way after I read the map wrong (not for the first time), and headed out towards our place. On the hostelworld directions it told us to 'go into a neighbourhood alley' - and they weren't wrong. Korea lulls you into a false sense of security, in that you always feel safe even if walking along alone with no clue where you are. To have more reservations in Thailand was to be expected, but after walking down numerous alleys, we eventually found the hostel a little after midnight.

It was a cute little place, right on the river, with a pond and seating area. It was also one of the more basic hostels that I have stayed in. I don't remember ever staying in a hostel where you flush the toilet by pouring in more water from a bowl on the side, but this wasn't unique to Bangkok. Still, it seemed like a nice place, and we soon got talking to some of the people in the hostel. As well as asking people about their lives and travelling adventures, we also wanted to find out which of the islands were best to visit. The only aspects we had booked were the flight to and hostel in Bangkok, and a flight out of Phuket. We had wanted to find out where people recommended going.

One of the people we quizzed about this was a Polish guy called Lezcek, who, in true travelling fashion, was staying up all night drinking before leaving at 5am to get his flight. Hero. We also spoke to an Aussie who stumbled in, called Jono, who doesn't actually remember any of our conversation but was a really funny guy. He had gone to get drunk after finding out that he hadn't got his visa to go to India processed in time, and thus had to kick around in Thailand for another two weeks. Oh, the hard life. The conversations with everyone were so captivating that I had forgotten to put on my mosquito spray. Sat next to a stagnant pond, and being fresh meat for the mozzies, was never going to end well.

A day of travelling done, we decided to get some sleep, and hit up the Grand Palace the following day before experiencing the carnage associated with Chinese New Year.

Love you all


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