Virtual meanderings

Tag Archives: travel

Istanbul – Bangkok

Istanbul, Turkey – Abu Dhabi, UAE – Bangkok, Thailand

     My journey to Asia began in a city already partially on the continent – Istanbul. I spent my day before the plane takeoff traversing the Istanbul central parts, coming to grips with the fact that the journey had begun in earnest and there was no turning back. The plane arrived at Abu Dhabi around midnight local time. The connecting flight to Bangkok was early next morning, and I needed a place to nap. I have done it at airports before – at most places one can stretch on three chairs, and use a hand bag as an improvised pillow – and it works fine.
At Abu Dhabi they had a much better solution – nice, long, comfortable chairs especially designed for sleeping. A total of, I guess, twenty chairs, that is. All taken.
The remaining chairs in the hall (there were hundreds of those) featured armrests that made it virtually impossible to stretch. After skewing myself in several positions,  none of which comfortable, I gave up. Other ‘victims’ were already using the marble floor. I did too.

TIP: Bangkok is a big transportation hub of South-East Asia, and buying a ticket a month or more prior to departure is a bargain. So, fly direct! I had only bought the ticket 4 days in advance (for reasons unrelated to the journey), and connecting through Abu Dhabi was the best option I got.

    Transiting through the Middle East does have its exotic touch, however.  Now I know how fully veiled women pass through passport control, and how they eat without taking their veils off. “Sex and the City 2”, anyone?
The plane landed at Suvarnabhumi airport at Bangkok early in the evening and I got on one of the fifteen or so immigration waiting lines. Welcome to Thailand! It began dawning on me that it probably would have been a good idea to have made a hotel reservation before I left.
You see – back at home it had seemed like a good idea to book a place once I was already here (or so I reasoned sitting in my comfortable chair). After all, it would not be a problem – Thailand was a major tourist destination and hotels would abide in Bangkok. Right? However, at that moment at the immigration line – with a big backpack, exhausted from a 48 hour journey with almost no sleep, late in the evening – things were beginning to acquire a different dimension.
OK, true, I had not come completely unprepared. I had gotten advice to go to a street called Khao San Road, where allegedly most of the backpackers started their journey through Thailand.  So I was thinking to give the place a try.

If you hear one mentioning Khao San Road in the casual manner I just did, it means one thing – they do not have a clue what they are talking about and what awaits ahead. Khao San area is the epitome of South Asia backpacking limbo – a marketplace, hostel and hotel area, bar area with deafening noise. It has very little to do with what Bangkok or Thailand is about – but you only realize this once you get to know more about the country. Khao San is essentially a fake construct which has evolved from the Westerners’ flawed image of Asian chaos and the Thai people’s desire to make some money and hence adhere to this image. Thus, Khao San is the perfect stereotype – and a noisy one too. The innocent description of it being “the area where most backpackers go” was way too pale to capture the atmosphere of this area. While slowly advancing ahead on the immigration line I was still blissfully ignorant of that.

     The immigration lines were long and it would easily take half an hour to pass through. So I started chatting with the two British girls standing just in front of me who were already busy discussing their own accommodation. However, it turned out that they were only transiting in Bangkok on their way to the southern islands – so they had booked a hotel very near the airport.
I decided to stick to Khao San road after all and use a taxi to get to there (taxi rates in Bangkok were supposed to be very reasonable).
Then another British lady behind me joined in the conversation and assured me that I did not need a taxi – a bus would do just fine for a third of the taxi ride price. She offered to take me to the bus stop outside of the airport.

TIP: Going around Bangkok by taxi is a good option, but the city offers a lot of transportation means – one can get to all major places around town using some kind of public transport – for little money. I am preparing a dedicated post on Bangkok transportation options)

The bus stop turned out to be just out of the terminal exit and was in fact quite easy to locate. The ticket kiosk provided Bangkok tourist maps for free too. While we sat waiting for our buses, I chatted some more with the lady. It turned out that she was a certified Reiki teacher and got by by teaching her art to middle-class Thai people (and other foreigners). Interesting way of making one’s living for Thailand, n’est-ce pas? She gave me a quick Welcome to Thailand 101 course, but soon her bus came and she took off. Mine came as well, and I parted with the familiarity of a big international airport into the new environment (writer J. Conrad might have said “into the heart of darkness”…).