Land of a Thousand Smiles: Day 1

What started off as almost something like a joke – “Yes, let’s go Bangkok for the world tour!” – suddenly became very serious with Abby, Jean and me. Before I knew it, plane tickets were being searched and booked, same with hotels and concert tickets. The idea only occured barely after I had given my Japan trip a miss because of that crippling fear of flying, costing me a few hundred dollars for nothing but an ease of mind. I had strong misgivings about flying there, but was only comforted with the prospect that the flight there would be nothing as long as if I had flown to Japan, and that I would have Daryl with me.

October seemed like ages away, and I put everything to the back of my mind, trying not to think about the horrifying idea of flying. I concentrated on my other plans and schedules, work stuff, plans with Daryl, anything that would distract me from the trip itself. That wasn’t to say that I was not excited for it – I was, but the biggest hurdle for me was the flight there, as well as the packing before that.

It came down to four weeks before the trip, then three, then two and sooner, I was worrying about how much baht to change, what I needed to pack and so on. Finally, the day of the flight arrived. It was a good thing that my Note 4 collection happened to fall on the same day as my flight, so at least I had something distracting enough to ease my mind out of flight anxiety mode. I packed, I worried, I stressed, but then I found myself on the way to the airport with Daryl, my dad fetching both of us.

A selfie taken before take-off with my new Note 4. :D
A selfie taken before take-off with my new Note 4. 😀

We finally got onto the plane. I had eaten a whole plethora of medications that I had found necessary to keep myself nausea-free during my previous few flights to Japan, but this time, I realised that there was none of that nauseating fuel smell that usually triggers my gag reflex. It is a trend that I appreciate amongst budget airplanes, though they do make rickety noises which worries me, the benefit of not having that gasoline odour far outstrips the noises. The last time I had sat Air Asia was to Indonesia, and I did not remember having a very good impression. However, this trip was more impressive. The air stewardesses were more presentable and well-kempt, the food was cheaper than I remember (perhaps it was charged in Thai baht) and in general, my flight there was much less unpleasant than I had expected (the same went for my flight back).

Tao Kae Noi bought on the plane for about 40 baht.
Tao Kae Noi bought on the plane for about 40 baht.

I slept soundly for the second half of the flight and woke up just as we were preparing to land. Finally the flight was coming to an end. Though it had not been unpleasant, I still did not enjoy the idea of being in an airplane. We landed at Don Mueang airport safely at around 11.35pm local time. Don Mueang airport is the older of the two airports near Bangkok, and just celebrated its 100th year anniversary. I expected, but was still surprised to see how run-down the airport was. I felt like I had been transported back to the 1990s or even 1980s with the flourescent lighting, the dim corridors, the dirty plastic floors and so on. They didn’t even have free wi-fi.

As I lined up to clear customs, I counted down the time until it would strike midnight, so my roaming data would be activated, and then I could contact Abby and Jean who had landed earlier that day at the newer, mainstream Subanarvhumi Airport. Customs went through smoothly, and thankfully Daryl and I had moved quickly enough so that we did not have long to wait. When we got through customs, we got our luggage from the old conveyor belt and quickly made our way out. The arrival lounge of Don Mueang airport was even more run-down than the arrival transit area. The orangey dim flourescent lights gave it a rustic, old feel that did not make me feel welcome or happy to stick around. All I wanted was to immediately hop into a cab and get to our hotel as soon as possible. However, upon finding out that Abby and Jean had already eaten supper with the rest, I settled with getting two bowl noodles from a very cheap-looking stall. We also bought our phone SIM cards from a warehouse-like shop at the airport, with the guy (with thick but non-colourful make-up on) at the store cutting the SIM cards into a nano size manually with a pair of scissors. He reassured us that if one orientation did not work, we should try flipping the card around and seeing if it worked with the other side.

The taxi queue was not that long a wait, and the taxis at the airport are thankfully regulated such that they cannot use the non-metered method to cheat unsuspecting tourists. The taxi driver that took us, thankfully, seemed honest enough. He had to call our hotel, Legacy Suites, to confirm its location before he finally drove off. The movement of the car made me drowsy, but I told Daryl that only one of us should be sleeping at any one time. From what I saw and heard of Bangkok so far, I wanted to be as cautious as possible not to make myself a sitting duck for any kind of crime.

The drive was about 20-30 minutes, when he finally turned into an alley. I was getting a little worried, wondering if he was bringing us to a different location, but it turned out that our hotel was located inside this alley. We paid the good taxi driver and got off at a shiny, swanky looking hotel with a helpful and efficient doorman. What a total change from what we had just went through at Don Mueang! I soon found this jarring dichotomy of shiny wealth and prestige with the dirt and grime of poverty at its doorstep to percolate into every aspect of Bangkok city life.

The receptionists were exceedingly polite in the usual Thai style, and we were shown to our room at 405. When we opened the door to see the size of the room that greeted us, I felt like now I was on holiday. The room was more luxurious than any I had ever stayed in before in all my solo trips, or trips with friends. It was spacious, with a sitting area, a small dining table for two, a large screen TV, a desk area, a large and spacious washroom that had a shower area and a bathtub, and a kitchenette that came complete with metal utensils, water boiler, fridge, sink, and complimentary bottled water, tea bags and instant coffee packets. Our bed was a double one, but it was large enough for 4. Daryl and I were over the moon as we soaked in every bit of this luxury that we weren’t used to, taking panorama pictures of the room to commemorate the occasion.

bangkokday1-2

Abby and Jean had already eaten supper and retired, and to tell the truth, Daryl and I weren’t exactly energetic enough to get out and explore so soon anyway. We did not have any more bottled water than the complimentary ones provided for us, so I set to work boiling those to prepare the bowl noodles that we had bought at Don Mueang. I would easily have used tap water if we had been back at Singapore, but I wasn’t sure about its potability here in Thailand and decided I didn’t want to risk it. While the water was boiling, I opened the bowl noodles and realised that both contained a special large and heavy aluminium packet that I had never seen before. Daryl had chosen a shallot pork flavour while I, eager to have my first taste of the native cuisine, naturally went for seafood tom yam. When I opened the aluminium packet in my own bowl noodle, to my surprise, it poured out a gravy-like sauce with the biggest slices of crab meat I’ve ever seen. Daryl’s one contained actual whole chunks of pork that did not look anything like the instant cubed kinds usually found. I read the text on the packet more carefully and it said that they used some kind of technology to pre-cook and somehow preserve these ingredients. I was amazed, because I had never even seen this sort of thing in Japan, much less in Thailand.

The noodles were cooked and tasted delicious especially since I hadn’t eaten anything in Changi Airport, afraid that it might upset my stomach and make me more prone to nausea on the plane, and I had only ventured to eat a small packet of Tao Kae Noi (for only 40 baht, ~S$1) on the plane. The pork chunks in Daryl’s bowl were tender and actually tasty, to my surprise. I wish I bought some of those home, but they would never have fit into my luggage. After clearing the noodles, we washed up quickly as we wanted to sleep. It was past 2:30am, and I knew that we planned to meet Abby and the rest for the complimentary breakfast at the hotel cafe at 9am. While washing up, we discovered some unexpected flaws in the toilet.

The shower area was fine, but the water pressure came out of a showerhead that was non-detachable. While not a big problem, but it would have been more desirable if the showerhead had been detachable. The bathtub was big and spacious (although somehow when the water fills up, it has a greenish tinge which I find odd but Daryl finds to be completely normal), and the showerhead was detachable – but there was no shower curtain. As such, there were many times when the bathtub overflows and the entire bathroom is flooded, or when Daryl is taking a shower in the bathtub itself, the water is splashed everywhere in the toilet because of the lack of a curtain to keep the water in. The last straw came when I wanted to dry my hair and naturally put the hair dryer into Max mode, but it would keep stopping every 5 seconds. We thought it might have been malfunctioning, but upon calling the reception, they advised us that it was because it overheated and that it was too hot. This meant that I had to use the hair dryer only in Min mode, which really blasts the functionality of the whole thing. Using the hair dryer in Min mode did work fine, and thankfully it was still blowing hot air at least, but the intensity of the blast was much lower than at Max mode, which considerably lengthened my hair drying time and which made me dread bathing time every night as I would be blowing my hair half-asleep. I dearly missed my hair dryer at home, and regretted not having packed it in as I had had fleeting thoughts of doing.

Everything out of the way, we finally got to sleep at 3:30, almost 4am.

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