Back in Bangkok (again, for the umpteenth time)

Well, I finally made it. The delayed flight set off around 20 minutes later than the re-advertised time, but I landed in Bangkok at around 15:00.

There were the usual Stansted-esque queues at immigration and then I had to wait over half an hour for my baggage. Despite having a load of empty carousels, the staff had decided to mix our stuff up with a packed EVA flight from Heathrow.

The first piece of luck was the Airport Express bus I needed turning up within a minute of me buying my ticket from the surly clerk who kept trying to get me onto the Khaosan Road bus, presumably as I was carrying a backpack. Finally I convinced her I wanted off at Lumpini so needed the Silom one and she begrudgingly sold me the right ticket.

It’s definitely wet season here, with the skies a near-permanent grey. Still hot, though. And muggy. The skies opened up and rain deluged down as we progressed off the freeway and into the city proper. Annoyingly, the bus took a different route to the last time I caught it so it didn’t actually go past TRSC. This meant a short stroll in the pouring rain to get to my delayed appointment.

Not to worry. With the high humidity I’m not sure if I was wet from the rain or my sweat by the time I got there, but the staff recognised me as soon as I walked in and let me deposit my bags while I went through some standard 3-months-after-the-op tests. As I may have mentioned, my right eye doesn’t seem up to spec compared to the left. Far better than it was before the op, but not as good as I’d expected.

The tests showed a slight astigmatism in that eye as well as measurable short-sightedness. This can be fixed, by operating again. So I’ll be heading back in January for another few days stay, this time with only the one eye being lasered. There’s no cost to me as the surgery is guaranteed, just the hostel fees and however much I spend at the cinema. I can kick back in Bangkok again for a week – I kinda like it here.

I walked around to the hostel from there and had fun trying to pay my rent. Due to the drops they’d popped in my eyes over at TRSC, my pupils were still dilated. I could focus on notes to see how much they were, but coins foiled me completely. Colour, shape, size… no problems. I just couldn’t read the digits to find out how much they were worth.

By this time it was way after 18:00 and I’d had one small sandwich to eat all day. I caved and went to KFC for some food simply as I couldn’t think of anything else and it was nearby. I’m now back at the hostel, updating my Ubuntu installation and savouring the thought of my first hot shower in over three weeks.

Oh, bonus photo is me doing the mapping for my Divemaster certification. Putu emailed me it earlier and I like it.

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One (more) night in Bangkok

Our last full day in Bangkok before Leah left and we spent it kind of dossing. We made it to the cinema early enough to catch Mummy 3 with Brendan Fraser. Entertaining in a “that’s a lot of CGI” kind of way. A quick lunch break was needed and I just had to try the “Conizza” I’d spotted the night before. It’s a pizza wrapped up to look like an ice cream cone. Stupid, novel… and tasty!

Then off to the clinic for an eye check, my reason for coming back to Bangkok. My eyes are fine. 20/20 vision, perfect pressure and no visible problems. Good-oh.

We went back to the cinema to get tickets for Journey To The Centre of the Earth (with that man Fraser again), but the cinema was packed with only two or three spare seats. So we looked at the next performance. The same. Argh. Final performance… empty. We got two good seats near the middle then rescheduled things.

Back to the hostel to get freshened up then through Pat Pong for Leah to do some gift shopping. Now, depending on how you play it, early evening is either a good or a bad time to go shopping in a market here. If you haggle well, then it’s a good thing as the traders want that first sale to get their luck going for the rest of the shift. Thing is, they also start at stupid prices to try and fill the coffers in case they don’t get many sales.

As an example, Leah spotted some flip-flops. Her’s were worn through, so a new pair were in order. She saw some that looked like the ones she had, picked them out, tried than and asked how much. The starting price was an astronomical 850 Baht. That’s around £14. Leah laughed and started to turn away at which point they dropped to 700. Then 600 after more cries of derision. “OK, how much?” was the cry as the calculator used as a bargaining tool was thrust at her. The ones she was wearing cost 60 Baht when we got to Bangkok last time. The new ones were slightly better. But not that much better. Finally, after walking off and being called back, Leah got them for 100 Baht – a little over £1.50. Quite a bit down from the original asking price, I’m sure you’ll agree.

You can tell when a trader’s made their first sale as they take the money they’ve been paid and tap all the merchandise with it to pass on the good fortune. This happened to a couple of the places we went, and you’ll sometimes even see some stall holders quite literally begging people to buy from them in the early hours. As I said, play it right and I think you can get some good bargains at this time of night. Likewise at the end of the evening from a trader who’s had a good run and who has made a fair bit in that shift.

Loaded with… well… crap, we deposited it at the hostel and went back to the Paragon for some munchies. After walking for a while trying to decide what I wanted (Leah had made a beeline for a posh cake stall), I settled on a small place selling tacos and picked a trio of chicken ones. For a savoury course, Leah thought she’d try a “build your own” which is when I realised I could ask for mine with a sauce other than the “mild salsa” included.

On the “build your own” list I saw “John’s Hot Sauce” and was about to order that when I saw “John’s Super Hot Sauce” on the menu. So I asked for that. The slight raise of the eyebrows from our waitress should have been a clue. Oh dear. I was armed with a can of Tiger when my meal arrived. Leah had a bottle of water with a glass of ice. This, as it turned out, was fortunate.

I wolfed the first taco. Delicious. But… something’s burning my mouth. I finished my lager. Still burny. Leah dipped her fork into the hot sauce and tried it. The tiniest amount, about the size of an ant. Then gulped a mouthful of water and complained an hour later that her tongue was still tingling. I had two tacos to go.

After the second I was using a spoon to shovel ice into my mouth. Sweat was dripping down my forehead in rivulets despite the chilly aircon. The third taco was almost painful but I wasn’t to be defeated. I did it. But there’s a lesson: when someone in Thailand calls something “hot” it’s on a different scale to the one we use in the UK. If you imagine the scale as running from 1-10, the UK tastebuds peak at around five, with something “hot” by Thai standards hitting ten. I was fine breathing in, but every breathe out made my eyes water and my lips seer.

Next stop was an ice cream parlour where I got two dollops of sorbet which I’m sure would have tasted sublime had I not destroyed the inside of my mouth.

I was OK by the time the film started and it was pretty enjoyable. Oh, did I mention we saw it in 3D? It’s the first live action feature film to be made using the new Dolby3D technology and it works pretty well. A silly film, but fun and the 3D really did help.

We managed to catch the last BTS of the night as we rushed from the cinema, being harried on our way by security staff eager to lock the gates. Last minute packing and swapping of luggage ensued as I made sure Leah had to carry all the useless crap I didn’t need any more back to the UK. She’s useful for some things!

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Lenses out!

Today we started to be pro-active and dropped our passports off at the Vietnamese embassy to get our visas. Prices have most definitely gone up, and the waiting times have changed from my last visit here. The charges were 2500 Baht (£38) for next-day or 1800 Baht (£28) to wait till Monday. Ouch. Plans had already been changed due to my having PRK instead of LASIK, so we opted for the next-day option to ensure we could get out of Bangkok before the next week started to pass us by.

I gather the visas are cheaper in Cambodia, and can – in some places – be picked up same-day. We didn’t know what our schedule would be, though, so we had no choice other than to get them sorted here.

Back at TRSC I had the lenses removed – a blessed relief – and was given a change of medication. No more antobiotics, and increase in the steroid drops and some cream to put in my eyes before I went to sleep to stop them drying out. At this point, the cornea was healed, but “rough” so needed to be smoothed out. Blinking does this automatically so I was told to keep the eyes wet (using artificial tears as and when) and to blink a lot. My vision would come and go over the next week or so, blurring would be common and one eye could be better or worse than the other.

All fair warnings and I left with my wraparound shades well in place to prevent any diry getting in to my now-unprotected eyes. Oh, and I could shower now as well. Yay! No swimming for another week or so, and no diving until a month had passed though.

In the evening we strolled through Pat Pong, ignored all the cries of “You want to see ping-ping show?” and enjoyed a drink on a comfy sofa. Outdoors. I also finally bought some sandals which would hopefully save on the number of sweaty socks I was chucking into the laundry.

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Experience Bangkok – step by step

Another short post as it was another day with little to do, again due to my sore eyes. The pain had subsided a lot compared to the second day – as I was told it would do – but the lenses were getting very uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to remove them, just pop in steril water drops to try and ease it.

We had lunch in McDonald’s which isn’t really noteworthy aside from one small thing that happened. Leah popped to the little stand to get some tomato sauce for her chips, but couldn’t find any paper cups. So she returned to the table sauce-less. Two minutes later, one of the staff walked over with two cups of sauce. He’d seen her, refilled the stand with cups, poured some and brought them to the table. Can you honestly tell me that’s something you’d not be amazed by in the UK? “Customer service” seems to have a different, and much more impressive, meaning here.

Any visit to Bangkok for the first time isn’t complete without experiencing the posh cinemas with their small number of reclining seats. Get Smart was on in one of these and we plopped down our 500 Baht each (pricey) for what turned out to be a very enjoyable film. If you’ve not seen it, then it’s recommended. Funnier than I expected and perfect casting.

Another essential experience is a massage. You won’t get a better one anywhere, so we popped by Miss Puke’s near the cinema for a Thai massage each. It was good to have some attention paid to the rest of my body so I could forget my eyes for a while. Plus, the dark room gave them a rest.

Experience three was a quick trip up to Soi Cowboy. The entertainment there is rather “adult”, but it was a giggle and Leah got to feed a baby elephant (not part of the adult stuff, I hasten to add). The prices for feeding them have definitely gone up (as has everything, to be fair) but she was well chuffed.

Our tuk-tuk driver back to the hostel was a complete maniac. Which for a tuk-tuk driver is a good thing! Fast, bouncy and fun – and a great character. The beer helped cushion my system as I dripped more drops into my eyes and taped on the spotty goggles.

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The pain! The pain!

OK, today was uncomfortable. I woke up around 4am in a lot of pain as my eyes suddenly realised that having acid poured on them and lasers shone inside them isn’t natural. Ow. I mean really. OW.

So here’s a hint for those having this surgery: not the night following the operation, but the one after that – down all the painkillers you can, the sleeping pill and the Valium. That should get you through the night and into the next day. I did finally nod off again – a huge thank you once more to Leah who dealt with my childish whinging and helped me locate all the pills.

Over the course of the day, I thanked the chemists who came up with both paracetamol and ibuprofen, so that I could take tablets every two hours, not every four. I took more pills in that one day than I’d usually take in a calendar year. This is no exaggeration.

Donning my €4 sunglasses which covered my eyes remarkably well, we checked out of the Indra and into the YHA on Silom. Not a bad place and with lovely staff – all smiles and helpfulness. We ended up (after being shifted within five minutes of check-in) in a room on the ground floor. Snug, but with all you need in a room. Unless you’re into cat-swinging. Chatting to one of the staff, I found out that the real estate in the area is ridiculously expensive, hence why they cram as many people as they can into small rooms to maximise the turnover per unit area. Makes sense, and the rooms are comfy enough.

We didn’t do a lot today because my eyes were uncomfortable and painful. My daily check-up gave good results and a better-than-20/20 vision result. Good stuff, though I couldn’t keep my eyes open more than a few seconds. I treated myself to a chilled root beer from A&W, then we popped via a random bar so I could mix alcohol with my painkillers. Maybe not smart, but it sure as hell helped me sleep better.

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