Heading home

All good things etc. I’m sat at the HQ Hostel in Bangkok just wearing down the time before I have to head for Suvarnabhumi Airport. I get free wifi here, whereas the airport only allows 15 minutes of it. After you’ve checked in. Which I can’t do till after 5am.

Given the poor weather outside, I’ve decided to fork out for a taxi instead of getting the somewhat untimetabled Airport Express bus. Past experience tells me I could be standing around for up to an hour waiting for the next one.

The next time I come here, there will be a direct link on the BTS. It’s finally due to open in August 2010, though there’s no indication of the prices. Only that there’s an express service of around 15 mins and a “regular” service taking slightly over 30 minutes. Certainly one option to keep an eye on.

Well, time to pack up. And throw away these incredibly stinky sandals. My feet will be much relieved at that one. Next post from back in Blighty.

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Upcoming schedule – Bangkok then Hanoi

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

Good news is that I’ve been granted a leave of absence from university so that I can head off abroad a couple of weeks earlier than otherwise. The bad news is that in waiting for this to come through, all my flight prices went up. Sometimes it’s better to just do stuff and worry later, but ah well!

The fact is I can now step onto a plane from Heathrow on Tuesday 25th of May and (weather, strikes, ash clouds and the like allowing) expect to be in Bangkok very early on Wednesday 26th.

I had originally planned to then transfer onto a flight to Hanoi, but for a couple of reasons this won’t be happening. First up, I was worried that the 4 hours I’d allowed myself to transfer flights might not be enough if there was a delay. I’d then find myself at the airport with a ticket and no plane.

Secondly, eDreams turned out to be dodgy as all hell and I didn’t trust them to get me the ticket anyway (see an earlier post on here).

Instead I’ve just booked an AirAsia flight at the crack of dawn on the Saturday.

So I’m now heading into Bangkok for a couple of nights. I’ll look into staying somewhere different from last time, but still on the shuttle bus route. I have just enough Baht to get me into the city without having to use the fee-charging ATMs at the airport.

I’ll be in Hanoi for almost 2 months, but my return flight is from Bangkok on July 27th.

This is going to be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me. I may take a trip at some point, but on the whole my aim’s to stay put in Hanoi and spread myself between working for the Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel and Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. The former should help fund my stay and the latter work towards my Continued Professional Development as a teacher. As well as being awesome fun!

So if anyone reading this is heading through Hanoi in June/July, please do come and say “hi”. It’s a great city and I’ll be happy to show you around!

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Bye Bye Bangkok – Again!

I’m just about to shut down the netbook and go catch the Airport Express to Suvarnabhumi Airport once more. Another great visit to Bangkok, a city I really love. Quick waves out to all the lovely people I met here, especially Laura, Barbera and the lovely people at the TRSC centre and the HQ Hostel. Cheers, guys!

I will get around to putting up the missing blog posts at some point. I’ve either been too busy or too lazy over the last week or so to write them…

Next posts will be from (or at least about) Ho Chi Minh City, a wedding I’ve been invited to and a 6-day motorcycle trip around south Vietnam. Stay tuned!

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Thai ATMs – the saga continues

After the fun of finding out that the Thai banks seem to have formed some sort of “let’s screw the farang” cartel, I have more infornation on getting free money out of their ATMs.

First up, as far as I can ascertain the Government Savings Bank is free for all, but only accepts Visa cards.

HSBC took my card fine and didn’t charge, but I think it only accepts Visa cards.

UOB seems to work a treat as well with no charges for my Visa or Barbera’s Dutch Maestro card.

However, Bank of Ayudhya is hit and miss. I withdrew cash from the Khao San Road branch with my Nationwide Visa ATM card for no fee. I met a Dutch couple the day after who had used the exact same branch and paid the 150 Baht “you’re a foreigner, give us your cash because we hate tourists” tax.

As such, I would say the simple rule is to try as many machines as you can especially if you’re non-UK and/or using a non-Visa card. I will do my best to keep information on this blog up to date but realistically I can only test with my UK Nationwide Visa.

Now does anyone have an address I can write to to voice my complaints about the fees? For a country trying to rebuild its tourism, they’re really doing their best to alienate foreigners. 150 Baht works out to be the largest (by far) “foriegner tax” I’ve yet seen at an ATM.

If you have any concrete hints/experience which I can add to the list then please leave a comment. Let’s try and work around this mess.

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The Thai massage: pain or pleasure?

The gentle waft of Tiger Balm. The soft plucking of strings played back on a dodgy old stereo. A comfortable pillow behind your head. And a small woman with amazingly strong hands seemingly trying to poke holes right through your body with each extended finger. Then the sound of an electric drill as the person next door hangs a picture. Or builds a wall. Or a new house.

Welcome to getting a Thai massage near the pier in Thewet, north west of Bangkok city centre. At 150 Baht it ranks as the cheapest massage I’ve had in Thailand. After an hour I can also tell you it was one of the best.

The little shop I chose sits just round the corner from a 7-Eleven (where doesn’t in Bangkok?) and fronts onto a market. Just outside, vegetables are being sold. A few yards away it’s all fish and just over the river is the flower market.

However, all this matters not a jot as I let my mind float while my body is abused and scrunched by a young Thai girl with the strength of three US Marines on steroids. And, boy, does it feel good.

Judging by the welcome I receive, this isn’t a shop that normally sees many farang. Especially not those carrying two rucksacks (I was on my way to switch hostels at the time). One chap who’s working on an older lady’s legs is the only English-speaker in the shop but this in no way prevents an overwhelming sense of politeness emanating from the other two staff.

Gently my bags are laid down in the corner and I’m gestured towards one of the beds. A fresh sheet is placed down and cover wrapped around the comfy pillow. I remove my shoes and rather guiltily allow the young masseuse to wash my feet, I say guiltily as due to a combination of street dust, humidity and those bloody Crocs I bought in Darwin my toes and ankles are coated in a foamy grey scum. I know I wouldn’t want to go near them if they were attached to another person.

However, this brave woman doesn’t wrinkle one nostril as she wipes all the gunk away with a damp cloth before directing me to lie back. My legs and torso are covered in another clean sheet and the pressure begins to be applied.

Deceptively gently at first, more a rubbing than a squeezing, my left leg gets a minute or two of nice sensations before the thumbs, fingers, elbows and knees are employed. For some reason this is still pleasurable. I think it’s the fact that the skilled practitioners with their steely grips know just how long to apply any pressure before the recipient will break down.

After my leg has been pummelled, twisted, pulled and the toe knuckles popped, she moves over to the other and repeats everything. Well, after I remove my camera from one of my pockets as it was nestled just where she needs to grip me to paralyse one of my thighs.

Legs complete, my left then right arm are subjected to similar (mis)treatment and then I’m gestured at to roll over.

Once more the feet get the first attention as my young torturess works her way up to my back and shoulders. At one point she is kneeling on me, knees embedded in my lower back as she kneads the knotted muscles of my neck. I swear they weren’t knotted when I came in. They bunched up in terror as her hands approached.

The big impressive move is to maintain that kneeling position as she grabs my wrists. I lift my shoulders off the bed and she arches my spine in a way it rarely gets arched these days. I feel like the runners on a rocking horse, only more relaxed.

Finally, she motions for me to sit up. Positioning herself cross-legged I’m invited to lie back with my shoulders resting on the pillow in her lap. My head and neck are massaged and it’s very tingly. She doesn’t manage to crack my neck and I swear she’s disappointed by this.

She finishes with a deep wai and a “kawp khun kaaaa” which never seems right as it’s me who should be thanking her. The older lady who runs the shop gives me a cup of tea and the young man – while continuing his rub-down on the customer he was with when I entered – engages me in some brief conversation.

I hand over my 150 Baht, and 50 Baht for the girl herself as a tip. Even with that, it’s barely half what you expect to pay on the streets near Silom where I am now heading. For an hour in the skilled hands of someone who likely breaks three Charles Atlas Grip Strengtheners before breakfast this is an absolute bargain.

I step out with a spring in my step and my mind in a better place, walking through the fish market, past the flowers and on to the orange-flagged ferry heading south down the Chom Prayah.

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