Entering the Kingdom (Thailand) - Week 1 - Part 1
After two long days of traveling from Ireland and around Germany, waiting for my final flight, the day had arrived. It was time to board Bangkok bound (Eurowings) and enter the Kingdom.
I didn’t sleep much on the flight due to the excitement and I did get a good sleep in Dusseldorf, thanks to the Maritim Hotel. The flight was maybe 11hours 20 mins, with minimal turbulence arriving into Bangkok on Saturday 2nd Feb morning. I had some plane food - cheese burger and microwave chips! And as you know, it just doesn’t taste quite the same up in the air. We arrived into Bangkok Sarumhari airport at 6.25am and it took about 30 mins to get through immigration. Let’s backtrack a little, so on the plane before landing the flight attendants were giving out Emmigration forms to be filled out, which basically means you don’t need a visa as such but do need to make Thai authorities aware of your length of stay, and travel plans/intentions. So you have 30 days from when you enter the Kingdom and then you must leave. So if you are planning a trip here, please bear this in mind as it’s very important. Also, you must retain the “Departure” stub of the Emmigration form for when you do leave Thailand. Before you leave your home country, you can also apply for a visa as such which will allow you a longer stay. For more info on Thai visas, visit the experts here.
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK)
So after Emmigration, I quickly collected my luggage and made my way to Gate 4 where I had a taxi arranged (about 7.15am). The guy had my name on a sign so I was on the look out. There were hundreds of taxi drivers waiting around so it took a while to find him. Bob was his name, about 30. Bob from Bangkok took my big luggage and threw the bags into a newish black Toyota Camry(?) from Fast and The Furious and made our way to destination number 1.
I was super excited to finally be in the Kingdom, having the typical ideas of Thailand in my head from movies like the Hangover. Enroute, I saw my first temple just off the motorway, and a Thailand flag amidst the sunrise. Also, it was my first sighting of a pickup truck with about 6 people in the back of it, motoring along the side road. I had arrived. By the way, the speed limit on the motorways here is 90mph, which was a good jump up from Ireland! After an hour and a half, we had reached Destination number 1 - Pattaya. See more taxi and transport information servicing BKK here and here.
(Forgive the image quality below; fast-moving car, smoggy air and I was tired.)
As we entered Pattaya, the first things of note were the streets, the various street food vendors cooking up all sorts. The multiple bars followed by massage parlours with scores of Thai women and ladyboys beckoning in the new and “resident” tourist/expats for a massage!
Scooters and motorbikes everywhere, some drivers wear helmets, some don’t.
One of my relatives had recommended some accommodation for me in a friends guesthouse. So I went straight there and dropped the bags. I then did a good scooter-passenger tour of the city and its surroundings. To note, the Buddha and temple on Buddha Hill, seeing the beach in Pattaya and the islands in the distance were a nice introduction to Thailand and a touch of Thai culture. I also noticed the many stray dogs lounging around the roads…
I was pretty shattered from being awake nearly 36 hours at this stage but yet full of excitement and adrenaline. I had a few beers in the bar downstairs and headed off to bed about 2am.
Sunday 3rd - Breakfast time
After a semi-decent sleep, it was time to head for breakfast so we went off to a good Irish bar called O’Garas a few minutes drive away from my guesthouse. I got the full Irish at 190Baht (which I later realised is quite expensive). Baht is the currency in Thailand.
Money in Thailand
You can check approximate exchange rates here on XE.com. Also, there are many Exchange booths around Pattaya to get rid of your own currency. At the moment, the Euro/Bht rate is about €1 = 35Baht, which is a lot worse than it was over the past few years. So to give you an idea, €100 would get you about 3,500 Baht now where as the rate was at 1/45 before years ago.
Tip: Wait until you get to Thailand and to your destination to change your money. The airport exchange rates will rip you off, as will ordering Baht in your home country.
Also, ATM charges in Thailand are set at 220 Baht (about €6 of a fee!), regardless of the amount you withdraw. So if you withdraw the maximum amount in Baht, which was 25,000 in most ATMs, it’s the same fee as withdrawing the minimum amount. Be smart. Also, your home bank may have a max withdrawal limit on foreign withdrawals, as I discovered with my own bank. You may need to notify your bank of your travel plans prior to your trip. Even so, there may be a set limit regardless. There are some new foreign currency payment methods that you may benefit from, like Revolut but in Thailand the ATM withdrawal fee seems to affect all card types so that negates any savings or simplification like what Revolut offers with their virtual wallet (multiple currencies).
Back on the scooter, we headed off for a little tour again, driving over by Buddha Mountain, which was interesting to see. Enroute, we passed animals roaming freely. Weird looking cows.
Buddha Mountain, where the big Buddha is lasered into the side of the rock, in gold leaf, and the surroundings have small temples and various masters' statues.
We passed by the Upsidedown House, some Elephant rides attraction and made our way back towards Jomtien Beach. Jomtien beach is nice and has clean clear waters, whereas Pattaya beach is full of boats, jet skis and the many tourists who are staying close by.
Transport in Pattaya
You can get a Baht bus around a lot of Pattaya for 20Bht, where you just hop on and then at the stop you pay the driver 20Bht. This is a handy form of transport, and fun way to see the city. You can get a tuktuk either, although I didn’t get one. A motorbike/scooter taxi is also an option. Alternatively, rent a scooter, motorbike or a car and drive yourself. Be careful as traffic flows a little more chaotically than you might be used to. Wear your helmet if you get a scooter or bike and make sure you have insurance to cover you.
Tip: Grab is the taxi/cab app over here, similar to Uber/My Taxi. Rate is fixed when you enter your destination, and car picks you up once you book. Simple.
First Thai food
9pm came and it was time to sample my first Thai food - I went for the Pad Thai Seafood with a bottle of drinking water (yes, you can't drink the tap water in Thailand, well at least in Pattaya). The meal was nice and cost me 180Bht, which seemed reasonable. Later I would eat the same meal for less than half of that!
Pizza goes well with Karaoke
There are a few Karaoke bars in Pattaya. In the bar I was staying over, I met a Thai girl who owns a Pizza shop around the corner. We got chatting and had a drink or two before going off to one of the Karaoke bars. She got up to sing a few songs, and it was a bit of fun. She showed me Walking Street and we went to a night club - Lucifer. Some good house/dance music and a good vibe to the place (Lucifer Facebook page)
Chinese New Year
I didn’t expect it to be such a big deal in Thailand but Chinese New Year celebrations were everywhere and when I got back to my guest house, there were fireworks going off on the street at like 3 or 4am!
Back to the terminal…
It was now Monday 4th and my new Thai friend brought me for some local Thai food at 60Bht (Noodles and seafood with some soup). We then scootered for a drive, stopping at the famous Terminal 21 shopping mall, themed like an airport. This was kinda cool to see and there’s a great range of shops and food outlets inside. See photos below. Again, big Chinese New Year celebrations were underway with performances on stage and decorations everywhere (Terminal 21 info).
Back around Pattaya Beach Road, I went for a stroll to see what was around. It was the first sight of live crabs and seafood in tanks that got my attention. I didn’t chance any. Yet. But maybe later…
There’s a decent street market by night on Beach Road, where you can find all sorts of wares and souvenirs that you wouldn’t find in the West.
Back in my room, I had the first sighting of cockroaches - these are pretty harmless but big and ugly and I don’t like the idea of one maybe crawling into my mouth when I sleep! I got rid of one and let the other one hide under my bed.
Going from one extreme to the other, Wednesday breakfast saw me dining in style at the Hilton Pattaya. I must say, an amazing hotel with stunning views and delicious food. I had prawns, salad and some quiche along with soup. Then I had a number of desserts to fill me up for the day.
Koh Larn, Pattaya
The highlight so far was taking the ferry to Koh Larn about 40 mins from Pattaya, sporting nice beaches, a nice little village and clear blue seas for swimming in. The crossing cost me 40Bt and then I needed to get a Baht bus from the dock to the far side of the island where the beach is (Samae beach). There’s another beach, Tien beach also on that side. There’s sunbeds, shelter and restaurants there to keep you fed while you relax. I had a nice dip in the sea before strolling up to the rocks, in around the Stingray shaped building, which is now derelict and down the far side to Tien beach. On my way, I could swear that I heard a tiger purring as I walked by the back of the stingray building. Maybe I was hallucinating in the heat!
I took the quick option back to the mainland, getting a ferry from this side of the island at 100Bht.
A great day indeed. Stay tuned. You won't believe what happens next...