Sunday, 15 December 2013

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

The past week has been spent primarily waiting for our beloved motorbike (December) to arrive. However, we have put the time to good use, and have made sure to enjoy this city. After all, it now feels somewhat like home. When we do eventually leave, we will miss its wide streets, glittering skyscrapers, icy-cool air-con shopping malls, and of course the incredible and easily available food.   We had never seen Bangkok as anything more than a stopover when we initially planned to come here. Although the shipping dramas have undoubtedly been frustrating, we have really enjoyed our time in this vibrant city.

Whilst we have still truly failed at traditional sightseeing, we did manage to check out the Bang Rak fire station. Just a short stroll from our hostel, what is now the fire station was originally the Customs House, and is situated on the banks of the Chaopraya. It now houses firefighters and their families,  as well as a few fire engines. It does not appear to have been maintained, but the result is a beautifully and romantically decayed historical building. I cannot comment on what the conditions are like inside, but from the outside we enjoyed its faded grandeur and artfully dilapidated exterior. From what we could tell there is no issue with members of the public wandering around the main courtyard, and we spent a while here enjoying the quiet atmosphere and snapping a few photographs.

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As well as our brief foray into sightseeing, we have been pleased to be joined this week by another overlander, Noah. His bike was due to arrive in Thailand on the same day as ours, albeit to a different port. We have enjoyed a good few beers this week. The owner of one bar took a shine to Oli, and insisted on giving us an extra beer free with every round. Oli was slightly afraid of him, but it was nice to get so many freebies.

It is hard to believe, but Oli and I are now on our last day in Bangkok. Having been told the bike would now not be arriving until the 10th of December at the earliest, we spent the days leading up to it in a state of excitement and slight panic. We are running very close to the end of our Thai visas, so if it was once again delayed we were going to have to do a visa run. In the event, it arrived just one day late, getting in to the port on the 11th with us being told we would be able to go and collect it on the 13th.

D-day arrived, and we awoke early, knowing that the sooner we started the higher our chances were of clearing customs in a single day. The first step was to get to the Thai agent's offices and collect the necessary paperwork. Thankfully Oli had already visited them on our first attempt two weeks earlier, so finding the place was easy. We collected the documents with no problems, and stage one was complete. Buoyed by the fact that we were doing much better than we had previously, we hopped in a taxi and made our way to the Customs centre as instructed.

Things started to unravel slightly at this point, as finding where we were supposed to be was far from easy. A security guard smilingly took us to a random office, where a lady behind one of the many desks asked how she could help. We thought we had successfully explained, but although she was friendly she seemed shy, and spoke in a barely audible whisper. As we were walking along to where we assumed was the correct office, we caught the words 'Director General', obviously there was some confusion here. It turned out that she thought we had said we were reporters. We are still not quite sure how she reached this conclusion, but happily the mistake was realised prior to meeting the Director General him or herself!

We found ourselves being passed from office to office, from person to person. It was horribly apparent that nobody had a clue what to do with us or the wad of paperwork we were expectantly clutching. Eventually we were pointed to a building and told to go to the third floor. Feeling like this would be it, we were again disappointed when it turned out that once again, they did not have a clue. Deciding to give up on this endeavour, we popped over to the Port Authority building just over the road, hoping to have more success there. This seemed to go well, and after just 45 minutes we were apparently done, clutching yet more slips of paper and having received several important looking stamps. Oli asked if we needed to go back to customs at all, and was assured that we did not.

The main port at Bangkok is huge, covering a sizable area. With this in mind we hopped onto the only form of transport available to us – one of Bangkok's many motorbike taxis. It was good that we hadn't tried to walk, as the warehouse we needed turned out to be a fair distance away. Oli was pointed towards another desk, but reappeared five minutes later looking none too pleased. It turned out that we had indeed needed to go to customs, and we were missing several stamps and important papers as a result. Leaving me with our things, Oli hitched a lift to the port gate with somebody who worked there, whilst I waited on a bench built with such a total unawareness of ergonomics, that I am pretty certain it would not be comfortable for any person in the history of human existence.

It was a long and dull wait, although I did get to amuse myself watching some very questionable health and safety arrangements involving heavy machinery. Oli returned after two and a half hours, as although the paperwork had only taken an hour, he had hit the office lunch break. He disappeared into the warehouse to complete further papers and get some more stamps. A customs inspection was required, which consisted of two people walking around the bike, asking how many CCs it was and how fast did it go. Nobody was interested in checking our luggage or even the chassis and engine numbers. We had expected a more thorough check, but were not complaining as we were keen to get going.

Oli eventually emerged triumphantly from the warehouse, our bike being carried out on a forklift. We broke the bike out of its wrapping and packaging, before faffing around with the tyre pressures and mirrors. We had a fairly sizable audience for this, as everyone who happened hanging around the warehouse came to have a good look at what we were doing. Whilst we were fidgeting with the front tyre pressures, one of the customs inspectors came to tell us that we needed to leave the port in the next 20 minutes, as the offices closed at four and it would end up costing us extra money if we were later. By this point, everyone had been back from lunch for less than two hours. Taking this as our only example, working hours in Bangkok seem pretty good to us!

All things considered, the port experience had been a good one. We had been slightly dreading it given the bad luck we had had so far, and were also worried about the language barrier. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to find that almost every office had one person who could help us out in English. Furthermore, almost everyone went out of their way to be helpful and friendly to us. The only exception to this was the guy who had given Oli a lift. He had made out he was doing it as a favour then asked Oli for 100 baht. Oli said usually he would have refused (the actual motorbike taxis charged only 20), but he didn't want to make trouble as I was waiting back at the warehouse. Nice to know my comfort and safety is worth at least £2!

To summarise, so far our port experiences seem to involve a lot of waiting and a lot of mysterious paperwork. We are never quite sure what these various print-outs and stamps signify, but seem to manage to wing it regardless. The process always seems pretty vague to the uninitiated, but thankfully people are usually willing to help!

The journey back to the hotel was not long in distance, but the pain of the Bangkok traffic should not be underestimated. We left the port just in time for rush hour, and found ourselves sat in the worst traffic we have experienced on the trip so far. Needless to say, this was not fun in 35 degree heat, and Oli and I were sweating buckets. Feeling close to passing out at one point, we pulled over for some refreshments in the form of icy cold cans of coke. Not only did this help to sort us out, but from this point the traffic eased slightly, from 'gridlocked' to 'slowly moving'.

Although we made it back to the hotel without fainting, Oli was perturbed to realise that he had burnt his inner thighs on the petrol tank. It had heated to ridiculous temperatures whilst sat in traffic, and obviously Oli's motorbike jeans had not offered much in the way of heat protection. It was a mark of how pleased Oli was to have the bike back that he didn't mind me laughing at him. He eased the burn with some aloe vera gel and a nice cold coke from the mini-bar, although he was surprised when I told him he was not allowed to put that can back, arguing that it was perfectly hygienic as he had just showered. Users of hotel mini-bars everywhere will be pleased to know that I won.

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Yesterday was spent carrying out a few maintenance jobs on the bike. Due to very limited visa days we didn't have time to drop her off to a garage as originally planned, but Oli has done the main jobs and she seems good to go. We leave Bangkok tomorrow for Cambodia, and although we have been willing this day to come it feels strangely emotional. We have had a great time here, and have ended up feeling almost settled after getting to know the city. Still, it is exciting to be getting back on the road, and the next stage awaits!

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