Friday, 6 December 2013

The Waiting Game...

Let us cast our minds back to the end of the last post. Oli and I were full of hope and anticipating the our imminent reunion with our beloved motorcycle. Unfortunately things did not pan out how we hoped, and we are in fact still in Bangkok. After a smooth and painless relocation to our new hostel, we called our U.A.E. shipping agents to check whether the bike had arrived as planned. We were delighted when they confirmed that it had arrived the previous day, and we excitedly decided to collect it the next morning.

We set out on our carefully planned journey to the port – taking the Sky Train as far as possible and aiming to get a taxi for the remaining few kilometres. This was where the plan started to unravel. The driver did not speak English, and could not understand where we were asking to go, even though we had it written down (admittedly not in Thai script). Via a few phone calls to our hotel, we managed to explain where we needed to be, although they all seemed confused as to why we wanted to go in the first place. Eventually, all seemed to be settled and we carried on our way. The drive took a lot longer than it should have, and suddenly some of the streets started to look depressingly familiar. It turned out that the second person we had spoken to at our hotel had not listened to where we actually wanted to go, and instead had given the driver the address of the guest house. We were firmly back at square one.

As it was not the drivers fault, we didn't make a fuss and to her credit she got us back to the port as quickly as possible, pulling a couple of illegal but well executed U-turns along the way. We thanked her and hopped out at the port office, ready to begin a full afternoon of paperwork. Sadly however, our troubles were far from over. It turned out that the piece of paper we had been sent by our agents in Dubai was not the release note, and that we needed to go to the office of the Thai agents before we could even start to get through the port procedures. Starting to lose the will to live, we trooped back outside and spent a while trying to hail a taxi. One did finally stop, but the driver could neither understand us nor read the address for the shipping agent.

Thankfully, there was a motorbike taxi station just outside the port building, and one of the guys was happy to take Oli to the office. They insisted I wait with them in the shade, where I was well looked after until Oli returned in a taxi, almost two hours later. This was the best part – the bike was not on the boat the U.A.E. agents told us it was, and had actually not left Dubai until the 14th of November. The earliest it would arrive in Bangkok was the 4th of December. It was the very rubbish icing on the cake of our stressful endeavour.

The remainder of the day was spent cancelling our Cambodia plans and fuming to each other about Deepsea shipping. After the initial meeting (which had gone well), this company had been a nightmare to deal with. Unprofessional and difficult to get hold of, this error had been the final straw, and they were now delivering over two weeks later than the date we had requested on our first meeting. On top of this, they have not been back in contact since we called them to say what happened, despite promising that they would look into it and call us asap.

We decided not to get too down about it. There are certainly worse places to be stuck in the world than Bangkok, and we have had a great time so far in this city. The street food scene is unbelievable, and we have made sure to get well and truly stuck in. It is an interesting time to be here, as anti-government protests have been in full swing, as well as counter-rallies by their supporters. Whilst the demonstrations have mostly been peaceful, unfortunately the situation did escalate earlier this week, and sadly several people have lost their lives.

However, the activity we have seen has been largely peaceful, with both protesters and police showing restraint. One of our hangouts this week has been the CentralWorld Mall, which is located opposite the Police Headquarters, and has been a focal point for demonstrations. The first day we unsuspectingly came across one of these protests, we found it a very relaxed atmosphere, with people happily lying around and happy music blaring out.

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Whilst most Foreign offices recommend that tourists stay away from demonstration areas, we didn't feel like we had much to fear. Mostly it has been trouble free, although several major shopping centres were closed on Sunday due to fears of unrest. Not to be put off, we returned to CentralWorld on Monday, with a cinema visit in mind. We were a little worried when the tannoy announced that the centre would be closing two hours early that evening, but the cinema seemed happy to soldier on. Plus, we had already bought our tickets. The film (The World's End) was great, but it was a pretty creepy experience, as after it finished there was almost nobody around at all. Thankfully our fears of being locked in the mall were unfounded, and we were directed to the only open exit – via the multi-storey car park.

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We had worked out a way to get back to the BTS that would take us along wide, well lit roads and would also narrowly avoid the protest area. We were pretty perturbed to discover our way to the final street blocked by private security guards. They refused to allow us to walk this way, instead directing us to a dark alleyway running parallel. We were not too happy to go down there, especially as some tough looking guys were hanging around the entrance. However we had no other choice, so tentatively carried on our way. The alley actually ended up running through the grounds of a working monastery, and dumping us out right into the protest. Cursing the security guards, we hurried back to the BTS station, and made it back to our hostel without further incident.

Aside from shopping malls and cinemas, we have actually done very little sightseeing whilst in Bangkok. The major exception to this has been the famous Wat Arun, located on the opposite side of the Chaopraya river. Wat Arun is a Buddhist temple, and originally dates from the 1600s, although it has existed in its current form since the early nineteenth century. The level of detail in the decoration and the sheer scale of the monument itself was incredible, and by climbing to the top we were rewarded with views over the river and the city. The entry fee was reasonable at only 50 Baht, but we made sure to get our moneys worth anyway, and spent a good amount of time exploring the grounds and outbuildings as well as the main temple.

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Feeling like a walk, we decided to wander home rather than catching the river boat, and enjoyed a long stroll through the city, even managing not to get lost. Bangkok has all the variations you would expect of such a huge and diverse city, and even our few kilometre stroll unearthed some unexpectedly interesting places. The districts we found ourselves wandering through were a far cry from the glitzy skyscrapers and shopping malls, but were still full of charm and colour.

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Other than our brief foray into the tourist sights, the only other attempt at real sightseeing we made was to visit an old Chinese cemetery close by to our hostel. We had heard that a pack of dogs living amongst the graves may be a problem, but decided to risk it regardless, assuming that their presence was exaggerated. The cemetery itself appeared to be begging to be explored. In a state of decay it is very overgrown, and had very recently been flooded. Elaborate monuments peeked out from the vegetation, and although it only covers a small area we felt it was well worth further attention. Sadly, we had only been there a few minutes before we were approached by the dogs, who immediately began barking and appearing from the recesses of the graveyard. I got a bit scared as we were surrounded by several of them, and they were definitely not happy about our presence. Luckily their bark was worse than their bite. We escaped without injury, but regretted that we had not been able to properly explore.

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In other news, this week saw Oli and I celebrating his 29th birthday. We had originally planned to be in Angkor Wat for this, but sadly the shipping issue meant that this had to be cancelled. Determined not to get down about it, we instead treated ourselves to a very indulgent chocolate fondue. It was a slightly obscene amount of sugar for two people to eat, but it was incredible. Oli ate more than I did, then spent the remainder of the afternoon having a sugar crash. We continued the birthday festivities with an amazing meal out the following evening. La Table de Tee is a French restaurant with a Thai twist, serving a daily changing five course tasting menu. It was the first time we have properly indulged in some real luxury whilst on the trip, and it was truly worth every penny.

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Oli was not the only person to be celebrating a birthday this week, as December the 5th was the birthday of none other than the King of Thailand himself. The King is immensely popular here, and is highly revered across the wide spectrum of Thai society. He is also the world's longest reigning monarch, having been on the throne since 1946. The day itself was a national holiday, and we spent the majority of it relaxing in the beautiful and peaceful Lumpini park, a pleasant stroll away from our hotel.

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The week had flown surprisingly quickly, and we awoke on the fourth eager to get the bike back. We had accepted we might not be able to get it that day, but finally there was light at the end of the tunnel. We waited patiently for confirmation that the ship had docked and the cargo was unloaded, trusting that all would be sorted. Imagine our horror when we received an email from the Thai agents advising that the bike has not left Singapore on time, and will now be here on the tenth of December at the earliest. We have of course complained to Deepsea shipping, but predictably have had no response. For any other overlanders doing the same route, we would advise you not to touch them with a ten foot pole!

The timing of finding out that the bike is once again delayed is pretty awkward, leaving us without sufficient time to go and enjoy another part of Thailand whilst we wait. We again find ourselves with a week to pass in Bangkok. We truly do like this city, but have seriously itchy feet and are desperate to get back on the road. The silver lining is that we are staying at a lovely hostel in a nice part of town. There is plenty to see and do, and of course there is lots of good food. Hopefully the bike will arrive on the tenth as promised, as we will be running very close to the end of our Thai visas by that time!

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P.S. The 'Where are we' link is working once again, albeit not pin-point accurate, and can only be updated when we have Internet access.

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