When I started thinking about where I wanted to travel after Close of Service (COS), my biggest priority was somewhere warm and affordable.
(January in Macedonia = super cold. Two years of volunteering = poor.)
Naturally, Southeast Asia was a top contender, and it’s on the way home (if you take the long way). We planned to head north through Thailand, cross through northern Laos, and then head south through Vietnam. We landed in Bangkok thinking we would stay no more than two nights, which we hoped would be enough time to secure visas to Vietnam and acclimate to yet another time zone.
It turns out, our trip encompassed Chinese New Year, which celebrates the lunar calendar. The Vietnamese Embassy was not offering express visas, so the earliest we could pick them up was in four business days. And there’s a weekend in there, so make it six days. Oh and Susan forgot her passport the first time we went to the embassy, so make it seven days. But that’s the last day before the embassy closes for the holiday, so don’t miss it. Yikes!
So our plan for Southeast Asia went belly up after less than 24 hours. Oh well. Има време. 🙂
We decided to cross off the major tourist sites in Bangkok, head north to Chiang Mai for a few days, and then return to pick up our visas and figure out where to next.
But it turns out, our visit fell 100 days after the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and a huge procession around the city shut down the Grand Palace, several other sites, and at one point, all the streets between us and our hotel.
Oh well. Има време. 🙂
Seeing the procession was interesting, because we had seen photos and flower arrangements and billboards with well wishes and condolences all over the city from the moment we got off the plane. He was clearly a beloved man, and even months after his death, many locals lined the streets dressed in black, honoring their late leader.
The city itself was nice, but it was the biggest place I’ve been in years. The size of the buildings was crazy to me and the traffic was always ridiculous. It was a little bit overwhelming at first.
The street food was all amazing though and I loved paying less than $1 for a giant plate of noodles, so overall Bangkok was okay for me. (food > everything)
With Vietnam visas in the works and photocopies of our passports to offer to our next hostel, we boarded a 15-hour train to Chiang Mai, where relaxation and elephants were waiting for me.
Pro Tips for Bangkok:
- For US citizens, a visa to Vietnam is $60 if you are getting it at the embassy for a land crossing. You can do it cheaper if you do visa on arrival through a tour company, but that’s only allowed if you fly in.
- Always ask taxi drivers to run the meter and ask a local what a price should be. We had drivers quote us 500 baht for a trip that actually cost us 80 baht.
- Always haggle for anything you buy from a vendor.
- Eat the street food! Yummy, cheap, and seriously, so yummy.
- The foreigner office at the train station is super helpful. The bus station is upstairs in the same building, so compare prices before you book. Our round-trip train tickets were less than half the price of a one-way bus ticket to Chiang Mai. It took a bit longer, but the views along the way were beautiful.