It’s been two years since I spent any serious time in Bangkok, but the city hasn’t changed much. It’s still full of traffic, meat on sticks, shopping malls and flooding when it rains.
CentralWorld was a colossal blackened husk of a mall last time I trotted through the centre of town after it was was set on fire during the anti-government protests of 2010, but it’s looking fresh and glossy and crammed with shoppers now. There are new bars in Sukhumvit’s Soi 11, and Khao San Road continues to attract backpackers and purveyors of baggy hippy outfits.
One of the main reasons I am here is to get an Indian visa. the Indian government would like prospective vistors to get a visa in their country of origin, but failing that there are a few places travellers can apply, and there is an application centre on soi 25 in Sukhumvit, on floor 15 of the Glas Haus building.
The form is a bit daunting, but if you fill it out carefully and provide what they want, lodging it takes about 15 minutes. Prospective applicants need to bring money, a photo in the approved size and a form that has been completed online and printed out. Plus passport photocopies. It’s all on the website at http://www.ivac-th.com/.
I am staying in a small guesthouse in Sukhumvit near the Asok skytrain station, which is within handy walking distance of the visa centre. Once that is done, I am free to wander the streets, consume meat on sticks and breathe deep of some traffic fumes.
I am here with my friend H who doesn’t know Bangkok at all, so I drag him up Asok Rd to the water taxi station where we can catch a boat that will take us across town to the old city (Rattanakosin). It’s much further than I remember, by the time we find the canal I am beginning to think it has been moved, or all my memories of stinky klong water are some kind of strange dream induced by too much curry mee late at night.
The mad scramble/grabbing a bit of rope and leaping aboard to get on the water taxi is another thing I’ve forgotten, but boys enjoy that kind of thing. Indeed H spends most of the trip hanging off the side taking photos. I still find the trip interesting, even though I’ve done it many times and the aromas are not always pleasant.
What is pleasant is the direct nature of the trip, there is no traffic and the final stop is by the Golden Mountain, or Wat Saket, and a short tuk tuk ride or pleasant walk from Khao San or the Grand palace and other places of interest on this side of the city.
H doesn’t say anything, but he is hanging off the side and scarmbling over seats taking photos of everything, so I think he enjoys it. It’s an authentic thai experience at least, for most of the trip as far as I can tell we are the only tourists. And it’s cheap – the whole trip costs about a dollar.