Well it's been a while. So where was I? Oh yes we were in Paske in Laos enjoying a glass of red. We had watched the receptionist at the hotel phone the bus station and book us two seats on the morning bus to Thailand. I don't think the receptionists would get a job at the Hilton. Sometimes you would approach the desk and think no one was there only to find they were asleep. Other times you would hear giggling and two people would sit up adjusting their dress.
Next morning we went down for breakfast then went to reception. 'Could we have a tuk tuk to go to the bus station please' I said. 'Why you go to bus station?' she replied. 'We are catching the 8.30 bus to Thailand' I replied nervously. 'Bus at 3.30' she said. 'No we are catching the 8.30 bus' I insisted. 'There's an 8.30 bus?' she enquired. 'Yes' I said thinking I thought it was you who lived here not me. 'Oh Ok' she said.
The tuk tuk arrived. It was a small open back truck with a man driving and a woman sat next to him. We told him where we wanted to go and off we went. In the opposite direction.
I told Jill to relax. Maybe he knows a short cut. Nope. After a few minutes we bang on the glass and shout the location again. It's a Don Muang airport moment. He looks bemused as he pulls over outside a shop gets out and kisses his wife goodbye. It seems we have just paid to take his wife to work. Why doesn't anyone tell you anything?
Five minutes later we are at the 'international bus station'. Ok it's a shed up a dirt road. We approach the desk and Jill says 'Good morning, we have two seats booked on the 8.30 bus to Thailand'. The lady behind the desk has that 'Yeah right, we don't do reservations' look on her face. 'Passport' she says. We hand them over and she gives us tickets. Phew.
I walk to the small cafe and ask for a tea and a coffee. 'We don't have' says the young lady. Ok, I go back to Jill and tell her the bad news. 'Strange' I said 'I'm sure they have a box of tea bags on the counter'.
Jill went across and came back with a tea and a coffee. They had tea and coffee but not fresh coffee just Nescafe. Agghhhhhh.
The bus was ok and we were soon on our way. It was a couple of hours to the border. The bus dropped us off and we went into the Laos immigration office. The bus driver told Jill 'In 30 minutes we leave for Thai border' he then drove a little way up the road. I went and changed some money. Leaving Laos was easy enough. We then loitered around waiting for the bus driver. Eventually a man approached us and said 'Are you going to Thailand?' 'Yes' we replied. He told us you need to go to Thai immigration up there as your bus will leave soon. What the driver meant was 'We will leave the Thai border in 30 minutes' Language eh?
We went through the Thai border control and got our entry visa. If you fly into Thailand they give you a 30 day visa. What we didn't know is if you cross by land you only get 15 days. More about that later. A couple of hours later and we were in Ubon in Thailand.
Ubon doesn't see many visitors and a short walk around it tells you why. No mind though, the hotel is ok and we manage to find a beer. The taxi driver who took us from the bus station asked if he could take us to the airport the next day. Why not we thought.
Next morning he was there as agreed and took us to the airport. We were flying to Bangkok with NOK AIR. Nope I've never heard of them either. All went well and we were soon at Don Muang airport in Bangkok. We gave the cabbie the address of our hotel and settled back. Now cabbies around the world are not like in London. They don't do the knowledge. Basically they get you to the right general area and then start guessing. Fortunately we had been there before so were able to direct him.
Our plan had been to stop in Bangkok a few days, drop our passport at the Indian embassy then go to a beach and relax for a while. I think it was Wellington who said 'A plan is only as good as when it meets the enemy'. In this case the Indian Embassy. I shouldn't really blame the Indians because it was probably the British who taught them about bureaucracy.
The problem was twofold. Our 15 day visa was going to leave us 4 days short for our flight to India. Second the Indian embassy says visa applications take a minimum of 8 working days. We couldn't risk waiting so we decided to make our India visa application first. That in itself is fun. Two copies of this and two copies of that. Two photos exactly 2 inches square with a minimum of one quarter inch between the top and the nose etc etc. We went to a small shop and said 'Indian visa photos'. They know their stuff in Thailand and we soon had the required photos. At the embassy we queued and after a while our number was called. We explained we wanted to have a double entry visa so we could visit Nepal. 'Ok' she said. 'You have to write a letter to the consulate general with your application explaining your plans'. She then handed us a typical letter which was more like a diary entry. It was a table and said 8.30am day one I had a breakfast at the hotel then went for a short walk before visiting a museum. Trust me it would have taken a week to write. Jill condensed it and we handed it over. The clerk stamped it in red 'Re-entry permitted' I'm guessing you are thinking the same as us.
We paid the cash and left having been given an online tracking number and an assurance we would get an email when it was ready.
Of course now we don't have a passport. So we can't fly anywhere and road travel is a risk if you get stopped in a Police check. So we have to sit tight in Bangkok and wait. Although they said a minimum of 8 days we hoped it would be less. Not a chance. The online tracking system said nothing until the 8th day when it said 'ready for collection'. It was now Friday and our Thai visa expires on Monday. We went to the embassy during collection time on Friday afternoon. Our application to re-enter within two months had been refused. No explanation given. Looks like we may not be going to Nepal.
We decided to shoot to the immigration office as it was fairly close by. We had got the address off the government web site. We were mugged by the tuk tuk driver who clearly sensed our urgency. We went to the information desk and asked for the visa office. 'Not here' said the customs lady. 'Office at Don Muang airport, has been for three years'. It's another Don Muang moment. 'But your web site says we should come here' I said. 'Oh dear so solly' she said and gave us a map. It's 3.30pm and the office shuts at 4.30pm,no way Jose. It's a very low moment. We had been hoping for a beach break before we headed to India but it clearly wasn't going to happen. The immigration actually doesn't bother too much about expired visas but the Police do. If you get checked with an out of date one they will arrest you. That will mean a court appearance and a minimum one night stay in the Bangkok immigration hostel. Amnesty International describes it as disgusting, inhuman and unfit for human habitation. We decided to go to the correct offices first thing Monday and get a visa extension. Meanwhile we moved hotels to a posh place on the other side of the city. It's a big apart hotel so the room is huge and has a kitchenette with washing machine, fridge etc. It also has a big outdoor pool which nobody uses. It's also awash with uniformed G4S security guards who keep saluting us. The previous hotel had been nice but it was driving us mad walking the same streets every day. We've been to all the tourist sites in Bangkok and were going stir crazy.
We did have a pleasant interlude when it happened that Paul and Jo Yearwood (an ex colleague and his wife) were in Bangkok as well. We met up and had way too much to drink but a lot of fun. We also got together with another ex colleague who lives in Thailand. He took us to Soi Cowboy. How best to describe it? Basically it's a series of bars, sorry brothels with music and food. Inside the bars are dead eyed young girls in next to nothing dancing lazily to s*** music. Each has a number on her. They are watched by lots of pot bellied middle aged white men desperate to give away their pensions for a night with a girl who wouldn't give them one look at home. Apparently you pay seven pounds to the bar owner to take the girl away. Then you negotiate with her. In this PC world in Hong Kong it's called 'Compensated dating'. In short he opens his wallet and she opens her legs. Who's exploiting who? I don't know it's just sad to watch. We didn't stay long.
Monday morning and we were up early. Our new hotel is close to the Skytrain station and we are soon joining the commuters. A ride to Moi Chit then into a cab to the immigration offices. We didn't know what to expect. The Myanmar and Indian embassy are small offices and a little chaotic. Not so this place. It was like Lakeside Thurrock. A huge modern complex with every imaginable government office. It has coffee shops, photocopying facilities etc. We spoke to the information desk who gave us forms to complete. Next stage take a number and wait. We weren't just first in the queue we were the queue. Two giggling 17 year old trainees took our application and money and asked us to wait outside. We could see our forms being passed from desk to desk through the glass. Fifteen minutes later and we have a new visa. Now we can relax.....or can we?
Outside the offices and a taxi is waiting. 'Moi Chit Skytrain' I say. 'Moi Chit' he says back to me. Now please bear in mind I know it's not his responsibility to speak English but even the locals call it Skytrain and he is a taxi driver. Off we go. First he decides to take the Express toll road which is gridlocked. Oh and it's the passenger who pays the toll. Eventually we get to the Moi Chit area. He clearly has no idea where we want to go so he guesses. First guess is the bus station. Wrong. It's another Don Muang moment. Now there is something surreal about sitting in a taxi trying to do an impression of a train. Woo woo doesn't work as the trains are electric. My impression of sliding doors moves it on slightly but a list of stations seems to clinch it. Oh how the driver laughed. Anyway we got to the Skytrain and were soon back relaxing at the hotel.
The next few days are going to be spent relaxing before we hit the chaos of Mumbai. India is the last leg of our epic adventure and we are very excited.