Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Brief Trip to Thailand

Before making my permanent departure from Japan (not that the Japanese government has been informed. I figure they'll work it out when they never get any response to the letters about city tax. At any rate, I wasn't about to surrender my Gaijin card, so we'll see what happens when I return to Japan to get my money) I made a short trip to Thailand. Very brief. I left Japan at 1:30am on Monday and returned at 7pm the following Friday.

The purpose of this trip was to visit my sister. I had originally planned to go to Thailand earlier and for longer. I had organised four shift swaps and my sole paid vacation to get nine consecutive days off in October, and was all set to buy my tickets after payday in September. However, this was not to be. That was the payday when we were paid late. So on my day off instead of going forth and buying tickets, I went forth and checked my bank balance. The money was there, but I didn't want to spend the money on tickets until I was sure about next months pay.

Being sure about the next months pay never happened. Well, we bacame sure we weren't going to get it. So I never made the trip. My nine days off become eight as a coworker left before our swap happened. I spent most of the time playing online poker.

As the situation in Japan got worse, going to Thailand became more likely. Not as a destination, but as a stop on the way somewhere else (originally Australia, but it turned out to be Korea), but planning obviously rested on deciding what I was going to do.

Once I got my second (and lasting) job offer in Korea, and the visa was sorted out and all that, I got my tickets to Thailand. My plan was to leave Japan, spend a week or so in Thailand and then fly from Thailand to Korea. This seemed to be the ideal travel plan with a minimum of hassle. I'd checked out the website of the travel agent I planned to go to and they had advertised flights to Bangkok for 20,000 yen and flights to Korea for 15,000 to Seoul, so I was expecting a cheap set of tickets.

I was to be disappointed. The advertised prices werefor one leg of a return ticket, and did not include taxes, etc. More frustrating was the fact that the travel agent would only book flights with one end of the flight in Japan, so Osaka to Bangkok to Seoul was not something they would organise. In fact, they refused to do so. I got their quotes for flights to Bangkok and Korea, and then went hunting for a better deal.

By looking at the Thai Airways website I was able to get flights on my ideal days, but the cost was about $3000, which is significantly more than my credit card could handle (when it looked like NOVA was about to hit the wall, I should have asked my bank for a limit increase to give myself more room to breathe (or get into bigger trouble)). AFter examining my options, the travel agent I started with was still the best deal, but the schedule was not exactly what I wanted.

The final travel plan was to leave Japan stupidly early on Monday, arrive in Bangkok at a merely early hour on Monday, spend a few days in Thailand, have a return flight that left Bangkok Friday morning, went via Manila, and arrived back in Japan at 7pm Friday night. My flight to Korea left at 3pm Saturday afternoon, which gave me just enough time to get through customs to get to the B-Trip for a sayonara party at 9pm on Friday night adn afterwards get some sleep.

So now to the important part, the actual trip to Thailand. After a few hassles with immigration, I got into the country. I met my sister at the airport, and then we caught the bus to her place. I spent some time recuperating after the flight and then headed to her office to meet up for lunch. Then I wandered back to her apartment. I was going to do some sightseeing, but by the time I got to the train station I was so exhausted I just went back to the apartment.

On Tuesday we caught the bus up to Mae Sot, which is up near the border with Burma. The trip took most of the day, and I spent most of the trip reading and watching Family Guy on my iPod. We stayed with a friend and coworker of my sisters who has what is probably one of the nicest places in all of Mae Sot, but it still didn't have hot water.

Wednesday was spent sight seeing. My sister and I rented a motorbike, then went to a a temple or two, and then down to the river which is the border. Then we wandered through a market next to the river. After lunch she had to work, so I had a look at one of the other markets in town. It's the first time I've seen live toads for sale.

Dinner was a party at my sister's office as it was both hers and a coworker's birthday. The pary consisted of cake, prawns, fruit and beer. A good time was had by all.

On Thursday I went exploring by myself, and got to ride the motorbike by myself. My main problem was that all my imagining from watching TV and such was that you rolled the handle forwards to go faster, which is in actual fact the opposite of the way it works. This is a problem when it means that your instictive reaction to slow down makes the bike go faster. Once I felt like I had some control over the bike, I headed back to the border. I parked the bike and then went to the bridge across the river which is the border crossing.

There was a small queue at the crossing, but after I joined the line, they waved me over to what turned out to be a foreigners (non-Thai or Burmese) line. I then walked across the bridge and entered Burma. It was much like Thailand but dirtier and even more run down. I wandered around for an hour or two before heading back to reclaim my passport (the Burmese immigration office kept it. Foreigners aren't allowed to stay overnight in Burma when they enter via Mae Sot.) and returning to Thailand. I had dinner and then caught an overnight bus back to Bangkok.

The bus trip was back was quicker than the bus trip up (they speed more at night or something). I got in at around 4am, and then got a taxi to the airport. It is just as well my sister had told me how much such a taxi ride should cost, cause the guy wanted to charge me more than it should have cost, so I knew enough to haggle with him over it. The taxi driver than drove somewhat like a maniac (I think he got up to at least 140 km/h). Once at the airport, the waiting began, and then after a long time I finally returned to Japan, where I was fingerprinted as part of a new paranoid security scheme.

Anyway, you can check out the photos here.

End Post
Writing time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Season two of My Name is Earl

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