The Land of Smiles
So you’re thinking of coming to Asia, specifically Thailand well this blog post is for you, okay before we get going and into the nitty gritty let me tell you I’m no expert. However I have worked in the travel industry for 12 years and have been to Thailand on three separate occasions. So what follows is from my experience and you should take away from it what you need. Cafeteria style then!
I’m sat in Saladan Seafood Restaurant, not the best choice for dinner because I don’t like seafood, I think it belongs in the sea but the restaurant is next to my apartment and it looks like rain. On the plus side they sell beer.
Let’s look at the why I am here first and then how I got here followed by some tips on Thailand. I decided life was going in the wrong direction, I worked in Lanzarote for Thomson Holidays and had an interesting, never boring position as a local interest specialist. The problem was I was lonely and felt like a social outcast as I was saving as much money as possible to start a location independent business, more on that later.
On June 23rd 2016 I quit my job to travel and hopefully earn money as I went allowing me to continue to travel, more on that later too. The master plan was to jump on my bicycle and head off on an open-ended cycle tour, I managed to cycle 1000 km and for some reason hated it, last time when I cycled from London to Venice, I loved it. So I decided to lock my bike up at Amsterdam airport and jump on a plane to Bangkok, chill out for 3 months and maybe start again. If the bikes still there.
So I’m sure you have a different reason to come to Thailand, maybe a holiday, backpacking, you have wanderlust or you want adventure. All that and more is available in Thailand and South Asia.
So how did I book a flight, good old Skyscanner. I downloaded the app but there’s no need, skyscanner covers all the major players in getting to Bangkok. Unless of course you want the package holiday experience then book with your favourite Tour operator and stop reading now. The rest isn’t for you!
I could have booked with lots of various airlines and some cheaper than the one I chose but I chose Emirates because I had flown with them before, had a sky rewards card (aiming for a free upgrade there). I could have flown for about £90 cheaper but with the caveats of not knowing what I would get. Emirates for me is a good deal because it’s, easy to book and choose flights with a stopover in Dubai. My stopover was only 3 hours this time but it is possible to stay in Dubai for a week or two, fly on to Bangkok all for the same price as flying to Bangkok. You get 30 kg of luggage, not a problem for me this time I had 8kg but going back I’ll have a lot more, clothes mainly as they’re so cheap in Asia. The service on Emirates (for me anyway) is immaculate, polite, efficient, good food and free drinks (although I only drink water on flights). They have a clever boarding procedure because they get you there in plenty of time and check your boarding cards, you then enter a holding pen before you board. It works well and as I only travel with small hand luggage there is never a problem with overhead storage or I put my day pack under the seat in front so I can get my jelly babies out during the flight. The seat is comfy and easy to sleep in and the entertainment is immense with the ICE system, they even have Wi-Fi on board.
Check your flight, a minimum of 12 weeks and down to 5 weeks to get the best price, take into consideration the flight time. I always pick a flight late in the day so I don’t have to book a hotel room the night before, it’s worth paying a little extra for the flight. Airport hotels are expensive in every way so to spending an extra £50 on the flight makes sense, I actually got my later flight at the same price as all the flights that day. I have an Emirates reward card, it was free and on my last 2 flights I received a free upgrade to business class. So get the airlines reward card before you book, it can pay dividends. There are a lot of other airlines that fly from the UK to Asia I can only describe my experience, please comment below on your experience and which airline you choose. That way others can benefit.
On my first leg, Amsterdam to Dubai I had all three seats to spread out as the plane wasn’t full, it was amazing. I watch a movie, had dinner and fell asleep for a few hours, I find it easy to sleep on planes. I think it’s the noise of the engines and the air condition, here’s a fact. The air inside the aircraft is exactly the same as the outside. Air is taken from outside via the engines, sent around the wings to cool down and then brought into the cabin under pressure, the equivalent of about 8000 feet altitude. This means a few things, all those stories of catching a cold because someone on the aircraft has one is not true the air is amazingly clean and not recycled. Also it’s about the equivalent of 8000 feet altitude because that reduces jet lag, (as well as clever lighting). This is why I don’t drink alcohol on an aircraft because 1 unit of alcohol in a pressurised cabin is like having 3 so 3 units is like having 9, explains a lot. Although I do like the joke were 2 customers chatting with each other and one said “ Careful when you have a drink on a plane as it’s like having 2” and the other customers says “brilliant so is that 2 for 1 drinks then?” I digress.
I arrived in Dubai airport which is amazingly efficient but huge, I went through security quickly. Going through airport security is an art form, before I get there I empty my pockets into my day bags front zip pocket, remove my belt, jacket and watch and put them in my day bag and whoosh I’m through, I actually think the staff appreciate that I’m ready, I see so many people holding up the queue because they have to empty pockets etc.
Dubai airport is great for travellers, I recommend you locate your gate from the monitors and unless you want the loo (take toilet tissue or wipes) or to shop, eat or drink. Go to the gate, either side you’ll find recliner style seating that are easy to sleep on, just attach your bag to you. I nodded off for half an hour with my day bag sat on my stomach and my arms through the straps. Interesting someone had left some money on the table next to me and I wasn’t going to take it as I thought although it’s a note I do not think it is worth a lot. A cleaner turned up and managed to clean it away very casually, it was funny to watch.
The gate opened in plenty of time to board, the same system as before. This flight was full but I got the seat I wanted, aisle, easy to get up and move about. The guy next to me snored, which I found amusing as every time he did everyone around would look in his direction. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t receive an upgrade but I hadn’t paid for it so I can’t expect it. The first flight was 5 hours this one was 6 and it seemed like 3, I ate, watched another movie and slept, hope I didn’t snore.
Arriving in Bangkok I thought I needed to get a visa on arrival so went straight to that counter and to my surprise you don’t, at the moment all UK passport holders can enter Thailand via an airport and stay for 30 days on a visa waiver program. Note I said airport, overland it is less, only 15 days. So quick stamp on my departure card and I’m here. Note: Do not lose your departure card, it is how the authorities know how long you’ve been in Thailand, I’m sure they can check and no doubt people have lost them before but it’s a lot easier if you don’t. I grabbed my bag from the carousel and headed to door 4 of the arrivals hall. This is because I booked a room at the Convenient Resort for 1 night to get some sleep, it was £19, is clean, basic and comfy but includes an airport transfer. So no mucking about finding accommodation or bartering with taxi drivers, the hotel is 10 minutes away and has free Wi-Fi and a small restaurant. The restaurant is an experience, it is a bargain but Thai food can be spicy and breakfast, well enjoy the ants in the marmalade.
Checking in was easy, passport, payment usual stuff, you’ll be asked for a key deposit and the Porter will insist on carrying your bags to your room. The Porter I got was pleasant and I tipped him the next day because I didn’t have change. More on tipping later. Once checked in rather than going straight to my room I went outside to the restaurant and had some food, I had forgotten how spicy Thai food can be.
The hotel has no lift but luckily I was on the first floor and didn’t even carry my bag, so piece of cake. The room is a good size with a big bed a balcony which overlooked a swamp and then the motorway, not a view to write home about. The bathroom which is a wet room has a western style toilet and a shower, speaking of toilets that shower head next to the loo is known as the bum bullet, you jet wash yourself and use paper to dry. Actually far more hygienic than western methods. I also carry a travel sink plug in my wash bag just in case the sink has no plug but these do. I washed a few clothes before I settle in for the night and hung them in the bathroom.
The hotel supply 2 x 500ml bottles of water, there’s a fridge and a TV. The Wi-Fi code is in the front page of the hotel information book, usually your room number and a pass code. I ran a speed test and it was a good speed but you probably couldn’t watch movies or video. Something I forgot to do but wasn’t a problem was to tell reception I would be going back to the airport in the morning, if you forget you only have to wait 30 mins so not a huge problem. I head back to the airport for several reasons…those reasons will be along soon.
In the morning my clothes were dry, I repacked my bags and headed downstairs at about 10:00 I checked out, received my key deposit back and booked the airport transfer, I then went to the restaurant for breakfast. I hadn’t booked the breakfast buffet with the room, which I advise you don’t do because the marmalade at the buffet was covered in ants. I pointed this out and they just smiled and left it! I got my coffee from the buffet and was asked for my voucher, I just told them I had baht and would pay. I ordered an omelette and it was delicious, ant free.
The Porter called me when the transfer was ready to go and loaded my bags I had 80 baht in change now so gave him 40 baht. At the time of writing the average wage here is £240 a month, bear this in mind when you pay for anything because as a foreigner (known as a Farrang) you will be charged more, unless you question the price, usually just questioning the price reduces it by half.
Now I go back to the airport because, transport links to the city are easy from there, you go to the basement and get the airport rail link (ARL). This time I was only planning to go to the MBK shopping centre to buy clothes, cycling lycra and no bicycle looks odd! I also wanted to go to the train station to buy a ticket to Trang, which is unlikely to be the same day. As I didn’t know how long I’m in Bangkok for I put my bag into the airport left luggage 100 baht per item per 24hrs. Left luggage is on the departure level at the back right hand side, close to the security escalators.
Suvarnabhumi airport is brilliant for travellers, you have lots of dedicated free device charging stations, free Wi-Fi, a really good food court (breakfast cost me £3), lots of toilets and other facilities. Just be aware that a lot of the time the travelators over on the far right of the airport between doors 7 and 10, will be guarded and are for staff only, it’s better to head near door 4 as you’ll find lifts and elevators.
Do you need a local sim?
I went for the 30 day AIS sim, all sales counters are on arrivals level as are the ATM machines. The sim I bought was 1039 baht around £20 unlimited data 4G for 30 days, all I can say is wow! I wish my Internet connection was this fast at home. I managed to do a ‘live Facebook stream on a train travelling at 80 kph.
Transport (Trains & Metro)
Basement level you’ll find the Airport Rail Link, it’s a bargain. I found it better not to take large luggage on the transit network as it’s far too busy.
I bought a token, there not tickets but a plastic chip, similar to a casino chip but they are nfc devices (near field communication). I went to Phaya Thai station for 49 baht, touch the chip on the pad to get through the gate. Keep the chip safe as its how you get out at the other end. Go down the escalators, stairs or lift to the platform. Here there is a bit of etiquette to follow, join a queue which is either side of the doors. This is because people on the train exit straight on and you enter from the side. Do not board the train until told to do so by the security, there is a sticker on every door telling you a security sweep will take place before anyone enters. When told to do so get on and if you’re going to Phaya Thai try to sit down it’s 7 stops away. The train is air-conditioned so is lovely and cool.
This is where you’ll notice most people around you are looking at smart phone screens, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people on Facebook and playing Pokemon Go. More on apps later…
Once I arrived at Phaya Thai station I had to exit and walk a few minutes to the BTS train station, these are the overhead trains which cross Bangkok. The BTS is unbelievably cheap but can be confusing because the train on the opposite platform does not go the opposite way, that train is above or below you. Once out of the Airport Rail Link station slow down and read the direction signs because if you exit the wrong one you can be 1. A long way from where you need to be. 2. On the wrong side of a road that is impossible to cross (up and over only).
To save me the hassle of buying individual tickets, I went for the 1 day (ends at midnight) pass for 140 baht about £3 for all day BTS travel, I also discovered this pass is worth it because if you get on the wrong train, you don’t have to exit buy another ticket and re-enter, I went on the wrong train 4 times. My plan was to go to MBK a huge shopping complex, so I had to change at Siam (amazing place) and go to the National Stadium on a different line. I discovered I could have easily walked from Siam to MBK but it was hot, humid and I didn’t know. The BTS uses tickets you put in a slot on the gate and the Metro and Rail Link use tokens.
On arrival at MBK you go through security, this is standard and everywhere, all I’ve had is a torch shone into my bag. I bought some food at the Pizza Company and then tackled the 5 football stadium size floors. Bartering skills are essential here, although a shrug and one step away from the stall is worth about a 30% discount. I got 50% off a USB lead just by giving the woman serving me a look. I have no idea what the look was like but it’s worth 50%. I also discovered that men’s waist sizes are the same as the UK, inches but all inside leg length is just very long and you sew them or cut them off, it took me 2 hours to discover this.
You could easily spend all day in the MBK Centre, I didn’t because I needed to buy a train ticket. I’m sure from where I was I could have found a closer railway station but I have been to Hua Lamphong station before, this is the main central railway station. I headed back to the BTS and travelled to a station which connects with the Metro, I changed at Sala Daeng station and walked to Si Lom metro station a 2 min walk, from the BTS walkway there is a lift, use the lift it takes you all the way down to the subway. I then paid at the automated ticket machine, select English, select Hua Lamphong then pay, collect the token and enter the Metro. On arrival at Hua Lamphong there is a subway to walk to the main railway station. I bought a first class sleeper ticket for the overnight train to Trang in 3 days time, 1480 baht, saving on a hotel,room for the night, the journey is around 15 hours. A first class sleeper is your own room and bed on the train, there are cheaper options.
As I had lots of time on my hands I headed back to The Siam Centre to cool down and eat. Metro, BTS in reverse order, I headed straight to the food court. In Thailand food courts you buy a card from the cashier, minimum 200 baht, that’s 190 baht credit and 10 baht deposit, you can put more baht on if you wish. You then go and get what you want from the different stalls and they scan your card and deduct the amount. When you have finished you go back to the cashier to get your change and deposit back. The food is amazing, a huge choice, being on my own I ate first and then went and got a drink to save trying to carry too much. The toilets in the Siam Centre are spotless and modern. Once again you could easily spend all,day in the Siam Centres, there’s 3 of them Siam Discovery, Siam Centre and Siam Paragon.
Now you may or may not want to do what I did next but 1. It was easy. 2. It was free. I decided to sleep in the airport, I was nervous at first but would not hesitate to do it again anytime. I headed back to the airport as my bag was there anyway, I decided to grab a coffee, nip in the seven eleven and have a wander to scout potential sleeping places, there are loads. First at basement level over to the far right is lots of seating in a quiet area, also under the travelators is popular. The mistake I made was not getting there early enough as other people had made themselves comfy before I plucked up the courage to settle down. I did however find a far better place, which was out-of-the-way. Next to the left luggage is the lift to floor 6 and then the observation platform on floor 7, I slept on floor 7 and so did a lot of the airport staff. I mean as in the staff came up to floor 7 lay down a mat, covered themselves over with a blanket and slept. I tried to sleep on a bench but was worried I would fall off when I was asleep, so I went to left luggage retrieved my bag, which had my self inflating mat from camping in, headed back to floor 7 and went to sleep. I will say it wasn’t the best nights sleep I had but for free it was perfect, by the way if the airport patrol turns up on his or her Segway then you won’t be moved on, at about 3 am the patrolling office had a nap too.
I slept next to a plug socket so in the morning all my gadgets were charged too. I got up about 07:00 as I thought it would be a bit cheeky to have a lie in at the airport, I went down in the lift to the loo and had a shave and cleaned my teeth before going to the food court for breakfast, which in Airport Cafe No:2 was £3.
I headed back into the city for a look around, MBK and Siam again plus I wandered around some of the back streets but found it a bit hot. I was checking Google Maps (remember 4G so amazing) and noticed a small hotel opposite the MBK Centre with good reviews for £19 a night. I popped in and as I had 1 more night to go before my train to Trang I booked in, basic, no view (well there is a view but not a good one, washing mainly) but air con, hot water, a bath and shower, free Wi-Fi and right in the middle of the district. There is a seven eleven 2 minutes away, some amazing Street food vendors and 3 mins from MBK and the BTS station. It is called Muangphol Mansion which is next to the National Stadium BTS station. Unfortunately I fell asleep in the room and didn’t get chance to enjoy Siam by night.
The next morning I had a lie in and left at 11:30 checkout is 12:00. I went to MBK for brunch and then set off for Hua Lomphong. This is where I made a few errors, I thought I would be clever and just buy a BTS ticket to the station which connects with the Metro, so I did but got on the wrong trains, had to exit and come back in to get the right train. If I had a day pass then I wouldn’t have needed to exit and re-enter. I finally got to Sala Daeng station and walked to Si Lom, bought a metro token and went to Hua Lamphong station.
More coming soon…….
Tips so far.
Book flights 12 weeks to 5 weeks for best price.
Get the airlines loyalty or airlines or points card first.
Pack light remember you have to carry that stuff.
Have your gadgets charging cables handy as you can charge along the way. My aircraft seat had a plug and a USB socket in it.
Put your smart phone, tablet in flight mode before boarding.
If you want feeding first order a special meal.
Take an empty bottle of water through security and fill it up in the departure lounge.
Be ready for security, empty pockets, belt off, basically put everything in your hand luggage before you get there.
On arrival in Dubai you’ll go through security again be ready.
Dubai airport is massive go to your gate, there’s everything you need close to your gate.
Take toilet roll or wipes, Dubai airport doesn’t always have toilet roll, remember it’s for drying only.
On arrival,in Thailand.
British passport holders go straight to immigration with your arrival and departure card you filled out on the plane. You now have 30 days to enjoy Thailand.
There is a big monitor with which luggage belt your luggage will appear, I suggest you go straight to it and look. Arrivals is huge!
ATM’s, Sim Cards are in the arrivals hall.
Basement, for Airport Rail Link. (Taxis can be expensive for Farrangs, also there are illegal drivers, listen to the airport announcements)
Maybe take time out in the airport and get your bearings, it’s a safe haven and you can get what you need.
Left luggage is cheap, why carry all that stuff.
There is a huge difference in the cost of living, sometimes you won’t know you’ve been ripped off because it’s still cheaper than back at home.
BTS overhead trains, buying a day pass from the ticket office makes it simple.
Part two coming soon, I didn’t think there would be a part 2 but there will be, so much more information to come.
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