Sunday, June 23, 2013

What a roller coaster of a trip!!

Don't get flummoxed by the title. It's not any extravagent elaboration of puny instances. It certainly is an eventful one even as i am finally in receipt of an email notification (on 20th June) from the passport admin stating, "Your passport has been dispatched on 2013-06-19 through speed post." It also mentions my passport details like passport no., file no. & speed post tracking no. (eventually)!

Sitting in a foreign land since 16th June i am clueless as to how to react to this super efficient system of our passport department who when i needed it didn't give & now when i already have it for the last 6 days they have sent the tracking details (please refer my last two posts to connect the dots)!

Coming back to the main agenda, to honour my own meticulous follow ups & to not let the disappointment i had just the previous night prevail upon my spirits (and to some extent prove my doom sayers wrong who had written my obituary on this already) i did make the last minute air ticket rescheduling for myself & next day fresh bookings for my wife (making it an official cum leisure trip). I relied on my old trusted travel agent to do the hotel bookings on the next day (not for nothing do i blindly trust him) & left for the Thai land alone while it was raining wolves n mongose.

Few tips (some of them are general & few specific to Thailand).

1. Make sure that you get enough & planned foreign currency for the country you are traveling to. I did not as my plan itself was not confirmed till the very end. At the airport the money exchanges could charge you as much as they wish. Just the last day my colleagues had bought the Thai Baht @ 1.98 INR. At the Mumbai airport i spoke to few agents & their asking rate was 2.35!! I negotiated hard & felt relieved when i could get it in 2.03. My happiness didn't last when he handed over the bill with INR 1,200 as the service fee (inflating the exchange rate further to 2.11)! To me it was a fraudulent charge as none of my colleagues were asked to pay it even as the other agent did actually hand deliver the Baht at our office.

2. There is a recent policy change at the Indian immigration. For the people traveling to "Visa on arrival" destinations they now demand both a return ticket as well as the confirmed hotel booking voucher(s). I just had the former (that too i got printed at the airport counter of Air India) & had a tough time explaining to the officers that i indeed was originally booked with my other office delegates who had flown & reached already. It did help that i could recollect the name of the hotel (or certainly they had me sent back from the airport itself).

3. If you love your spirits make sure you do an advance booking at the Mumbai airport where the duty free gives you a 5% discount on the already discounted prices while handing over that awesome looking calf leather bag to you which Glenlivet is using for its promotion. You can pick up your sculpturous beauties (ah, i meant the bottles guys) on your return! Can it get any better than this?! I certainly am not complaining unless the (uncertain & harmless looking Cobra like) volatile INR retracts from its heavy losses against USD in one week's time.

It was a welcome relief when Air India upgraded my rescheduled ticket to business class.

4. At the Bangkok airport the visa on arrival counter might have a long queue depending upon your time of landing. If it's pretty long to dampen your mood spending a 20% premium of 200 Baht to avail the express service might just be worth it. I used it & i do strongly recommend it. They don't give any receipt for the "extra" amount thus making it a legally admissible form of corruption.

5. Don't forget to get your "arrival" stamped. I found it really amusing that at the time of departing from Thailand my name didn't have any entry against it! Obviously some one had forgotten this piece on my disembarkation. Not at all my fault but it could certainly rob you off those coveted 30-40 minutes you had planned for the Bangkok duty free.

6. If you are going directly to Pattaya then hiring a taxi won't cost you cheaper than 1,500 Baht. If you bargain really hard you might just be able to cut the deal in 1,200! A rather cost effective way is to wait for the hourly bus service for which you can book the ticket between exit 8 & exit 10. Ticket price for this air conditioned, 2×2 set-up having a toilet is a meagre 134 Baht! I later found that inter city public bus service of Thailand can probably give its European counterparts a run for its money. Amazingly planned & maintained world class infrastructure does its bit to smoothen the proceedings.

7. Bargaining is an essential life style evil in Thailand, especially in Bangkok & more painstaking on weekends. For everything from hiring tuktuks n cabs to settling a good massage deal requires sharp reflexes or you might just end up doling out 250 Baht for that 1 Km walk which you won't mind covering on foot.

I can go on & on to share some interesting facts but now that i am through with my trip i would rather try to come up with my experience with some of the most common engagements while in Thailand & some not so popular ones (which would indeed stump many of you). So, keep looking for this space for the next trivia filled, saucy yet factually correct, authentic & informative dossier in next few days. Till then, just keep planning your own trip to this vibrant country offering myriad varieties of recreational work outs.

p.s.: i intended to publish this on around 20th June itself but recurring & exciting opportunities to indulge myself in made sure i couldn't finish it in one go. Apologies for the same. I'll strive not to disappoint you in the much anticipated edition of yours truly's blog by the end of this week.