From Bangkok to Vietnam…with my Visa on Arrival!
My first stay here in Bangkok was going by so quickly, and I knew I would miss my time at the U-Baan Hostel. How could I forget my new friends I met here my first week…Taylor and Sonya, you guys are awesome, I miss going out and having dinner with the two of you! Diego, it was great to have you as a roommate for my first couple of days in the hostel, hearing your stories, and drinking Chang beer with you and the other guests until all hours of the night. By the way, Diego, if you ever read this…that hundred dollar bill you exchanged with me to get my ones, fives, and tens for Cambodia, could not be used ANYWHERE in Thailand or Vietnam! You might have known that though, haha.
Which, by the way, brings up another good tip for anyone traveling to most parts of SE Asia. Always, always, always bring the newest, crispest $100 USD bills you can get from the bank. Many countries over in that part of the world will NOT take a bill if it is older than 1996. I tried and tried and tried, BUT there was one great advantage to having that $100.00 in my pocket. As soon as I got back to the US, I still had it, and could spend it!
There were so many people I met at U-Baan and I now consider all of you a friend! But, two of my favorite people would still be there when I would return in a couple of weeks, Jimmy and Pedja! You guys are awesome, I love you two, and I can’t wait to catch up to both of you someday. I will definitely be writing about at least one or two of our adventures soon, in future posts! Now back to this story!
My last post left off with me applying for my Letter of Approval through the agency I had used in the past, Vietnam Visa Pro, and then almost immediately receiving their automatically generated response. So now all I had to do was wait a couple of days and I would have my letter, and everything would be set for me to fly on to Saigon/HCMC, or so I thought. Now it was time to enjoy my last few days in Bangkok, until I would return in a couple of weeks.
If you’ve been reading my blog posts, my first four or five days here in Bangkok had been pretty fun filled, and definitely very hectic…so I thought I would slow things down a bit. From my previous experiences in hostels I have found that spending a day or two in a community room can be as fulfilling as wandering about the streets and seeing the sites. Stories are told, friendships are made, memories are instilled that will never fade away. I can still see the smiles, the joy, the happiness, and sometimes the sadness on every one of my friends faces.
There is something about hanging out in a hostel and just bullshitting the day away that creates a bonding, a friendship, that will always last. I have met some of the most amazing people of my life during these brief moments…and so I relaxed, and told my stories, heard theirs, and shared Chang beer while we talked the next couple of days and nights away. Who could not want to hang out in Joy’s community room. And when we weren’t there, you could find us up on the roof listening to each person’s favorite music tracks, and drinking more Chang beer, always the beer, toasting our travels with each other. Ah, the rooftop, where you could see spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The days and nights spent just hanging out at Joy’s were some of the best times of my life!
I still had an adventure or two left in me during this stay in Bangkok, though, and so a few of my new friends and I decided to go on a journey to Wat Saket, also called the Golden Mount. A quick tip from Joy to us, and to anyone else that might like to go to this amazing site in the future is…go early so you miss the hot, humid Thai afternoon heat!
The temple’s origins actually date back to the Ayutthaya era, and was initially built somewhere between 1350 to 1767 AD. The temple then had major renovations done to it from 1782 to 1809, during King Rama I’s reign. You can read more of the history in the two links I provided above. I was selfish on this visit, and kept my camera stowed in my bag, so the only photos you will see are in the links I provided, or by doing your own Google search on the temple. Sometimes…and this was one of them, I wanted to truly be in the moment, and enjoy the sanctity of this place. That, along with the 300 stairs I had to climb to get to the top left me pretty tired and hot, and not in the mood for picture taking! I would highly recommend this temple, though, as it is very exotic, enchanting, and has so much history behind it. I promise if you go there, you will not be disappointed.
Once we finished our grand tour of the Golden Mount, we were ready for another must do in Bangkok, riding the Klong boats that wind up, down, and around all the canals that snake through the city. It is most definitely an exhilarating ride, at breakneck speeds…okay, maybe not breakneck speeds, but it really is amazing to watch these boats navigate through the busy bustling traffic on the canals. I am very grateful my friends suggested we make our journey back to the central part of Bangkok using this mode of transportation.
To go from the Golden Mount to Siam/Central station by Klong boat, you need to catch the Nida/Golden Mount Line. It’s very easy to find, and is an extremely economical, fun way to travel, costing only 10 to 20 baht or .30 to .60 cents for the journey. Once we disembarked near Siam station we were greeted with hawkers of all kinds selling t-shirts and other types of touristy trinkets to buy up for friends back home, and plenty of food and drink for us to refresh ourselves after another excellent adventure. My friends and I wandered through the air-conditioned, high end, Paragon Mall, then slowly made our way back to the hostel. What a great way to wind down my days in Bangkok!
With my time running out in Thailand and my flight to Vietnam coming up in a couple of days, I had been keeping an eye on my emails. I had been hoping to receive the PDF with my Letter of Authorization from Vietnam Visa Pro by now. My first experience with them had gone so well, I was beginning to wonder what I might have done wrong to not have gotten my letter yet. With only one more day to spare, I rifled off an email early Monday morning, expressing my concerns.
Well…it turns out, there had been a Vietnamese holiday the entire week that I had sent my request for my letter! It had never occurred to me to check to see when their holidays took place, so again, here was another valuable lesson I learned, and I hope to pass on to other travelers. BE AWARE OF Holidays, and how they can affect you when traveling. I once flew into the Philippines on Good Friday, and with the Philippines being 80 percent Catholic, NOTHING was going on that day (I was lucky to get ANY food and drink that night), so research the country you are traveling to, and KNOW their holidays!
Vietnam Visa Pro sympathized with me, and said they would try to do everything they could to help me out. But, since I had not paid to have my letter expedited, and the normal process took two business days, they couldn’t guarantee anything. I tried to expel my fears, decided to get on the BTS, headed for Siam Station and the Paragon Mall, and took in the Avengers: Age of Ultron in the plush reclining stadium leather seats of the unbelievable theater on the top floor (they actually have a 4D theater there!).
The movie did the trick and relieved my mind of all my concerns. I got out, checked my email, and lo and behold, Vietnam Visa Pro came through for me again! I had my letter, got back to the hostel, and was able to print it out nearby…and was now ready to move on to my next great adventure in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, with one of my best friends in the world, Ha Nguyen! I hope everyone continues to follow along with me as I share my crazy, awesome adventures, next up, from Vietnam!