14,067 km so far.
This is a difficult city to navigate. That is what I have determined after a day of running around and not getting much of anything accomplished.
Where Does The Time Go?
Jane and I attempted to do a few touristy things today, but we are finding Bangkok a little confusing. I think partly this is down to the heat, partly it is that we haven’t spent much time in a large city for a while, and partly that the city is actually damned confusing.
Take, for example, this helpful tip on deciphering an address, from the ever-authoritative Lonely Planet:
The address of a site located on a soi will be written as 48/3-5 Soi 1, Th Sukhumvit, meaning off Th Sukhumvit on Soi 1.
Is that clear to you? Because to me is doesn’t explain the 48, or 3-5 part of the address at all.
We did manage to find our way to the Pratunam Market, an incredible clothing market in the middle of the city.
It is filled with narrow lanes and thousands upon thousands of pieces of clothing. This is where all the clothes you see for sale on the streets of Bangkok, and possibly at all the markets across the country, come from.
From there we took one of the city’s famous water taxis, although not the touristy taxi that runs along Chao Phraya, the main river in Bangkok.
Instead, we took what is pretty much a locals-only boat along one of the small canals, and got a look into the lives of Bangkok’s less affluent residents – the canal runs right through their backyards.
Not everyone in Bangkok lives in a big, brand new apartment complex; the people along this canal live in run-down apartment buildings or scrap metal shacks.
From the water taxi we stumbled upon the yellow shirts’ current protest site, which is a place we have been advised to avoid, due to the threat of violence breaking out at any time.
The few minutes we spent there made it seem more like a music festival than a political protest, with tents packed tight on the bridge, a big screen TV, a stage for musical performances, and hundreds of people sitting under a giant awning. There were food carts and dozens of stalls selling t-shirts, hats, and all sorts of paraphernalia.
It was fascinating to see it first-hand.
Run To The Border
We have written a couple of times about the amazing ease with which a tourist can enter Thailand, and how nice it is that they make visa exemptions so simple to receive. News has reached us, however, that this is all in the midst of changing.
When we crossed back into Thailand a few days ago we had no idea how lucky we were. The government, such as it is, has just announced changes that have taken place with immediate effect, without warning. If these changes had occurred a few days earlier, we would be stuck in Cambodia, overstaying our visa there. Right now, there are tourists stuck between the Thai and Burmese border, not allowed into either country, because of the rule changes.
Here is what you need to know as of today, May 13, 2014.
On arrival in Thailand, whether by sea, land, or air, most people are eligible for a visa-free 30-day stay, free of charge. Previously you could exit the country at the end of this period, and re-enter a few minutes later, getting another 30 days.
Now, when travelling by land, this is no longer possible. And, as of August 12, you also won’t be able to do this if travelling by air. No word yet on the change to seafarers, but presumably these changes will affect them as well.
How this benefits the Thai government we cannot figure out, and it seems sure to hurt their economy. Hundreds of Thai business people with transport companies rely on people doing visa runs for much of their income. Also, lots of tourists do as we have done – visit Thailand for one month, leave to visit another neighbouring country, and them return here for another 30 days. These days are apparently over, meaning future visitors will only have 30 days to come explore and spend money in Thailand.
I can’t imagine what the government’s reason is for the change, or why it happened so abruptly.
Update: According to this news report, if you can prove you are a tourist, and not illegally working in Thailand, they should let you back in. Presumably if you are a cycle tourist, having your bike and all your belongings is proof enough, but who knows? ♥