A Blunder in Bangkok
So, we ended up staying in Bangkok a bit longer than expected. We made a big error in our travel planning, and it cost us an extra $300 per couple and our three days in Hanoi. But, having no other option and not being a group easily defeated, we made the best of it and used our time to see a few more sights around this fascinating city.
What We Did
Day 206 (2/18/17): We left Pai in the early morning and resigned ourselves to a full day of travel. We first took the winding, hellish three-and-a-half-hour van ride back down the mountain to Chiang Mai. Then, we transferred to a bus bound for Bangkok. We spent the next eleven and a half hours on that bus, stopping occasionally at rest stops to stretch our legs and go tit he bathroom. After we arrived in Bangkok late, we grabbed a cab and headed for the airport. We had decided to spend the night in the airport since our flight was at 6 a.m. and we did not get into the city until around midnight. Once at the airport, we located some free benches, Adam and I splurged on Subway, and we attempted to sleep.
Day 207 (2/19/17): Today was not a fun day. When we attempted to check-in to our flight to Hanoi, we found that we did not have the correct visa paperwork and were therefore denied access to the plane. Being a Sunday at roughly 4 a.m., there was not much we could do about this, so we cancelled our flight and rebooked another flight for three days from now to give ourselves time to obtain our visa pre-approval letters from the Vietnamese governments. Frustrated and exhausted, we eventually found a hostel with availability and 24-hour check-in and grabbed a cab over there. Our rooms were obviously not ready yet, so we posted up in their movie room, put on the second Harry Potter movie, and sent the boys to McDonald’s to get us a greasy, overpriced breakfast to drown our sorrows. We finally got into our rooms, but decided to do little else the rest if the day except venture out to get pizza for dinner. We were just ready for the day to be over and to try again tomorrow.
Day 208 (2/20/17): Feeling refreshed and almost human again, we got breakfast at our hostel and signed up for their free pad thai cooking class around lunchtime. We returned to our room, got ready, and regrouped downstairs for the class. The hostel workers first showed us how to make the dish before allowing us all to come up in pairs and make it for ourselves. We feasted on our efforts and sat around trying to decide what else to do that day. Since we had seen most of the main attractions in Bangkok already, and were looking to so something more normal for once, we opted to go and see a movie at a theater near us. The theater was in the mall, which was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was massive, and the movie theater itself was also massive and offered VIP tickets that included full buffet meals and a massage. Not too bad. Anyways, electing a more reasonably priced ticket we saw the movie Split. Afterwards, we explored the mall for a few hours, grabbing a bite to eat there before returning to our hostel for the evening.
Day 209 (2/21/17): Today, we slept in, emerging only in time to get the free breakfast from the hostel. Adam and I walked up to the main road and the market in search of contact solution and flip flops. While we found the contact solution fairly easily, finding flip flops for chicks with American-sized feet in a land of dainty-footed women proved to be too much. In fact, at more than one stall, the vendor took one look at my feet and steered me towards the men’s shoes. Yikes! So, we returned the hostel and joined Katie and Justin for a day of relaxing and catching up on Netflix shows. We left the hotel only briefly after that in order to get a cup-o-noodles for lunch. Keeping the rest of the day cheap, we decided ti treat ourselves to a fancy dinner that evening. And being super impressed with the selection of food at the mall, we decided to return there. We all started with margaritas at a Mexican place in the outdoor restaurant section of the mall. Afterwards, Adam and Justin went off together to a place where they could get burgers and steaks, while Katie and I ventured to a hotpot and sushi buffet place complete with giant hotpot ingredient conveyor belt. It was a confusing process, but a local Thai girl helped us navigate the process and we were able to enjoy ourselves. Completely stuffed and our wallets a little bit lighter, we all came together and got a cab back to the hostel. While we had originally had grand plans of going out, our dinners left us with irreparable food comas and we were forced to turn in early.
What We Learned
• READ THE ENTIRE STATE DEPARTMENT WEBSITE PAGE ON VISAS BEFORE TRYING TO GO TO A NEW COUNTRY!!!!!!!! While we did read part of the webpage and a couple of other sources, we only saw the parts that indicated you could obtain a visa upon arrival at the airport when entering Vietnam. However, what we failed to understand was that in order to do this, you need to have a visa pre-approval letter from the Vietnamese government in order to even board a plane entering the country. So, imagine our surprise when we got to the check-in counter for our flight and were asked for it. We stared blankly at the attendant, completely dumbfounded. We then proceeded to spend the next two or three hours booking new flights, searching for a new hostel to stay at in Bangkok, and contacting a company who could get us one of those letters before our flight out on the 22nd of February. Luckily for us, we were originally planning to leave the country about a week before our 30-day tourist visa expired, so we still had time to book new flights and get the required paperwork. If we had been closer to our deadline, it would have been much, much worse.
• The malls in Bangkok are something to behold. They make even the mall of America back home look like a complete joke. The malls in Bangkok encompass entire city blocks, sometimes more than one and are at least six or seven stories tall. They have entire floors devoted to clothing, electronics, home goods, etc. with several floors reserved for food (both restaurants and grocery stores/food boutiques. It was completely mind-blowing. We spent like four hours walking around after seeing a movie there. It was ENORMOUS. Definitely check it out if you are looking to escape the intense city heat for a while.
The Memorable Moments
• Despite being stuck in Bangkok for another three days completely unexpectedly, we tried to make the most of it. I really enjoyed our pad thai cooking class. Learning how simple it was to make this Thai staple and crowd favorite was eye-opening and I will definitely be filing the information we gained away for future use once we get home. It was also pretty awesome that it was 100% free. Not too shabby….